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Adaptive Course Design

This guide enables faculty to design quality courses on Schoology. These courses can be taught remotely or traditionally. The main guiding feature of this LibGuide is the Adaptive Course Design Rubric.

Best Practices in Learner Engagement

In this section, we discuss the various aspects of student engagement in the remote learning environment. This information is also useful for courses taught traditionally. This section demonstrates the best practices in maintaining student engagement for a quality learning experience. Student engagement when implemented through a learning management system like Schoology is slightly different from a live classroom. 

Create a Sense of Community

  • Create a “community of care” in online programs: A supportive, caring classroom environment creates a positive experience for online students and helps students know they are not alone throughout the educational journey. Ask about and think about the needs and values specific to your students in this community.

  • Remember that establishing a sense of community is key to help avoid students’ feelings of isolation or loneliness. Establishing a sense of community early on has also been shown to be the most effective strategy to improve the learning process, increase retention, and combat loneliness (Gallagher-Lepak, Reilly, & Killion, 2009).

  • Create an online environment of respect, collegiality, caring, and professionalism.

  • Create a consistent environment across courses.

  • Have students collaborate to increase a sense of teamwork, community, and collegiality.

  • Connection, not content, is the key to success in the online environment.

  • Use discussions to create a sense of community and to overcome the sense of distance. This helps students feel connected and creates a sense of presence of other students and faculty.

  • At the start of a course, employ activities to promote student interactions and bonds as well as to help them become acquainted. Use ice breakers and introductory messages each week. It is important for faculty to participate in these activities.

  • Students also appreciate a video introduction from faculty at the start of the course. Keep the video short, approximately 3 minutes or less. Share a few details of your professional and personal life to connect with students.

  • There are six elements required to build a sense of community and enhance online interactions:

  • Honesty

  • Responsiveness

  • Relevance

  • Respect

  • Openness

  • Empowerment


Billings, D.M., & Halstead, J.A. (2012). Teaching in nursing: A guide for faculty (4th ed.). Elsevier Saunders.

Gallagher-Lepak, S., Reilly, J., & Killion, C.M. (2009). Nursing student perceptions of community in online learning. Contemporary Nurse, 32(1-2), 133-146.


  • Good communication is a key to success in the online environment. Excellent interpersonal communication skills are vital.  Keep lines of communication with students and between students open. 

  • Provide prompt feedback and indicate at the start of the course when feedback will come (recommendation: within 24-48 hours). In regards to timely feedback, immediacy helps students to learn since students still have their attention on that assignment or exam.

  • Check in with each student individually.

  • Provide feedback on assignments and evaluations via video chat, recorded voice message, or phone conversation.

  • Hold virtual office hours.

  • Communicate high expectations.

  • Ask for feedback frequently with anonymous Likert surveys.

  • Encourage questions and comments.

  • Communicate clear expectations and due dates. Provide itemized module checklists as well as lists of required, recommended, or optional activities.

  • Communicate to students at the start of the course that procrastination on course work is definitively tied to student success in online courses.

Assignment Feedback

  • Feedback should give information, direction, and evaluation.

  • Feedback from faculty and other students enhances growth and critical thinking.

  • Always acknowledge that work has been received.

  • Feedback to students should give information and direction as well as evaluation by judging the work and offering ways to improve.

  • It is helpful to provide examples of expectations for assignments. Exemplars of excellent work are always appreciated by students.

Research has shown that asynchronous audio feedback may convey more information in less time, leading to attainment of several goals:

  • A clearer sense of direction for students

  • The ability for students to review the asynchronous content multiple times

  • An option to listen to the message several times

  • A more personalized message 

  • Increased student perception that faculty care and increased sense of involvement

  • Increased student retention of content

  • Students expressed a strong preference for audio feedback vs. written feedback 


Ice, P., Curtis, R., Phillips, P., & Wells, J. (2007). Using asynchronous feedback to enhance learning presence and students’ sense of community. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 11(2), 3-25.

Wood, K.A., & Moskovitz, C. (2011). Audio feedback for student writing in online nursing courses: Exploring student and instructor reactions. Journal of Nursing Education, 50(9), 540-543.

Expect “Netiquette” from your Students: Internet Etiquette 

  • In an online environment, it is easy to misinterpret statements; be considerate of other individuals’ feelings.

  • Consider privacy and copyright laws before posting.

