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The Art and Science of Course Announcements

When it comes to online course design and facilitation, course announcements are often treated as a “nice to have” supplement to instruction, taking a backseat to things like the syllabus, module overviews, and learning pages. Those pages contain valuable information, but announcements offer an opportunity to share content while making personalized connections. However, students often overlook pages that do not appear to contain value to them, including announcements. There's an art and science to crafting valuable announcements that students will want to view. Planning, organization, and frequency play a role in leveraging announcements to be more than unappealing check-ins that students ignore. Here are some effective ways to use announcements to weave student success and a culture of learning into the narrative of your course.

Increase Your Presence

One of the most common criticisms of online education is the lack of instructor presence. Particularly in large-scale courses, students may feel as if their course is run on auto-pilot, though designers and instructors know how much work goes on behind the scenes to make learning engaging and useful. The challenge is creating an online environment that makes each student feel connected in the midst of hurdles like scale, asynchronous learning, and physical distance. With these perceived barriers to personal connection, announcements present an opportunity to weave in instructional presence as a valuable supplement to the course content by offering personalization and customization with the following approaches:

Use your voice. 

Man sitting in chair recording audio to a computer
Announcements are a great tool to increase instructor presence in “real-time” by sharing information as students may need it. Similar to emails, announcements function as a narrative voice of the instructor behind the scenes, reminding students that a real person is there to support them. While course content may feel standardized to students, announcements can be personalized to showcase your personality and dedication to students' success.

Provide quick access. 

Consider making the front page of your course the announcement feed to ensure that students are aware of your virtual presence when they log on. This touchstone can be a valuable piece of course real estate that connects you and your students. However, simply establishing a presence is only the first step. How do we craft announcements that students want to view?

Decorate Your Message

Computer screen with YouTube pulled up
Imagine two boxes: one is brown cardboard and one is wrapped in colorful paper and topped with a bow. Which box do you think is the most appealing at first glance? Which box looks like it had more care and attention put into it? Decorations make a difference when it comes to hooking an audience. Frills without sustenance will not serve students, so it’s important to strike a balance between visually appealing and visibly valuable content. Planning is a vital part of crafting announcements that use a narrative voice and aesthetic to hook students and provide valuable information. Good writing takes planning, revision, and an understanding of conventions that pull the reader along without overloading them. One major pitfall of announcements is information overload. To create announcements that don’t overwhelm students, consider employing some basic graphic design principles that can take your announcements to the next level. Here are a few tips:

Avoid a wall of text.

If an announcement is full of text with no visual organization, students will glimpse that unapproachable cluster of letters and skip over it. A messy announcement tells students the information is not important, otherwise, it would be presented with more effort and care.

Use the Rich Content Editor. 

Simple adjustments like headers, bullet points, and bold words can transform an unapproachable wall of text to a purposeful announcement crafted to guide students from opening hook to closing punctuation. Deliberate visual organization helps important content stand out.

Woman sitting in front of computer recording video for teaching
Add enriched media. 

In addition to basic organization, consider adding media elements that will not only grab students’ attention, but also provide value and personality to the information you’re sharing in the announcement. Some examples include:
  • Instructor Videos: Consider recording short check-in videos that emphasize your presence and provide information pertaining to that module.
  • Informational Videos: Consider adding a YouTube or TED Talk video that relates to the module content and helps students make connections between the learning materials and assignments.
  • GIFs: Like videos, GIFs are a great way to showcase a burst of visual information. Consider using them for quick demonstrations of course navigation or tutorials that could benefit students.
  • Hyperlinks: Consider hyperlinking to supplemental or helpful resources that may help students fill in knowledge gaps.

A note on accessibility: 

When using enriched media, visual elements, and textual enhancements in announcements, it’s important to remember fundamental accessibility guidelines to ensure that you are providing the same helpful information to all students, regardless of their differing abilities. For example, underlining words is not an accessible way to emphasize words; instead, use bold lettering. Underlining is universally reserved to indicate a hyperlink. Similarly, visually impaired individuals may not see all colors, so caution is advised when highlighting for emphasis. If you would like to learn more about best practices for accessibility, the Web Accessibility Initiative is a valuable resource with evidence-based examples. Weaving in graphic design, narrative strategies, and accessibility takes time, but here are some tips for making announcements work for you.

Streamline Your Workflow

The most important information in an online course lives in the learning materials, but announcements provide an opportunity to supplement assigned readings with a personable prod in the right direction. Prodding too often can be more harmful than good, though, so establishing consistency for your announcements will benefit you and your students. Here are some ways you can automate your announcements:

Yellow post-it on a corkboard with idea light bulb cartoon drawn on it
Plan a frequency.

How often do you expect to post an announcement? A good practice is to post
once a week and no more than twice a week to prevent overwhelming students with information. Consider posting at the beginning of a new module or the end of a previous one to wrap things up and direct student attention to the next topic.

Be specific. 

To avoid cognitive overload, consider posting about one or two topics in each announcement. Sharing too much information--even if it’s organized--can be a barrier to students. Narrow down your announcement to need-to-know information that benefits students as they need it. You can craft another announcement to expand on that topic, set up virtual office hours, record an additional lecture, or post in the course discussion forum. Consider using announcements to hook students and provide them with pertinent information to support them.

Map it out. 

To ensure you share vital information on time, consider creating a Google Doc to map out what you plan to post and when. Organizing your posts by module and drafting the text can save you a lot of time later, while also giving you a reference for any revisions you may wish to implement for the next course run.

Pre-program. 

Because it takes time to craft valuable announcements, automation can be helpful. If you write out all of your course announcements in advance, you can paste them into your announcements and delay posting for dates you set based on your frequency preferences and the modules they pertain to. Students will still receive the announcements as if you wrote it just for them, but you will have mapped out your announcements and streamlined your workflow.
Crafting meaningful announcements is a process that adds time and effort to an already busy workload, but incorporating them into your course can create a culture of learning simply by knowing what students need and how to get it to them when they need it most. As much as we wish students read all of the learning materials, sometimes they don’t (or sometimes they need a reminder), and announcements provide another opportunity to put information into the hands of students when they need it. Announcements can be more than quick greetings or a list of due dates; they can be another opportunity to tell the story of your course. When students know that your announcements can help them be successful, you’ve turned an often underutilized feature into a tool that drives student success.
Canvas is the learning management system (LMS) of Arizona State University. If you’d like to learn more about how to create an announcement and pre-program the settings, view the Canvas Instructor Guide.

References



Post-Author:

Image of Taylor O'Kelley (post-author)
Taylor O’Kelley, M.Ed., is an instructional designer with ASU Online and the Learning Experience and Student Success team, supporting large-scale initiatives of future learning spaces.




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