Editor’s note: Dr. Kashif A. Ahmad is a teaching professor and medical education facilitator with the Carle Illinois College of Medicine who has taught online courses for a decade. Ahmad, who has instructed in Pakistan, the United Kingdom and Singapore and mentors other faculty members who are new to distance education, spoke with News Bureau education editor Sharita Forrest about his best practices for creating online courses.
What are the special or unique challenges of adapting medical education to online delivery, and how can those be addressed or overcome?
First, instructors need to accept online instruction as a mode of content delivery that can provide quality educational experiences.
Online learning promotes lifelong learning. Some educators believe that the current push to move college courses online to help contain the spread of the novel coronavirus is sparking long-overdue innovation in higher education, prompting faculty members to rethink their instructional methods rather than rely solely upon the traditional lecture formats they’ve used in the past.
Hands-on or kinesthetic learning skills that are usually offered live are difficult to implement online. Instructors should consider promoting critical thinking by introducing mini-cases, clinical vignettes or problem-solving exercises.
Providing 24-hour technology support for students can be challenging. The priority should be allocating resources to supporting the students.
How can a mentoring relationship help a first-time online instructor and what should a first-timer look for in an online teaching mentor?
An online teaching mentor can discuss the challenges of putting a course online and provide support and assistance in course design and delivery. Mentors who are familiar with the learning management system can help new faculty members to navigate the online elements informally and in a casual setting.
If the online mentor is an expert in the same subject matter, that helps even more. The mentor and the mentee can bounce ideas off each other in developing their courses, even if each course or the content presented requires a different instructional strategy.
Mentees should collect student feedback on their course design midway through the course or at the end of the course, and make changes based on that constructive criticism to ensure they are providing the optimal learning experience for their students.
What preparatory steps can help an instructor build effective and engaging digital content that does not seem impersonal, too rote or overwhelming?
Instructors need to go beyond simply posting their lectures online, which students might not find all that useful or engaging.
There are a wide variety of online tools and videos available that can be used to enhance courses. Interactive online tools enable students from all over the globe to collaborate on projects and learn from each other, just like they would with group projects in the classroom.
Instructors need to analyze all parts of their course to determine where they can easily provide both the lessons and the learning assessments online. Starting with these segments, the instructor should “chunk” the content — for example, create online lectures that are a maximum of 15 minutes long or short reading assignments that students can complete within an allotted time.
As an online mentor, I urge mentees to create a blueprint that maps each course objective with online assessments that test students’ comprehension of the information presented and provide feedback.
What resources are available to help instructors modify classroom-based courses to online environments?
Since most textbook publishers now provide content online as well, instructors should look closely at the textbook’s supplemental information, which can assist them in setting up their learning modules.
Instructors may want to consider using adaptive release in their learning management system, which makes the content available to their students on a week-to-week basis. This gives the instructor additional time to create or modify it. If adaptive release is used, instructors need to communicate this to the students so they know what to expect.
During my 10 years of online teaching, I found resources such as Quality Matters (https://www.qualitymatters.org) helpful in improving online content delivery.
What elements can be built into online courses to ensure that they are challenging students sufficiently and reinforcing the concepts students are supposed to learn?
I advise mentees to create exercises that stimulate critical-thinking skills and enhance students’ learning experience. Guided-inquiry learning requires student scientists to investigate and analyze a problem, targeting their higher-level thinking and process skills.
Each learning module should include learning assessments that reinforce key concepts and are easy for the instructor to implement and for students to use. For example, fill-in-the-blank and short-answer quizzes can be difficult to implement in most online learning management systems, whereas multiple-choice and matching exercises can be scored automatically. Quizzes with short-answer questions and fill-in-the-blank questions will have to be graded manually, however.
Does an instructor need to change the course content significantly when migrating from classroom-based to online delivery?
Instructors do not need to change the content of a face-to-face course just because it will be delivered online. Remember: They are simply repackaging the content for a different delivery method.
However, instructors may have to break a long lecture into 15-minute “chunks” that present the most important topics first.
They also will need to create a detailed online syllabus that includes information such as instructions and links for accessing the content.