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Structuring Your Course Elements in a Learning Management System

How Do I Develop a Course Plan in a Learning Management System?

Structuring Your Course

A detailed plan of every week’s class provides students clear guideposts, expectations, and ameliorates anxiety by providing clear structure and expectations in the midst of so much uncertainty.

The weekly plan will include a detailed breakdown of all the tasks in a week (see example table below). Consider posting this in the course overview in the content area of MyLearningSpace (MyLS), Laurier's learning management system.

Sample Weekly Plan



Live Events

On Your Own

Activities and Assignments

Technology Required

Time to Start Thinking About...

Add a row for each week.

Consider breaking content down into bite-size pieces on different days for students who may benefit from additional structure.

If students are expected to engage synchronously, is a recording of this available asynchronously? If so, where will it be found?

Set clear expectations about when asynchronous material should be completed in relation to synchronous sessions (Before? After? By course end?).

Ensure that students understand how asynchronous material connects to the course and use guided questions to help focus students’ reading and make these connections clearer.

Note any key activities or assignments which begin or are due this week to help students see these in context of the larger course structure.

Outline any specific technology, software, or online tools that students will need each week.

Direct hyperlinks to online tools are preferred, and tools that require an account or download should clearly note this, so students can set these up and test them in advance.

This can be an opportunity to focus students on each week’s themes and show how they connect to what is coming later in the course so students can see what they are building towards.

Communicating Timelines

The Calendar tool in MyLS can be an effective way to communicate course-related dates. Events entered into the Calendar tool are automatically added to your students’ calendars. Tools such as Quizzes and Dropbox, where dates may already be entered, can have those dates sent to the Calendar tool by simply checking a checkbox.

The News tool in MyLS can be used to notify your students of upcoming course-related dates or learning opportunities. When a news item is created, students will be notified the next time they log into MyLS.

Intelligent Agents in MyLS function as an automated “if-then” statement tool. They can be used to send emails to a student should they perform, or don’t perform, a specific action. For example, if a student misses the due date for an assignment, the intelligent agent can automatically send an email to that student with prepopulated text you author.

Developing Discussions

Discussion forums exist within most learning management systems, and they can create environments to promote student engagement with content through a managed discussion around probing questions. Discussion forums can be focused on engaging students with their peers around core content questions, or to reflect on their own learning as a means of getting them to question the depth of their knowledge.

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How Can I Build Student Engagement in My Course?

The Importance of Student Engagement

Student engagement within a course is essential for creating impactful learning experiences and learning outcome attainment. When students are engaged, and can see clear pathways to engagement, they are more able to be able to navigate the course and its content and develop the necessary skill and knowledge connections. In thinking about engagement, it is important to consider issues around engaging with content, with peers, and with you and your instructional team.

Engaging with Content

There are many strategies that you can use to promote student engagement with content. During synchronous sessions you can use polling software to promote engagement. Classroom response systems such as iClicker or polling in Zoom, offer the opportunity to run polls to test understanding or climate in learning groups. A poll offers you a quick way of checking in with students to see if they are understanding the subject matter and can assist you in isolating gaps in learning so that you can review content to enhance learning before you move forward.

When you have readings in your course, guiding questions that assist students in clarifying the questions they should be considering when moving through the reading can assist with building engagement. In using guiding question you can support students in ensuring that they can maximize their learning when engaging with course resources so that they can be more adequately prepared to engage with classroom conversations and assessment.

Discussion forums within MyLS are core ways of building student engagement and collaboration. Discussion Forums can be used as a way to:

  • Encourage students to engage with course readings through probing questions;
  • Develop engaging assessment through grading forum submissions; and
  • Assist students in taking ownership of their learning by allowing them to begin discussions with probing questions.

When it comes to moderating discussions, the moderator’s primary role is to manage discussion to ensure it runs smoothly and stays on subject, along with probing participants’ contributions to encourage them to deepen their thinking and analysis. As a moderator, you should remain focused on managing the processes within the discussion and be mindful of navigating group dynamics like dominant participants or participants who push the discussion away from the topic. It is the role of the moderator to redirect discussion back to the topic so that the learning outcomes intended for the discussion are achieved. As a moderator, you should also focus on ensuring each participant contributes respectfully to the discussion topic, answers all questions, and stays on track.

Using your synchronous class time to promote active engagement with the application of course content in a supported way is another good engagement strategy. By using active learning strategies within your course’s synchronous time, you can promote a deeper engagement with material. By moving beyond knowledge delivery into more active engagement with content, students are able to deepen their understanding, build connections between parts of the course and with prior learning, and apply content to relevant, real-world contexts. This engagement helps make the content more ‘real’ for students and allows them to see the relevance of their learning in their aspirations and professional goals.

Engaging with Peers

Creating opportunities for students to engage with each other is an important part of building community within learning groups. Whether in the online environment or in person, the natural ways in which these communities form aren’t always naturally occurring and must be intentionally cultivated. Promoting the importance of small study groups is fundamental to this process along with building time within your classes and tutorials for breakout rooms can assist with giving students increased comfort with small group settings but also in creating connection and collegiality among students. These spaces allow you, and your students, to connect more easily and to build community through the development of group and team-based learning opportunities. Creating engagement in breakout spaces, no matter if they're in person or virtual, is best accomplished with a clear task to complete, with moderation processes clearly set, and through the development of some rules around collegial engagement so that all voices can be heard.

