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Online courses

Teaching online courses at a distance is not a duplicate of the classroom experience for students. Content is not simply handed to students. A successful online course should rely on presenting teaching materials in a well-organized manner that is easy for students to interact with. A successful online course provides sufficient orientation and guidelines for the learning process, uses multiple communication strategies to enhance interactions from instructors to students, and students to students, and effectively uses visuals to add a sense of engagement and fun.

1. Personalize your course site and set clear expectations

When students access your Sakai course site, the information provided in Site Information display is shown on the Home page. Make the home page more appealing and informative by changing the title and adding some information about your course, or adding your course banner (image). You might also consider letting your students know where to find things, get help, etc., though this could also be accomplished in more detail using the Syllabus.

site info display

2. Use Resources as a central location for your teaching materials

Organize the materials you add to Resources by creating folders and sub-folders by week or by major class topic(s).


3. Use Lessons to guide students through a sequence of content/tasks in an organized manner

Lessons allows you to present your course content in a structured way and guide your students through their learning tasks. Using the Lessons tool, you can organize resources, quizzes, assignments, forums, and media (e.g. videos, audio, and images) in a central location so that students don’t need to navigate to different tools to get things done.


4. Use the Calendar tool to keep students on track

In the Calendar, instructors can post different kinds of events such as lectures, discussion sessions, assignments, tests, or deadlines for reminding students and driving course workflow. Calendar entries can include links to readings, forums, and other materials as an organizational framework for the course. The List of Events view in the Calendar is the best way to see all the course-related events.

list events

5.  Announcements

If you want to notify students when new content becomes available, or remind them about a deadline for an assignment, try creating an Announcement.


6. Use multimedia (audio, videos, and images) to help students comprehend key concepts

Well-chosen graphics, animation, video, or audio can greatly enhance comprehension and maybe add a fun element to your course.  You can embed videos into Sakai; you can also use Warpwire to upload video clips, audio files and images, which are converted, and can then be easily accessed in a media player within Sakai. Students can also record their own videos in Warpwire.

Always be sure to check and make sure any content you make available to your students adheres to appropriate copyright rules and regulations. More information on copyright is available through Duke Scholarly Communications.

 7. Establish a learning community to engage students

During the first week, consider a warm-up activity in a Forum (for example, ask students to post an interesting fact or story about themselves). Consider using the Chat Room for real-time, unstructured conversations with students for online office hours and for social hours. Using VoiceThread will allow students to record video and audio introductions for the entire course to view.voicethreadnew

8. Design interesting and meaningful online learning activities

Instructors can use Sign-Up to allow students to choose their group members, sign up for various task slots, or sign up to join different discussions. Blogs can be used to get students to post drafts of papers or observations about their research and readings through the semester. You can integrate a Duke WordPress blog into your Sakai course by creating a Web Content link to the blog.

9. Assess and improve learning effectively

Sakai provides Test & Quizzes for creating and taking online tests, quizzes, and surveys. To increase the security of an online test, try randomizing questions from a test, setting a time limit for the test, and not releasing feedback until all tests have been submitted. Visit Sakai online test guidelines for students and instructors. Use the course Statistics to see how and when students are accessing areas of your course site.


You can organize questions into question pools to reuse them in other assessments. You can subdivide question pools into subpools to organize questions by subject matter, section number, question type, or any other criteria desired. For example, an instructor can create a question pool called “Biology 105,” and then create subpools called “Basic concepts,” “Cell biology,” and “Genetics.”