10 Easy, Low-tech Steps to Getting Your Course Online

Published by Carrie O'Donnell
on Mar 13, 2020

In a global response to COVID-19 Coronavirus, teachers and faculty all over the world are being called upon to make the shift from classroom teaching to conducting their courses completely online. No matter what your experience is with online learning, these 10 steps will help you make this transition efficiently and get you online and teaching in no time.

Step One: Embrace the Change

Many faculty are skeptical of teaching online, which is largely a result of the limits in technology. Early online education was comprised of asynchronous written content with minimal instructor contact and efforts to communicate were often frustrating. Today, Learning Management Systems (LMSs) and web conferencing tools are integrated and easy to use for one-to-one and group communication, and have opened up whole new methods for creating rich and engaging learning experiences–both synchronously (real time) and asynchronously (without real time interaction).

Step Two: Use Your Syllabus as a Guide

Since many of you are starting to build your course in the middle of the semester, you may not want to build out previous weeks. Start with the week you’re in, get up and running, and then build out the first half of the course later.

You likely already have a weekly breakdown on your syllabus so as you build your course online, use your syllabus as a guide. Standard syllabus templates define your expectations and course learning objectives and include:

  • Course title/number

  • Web conference link, day/time of your live meetings

  • Instructor name/office hours/contact information

  • Required text/course materials

  • Course description/perquisites (if any)

  • Course objectives/learning outcomes

  • Attendance policy

  • Late work policy

  • Disability statement

  • Grading scale

  • Assignments with points or % weights

  • Calendar of assignment due dates

  • Instructor introduction

It’s important to include this information in your online course even if you are starting your build mid-semester. You can upload a link to your syllabus in the interest of time but ideally your course will have a page or several pages with a course introduction. This should be followed by a page that introduces you.

Course Introduction (Could be broken up into a few pages depending on your syllabus detail):

  • All of the information in your syllabus and clarity on how your expectations will change as you move from classroom-based to online.

  • Any information that will help the student navigate and succeed, such as course calendar, full assignment descriptions, college policy around accessibility, attendance policy, policy on plagiarism, etc.

Instructor Introduction (written with photo, or recorded video)

Step Three: Gather Your Content

Collect your resources, readings and assignments and group them into sections based on your due dates. Your course structure should be one module per week with approximately 12-15 weeks per semester. Be aware of copyright issues if you’ve scanned printed books or articles. Ideally, the files for your assigned readings and resources should be native digital documents as opposed to scans of print material. For more information about how to obtain these or for questions regarding intellectual property rights, contact your institution’s library for clarification, as policies vary.

Create a digital outline in your course shell starting with a title page (or folder depending on your LMS) for each week and name it, ‘Week’ or ‘Module 1, 2, etc.’ and ‘[the main topic title]’. You might also add the dates covered in that week for a quick reference.

Your course outline now looks like this:

[Course Title]

  • Course Introduction

  • Instructor Introduction

[Module or] Week #, [Title]

Step Four: Write What You Say

The best way to determine what to write in your online course is to ask yourself, “What information do I give my students in class that they need to be able to successfully complete what I’m asking them to do?” For example, when you assign or reference readings in class you likely provide some framework around why you’re asking students to do this reading. With this in mind, create a page in the week you are building with links to the assigned reading and write what you want students to consider as they read or what you want them to do with what they’ve read.

The start of your Week outline looks like this:

To ask students to demonstrate an understanding of the reading let’s follow this page with a quiz.

Step Five: Translate Your Live Lectures

Now we need a place for you to ‘lecture’ and possibly reference slides. This could be done in several ways based on your technology skill level and vision for the course, but the fastest way is to write it.

Create another page in your week and place it between the reading assignment page and the quiz. Write your lecture in a conversational tone in second person based on what you say to your students in class, and include images as needed. You could create a recording of your lecture over slides and upload it to this page, but for now, write your lectures and use them as scripts for recording later.

So, now your Week outline should look like this:

Step Six: Adding Active Engagement

Let’s think about the length of your lecture. Did you notice that this page seems to scroll on for some time? In class, do you talk for an hour straight or, do you pause during your lecture and check in with students to see if they are following you? Do you ask questions to prompt discussion? Or do you ask your students to formulate solutions to share with the class? These are defined forms of active engagement because you’re inviting your students to participate in the learning process.

The LMS is designed to be able to accommodate active engagement opportunities. To take advantage of this, go back through the lecture page you’ve written and make a note at points in your lecture where active engagement usually occurs. At each of these breaks, create a new page of content and paste each section into its own page keeping your note at the bottom. We will revisit these in the next step. If you find that subtopics emerge as you determine these breaks, then title each page accordingly.

So now your Week looks like this:

At the end of the first lecture page perhaps you noted that you stop and ask a question that prompts discussion. So, after Lecture 1, create a discussion board with the question and write out your discussion criteria, or what you want students to include as they formulate a response.

