Survey Says: Consistency, Please!

Family Feud board showing consistency as the topic and five survey results items in the board cells.

The Center for the Advancement of Teaching (CAT) sent out a survey at the end of Spring 2021 asking students for feedback on their experience during the term. One section focused specifically on Canvas and asked students to share their struggles and successes with course content on the platform. The clear theme that emerged from the survey responses was the need for consistency across courses in Canvas.

Consistency is a common theme in education, particularly in relation to online course content. With the multitude of platforms and tools available, organizing and navigating content can be overwhelming for both instructors and students. Having course sites with a common layout aids in efficiency for the instructor by making the course preparation process more streamlined each term, and assists support staff in locating and resolving technical issues.

Standardizing courses in online programs can have additional benefits beyond simple usability. First, support is easier, as standard navigation and language makes it easier for help-desk staff to easily help a user resolve issues.

Melissa Koenig – The Virtue of Consistency

Establishing standards for course design and development can lead to faster production of new courses and revision of existing courses. When courses have the same look on-screen and include similar components, they can be more quickly updated with new content and corrected when errors are found. Researchers from Coastal Carolina University identified 10 foundational components for standardizing online courses and advise, “standardizing the components will facilitate course navigation, promote efficient content reusability, and improve the potential for student success.” – Creating Consistency in Your Online Courses

Online instruction adds another level of cognitive loading if a student must relearn how to access course components as they move through their program of study. This load may be lightened when course components are presented consistently and designed with clarity (Borgemenke et al., 2013).

Darrin Thomas, Educational Research Techniques: Course Design Consistency in E-Learning

Similar with previously-expressed views, this study found that consistency in online-course templates improves student engagement (Miller, 2012), lessens the transactional distance and, therefore, increases teaching presence by improving student familiarity with the digital interface (Borgemenke et al., 2013; Gigliotti, 2016), and improves communication between student and instructor (Akyol and Garrison, 2008).

Scutelnicu, Gina, et al. “Consistency Is Key in Online Learning: Evaluating Student and Instructor Perceptions of a Collaborative Online-Course Template.

Some of the feedback that our students shared echoed the research quotes above.

“I liked that it was consistent across most of my class. This made it easier to find items and keep track of due dates and assignments.”

“I took 6 courses this semester and the layout for every single course was different, making it very hard to find things when I needed them. Syllabi were located in many different places (rarely under the Syllabus tab), Zoom links were in several different places, not all professors recorded lectures and put them online.”

“I really prefer when professors take the time to organize their course. It makes it much easier to find assignments, videos, materials, etc. However, some of my professors just uploaded every thing to files section as more of a dumping ground which made materials very hard to navigate.”

“The use of modules was great for organizing week by week course learning material and then the following assignments for the week. It was also nice to put the zoom link in the module so it was all there.”

“The key component in the Canvas learning environment is ORGANIZATION and CONSISTENCY”

Naturally, there is flexibility in the design of course sites based on the subject, content, and instructor, but there are some general guidelines that can be utilized to make the site interaction more productive and user friendly for everyone.

In order to help you make the most of this feedback, we’ve put together a series about consistency, touching on the top five requests from students: Course Menu, Syllabus, Modules, Calendar, and Announcements. Each post will cover the feedback from students, examples, research, and resources on how to improve your course sites. Keep an eye out for training sessions in the fall on these topics as well!

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