Teaching an online course during a condensed term

Courses during winter and summer sessions are taught during a condensed term of two - six weeks and most are fully online. This guide will provide some resources and strategies for designing a condensed course.

Students can engage with the course in a flexible and focused way without having to balance the work of 3-4 other courses.   Designing these courses can present a challenge to faculty to make sure that content, activities, and assessments are arranged in a way that maintains academic rigor and meets the same outcomes of a 14 week course.   Misunderstood instructions or technology issues can have a greater impact due to the accelerated pace of the class. 

Set up the Entire course before the term begins

In general, online courses require more upfront planning and reliance on the LMS (Canvas) than traditional face-to-face, full semester courses. It is important the syllabus, LMS, and other course materials are complete before the condensed course begins. As a result you can spend more of your time communicating with and giving feedback to your students during the course term. You may want to publish your course in advance so students will be ready on day one. You can opt to leave some aspects of the course hidden and reveal as you go.

Focus on the Goals

Condensing a course isn't as simple as trying squeeze everything  into a shorter timeline. You may not be able to include every reading, every long assignment, or lecture. Identify the most important elements of your course that you would like the students to learn, remember, or apply months or years after they complete the course. Align the goals with the outcomes and how you will assess them.  Provide content and activities to create effective learning experiences for the students.  See the Course Planning Document (word).

Create a schedule with balanced workload in mind

Based on the credit hours for your course come up with a reasonable amount of time students should be engaged in the activities of your course per day or week.

For each day of the course, create a list of activities that the students will be doing and estimate the time needed for each.  Set clear expectations for your students. Since providing timely feedback is especially important in a condensed course, think about the grading time it will take for the various assignments and when it is realistic for you to provide feedback. Schedule the due dates accordingly.

See the workload estimator from Wake Forest.

Use a variety of teaching strategies, activities, and media

  • Use a variety of ways to present content, engage, and assess the students.
  • Use video to introduce students to the current unit.

 Tips for condensed courses

  • Do fewer long graded projects and assignments and papers.
  • Pare down the readings to most important.
  • Include frequent short assignments, short papers, and discussions.
  • Include video mini lectures with optional embedded questions.

Set up expectations for communications

Be predictable and set expectation in how  often and when you communicate with your students.   The fast pace of a condensed course means there should be an expectation of a timely but not immediate response. Make sure you share your expected response time with students.

For example, Perhaps send out an announcement at a predictable time reminding students of what they need to do, when  to do it, and how to find resources and instructions.

Use Canvas modules that align with your syllabus

Make your Canvas modules complement the schedule in your syllabus. Include the objectives, prompts, and links to readings, videos, assignments, and activities. Make it easy to navigate to the various elements in the course.   If possible use due dates and "to-do" items so that the student can more effectively use the course calendar. 

Supporting the students:

  • Let students know the importance of seeking help promptly.
  • Provide students with resources for Canvas and other technologies. Tell them where to look for help.
  • Set up a course forum where students can ask common questions so you only have to answer  once.
  • Provide guidelines for taking online courses.
  • Make sure content, activities, and technologies are accessible.
  • Connect with your students.
  • Try using the LMS analytics to identify students who are at the lowere end of engagment metrics and reach out.
  • Provide feedback on assignments via Canvas Speedgrader.
  • Contact students privately if you feel like they need additional support.
file-outline Course Planning Document (Word) - courseplanningdocument.docx (20.5 KB)

Word document for download with example and template for planning out lessons.

Links and Resources from Other Institutions

These sites contain valuable information on teaching condensed terms and informed the creation of this web page.

Quick Guide to Teaching Compressed Courses - PDF (Queens University, Charolotte)

Teaching a Condesnsed-Format Course (Iowa State University)

Converting Courses for Accelerated Summer Sessions (ProfHacker, Chronicle of Higher Education).

Preparing for a Short Term (Learning Design Center, Community College of Rhode Island)

Designing Successful Short-Format Courses (Office for Faculty Excellence, East Carolina University)

Designing Accelerated Courses (Teaching and Learning Services, RIT)