Summer Series 2021

Part 4 of 5 of: Planning your Semester, Pt. 1


This week, we suggest two tasks to guide faculty in planning their semester. Both tasks help faculty customize the OpenLab course template to communicate with their students. 

Task 1: Explore Student-Instructor Communication in the Course Template

  • Get familiar with the different types of communication facilitated through the course template:
    • The template facilitates one-way communication from instructors to students. Under the Course Info tab, you will notice pages for your syllabus, the course schedule, and your contact information—all crucial content for your students to know and have access to on your site. The template also suggests using a category archive for your regularly updated announcements to students.
    • The template facilitates two-way communication between instructors and students. For example, the home page includes a survey for your students to fill out at the start of the semester so that you can understand the technology and working spaces available to them as they continue working off-campus. We recommend you use the data from the survey to inform your communication with students throughout the rest of the semester, as well as to inform your expectations for course assignments and participation. 
    • The template also uses category archives for students to submit their assignments, and suggests a number of mechanisms through which you can provide feedback and grades on student work. (Note that FERPA protects student record privacy, and student work should not be graded publicly.)
    • The template facilitates communication between students! This is a key part of creating a lively online classroom. A category archive for Discussions creates a suggested space for students to hold class dialogue online. A first assignment is suggested to you in which students introduce themselves to each other, and encourages students to respond to each other’s introductions for extra credit.
  • Remember that the template is a suggested model for designing your course. It is informed by known best practices for online and  hybrid teaching, but can and should be customized to suit your vision for your semester. Before you begin further customizing the template, ask yourself:
    • What information do my students need from me to be successful this semester? How can I support them and adapt my teaching to these unusual circumstances?
    • How would I like my students to communicate with me this semester? How can I pierce through some of the inertia that we are all feeling as the pandemic wears on?
    • What kind of class dialogue would I like to see this semester? How can I make it relevant to the current moment?

Task 2: Customize the Pages on your Course

  • Prepare and gather your “static” course materials for your site. “Static” here refers to those materials that your students need from day one of the semester and that won’t be updated very much as the months go by. These materials convey information from you to your students, and include:
    • Your syllabus.
    • Your contact info.
    • Your grading policy/ grading rubrics.
    • Your course schedule.
  • Update the pages on your course site with these materials! 
  • If you have course readings that are available online, decide now how you will link to these readings from your OpenLab site. Please make sure to read our copyright guidelines as you do this.
    • Are your readings freely available online? Can you provide links in your syllabus/ class agendas/ course schedule?
    • Are your readings large PDF files? If so, we recommend using an external hosting service to host these files, such as Dropbox, Office 365 or other hosting service provided by the college. You can provide your students with instructions on how to access this service on your OpenLab site. 

We’ll be in touch next week to help you to continue to answer: How can I further design my course to facilitate communication between students? How can I collect student work on the OpenLab?


The OpenLab Community Team

See the full 5-part series on The Open Road.

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