In situations where it is relevant to student learning outcomes, groupwork can be another good strategy to build engagement. Groupwork can be a good way of developing small learning units within your course that can assist with engagement and community development. Building groupwork into your course design as an integral part of its structure allows groups time to move through development phases before any assessment is connected to group performance. When employing groupwork strategies it is useful to consider assessment around the performance of group roles and functions and the skills this develops as a way of promoting the learning that can take place.

Organizing open meeting times that students can use to drop-in to work collaboratively together is another simple strategy that can assist community building. These open meetings can be organized as Zoom sessions and the class can use them for questions, connection, and study "space." You can foreground the purpose of these times and open up conversation with your students around the importance of peer engagement in their learning. Having these times structured into the course provides you the opportunity to allow students collaborating together to invite yourself, or a course TA, into these sessions for a short period to clarify questions and issues in an efficient way.

Engaging with the Instructional Team

Having consistent drop-in times for students to access you builds a clear and consistent avenue for your support and guidance, communicating it continuously, and bringing forward FAQ’s from drop-ins to the whole class goes a long way in allaying student fears and anxiety throughout term. Showing students a clear pathway to support is critical. Having time available for yourself, as well as teaching assistance in the course, will open up flexibility and choice for students around accessing supports.

Arriving for your class ten minutes early to open the session, and remaining 10 minutes at the conclusion, can replicate what happens naturally outside of on-campus classes. This time can be used as open space to clarify questions, talk about the challenges, or just to say hello and show your availability. This can be productive time as it offers you the opportunity to address not just those asking questions but everyone in the class at that time and therefore increase the value of the time. Above all though, it is a clear display of your availability and support for your students as they navigate this new learning environment.

Looking for ways to get your class down to smaller groups of students can also assist with engagement. This may be difficult in large classes but the use of tools like break-out spaces, especially when you have teaching assistants, can be extremely beneficial in promoting a more connected experience. Breaking your class down into smaller groups for your synchronous time, for example, three groups with one hour each of synchronous time, can also assist in making the class size more conducive to connection and engagement.

Principles for Developing Engaging Content

When you are developing asynchronous material, or utilizing the various tools available in your learning management system, consider the following questions to support the development of engaging content:

  • Have you created a mix of traditional, written content and multimedia material in your course?
  • Are there clear directions on how students are supposed to engage with course material?
  • Are there opportunities for students to check their learning embedded throughout key points in the course?
  • Have you used copyright-free or self-developed visuals as a way of creating a rich and impactful experience as they navigate the material?
  • Has the material been clearly connected to the goals of each synchronous session you’ve planned?
  • Have you included guiding questions to assist students through reading any articles or chapters of content?
  • Have you provided a clear enough narrative to guide students through the material and thread asynchronous material together?

When you are developing course content within MyLS, it is important to ensure that the material has clear instructions around it so that students can understand how they should engage with it and have the opportunity to test their understanding of core concepts. Without this, students will be confused about how the material is supposed to be used and how it connects with their overall learning in the course. For example, when posting an article for students to read, include a few questions they can consider when they are reading it or a short description of its purpose and value to build their understanding and engagement.

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What Tools are Available in MyLearningSpace?

Tools for Assessment

  • MyLS Dropbox: Students can submit assignments electronically to the Dropbox tool in MyLS and receive feedback and grading information.
  • Gradescope: Collects paper-based or electronic assignments. Assignments can be templated to streamline grading.
  • PeerMark: Students submit a paper and are invited to review others’ assignments and provide feedback.
  • Quizzes: Offer open-book assessments and create different types of auto-gradable questions, such as multiple-choice, true or false, short answer, fill-in-the blank, and matching. Written response questions can be graded manually.
  • Video Assignments: Students can record a video assignment directly in MyLS and submit for assessment.
  • Rubrics: Create holistic or analytic rubrics to provide clarity in assessing students’ overall achievement of a learning objective. Analytic rubrics allow for any number of levels and criteria for assessment and can be easily edited and copied between courses.

Further information on the above tools and more can be found on Connect: eLearning.

Tools for Groupwork

MyLS’s Group tool allows students to be placed into random or assigned groups, and to participate in discussion restricted to their group members or collaborate to submit assignments as a group. Assessment of group assignments are returned to all group members automatically.

Microsoft's 365 suite of tools (Office, Excel, Powerpoint, MS Whiteboard etc) has collaborative features that allow students to simultaneously colleaborate on the same document or whiteboard for brainstorming or final product creation. Each student can see the others changes live and digital whiteboards and documents persist after class for students to keep working with, assessed or not, or used as study aids. Look for the "Share" feature in any Microsoft product or on the web. 

Tools for Engagement

The Survey tool in MyLS works much like the Quiz tool, however it is not connected to a grade item. Surveys can be a useful tool to check in with students and gather formative feedback on the course to better understand what has been working and where questions still remain. Surveys can be set-up to allow anonymous submission at the instructor’s choice.

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