Experience an Online Course

To help faculty develop online courses, CEI has created an online course using the same university-supported technology and software available to all UB faculty.

On this page:

Enroll in the online version of Designing Experiences


Many faculty will be creating courses without additional human or financial resources, and the following model, used for our CEI Faculty Academies, can aid in that task. While each UB decanal unit manages support for course development and teaching, this model includes many best practices that you can adapt to those contexts.

Recommended path for experiencing and creating an online course

CEI has developed three academies using evidence-based research for effective teaching. Elements of the academies include many active and interactive learning methods for face-to-face, online or blended delivery (such as an online companion section to a face-to-face course). To get the most out of the resources that we offer, we recommend that you:

  1. Review information in this section of our website to get a sense of what an online course looks like at UB.
  2. Enroll in the online version of Designing Experiences, one of three CEI Faculty Academies. Although we also offer this academy on-campus, you will benefit significantly from being an online learner since this will inform your design process as an online instructor.
  3. While enrolled in Designing Experiences, think about how you could incorporate the design improvements that are part of the academy's coursework into your online class.
  4. Enroll in Learning Paradigms, the second CEI Faculty Academy, to better understand critical topics such as memory, constructivism and conceptual change, and how to adapt your class to work with these.
  5. Enroll in Teaching Effectively, the third CEI Faculty Academy, to gain familiarity with accessibility, guiding students and learning how to utilize Open Educational Resources.
  6. Create your online class or enroll in a CEI MakerDay event where our designers will work with a group of faculty to build an online learning module in UBlearns.

Components of an online course

The following sections highlight the most common elements of an online learning module. Your course will typically be composed of four to 14 learning modules. Many faculty follow a weekly learning module schedule while others prefer to create an introduction week and then three additional modules for the beginning, middle and end of the semester. Remember that you can customize your course to meet your needs.


Course Entry Point

The course entry point, in this case, Announcements, is the page that learners will see each time they enter your course throughout the semester. You can change the entry point by going to Teaching Style under Course Management. For the online version of the Designing Experiences, a course structure that includes a home page was chosen. Additional course modules can be added to a home page.

The image below shows the course entry point from a learner view at the beginning of a course.

Screen shot of a course entry point (homepage) in UBlearns. The webpage can show different modules, such as My Announcements, To Do and What's New.

The To Do module shows What’s Past Due and What’s Due items.

Screen shot of the To Do module on a course entry point page in UBlearns. The To Do module shows assignments that are past due, due today, due tomorrow, due this week and due in the future.

The My Announcements module allows you to regularly communicate with the entire class and provides an option for an email to be sent at the same time. Routine announcements can be left within the course and pre-scheduled to go out aligned with milestones in your course (e.g., a learning module closing, an upcoming exam or an assignment summary).

Screen shot of the My Announcements module on the course entry point in UBlearns.

Course learning modules

Throughout UBlearns, there are many ways to customize your course. We recommend that you always think of your course from a learner’s viewpoint.

To ensure your learners spend their time on learning instead of searching for content, we recommend keeping both your navigation names and your folder names very literal. We also recommend leaving dates off of the online course, so they only need to be updated in the syllabus each semester.

Screen shot of the learning modules page in UBlearns that shows the course navigation (left) and a list of learning modules and descriptions (right).

Welcome and outcomes

Each module will welcome the learner and orient them to the module’s outcomes and essential guiding questions. You can personalize this much more than we have modeled here.

Screen shot of a learning module welcome page showing a description and learning outcomes for the module.

Chunking content for online learners

So far, you have seen the content of this course broken into folders. An additional option is to utilize a module tool. For the Designing Experiences academy, we used folders for each learning module and then the module tool to deliver the content in chunks.

Many faculty have invested heavily in creating PowerPoint presentations for in-class delivery. As faculty move courses online, they sometimes choose to narrate the PowerPoints and upload them directly to UBlearns. While this practice is valuable for students that want to revisit key points they may have struggled with in class (e.g., to prepare for an exam), it is not necessarily the best choice for online learners. Providing a transcript for your slides allows students to adjust their pace, pause and reread difficult passages as well as speed through parts they find familiar. Research has shown that this is an important feature to aid novice learners.

In the image below,  you will see that the module tool allows students to use a mini-navigation from the left pane or the arrow on the top right. The tool shows them the scope of content, i.e., Page 1 of 7. We exported PowerPoint slides as images, uploaded them images to UBlearns and then wrote our transcript.

Screen shot showing the mini-navigation tool that students can access from the left pane or the arrow on the top right.
Icon used by Ally, a tool in UBlearns that helps with document accessibility. The icon is green and needle is all the way to the right, which means the document has a perfect score.

You will also notice a green speedometer icon. UBlearns utilizes Ally, a tool that checks for accessibility and provides suggestions to improve it. You can see that this chunk of content is now considered by Ally to be 100 percent accessible.

Instructional and personalized videos

A man in a welcome video for an online course.

Creating  welcome, instructional, scenario-based and summary videos allow faculty the opportunity to build rapport and teaching presence with learners.

The university offers a video capture tool, Panapto, as well as unlimited storage in  UBbox. Below is an image from a welcome video in the Designing Experiences academy. 

Discussion boards: evidence-based discourse

The discussion forum can become the heart of an online course. There are many benefits to asynchronous discussions. For instance, this modality:

  • Provides more time for reflection before posting.
  • Encourages greater feedback from other students.
  • Encourages students who don't usually participate in classroom discussions to have a voice.
  • Provides the opportunity for students to express ideas and develop writing skills.
Screen shot of a sample discussion board in UBlearns.

Web conferencing

Webex is the university-supported web conferencing tool. Webex provides an online learning and collaboration platform designed specifically for education. UB faculty have access to this web-conferencing tool that can be used for:

  • Meetings with students.
  • Synchronous class hours.
  • Live virtual office hours.
  • Quest lecturers from around the world.
  • Student presentations.
  • Group work.

Collaboration and groups

Online courses often include group assignments to provide opportunities for collaboration among small groups of students. Small group discussions, group projects, presentations and peer-assessments are a few group activities that are common in online courses. UBlearns offers a group feature to facilitate these separate workspaces.

Community of Inquiry

Community of Inquiry (CoI) is a theoretical framework that informs online course interaction. Based on social constructivist education theory and research, the CoI model identifies and measures three principle elements critical to a successful online learning environment — social, cognitive and teaching presences.

Managing your online course

UBlearns includes extensive tools such as an assignment manager, online grading for papers and exams, and Gradebook, to name just a few of the helpful resources for managing your online course.

By enrolling in the online version of our Designing Experiences Academy, you will be able to learn how to utilize and incorporate these resources effectively.