  • Keep postings efficient and concise.

  • Ensure the quality of your writing and know what you are talking about; be pleasant and polite.

  • Remember that sharing knowledge makes the world a better place.

  • Avoid expressing strongly held opinions without holding back. Remember it is unfair to other students to monopolize the online conversation; this behavior can destroy the camaraderie of the group.

  • Respect other individuals’ right to privacy.

  • Be forgiving. Avoid correcting little mistakes. If you need to inform someone of a mistake, do so privately.  


Shea, V. (1994). Core rules of netiquette. Educom Review, 29(5), 58-62.

Online Discussions

Online Discussions

Online threaded dialogue is a primary source of evaluating critical thinking about course content; the instructor serves as a facilitator, guide and coach throughout the process. 

Benefits of Online Discussions

  • Provides a method for assessing students’ critical thinking skills.

  • Allows for a recording of discussion content over the entire course.

  • Enables students to go back and reflect on their own process of critical thinking.

  • Enhances synthesis of course content 

  • Encourages participation and a sense of community.

  • Provides a time for reflection.

  • Requires students to read texts and critically apply this knowledge.

  • Allows independent learning.

  • Encourages team work.

  • Promotes the sharing of different views.

  • Enhances students’ abilities to analyze and synthesize content.

Leading Discussions Online

  • Provide discussion questions that encourage progressively more sophisticated critical thinking.

  • When a discussion boards fail, it is typically because 3% of learners account for 97% of content. Therefore, make discussion board participation a part of each student’s grade to incentivize participation.

  • Identify a group leader.

  • To interact with more depth, students require time to post, read, compose, respond, and read others’ responses after reflecting on course materials and postings.

  • If there are more than 15 students, divide students into two discussion groups to make the workload manageable.

  • Provide a rubric and exemplars of strong discussion board postings and expectations.

  • Discussion questions should be based on Bloom’s taxonomy and require students to describe multiple perspectives.

  • Ask students to demonstrate comprehension by giving examples and applying what they have learned from course materials to the real world.

  • Assist students to analyze common themes and underlying assumptions and synthesize information into new applications through additional questions.

  • Offer guidelines regarding expected quality and quantity of postings, as well as exemplars of strong postings.

  • Provide minimum/maximum number of postings per discussion and length of postings to keep one student from dominating the discussion.

  • With time, remember that many students will take on behaviors modeled by faculty.

  • Ensure adequate time to post, and create small discussion groups (7-8 students or less per group).       


Billings, D.M., & Halstead, J.A. (2012). Teaching in nursing: A guide for faculty (4th ed.). Elsevier Saunders.

Leppa, C.L. (2004). Assessing student critical thinking through online discussions. Nurse Educator, 29(4), 156-160.

Mahoney, J.S., Marfurt, S., & Engebretson, J. (2005). Design and evaluation of an online teaching strategy in a psychiatric course. Archives of Psychiatric Nursing, 19(6), 264-272.

Evaluate Critical Thinking in the Discussion Board Environment

  • Do early questions lead the student to explore alternative positions from experience?

  • Does the student explore common themes/underlying assumptions from postings?

  • Does the student ask complex questions that rely on course material and discussions?

  • Does the student synthesize knowledge and apply it to a new situation?

(Garrison, Anderson, & Archer, 2001; Leppa, 2004)


Garrison, D., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2001). Critical thinking, cognitive presence, and computer conferencing in distance education. American Journal of Distance Education, 15(1), 7-23.

Leppa, C.L. (2004). Assessing student critical thinking through online discussions. Nurse Educator, 29(4), 156-160.

Important Caring Behaviors of Faculty, as Identified by Online Students 

  1. Write clear instructions about due dates and schedules.

  2. Provide a detailed course calendar.

  3. Respond to postings and emails within 48 hours.

  4. Post clear instructions regarding acceptable length and quality of required online communication.

  5. Demonstrate excellence in creating and presenting content online.

  6. Provide supportive, corrective guidance.

  7. Express the belief that students will be successful.

  8. Refer to specifics in a student’s work so students know their work was thoroughly reviewed.

  9. Provide scheduled phone availability for consult.

  10. Recount challenges in previous experiences with the online setting as well as solutions.


Sitzman, K. Student-preferred caring behaviors for online nursing education. (2010). Nursing Education Perspectives, 31(3), 171-178.