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Course Design

Active Learning

Several decades of research across disciplines have demonstrated that students actively engaged with course content benefit from significantly enhanced learning and higher-order thinking. Many activities foster engagement, and this type of active learning encourages students to connect concepts to their lives and deepen their understanding. Discussion boards can provide these opportunities by asking students to identify problems, propose solutions, debate various issues, or work through case studies or ethical dilemmas in ways that require them to engage and actively apply course concepts.

Creating Videos for Your Online Classes

The use of engaging multimedia elements in your course is another way to build instructor presence and foster community. In the online classroom, it's important for students to gain a sense of who their instructors are, and video is a great way to achieve that. It can also be a useful tool to provide an introduction to the course or a tour of its structure. Additionally, video support content in ways that can be individualized and tailored to both the student and the material.

Miami Online has extensive resources to develop professional-level media elements and processes to support your self-produced course elements.

Course Delivery

Engaging Students in the Online Classroom

Communication is the foundation of teaching effectively online. While important in any teaching modality, online instruction vividly illustrates how clear, consistent communication forms the basis for the interactions and engagement necessary for success in online teaching. This represents the challenge and opportunity at the heart of effectively facilitating an online course.

Some form of communication is involved in nearly every aspect of the online experience. Feedback on assignments, participating in discussions and group activities, and even course announcements all require clear and consistent communication to impact the overall experience positively. How you handle these communications is a large part of facilitating your course effectively and creating the type of Teaching, Social and Cognitive Presence that builds a Community of Inquiry (COI).

Community of Inquiry

In online education, there's a real need to create a sense of community in courses. One way to approach this is to consider the Community of Inquiry (CoI) model. This framework consists of three elements: 

Teaching presence refers to developing a well-structured set of learning experiences, the active facilitation of the course through guiding the discussion, providing formative feedback, and administering the class effectively. 

Social presence involves the development of trust and connection with other people in an online course.

Finally, cognitive presence refers to students’ making meaning out of information through interaction and reflection; it reflects higher-order thinking and critical analysis.

Faculty-Student Connection

One of the most critical aspects of teaching online is developing a rapport with students. A great way to build that is by focusing on teaching presence. Teaching presence, or instructor presence, entails everything from posting announcements and answering questions to providing timely and substantive feedback on work. Being actively involved in all aspects of the course can increase student satisfaction, engagement, and success. 

Proactive involvement also fosters other types of interactions needed for an engaging course or program. In addition to exchanging with the instructor, students should have the opportunity to engage with other students in various ways and with course materials.


One of the most effective ways to support students in practices that will make them successful in your course is to model the required types of engagement and interactions. This "lead by example" approach provides students a sense of how to proceed with various tasks and minimizes questions and confusion. This strategy can be especially effective in facilitating online discussions. 

For example, popular discussion facilitation techniques include the 3C&Q model [Compliment, Comment, Connect and Question] and the ABC [Acknowledge, Build, and Conclude] Model. Both provide the building blocks of an engaging discussion based on similar ideas. 

In practice, think of the ABC approach as:

  • Acknowledge what was said.
  • Build upon it with personal experience or observations. Include ties to appropriate course content.
  • Conclude with a question to the original author's post or the entire class.

Facilitating and directing course discussions, while not dominating them, reinforces the idea of co-creating knowledge and learning with students as part of a community. Additional ways to increase the sense of community through practical guidance of asynchronous discussion described by Swan and Shih (2005) are:

  • To model and support affective expressions through the direct expression of feelings, punctuation, using symbols and emoticons, as well as humor and self-disclosure
  • To support cohesiveness through references to the group as a whole, using student names and inviting social sharing;
  • To support interaction and personal connections by acknowledging contributions, expressions of agreement or disagreement, invitations to discuss, and encouragement.

Notice the emphasis placed on creating the proper tone by "inviting social sharing," "using student names," and "encouragement ." Being respectful and professional in all course communications reinforces a sense of community and respect and goes a long way toward creating a welcoming learning environment.

Adequately facilitated, online discussions can support every type of presence comprising a Community of Inquiry. For a list of the various ways you can use online course discussions effectively, see this excerpt from Student Engagement Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty.

Fortunately, technology has made building a community more manageable than ever in the online space. Discussion posts are no longer limited to simple text responses. Students and Instructors can readily create video posts in discussion threads or participate in real-time discussions in web conferences, virtual office hours. Miami's LMS Canvas allows instructors to readily provide text, audio, or video feedback on assignments. These are excellent tools for delivering substantive and personalized feedback that enables students and instructors to develop rapport and deepen learning and engagement.

Accessibility in the Classroom

Miami University recognizes and accepts its obligations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504. These laws prohibit discrimination based on disability. They require the University to ensure all individuals can independently acquire the same information, engage in the same interactions, and enjoy the same benefits and services within the same timeframe as their non-disabled peers, with substantially equivalent ease of use.

The AccessMU Center works to create a more accessible environment by providing information and services to enhance equal access for students with and without disabilities. In addition to the accessibility review and testing of applications, websites, and documents, AccessMU provides accessibility training and resources around document accessibility and media captioning. Faculty and students can report an accessibility issue on their website.

Likewise, the Miller Center for Student Disability Services (SDS) coordinates accommodations, auxiliary aids, support services, and resources for students, per the ADA and Section 504. SDS supports Miami’s commitment to diversity and inclusion and promotes student access to an equitable college experience.

Faculty Responsibilities

Evaluating a course and materials for accessibility brings numerous considerations. Becoming familiar with the issues from the outset will save a great deal of time and give students the best experience possible. The resources and tools discussed below, along with the Faculty Guide for Students with Disabilities, will help foster an inclusive learning environment.

Regardless of whether or not a student has registered accommodations with the University, Miami Online instructors and instructional designers are responsible for ensuring that all materials and technologies used in online courses are fully accessible. That includes any third-party websites or resources that students may be required to access. 

Ensuring accessibility not only complies with the ADA and Section 504 and supports students with accommodations currently enrolled in the course, but it also reduces any changes needed should a student who requires accommodations enroll shortly before or after the course begins. Accessibility also benefits students without disabilities by using a Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework.

The AccessMU Center provides an array of tools and resources to create fully accessible and usable materials and determine compliance of various sites, documents, and other materials included in a course. These tools address all aspects of accessibility, from creating documents and digital images to video captioning and web accessibility. See AccessMU for a list of roles and responsibilities for teaching faculty and staff and Student Disability Services (SDS) for faculty tools.