After the second lecture page, perhaps you want students to explore a website or listen to a podcast or watch a Ted Talk. This is referred to as a webtour and most forms of media like this depending on where you sourced it from, will embed on most LMS pages. After the third lecture section you may want students to study some of the concepts discussed during the week to prepare for the quiz and a great way to do this is to add a Quizlet.

Now your Week looks like this:

(Helpful Resources: Quizlet, Timeline JS)

It’s important to note here that if we would’ve opted to record one long lecture video, we might have missed these opportunities to carry over the rich engagement that you use in your face-to-face class to your online course.

Once you’ve configured your active engagement pages, use your note to wrap up each of your lecture subtopic pages with directions elaborating on what students should do next. For example, Lecture 1 might end with, “Proceed to the following discussion board and post your response to the questions provided.” Or, you might move this note to the directions on the discussion board page with something like, “Post your response to the following question by [due date], and provide feedback to at least two other students’ discussion posts by the end of the week.”

Step Seven: Add Assignments

Following the quiz, add an assignment. This could be due the following week or at the end of current Week. This page could be an introduction to a longer assignment or a group assignment, etc.,. There are a myriad of approaches to defining assignment criteria but it’s important to learn how to make your assignments part of the course experience. So for instance, you post an assignment with rubric as a PDF attachment to a regular page. You may have done in your face-to-face course which allows your students to open the assignment instructions, complete it, and then hand it in or email it to you. But if your classroom is online then it makes more sense to recreate the assignment using the LMS assignment features and include the rubric within the assignment page. Students can then upload their submission, it goes directly to the gradebook, you grade it, and they can immediately see their grade and your feedback. Many LMSs also have some amazing features worth exploring as you recreate your assignments in your online course such as assigning group projects, and video discussion response features.

Step Eight: Write an Overview Page for the Week (or Module)

Add an Overview page for the week (or module) that explains what students can expect to do throughout the week, which helps students to plan their time. Some instructors put a checklist in this section to allow students to track their progress. It is best to add Overviews after you’ve mapped out your week so they reflect all of your content, so be sure to update these if weekly content changes.

So, your final Week outline looks like this:

Using this strategy for each of the following weeks will provide a foundation for building the rest of the course. As you apply it, consider variations on this idea and explore opportunities to create engagement keeping in mind that you are not physically in the ‘classroom’ to provide immediate support so any information your students needs to meet your expectations should be included in your written content.

Step Nine: Host Live Meetings

Communication and instructor contact is arguably the most important piece of creating an effective online learning experience. The rule of thumb here is one 1-1.5 hour Live Meeting once a week. There are several variations of this however, if we consider that some of what you would normally lecture on during your live sessions is now written content or potentially a set of 5-7 minute video recordings in your online course. Some faculty opt to do a live lecture during these meetings every other week and use the alternate week for office hours. While standard practice is to hold these at the same time and day each week, it may vary to accommodate students who consistently cannot attend.

So now that we’ve concluded that our course has both synchronous and asynchronous components. Keep in mind that you have the option to make asynchronous sessions graded, as a part of the participation grade. Be sure to include the following information when you describe your synchronous (live) meetings:

Live Meeting:

Pre-Live Session

  • What do you want students to do prior to the live session?

Session Agenda

  • Ice breaker

  • Topic one

Post-Live Session Activity

  • What do you want them to do with the information after the meeting?

Your module, including synchronous and asynchronous activities, could look like this:

Step Ten: Running Your Course Using Announcements

Once you’ve configured your course, communicate weekly. Prior to the first day of each week (or module), post an announcement to recap class progress and introduce students to the upcoming week. Faculty also use announcements to draw attention to exemplary work, relevant discussion posts, or to provide timely resources not already available in the course. Be sure to check the option to email students when you submit your announcements to ensure that they are directly informed of any course updates.


Ideally, your online course includes both asynchronous and synchronous learning experiences and provides rich content for students to explore, discuss, and collaborate around. The advantage to having an online course structure with asynchronous learning opportunities and a Live meeting is that you can call up your course content while you’re on the live meeting, as can students, and direct them to activities which can create opportunities for them to ask very specific questions around content. In addition, since you’ve reallocated some of your lecture content to other forms of delivery, it frees up your Live Meeting time to invite guest lecturers, have panel discussions, interview industry professionals in the field, allow students time to present, create role playing opportunities – the possibilities are endless!

In closing, perhaps the best advice is to approach online learning as a new frontier and embrace it as you did with the curiosity that led you to teach in the first place. Good luck and Godspeed!

By Tammy Lockett, Senior Learning Designer, O’Donnell Learn

Adjunct Faculty, UWW, UMass, Amherst

Tammy’s professional career spans 20 years, starting in graphic and interactive media design, with 14 years in learning experience and instructional design for online and blended learning environments.

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