Basic Online Course Building Guidelines
Who is This Document For?
Occassionally we are asked to consult with Instructors who plan to build the bulk of their online course materials by themselves. This guide is intended to help them by providing some basic guidlines for stucturing their documents, folders, and courses.
Please be aware, this document is not intended as a comprehensive guide to building online courses but rather a brief set of guidelines to help guard against a few common problems we see when working with courses created by third parties.
Welcome to this brief primer - Basic Online Course Building Guidelines. We hope you find the following information useful. If there is something you don't understand or think we have left out, we invite feedback so that we may improve this resource in the future.
Note: A few terms we'll be using include Learning Management System (LMS), eLearning Commons (eLC), and Desire2Learn (D2L). We'll use the abbreviation when possible. In short, Desire2Learn is the name of the Learning Management System that UGA uses to publish online course material. UGA has chosen to simply rebrand Desire2Learn as eLearning Commons for UGA purposes.
General Course Construction Philosophy
Always remember, although you may be the sole creator of your course, it is often the case that others will need to come after you and add things, change things, and do maintenance work. When creating files, naming files, and arranging files into folders, it's always a good idea to put yourself in that other person's shoes and ask yourself...
"Is this name or structure logical and descriptive enough so someone unfamiliar with my course can come in and find their way around?"
Just a little extra effort goes a long way in enabling that person to work more quickly and efficiently.
When possible, WebID recommends using LMS independent tools for authoring files. The reason being, files created independently of the LMS will have a longer shelf-life and can be more easily transferred to a new LMS if needed, not to mention having more standards-based code. Some LMS tools like Desire2Learn have rudimentary file creation features built-in, but they might use non-standard proprietary code or lock you in to using their LMS software for life.
Like it or not, a large institution like UGA might decide to switch to another LMS a couple of years from now. If you have created your files with 3rd party authoring software and have copies on your local computer, you are in a much better position to get your course easily moved to a new LMS.
- UGA faculty and staff members can download a copy of Adobe products. See this EITS page for more information about acquiring Adobe products for work as well as work-at-home purposes.
- Along with knowing the tools comes some responsibility to learn to create and structure files in a way that adheres to web standards. For instance, just like stereo manufacturers stick to generally accepted standards in technologies to ensure compatibility amongst products and future-proofing, web designers and developers try to stick to generally accepted ways of building web documents. For further reading on this subject you can read a Wikipedia page on web standards, as well as the W3C's Standards page.
Building an online course requires working with many different types of programs and files. Depending on your budget, your department's budget, or your IT staff's budget, you may be using one of dozens of authoring tools available for web publishing and multimedia. Each software program and authoring language can output different types of files.
Below are some commonly accepted file formats used by WebID in routine web publishing. When working with us, please try to use these types of files when possible.
- HTML (.html)
- TEXT (.txt)
- PDF (.pdf)
- JPEG (.jpg)
- GIF (.gif)
- PNG (.png)
- MP3 (.mp3)
- WAV (.wav)
- AIFF (.aiff)
- MP4 (.mp4)
- FLASH (.swf)
- FLV (.flv)
- MPEG (.mpg)
- AVI (.avi)
- MOV (.mov)
Delivery of Files to WebID
If you need to pass along files to WebID for further help with your course, please organize files by Learning Module, zip them, and deliver to WebID however you prefer and the file size will allow - email or Basecamp being the generally preferred method. Some larger files might choke your email. In that case, using Basecamp or uploading to eLC directly might be the best option.
Camtasia, Adobe Captivate, and Articulate Storyline exports out their own set of industry standard files, in a predetermined folder structure. That folder structure can be delivered to the WebID in a .zip file via email or a file sharing website, or on physical media (CD-ROM, DVD-ROM, Flash drive, etc.)
We can accept Physical Media (VHS tape, DVD Videos, 8mm film and 16mm film) as well, but be forewarned that the conversion of that media will take an unknown amount of time (mainly due to interface issues of the old/new hardware)
File Naming and Structure
When building a course, you will be dealing with a wide variety of file types created in various software programs. Each type of file has a file extension. For example, a Microsoft Word document uses the extension ".docx". Logically enough, an HTML file uses the extension ".html". Most of the time the authoring software will automatically place the file extension for you, however, it's a good idea to double-check. You can manually place a file extension by simply clicking on the file name in Windows Explorer or Apple Finder to rename it, move your cursor to the end of the name and type in the appropriate file extension.
You should use your best judgment when naming a file. Remember you don't want the name to be too long or unwieldy, so it's best to abbreviate when things start edging up on roughly 30 characters. In general, simply keep it tidy and use the title of the document as a starting point. Make the filename descriptive enough that it can quickly convey what the file is about to another person working on your course (or even yourself if you come back to it six months later).
Some other tips about naming files:
- Use all lowercase letters.
- Don't leave blank spaces in the name. Try to use underscores or hyphens between words.
For example, let's say we have a document titled "Things to Remember When Dealing with Providers". Let's try and shorten it to something like:
All the words aren't spelled out, but it provides a third party with enough of a descriptive filename to determine which file in the LMS File Manager matches up with the page in the LMS Table of Contents.
If you are unsure what the proper file extension is for your file, check with the software manufacturer. A few example content authoring programs and their file extensions:
- Microsoft Word – my-file-name.docx
- Dreamweaver HTML document – my-file-name.html
- Adobe PDFs – my-file-name.pdf
- Adobe Flash Player files – my-file-name.swf
Folder Naming and Structure
Upload and place the files into the appropriate folders before building the course with Desire2Learn's "Course Builder".
It is possible to have all your files in one root level folder in an LMS, but it's never a good idea. It's confusing to others to have to sift through what can be hundreds or even thousands of files, not to mention the file naming conflicts that might arise.
When organizing your course in the File Manager section of an LMS, it's best to structure things similar to your course outline or Table of Contents. For instance, if you have a Course Overview, five Learning Modules, and an Appendix, then your File Manager area should look somewhat similar. Your folder structure in the LMS might look something like the following:
Normally, within these folders you will have subfolders to store images, video files, etc. These subfolders would be arranged something like:
Structuring your folders like this allows you to keep things organized for a faster workflow. Imagine you find that an image in Module 1 needs to be further edited. You'll know exactly where to find it.
Hopefully the above guidelines provide you with enough information to get started on the right path. If you need more eLC technical training and workflow tips please see our LMS Resources page. We have compiled links to dozens of helpful resources and tutorials on eLC.