Over the past few months, there has been a lot of discussion between some of my faculty regarding the concept of being consistent in our online courses. The debate stems from a discussion rubric that is used in all of our courses. Over time each course and instructor has revamped their discussion rubric to include and align with specific course requirements. These revamps in the rubric has now caused some confusion among students as they progress through our program and different courses. As such, it has begun the debate between consistency or creativity among certain aspects in our online courses.
While it is nice to have consistency among courses in terms of course design, course layouts, deadlines, etc., it also necessary to have variety in class content, assignments, activities, etc. However, where is the line drawn? While there is a different dynamic between taking courses in a face-to-face setting compared to an online on - one of the major aspects that remain the same is that each instructor has a different teaching style or method for approaching the content they are presenting. As such, it does make sense to have some aspects differ among courses - this would include a discussion rubric.
I view consistency as an important aspect in the layout and design of online courses. Students should login to a course and expect to find the same elements in the same spots. Navigation should remain consistent as well as certain important sections: instructor information, course "Start Here", assignments, discussions, and weekly content. In online courses, this is especially important. Many online courses are set in a quick time frame (6 weeks, 8 weeks, 12 weeks, etc.). When courses change that quickly, the learner would have to adjust between how courses are set up which can take a lot of time. If the template or course set-up is the same or similar, learners can start to focus on the content rather than the layout of the course.
Creativity comes in the way the content is presented to the learners. This information can be presented via videos, lectures, readings, or activities. This also extends to the assignments and expectations. Much like a face-to-face class, the requirements would not be the same in each class - nor would you want them to. You need variety to keep learners interested between classes and content. Also, there is not a "one-size-fit-all" assignment for all content. For example, a written assignment would work for history but may not work for a mathematics course.
Same Elements with Different Requirements
As described earlier, each one of our courses have a discussion rubric. While the discussion rubric is a required element in each of the courses (for consistency sake) the way it is written and the requirements are changed (creativity among courses). The same could be said of the course syllabus - each class has one but each class syllabus is different (for the content of the course). Discussions are the same way - each course has discussions but the discussion format is different (debate, essay, pro and con, role playing, etc.).
What do you all think? Where is the line for creativity in online courses? How can this line be drawn? Are there elements that you think should remain the same and should be different? In your situations - either as a student or a designer - what elements do you think should remain consistent and where should the creativity begin?