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SUNY Online Exemplary Course Elements

SUNY Online Exemplary Course Elements

Developing and delivering a quality course for online delivery can be intimidating, particularly if the instructor has never taken an online course as a student nor seen what is possible in the online arena.  SUNY Online has created this site to provide a sneak peek into some exemplary course elements across a variety of disciplines.

What makes an online course “exemplary”?

It’s not as difficult to create an exemplary course as you might imagine.  Exemplary courses don’t necessarily require high-end multimedia productions or lots of bells and whistles.  In fact, some exemplary courses have very little integrated technology beyond the learning management system itself!  What seems to matter most to online students are a small number of achievable course design and delivery practices.  In fact, the instructional practices highlighted below foster student learning and engagement; create a sense of community; address stated learning outcomes and objectives; and produce the largest individual effects on students’ overall course satisfaction.

“Net satisfaction (the proportion of students very or somewhat satisfied) for courses employing 0-2 of the recommended online instructional practices was 43 percent compared to 61 percent for courses using 3-5 of the practices, and 74 percent for courses using 6-8 of the practice.” (1)

  • Instructor Presence

    • Welcome emails, announcements, & videos
    • Emails 
    • Discussion forums 
    • Informal discussion forums
    • Welcoming, supportive, & inclusive language
    • Prompt and formative feedback, etc
    • Synchronous & asynchronous options for interaction with the faculty member
  • Student Support Focus

    • Orientation video
    • Welcome emails, announcements, & videos
    • Student support resources
    • Frequent check-ins
    • Use of student retention tools, such as Starfish
  • Meaningful Opportunities for Student Interaction

    • Group work
    • Discussion forums
    • Break-out sessions in synchronous lectures
  • Course Design

    • Consistent structure to course
    • Simple, clean layout with minimized text
    • Accessible course content
  • Learning Materials

    • Synchronous and asynchronous learning options
    • Chunked materials – course materials organized into smaller “bite-sized” segments, sequenced in a way to help students make sense of the materials
    • Built-in content relevance and mapping to course objectives/goals
    • Learning content is contextualized (WIIFM – what’s in it for me) and tied to real world examples
    • Video lecture content is contextualized (WIIFM), short (6 min recommended)
      • Contextualized – let students know what they should be looking for
      • 6 min video max for optimal attention and retention
      • Brief knowledge checks after viewing
  • Assessment

    • Frequent, authentic, and varied assessments that are mapped to learning objectives

Exemplary Online Course Components

Below you will see a number of courses that provide examples of the instructional practices highlighted above.  Each course video is accompanied by a list of features that promote active and engaged learning.

  • Course: ENG 101: Introduction to Writing

    Discipline: English/Literature

    Campus: Jefferson Community and Technical College

    • Building relevance
      • Establishes why information is important and how it will be used in the course
      • Maps to course objectives
      • Statements of relevance will help students understand how the material applies to their lives, now and in the future
    • Feedback from students
      • Regular feedback
      • Weekly anonymous discussion forum that provides students an opportunity to provide feedback and provides formative feedback for the the instructor
      • Ensures that the instructors “intentions” for the course are being met
    • Faculty as an academic resource
      • Academic coaching – 
        • Uses positive language and build rapport
        • Introductory videos
        • “What to do if you are struggling” link
        • Supportive emails
  • Course: CIT293: Employability Studies

    Discipline: Human Resources

    Campus: Ashland Community and Technical College

    • Exemplary features:

      • Collaboration & interactive learning
        • Online discussions
        • General help
          • Students get bonus points for answer other student questions
          • Live Q&A session via Collaborate
      • Authentic & varied Assessment practices
        • Quizzes and practice exams
        • 17 high point value summative assessments
        • 9 mid-point value assessments
        • 45 low-point value formative assessments
      • Learner support
        • Welcome video
        • Information on how to access course technologies
        • Separate section directing students to help resources
        • Supportive language throughout course
  • Course: Business Law

    Discipline: Business

    Campus: Washtenaw Community College

    Exemplary features:

    • Open Educational Resource (free textbook for this course)
    • Designed with the business development model in mind, directly relating course content to the process of opening your own business.  Applicability to student experience
    • Use of learning technology
      • 6-part animated video series
      • Created scripts that follow two entrepreneurs as they launch their own business – using Storyline/Articulate
      • Videos demonstrating common legal issues are followed by interviews with lawyers 
  • Course: MAT171 Precalculus Algebra

    Discipline: Mathematics

    Campus: Beaufort County Community College

    Exemplary features:

    • Course landing page is announcements page
    • Students are welcomed with a special message & welcome video (course orientation video)
    • Course modules folders are labeled with the learning objectives for those chunked modules
      • Each module is further broken down into weekly folders
    • Each weekly folder has a variety of resources and assignments – multimedia-infused content is available at no or low-cost to the student
    • Utilizes a 3rd party tool for mathematical assignments
    • Synchronous meetings with students via Collaborate
    • Learning outcomes check for each module
      • Test corrections with a rubric to see how work is graded
      • Students participate in reflective discussion forums regarding course performance and objectives
      • Authentic assessments with higher order thinking
        • Learning from peers
          • Submit an assignment with a deliberate attempt that other students need to identify
    • Mid-course survey
  • Course: PSY230: Death & Dying

    Discipline: Psychology

    Campus: Big Sandy Community and Technical College

    Exemplary features:

    • Multiple discussion opportunities
      • Students consider very challenging topics, related to course content and students’ lives
      • Provides students with a safe place to explore course content and their own experiences in a judgment free zone
    • Logical content chunking
      • Four modules 
        • Study guides
        • Textbook requirements
        • Learning materials
        • Lecture videos
        • Discussion boards
        • Assignments
        • Module exams
      • Modules begin with competencies/objectives being clearly stated
    • Short videos on challenging course topics
      • Study guide videos that are accompanied by guided notes
      • Each video is short, about 5 minutes


  • Course: MIT204: Medical Coding

    Discipline: Health Sciences

    Campus: Ashland Community and Technical College

    Exemplary features:

    • Current events & case studies
    • Varied assessment & learning resources