Planning Course Design

Planning Course Design
Course Completion Deadlines
Online and Hybrid Course Definitions
Course Planning Resources


Taking the time to plan the design of an online or hybrid course is critical to its success. New course designers especially should plan to take at least two semesters to plan and develop a new online course. The resources below may be used to adequately plan a new course.

Planning Course Design

Prior to beginning course development, new course designers are required and experienced course designers are strongly encouraged to discuss the design, or redesign, of their courses with the MTSU Instructional Design Specialist (IDS), who is located in Room 348 of the James E. Walker Library in the Learning, Teaching and Innovative Technology Center, and may be reached at 615-494-7671 to schedule an appointment. 

Course Completion Deadlines

The Course Completion Deadlines below will assist in planning development of an online or hybrid course. Depending on the semester of delivery, all course content must be complete and ready for the peer review by the correlating date in the chart below.

Semester Course To be Offered Peer Review Due Date
 Summer or Fall  March 1
Spring  October 1

Incomplete courses are not peer reviewed.  Course designers are encouraged to use the Peer Review Form as a course development/redesign guide. This form contains the baseline elements required to complete an online/hybrid course. It is used by the course designer for a self-evaluation of the completed course and by the assigned Online Faculty Mentor (OFM) to conduct the peer review.

New online and hybrid courses are added to a semester schedule only after the review/approval process has been completed and no later than four weeks prior to the start of the semester of delivery. Exceptions are approved by the University Provost's Office.

MTSU Online and Hybrid Course Definitions

Part of planning your course is the determination of the type of delivery method best suited for your discipline and your students. These definitions are provided to assist you with making that decision.

MTSU Online Courses

  • All class instruction takes place in an online environment
  • May include optional orientations and proctored exams.  (These would be listed in PipelineMT as memo notes. Students must click on the CRN to view notes. Optional meetings will not create a time conflict.)  Students cannot be penalized for non-attendance.
  • No physical class attendance requirements.
  • "D" section number is attached.
  • A distance learning fee ($30 per credit hour-graduate and undergraduate) is charged.
  • Courses are reviewed and approved through UC.
  • Development and redesign fees apply.

Hybrid Courses

  • A significant portion of instruction and activities take place online
  • May include up to 15 hours of required or mandatory campus meetings per semester. (Mandatory meetings will create time conflicts in Banner.  Students can be penalized for non-attendance.)
  • "D" section number is attached.
  • A distance learning fee ($30 per credit hour-graduate and undergraduate) is charged.
  • Courses are reviewed and approved through UC.
  • Development and redesign fees apply.

Accelerated Online Courses

  • Approved online courses may be offered in an accelerated, 8-week, format each Fall and Spring Semester
  • Students may take only 9 hours in each part of term (A1 or A2)
  • Students may mix accelerated courses with full-term courses not to exceed 18 hours total
  • Students must register for A2 courses during regular registration.
  • Students are not permitted to add the A2 courses after late registration ends except by special permission.
  • May include optional orientation and proctored exams (exams would be listed in PipelineMT as memo notes. Students must click on the CRN to view notes. Optional meetings will not create time conflicts.)
  • Five seats each course/semester are restricted to students in the B.S., Liberal Studies degree.
  • "D" section number is attached.
  • A distance learning fee ($30 per credit hour-graduate and undergraduate) is charged.
  • Courses are reviewed and approved through UC.
  • Development fees apply if created for accelerated online delivery first.

Course Planning Resources

Course Design – It's all about Content and Interaction - TN eCampus

Keep it simple; make it better; and resist the temptations to do otherwise.

  • It's about content. Having something to say or share with students that they will find worth reading, seeing and experiencing. There are lots of resources, so choosing the best wisely is key.
  • In many ways you are a guide to the resources and a simplifier of how to get the right result the first time. How you organize the resources and provide students useful directions and information about using them are critical.
  • It's also about interaction. In an online course there are three types of interaction you will be creating with the activities you plan:
    • interaction between the student and the content material;
    • interaction between the student and you; and
    • interaction among students in the class.

In each case the interaction should be instrumental to success in the course or task. Become familiar with the array of web tools for interaction and select those that best fit what you are trying to accomplish. Talk with your fellow online faculty, surf other course sites, look at the courseware tutorials.

  • Don't provide anything -- information, links, or functionality -- that you don't expect students to use.
  • Keep in mind that you will get what you inspect not what you expect, so plan ways that students show you that they have used and learned what you have provided them. Be very specific in your assignments. Students may be confused by any ambiguity due to the lack of face-to-face contact.
  • Use a consistent organizational pattern (module template).
  • Make sure content is accurate, technically correct, readable and easy to follow. Navigation should work correctly and that the authority and currency of the page can be determined.
  • Faculty members should be aware of the copyright issues, privacy of information, and net-etiquette with the Internet.
  • Solicit feedback and suggestions on how to improve your site. Seek out the advice of your peers.
  • Some of your students will be very "internet savvy" and can provide valuable information to improve your course design. Some of this course "tweaking" can be done during the semester or between semesters. Encourage your students to report dead links, inactive pages, or other malfunctions in your web course.

As you brainstorm approaches to inform your design, you might want to look at two theories of learning and knowledge that seem to be gaining traction nationally - Constructivism and Connectivism.

Given that your goal is to educate students and help them learn better, you obviously do not see your students as passive participants in your course. With this shift from giving information to the passive student sitting on the other side of the screen, to one of engaging the student in becoming a part of the learning environment, the entire conception of online learning and design has been altered.

Constructivism is an alternative approach to how people learn and assimilate new knowledge. Humans are seen as active, knowledge-searching creatures that transform and interpret experiences. They assimilate new knowledge by producing cognitive structures that are similar to the experiences they are engaged in. They then accommodate themselves to these newly developed knowledge structures and use them within their collection of experiences as they continue to interact with the environment. Knowledge is adaptive, facilitating individual and social efficacy. Knowledge is subjective and self-organized, not objective. Knowledge acquisition involves both sociocultural and individual processes.

In applying constructivism to your design, some key questions to ask yourself are:

  • Relevance: How relevant is online learning to students' professional growth in your discipline?
  • Reflection: Does online learning stimulate students' critical reflective thinking?
  • Interactivity: To what extent do students engage online in rich educative dialogue?
  • Faculty Support: How well do I enable students to participate in online learning?
  • Peer Support: Is sensitive and encouraging support provided online by fellow students?
  • Interpretation: Do students make good sense of each other's online communications?

Closely aligned with Constructivism is Connectivism. Applying Connectivism to online learning comes from "Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age," by George Siemens -

Siemens posits the following principles of connectivism:

  • Learning and knowledge rest in diversity of opinions.
  • Learning is a process of connecting specialized nodes or information sources.
  • Learning may reside in non-human appliances.
  • Capacity to know more is more critical than what is currently known.
  • Nurturing and maintaining connections is needed to facilitate continual learning.
  • Ability to see connections between fields, ideas, and concepts is a core skill.
  • Currency (accurate, up-to-date knowledge) is the intent of all connectivist learning activities.

Addie Model of Instructional Design

An instructional design model called "ADDIE" (Analyze, Design, Develop, Implement, and Evaluate) may be helpful as course designers plan the design of their new online or hybrid courses.

Planning a Distance Education Course

The University of Washington Learning and Scholarly Technologies website shares course planning information which is particularly important due to the challenges of online instruction.

Design Checklists

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