Managing an online course is similar to the process of putting together a puzzle in the sense that online courses also contain individual pieces that must be joined in a particular way before the pattern is revealed. In terms of online courses, that pattern that is ultimately revealed could be aptly described as the Actual Representation of the Planned Curriculum (ARPC). The ARPC is not a published model, but a simple model conceived solely for the purpose of this article that let’s us wrap our minds around the ultimate question concerning online courses - Was the curriculum actually presented as planned? What this suggests is that although the planning phase of an online course does not appear to have boundaries, the presentation i.e., delivery of the curriculum online has clear and absolute boundaries, and by not considering those boundaries as major part of the curriculum planning phase will likely produce undesirable circumstances for your students.
In the ARPC model, the PC (Planned Curriculum) is the curriculum the instructor or department planned to deliver online, and the AR (Actual Representation) is the collection of methods, teaching strategies, and technology tools that were actually used to deliver that curriculum. And as mentioned earlier, those two parts can diverge quickly if they are not considered together during the planning phase.
Another way to visualize the ARPC is as some collection of predictive design principles used to measure student learning in an online course. Of course, the easiest way to visualize the ARPC pattern is to draw it (Fig. 1). In this respect, the first step in creating a course management plan is to conceptualize the individual pieces then put those pieces together to reveal the pattern, the ARPC. The illustration shown in Figure 1 helps us to visualize the overall pattern of interactions in the course, but to effectively manage the course we also need a description of how each piece fits into the overall pattern.
Figure 1. A diagrammatic representation of an example ARPC with eight pieces.
This model (ARPC) had been used to develop more than 20 online courses, including, an online learning seminar developed to assist faculty in developing online courses.
In addition, this model was used to develop a course template that will be used to distribute to faculty members developing new online courses. By using the course template along with an ARPC, faculty members save a considerable amount of time and effort, because the course structure in the template already exhibits "best practices" in course navigation, accessibility, technology, and effectively organizes the course content. When faculty members use the course template along with an ARPC designed specifically to meet their curriculum, their online courses (in order of importance):
1. Look and feel “high quality” which promotes a more effective learning experience for students.
2. Will already meet several essential Quality Matters (QM) standards and be much closer to meeting all the QM standards.
3. Will be completed faster because many of the time-intensive components of course development, such as, consistency, accessibility, and support, are already inherent in the template.
The importance of instructor or student interactions in online courses seems to always be at the base of major discussions concerning distance learning. In fact, you might be hard pressed to find a conversation about online learning in which the interactions between students, course content, and the instructors is not viewed as almost paramount to the success of the course. However, what is rarely discussed in those meetings are strategies for managing those interactions, which are certainly equal to if not of greater importance to simply recognizing the value of the interactions in an online course. Therefore, the purpose of this article was to present some definitive strategies for managing some common instructor-student interactions in an online course.
Ultimately, when faculty members have definitive strategies for developing online courses that result in more effective online learning experiences for their students, they are satisfied, their students are satisfied, and the course itself is in a better position to meet the highest standards of online course delivery.
The ARPC is a simple model that let’s us wrap our minds around the ultimate question concerning online courses - Was the curriculum actually presented as planned? The necessary equipment needed to implement this effective practice includes: Text editing software for organizing ideas and constructing documents that will be used to build the ARPC, a Learning Management System (LMS) in which to deliver the course that was designed using the ARPC, and the quality online course template that is given to faculty members to jump-start the course development process.
The cost is that associated with the time required to build the course, which is considerably reduced by using an ARPC and a course template.
I have written a blog to show how the ARPC works:
Managing An Online Course: Part I
Managing An Online Course: Part II