Section 3: Online Instructional Materials and Course Organization

Identifying and Evaluating Instructional Materials

Continuing with the backward design approach, once you have your outcomes and the assignments you’ll use to assess those outcomes, you then need to look at the instructional materials you’re providing your students to help them successfully complete your assignments. You may already have some of your materials identified such as textbooks, other books, articles, or online publisher materials/digital learning tools.

As you put together your instructional materials, if you’re gathering materials that were not created by you or by the publisher of a text that your students have purchased, you should always verify the use and attribution requirements for those materials.

Evaluation Criteria

As you evaluate instructional materials, the first things you normally consider are

  • is it accurate?
  • is it relevant? (Does it provide information that students need to complete your assignment?)
  • is it understandable? (Is it at a level appropriate to your student’s current understanding of the topic or concept?)

When evaluating instructional materials consider the extent to which each is interesting, approachable, and engagingThis isn’t about materials being “entertaining.” It’s about whether it can spark curiosity and promote deeper thinking about the content. The more engaged students are with the materials you provide for learning, the more they will learn. To encourage engagement it is helpful to include a variety of types of materials in addition to text such as images, charts, diagrams, audio, video, or interactive activities. When you providing more than one way of learning a thing, it’s more likely learners will find something that will engage them and help them learn.  offers a robust framework for thinking about multiple means of representation as well as multiple means of expression and action.

There are some specific things to look for in both text and video materials that can increase the potential for engagement.

Text-based Materials

As you look at text-based materials, there are a few things to consider.

  • Are instructional materials with a teaching purpose (so not journal articles, primary sources, etc.) written in a friendly and conversational tone?
  • Are materials written at an appropriate reading level for your students? Realize that this is going to be lower than your reading level so what sounds fine to you may leave your students struggling.  If you aren’t sure, you can run part of it through a Readability Checker.
  • If it’s a scanned document, is the quality of the scan good enough that it can be easily read? If it’s skewed, blurry, or grainy it’s best to go through the library and get a better version. If it’s an article, it may be available through the library full-text databases.
  • If it’s a scanned document, is it actually made of text or is it literally a photograph of the page? If you click on the page and it turns blue, it’s a photograph. See Accessible PDF Files in the Canvas Semester Checklist for instructions on how to fix this as well as how to rotate pages so students aren’t tilting their heads sideways to read.

You’ll also want to identify things in the material that need your explanation or commentary. If you normally talk through a resource in class, you’ll need to provide that scaffolding to your students online.

Video Materials

Part of evaluating video materials is determining how much and what sort of video would be useful for your students. Here we are talking primarily about video that others have made. We’ll look more specifically at video that you make later in this module.

If you want your students to be able to do something that someone can demonstrate, then video would be a very good option.  If your content involves specific places or cultures, video can help to make them real to your students in ways that pictures and words on a page cannot. If parts of your content are especially challenging to your students, walking through these rough points with diagrams or a virtual whiteboard can provide clarification. If your students have difficulty engaging with the content, videos can offer a more approachable way in.

Good places to start to look for videos are

While not technically video, the Smithsonian Institute’s Smithsonian X 3D Explorer offers a collection of artifacts and tours that are interactive and, as the name suggests, 3-dimensional.

Considerations for Video

  • How well does the video align with your class? Is it something that will directly help students reach a learning outcome or is interesting but not directly applicable.
  • Is it at the right level for your students? Do they have the prerequisite background knowledge to get out what you want them to get out of it? Students will tune out if they don’t understand what the speaker is talking about—especially if the video uses jargon, acronyms, and other technical terms the student doesn’t know. 
  • How long is the video? Research shows that people’s attention begins to wander after a few minutes. Do your students really only need to watch part of the video? Identify that part and give them the beginning and ending times.
  • Does the video keep your attention? If you dozed or multitasked while the video was playing, the odds are good your students will do the same.

As an example of an engaging video you might pull into your course, here is one created by IU Media Arts and Sciences lecturer Mathew A. Powers in collaboration with both author John Green and his production company and School of Informatics alumni on the history of games. The video is part of a larger series stemming from his History of Video Games course (Inside IU article).

 

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