Online Course Development

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The Graduate School of Education Office of Instructional Design and Development is committed to providing a collaborative environment that supports you to effectively use technology in your online courses, in order to positively influence the teaching/learning experience.

Key Areas; Analyze, Getting Started, Develop, Assignments & Assessments, Implement, Evaluate.

Analyze — Important questions to ask yourself before you teach online

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Before developing a course for online delivery there are some important questions to be considered.


  • Do you have a UBIT? You will need a UBIT to log-into UBlearns
  • Do you have access to a computer with high speed internet connection?
  • Do you have basic computer skills (using an internet browser, downloading and saving files, using Microsoft Office, etc.)?

Do you have experience in using Blackboard? Blackboard is the Learning Management System (LMS) which UB has branded "UBlearns"

If you have answered "no" to any of these questions please consider contacting your department to reconsider whether onlin eteaching is right for you. These basic technical requirements are necessary for teaching online.


  • What is the purpose for creating or moving this course online?
  • What are the course goals and objectives?
  • Is this a stand-alone online course or is it part of an online degree/certificate program?
  • If you have previously taught the course in a traditional face-to-face setting, what were the most successful elements of the course? Are there ary elements that you may not be able to reproduce online?

Getting Started — Getting ready for course development

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Request a site for course development: If you are planning a course that is scheduled to be delivered more than a few months in advance you may not yet have access to the new course shell on UBlearns. You can still begin to develop your course, though. Request a Practice course in UBlearns

You will be able to copy all of the content that you develop in your practice course (or portions of the course) into your actual course site when it becomes available.

Explore UBlearns: Open your practice course to begin to explore all that UBlearns has to offer. If you are an inexperienced UBlearns user, please explore UBlearns for Faculty.

Consider using the GSE course template: To facilitate organization, and to maintain consistency across GSE courses, we have created a course template that provides you with a basic course structure to assist you in developing your course. Use of the course template is optional, but the built-in features will save you time in course development. What is GSE's Course Template?

Other GSE templates: GSE Onlinehas also developed a syllabus and course schedule template. These documents are updated to reflect the dates of each new semester. The syllabus template contains important information pertaining to UB policies, procedures, and contacts. See the On Demand Resources page to download these templates.  

Develop your online course

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The definition of organize is to “form into a whole.” Your objective here is to organize your online course into a logical, systematic format that is easy for the student to navigate and understand.

Your syllabus is your "course map": A well-designed course begins with a well-designed syllabus and well-written learning objectives. Once the learning objectives are defined the instructor can then begin to devise assignments and content that will allow students to meet those objectives, as well as assessments to measure those objectives.  More information on assessments can be found below.

Organization: All readings, assignments, and due dates should be outlined in the syllabus. Then, the next step is to plan for the sequencing of content. A well-designed course is paced, meaning that course content and assignments are not available all at once, but rather are presented to the student in sequential format (each week a new unit opens, for example). Consistency is also an important factor. Students should know what to expect with each new unit. It is a good idea to structure your course so that each unit shows the same format as the last, with little deviation.

GSE creates and maintains a number of resources to assist faculty members in online course development.

Below you will find a Syllabus and Course Schedule template (updated with each new semester); a link to download your departmental banner for use on UBlearns; a Pre-Semester Procedures document;  information on GSE's UBlearns Course template; and the Open SUNY Course Quality Review rubric that provides the recommended standards for online course design.

Further Reading

California State University, Stanislaus - Instructional Design and Development: This faculty site provides a linked outline of things to consider when designing an online or hybrid course.  It focuses on three     main areas, content, interaction, and assessment, providing examples and suggestions for each area.

Carnegie Mellon Eberly Center - Teaching Excellence and Educational Innovation: A faculty resource page that provides linked topics to consider while designing and teaching courses.  Includes practical advice on topics such as handling problematic behavior, cultural differences, and evaluating course effectiveness.

University of Central Florida - Teaching Online Pedagogical Repository: The Teaching Online Pedagogical Repository (TOPR) is a public resource for faculty and instructional designers interested in online and blended teaching strategies.  Each entry describes a strategy drawn from the pedagogical practice of online/blended teaching faculty, depicts this strategy with artifacts from actual courses, and is aligned with findings from research or professional practice literature.

Assignments and Assessments

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Now that you have begun to construct your syllabus you should start to think about how you will assess your students in meeting the course learning objectives. What assignments will you use to facilitate and/or measure learning? Some types of assignments are better suited for the online environment than others. Additionally, research suggests that online courses are most successful when they are rich in interactivity and collaboration. The resources below provide a wide range of types of assignments that work well online.


