It’s not just a reading list: Adding context to resources in your course

By Jackie Wickham

In the School of Professional Studies, online courses are designed to facilitate three types of interaction: student/faculty, student/content, and student/student. One easy way to increase interaction between students and faculty, as well as students and content, is to add context to the list of resources in your course.

Adding an explanation to the resources for each module in your course serves three main purposes:

  • Tailoring the curriculum to your own teaching style: If you’re teaching a course you didn’t design, it may feel difficult to make the course your own. By explaining to your students how the course resources provided relate to each other, the course assessments, and your own experiences, you can customize the course and help students focus on the areas you feel are most important.
  • Allowing students to customize their learning experience: Adult learners in SPS courses bring a wide variety of educational and professional knowledge and experience to each course. They’re also busy people; many have full-time jobs and families. Knowing what they’re getting into before they begin reading, watching, or interacting with a course resource is helpful to students both for managing time and selecting the best path to take through the course based on their prior knowledge.
  • Creating a deeper relationship between faculty and students: Students choose SPS for the interaction with the fabulous faculty! Any time you can add a personal touch to the course, students feel like they know you better and are getting more out of the class.

Contextualizing course resources takes some work up front, but it is one of the easiest ways to make your course more engaging and relevant for all of your students. Some strategies for adding context to your course are:

  • Write a weekly “roadmap” explaining the course resources: A quick paragraph – whether posted on a content page in a weekly module or as an announcement – describing the course resources, how they relate to the learning outcomes, and how students can use them to complete the upcoming course assessments – is a quick and easy way to orient students and set expectations for the week.
  • Embed videos on the weekly content pages: You can create a “roadmap” video with the same content described above, or several shorter videos with deeper context about a selection of resources. You can also use technology tools, such as Zaption or ThingLink, to make these videos interactive.
  • Add a short explanation next to each resource: Rather than explaining how all of the resources relate to each other, you can add an explanation to each resource to explain which students might find it helpful.
  • Group and organize resources: You can group the resources in your course site by topic, by which assessment they relate to, by which course objective they fulfill, or any other method you choose. You can also add groups of resources for students who may not have yet taken a previous course in the program or don’t have the same professional background as the majority of students in the course.
  • Add a personal story: Using text or video, describe how a course resource relates to one of your own personal or professional experiences.

A learning designer or instructional technologist is happy to review your course and suggest ways to contextualize your resources. You can contact us at distanceeducation@northwestern.edu.


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