Journals provide the opportunity for students to share their reflective work privately with the faculty
member. It is important to base the decision on whether to use a shared or private journal on the
intended learning outcome. Shared forums allow for collaborative learning, whereas private journals
allow for deep personal reflections that students may not want to share with the class. For example,
in our trauma-informed care course, students share some deeply personal information about
trauma in their own lives through journal writing. It provides them with the opportunity to reflect on
how the trauma affected them and how it may be helping or hindering their nursing practice.
Assessments and Grading Rubrics
As stated earlier, interactive learning activities are also assessed. This is much different than in a
face-to-face class, where participation may be graded but rarely assessed. However, one could view
any assessment as a learning activity. For example, when writing a paper, students are learning not
only about the content but also about the process of academic writing. Much has to do with the
quality of the feedback provided; this is discussed more fully in Chapter 9.
The use of grading rubrics in online classes is highly recommended and consistent with best practice.
Important considerations for designing a grading rubric include the following: (1) the purpose of the
learning activity, such as the learning process or outcome; (2) the criteria that represent meeting the
requirements; (3) division of the criteria to represent distinct and meaningful levels; and (4)
descriptions for each criterion and level. We share multiple examples of instructions and grading
rubrics in Tables 8-7 to 8-11, as follows:
Tables 8-7 and 8-9: instructions and grading rubrics that include all four considerations
Tables 8-8 and 8-10: less formal grading criteria
Table 8-11: rubrics that focus on feedback
Table 8-11 PowerPoint Assignment Using the Instructions for the Grading Rubric
A grading rubric that lists content that coincides with the instructions is intended to provide
extensive feedback to the student. We commonly use such rubrics for major papers, along with
tracked changes to provide feedback in context. Some tools within LMSs, such as Blackboard,
Canvas, and Moodle, allow faculty and instructional designers to develop rubrics that include
numeric grading as well as space for narrative feedback within the grading rubric for each criterion.
The example in Table 8-9 is a good one to think about. Should this actually be discussed in a shared
forum? This needs to be decided based on an analysis of the students in the class and the need for
collaborative reflection. For example, if there is a mix of experienced and new graduate nurses,
there is an opportunity for experienced nurses to reflect on their current practice and share with the
inexperienced nurses. The sharing of real-world nursing experiences is highly valued by
inexperienced nurses and is an application of Vygotsky’s (1978/1997) ZPD. It also provides an
opportunity for the experienced nurse to mentor. On the other hand, it is not uncommon for
experienced nurses to feel uncomfortable sharing honestly about the ways they need to improve, so
a private forum may be more appropriate. The message here is that every design tool used needs to
be carefully considered, taking into account several factors, including the student population and the
purpose of the activity.
In summary, assessing student learning requires careful consideration because many factors go into
the design of learning activities and assessment. Several examples have been provided. However, all
faculty need to reflect on the expected learning outcomes and make decisions on how students will
demonstrate that they have met them and, equally important, what will be needed to guide them in
working toward meeting the outcomes. Designing the course in a way that creates the most
meaningful learning experiences often takes creativity, critical thinking, reflection, and
collaboration—the same things we ask of our students. As these major items are being designed, the
structure and sequencing of the course need to be considered, as well as the course materials.
Structure and Sequencing of the Course
Providing an orientation to the program and the technology students will be using helps students
build confidence as they start their program. We created an online orientation in the LMS
Blackboard Learn to introduce the students to the program; show them how to navigate the LMS;
and show them how to access resources, such as academic advising support, the online library,
tutoring, information technology (IT) support, and more.
Course design includes placing a focus on course navigation to ensure that students have a
successful experience in the course. As faculty, it is important to attempt to put yourself in the role
of the student, which is easier if you have been an online student. It is very frustrating for students if
they feel they have to go on a scavenger hunt to find what they are looking for or if the classroom
seems chaotic. Using the same format for all courses, with clear guidance provided through written
or visual instructions, is very useful. A video walking through the course and showing students where
to find things is always welcomed by students. Be sure to include the syllabus and calendar, with
explicit due dates for assessed learning activities.
Faculty may teach in institutions that have consistency in how many weeks each term or semester is.
This makes for consistency in the structure and sequencing of each course all year long. However,
other faculty members work in settings that have a different number of weeks depending on the
term. This is an important consideration in structuring and sequencing the course. For example, if
one semester is 14 weeks and another semester is 7 weeks, it may make sense to develop seven
modules of 1 or 2 weeks each, depending on the semester in which it is taught. This requires careful
planning to consider the overall course design.
We recommend that each course be divided into modules (see an example of a learning module
page in Figure 8-2). We recommend the following for this part of the design process:
Develop learning objectives for the module.
Identify the relevant program concepts that are addressed or provide a topic outline.
Divide the module into weeks. The number of weeks depends on the amount of content and the
work required to meet the module objectives.
Figure 8-2 Learning module page
To keep students engaged, we have found it necessary to have students be actively involved each
week in a discussion, blog, journal, or some other activity that is graded. A consistent pattern that is
predictable appears to be the most successful. An example of this consistency starts with identifying
the online week. Most online programs have an identified online week, such as Monday to Sunday.
Initial posts for discussions and blogs are due on Thursdays, and replies or comments are due on
Sunday. All written assignments or projects are due on Sunday.
A folder for each module is an effective way for students to navigate through a course easily.
Figure 8-2 provides an example from one of our courses that illustrates how the page looks when
the student selects Learning Modules from the course navigation column. When the module folder is
opened, the student first sees a list of concepts, objectives, a clear “to-do” list, and assessment and
learning strategies, followed by the reading assignment as illustrated in Figure 8-3. Figure 8-4
illustrates the learning materials that are used for this module and the links to the assessments.
Figure 8-4 Learning materials and links to the assessments
Choosing learning materials for an online course may be a daunting task, given how many resources
are available to choose from. It may be tempting to include too much, which will overwhelm
students, thus the need to use discretion. Learning materials may include websites, webinars,
videos, articles, podcasts, and relevant web courses, to name a few. It is incumbent on faculty to
provide materials that support the objectives of the learning module and promote active learning.
Students who are engaged in reading, listening, or watching are active participants in the learning
process (Vai & Sosulski, 2016). We have also used interactive activities that require students to
participate by answering questions or participating in a quiz to earn a certificate. Many
organizations, such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and ACEs Connection,
provide these kinds of activities that support active learning and learning outcomes.
Some faculty like to include PowerPoint presentations, which we prefer not to use because they
often miss the context for learning, which is more richly discussed in books and articles. Narrated
presentations mimic classroom lectures, making them a form of passive learning and contrary to our
educational philosophy. Exceptions to this are carefully considered. It is important to include
instructions on how to use the learning materials as needed. For example, advising students on how
long a video or podcast is lets them know how much time to set aside (Stavredes & Herder, 2014).
In Figure 8-4, you will note that the last folder is for self-study materials. This is an effective way to
provide learning materials that are consistent with the module objectives but are more specialized.
Students may choose to explore them depending on their nursing practice environment.
Leveling and Scaffolding
When designing the course, faculty need to simultaneously pay attention to leveling and scaffolding.