  • The Assignment tool works essentially like a dropbox in that assignments in UBlearns are submitted directly to the instructor.
  • The following site should help you to distinguish between journals, discussion boards and blogs (PDF) and will aid you in choosing which to use in your course.
  • The UBIT Communicating and Collaborating site provides useful information on using journals, discussion boards and blogs as well.
  • Online Teaching Activity Index: This index represents a compilation of those activities to help instructors plan their online and hybrid courses. A complete description of each activity is given, along with examples when possible. Common educational uses of each activity are discussed as well as common educational objectives. Furthermore, teaching strategies for the given activity are provided.

Implement — Characteristics of an effective online instructor

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Online teaching and learning is a very different modality than the traditional face-to-face setting. In a traditional classroom, the instructor has the role of educator, providing direct instruction, demonstration of the material, and other concrete guidance. An online classroom will lack that “presence” unless the instructor consciously guides students to effective interaction with the material, and encourages active learning in the social atmosphere of the online classroom.

Generating an interactive learning environment is a difficult task. However, this interactivity is often the most engaging element for students as they work through an online course. There are a number of techniques and strategies that can promote this type of interactive engagement.

  • Welcome, make yourself at home! A hospitable email, announcement, or post letting the students know they are both in the right place, but also in a safe and welcoming environment will help stimulate initial course activity.
  • Ice breakers. Students want to know who their instructors are professionally and personally, and want to share information about themselves as well. Offer students the opportunity to provide a short bio and introduce themselves to the class, and provide one yourself, as the instructor. Be flexible with the information you request from your students, and allow them to decide what information they are comfortable sharing or not. It’s important that students don’t feel like information is “forced” out of them. A discussion board forum is a great place for this type of activity.
  • Getting started. Not every student has followed the same path to your course. Be sure to offer clear direction on where students should begin, and what the course expectations are. A “what to do first” statement will help the students know where and how to begin.
  • Open two-way communication. Encourage students to feel comfortable asking questions publically in a general question forum. Many times, students will have the same or similar question, and a shared question forum will allow the students to view a question that has already been asked, and give them their answer sooner. Additionally, students can help answer their fellow student’s questions, giving them an answer perhaps before the instructor is able to respond. A “Questions for the Professor” or “General Questions” discussion forum is a great way to do this. Conversely, also remind students that they can reach out to you directly and privately should they feel more comfortable doing that.
  • Be present. While you cannot be active in your course at all times, remain consistent in your frequency of communication. Provide announcements, respond to discussion posts, and remain active in your course. It is a “best practice” to inform students of your turn-around time for emails and grades/feedback. Additionally, remind students how they can contact you outside the course (phone, chat, web-conference, etc.) should they need to.
  • Be a model of excellence. Communicating through the written word comes with a series of challenges and barriers. Model the behaviors in your communication that you expect from your students by following proper netiquette.

Further Reading

Faculty Focus: Creating a Sense of Instructor Presence in the Online Classroom

Journal of Online Teaching and Learning: What the Best Online Teachers Should Do

MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching: Netiquette: Make it part of your syllabus

Evaluate — Using the Open SUNY COTE Quality Review rubric, also known as OSCQR

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After developing a course for online delivery, or prior to the start of a new semester, you should consider taking some time to reflect on the quality of your course, and to make any necessary changes. A course evaluation rubric is an extremely useful tool for assessing the effectiveness of your course design and organization.  GSE ONLINE recommends using the Open SUNY COTE Quality Review rubric, also known as OSCQR (pronounced “Oscar”). "COTE" is an acronym for the Center for Online Teaching Excellence. From the COTE website:

"To enable campuses to ensure that their online courses are learner centric and well designed, a team of Open SUNY Center for Online Teaching Excellence staff and campus stakeholders has designed the OSCQR Rubric, a customizable and flexible tool for measurement. The 37 incorporated standards focus on course design from the perspective of the Community of Inquiry (CoI) model, and help reviewers assess opportunities for social presence, cognitive presence, and teaching presence in addition to the overall online course educational experience.  The OSCQR Rubric is intended to be used for assessing course design rather than the actual course delivery."

Go to the OSCQR - Self-Assessment Rubric Request form, to request a copy of the rubric, and enter your email and title to generate your own self-serve rubric. Be sure your email address is correct or you will not receive a link to the rubric.

Set aside an hour or two to look closely at your course in relationship to each of the criteria outlined in the rubric. If you see any missing elements, consider making changes to your course as soon as possible.

GSEngage Instructional Design Blog

We developed a blog called GSEngage to cultivate a dynamic resource library in an effort to engage our online educators to further engage their online learners. GSEngage contains resources pertaining to online course design in the form of instructional resources (including OER content and repositories), professional development opportunities, and faculty/staff submissions of best practices and effective strategies and more.