An Online Core

What is an online core?

An online core is the center around which your course pivots between the face-to-face and distance environment. Even if you are teaching fully online, you are likely bringing a face-to-face course to the online environment. The purpose of the online core is enable all your learners to achieve full course citizenship regardless of how they are able to participate. There are three elements to the core: communication, content, and assessments.

Communication refers to the ways in which your learners will connect with you and with their fellow students.

Content is the “what” your class is trying to teach. It includes the ideas, skills, and knowledge your course is trying to convey to learners. Content also implies a medium: readings, videos, podcasts, etc.

Assessments refer to the summative – high-stakes, graded – and formative – lower stakes, informal – ways that you will know that students have achieved their learning outcomes.

At the core of the online core

Equivalence is central to the online core. With a course’s essential statement and objectives/learning outcomes in mind, all students should have an equivalent experience. For example, watching a lecture online that other students experienced face-to-face is an equivalent experience if you also build in a way for the online students to ask questions, get clarification, and interact with activities that the face-to-face students experienced, such as a think-pair-share. A core is about building citizenship in your class for all students. While not all students will access your course in the same way, they should have the ability to participate fully. Having multiple means for representing key course concepts means that students who aren’t able to attend or have poor internet connectivity will be able to have at least one way to access course content that is workable for them. From an instructor’s point of view, having multiple means to access content shifts the relationship with the student. Where before the student unable to attend may have seemed like an obstacle to surmount or a problem to solve, now they have become a full member of the class.

This seems really overwhelming… how can I make this manageable?

It is true that adding multiple means of representation, expression, and engagement to all course elements is a daunting (and probably foolish) task. Rather than tackling everything in your course, we recommend that you adopt a “plus-1” approach. Coined by Thomas Tobin and Kirsten Behling, the plus-1 approach encourages instructors to think of the “pinch points” or elements that will disproportionately inhibit the experience of learners in a course. Then add another means of representation, expression, or engagement to shore up those pinch points.

During this continued time of COVID and related precautions, we encourage you to adapt the plus-1 approach to think about all the learning environments your course will serve (face-to-face, mask-to-mask, online, synchronous online, etc.) and look for places where universal design can alleviate the sting of your pinch points.

For example, what would happen if students could not attend a synchronous online session? Perhaps you could add in a way for students to download and watch your video (multiple means of representation) and participate in the class discussion through Canvas (engagement).

How do I add a “plus-1” element?

One way to answer this question is to go to the National Center for Universal Design website which has examples for how to meet the benchmarks for representationexpression, and engagement. These can be useful in brainstorming ways that will work in your class to add universal design elements.

Another way to answer this question is to ask your colleagues and CATL for recommendations.

Types of cores

Not all cores will be the same. At one end of the spectrum will be courses where a face-to-face element is central to the experience of the class. First-year experience classes try to introduce students to the campus itself. Lab courses rely on manipulating specialized equipment. Ensembles build their sound on the blending of voices or instruments. The core for these courses will consider how to make the best use of the physically distant face-to-face environment; how to do as much work online to maximize the face-to-face time; and how to pivot online should we experience another shutdown like last Spring.

At the other end of the spectrum are those classes which do not necessarily require face-to-face interaction. For these classes, it will be important to move the course’s center of gravity to the online environment.

Many courses will fall somewhere in the middle between these two poles. Regardless of the listing in the schedule of classes, building your content, communication, and assessments online will give you maximum flexibility to deal with whatever comes our way this fall.