Tips from the Pros: What’s in a Name? Alternative Naming Conventions for Online Courses

Course navigation is what learners instinctively use and consciously rely on to find, select, and explore, and as with any navigational map, keys are necessary to help steer. When logging in, “Home” is usually the first key of the course seen, with others like “Syllabus,” “Discussion,” “Quiz,” and “Module Overview” as common fixtures of the online learning experience.

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Course navigation is what learners instinctively use and consciously rely on to find, select, and explore, and as with any navigational map, keys are necessary to help steer. When logging in, “Home” is usually the first key of the course seen, with others like “Syllabus,” “Discussion,” “Quiz,” and “Module Overview” as common fixtures of the online learning experience.

Nevertheless, these names can seem arbitrarily selected and imprecise. Does “Discussion” really convey the complex interplay of a debate? Or does “Readings” communicate the diverse resources of videos, podcasts, case studies, or interactives you carefully cultivate each week? Though it is argued that these labels provide a global marker for assignments that have become familiar to learners and appropriate for a wide range of pedagogical features, labels like “Discussion” or even “Quiz” have begun to bear expectations from learners that are neither encouraging nor appealing.

Breaking from traditional naming conventions establishes a new course identity devoid of negative associations learners may automatically make. You may be fighting to debunk what myths learners carry regarding the old discussion board, reading page, or quiz. Discussion board becomes discussion bored by your second week, and readings become suggestions shortly thereafter, for example. Several learners view these items in the syllabus or navigation menu of the course and assume the next several weeks involve obligatory writing assignments with flat responses from jaded peers or hours of reading tedious textbook entries. Combat that by rebranding and rethinking these items to set a new and more positive function for these content types. Doing so doesn't just provide a PR edge; it allows the learner to appreciate the potential experience an assignment or assessment might unlock and specifies the uniqueness of the course content.

Take a look at these alternative naming conventions for your online class.

Discussion. Discussion is a standard feature in most online classes. We discuss issues on the discussion board, hence this label. However, depending on how you wish to use the discussion boards in your class, you can also consider one of the following labels:

Reading. A reading page is also a common page in online courses that lists weekly reading assignments for the class. If you're looking for a new twist on reading, try out these titles:

Module overview. This landing page is the first page of each module that gives an overview of what will be covered that week. It often contains the course objectives and assignment breakdowns. Here are some alternate names to try:

Quiz. This assessment can be used as frequently as needed to assess learning objectives or provide practice for learners. Consider some of these labels instead:

You can also entrench students with the course's lexicon by using naming conventions that reflect the field: an art history class might use “Musings” for its discussion board or an accounting course could use “Net Exchange.” This not only presents a fun and memorable experience for learners when navigating the course, but the content and assignments suggest thoughtful implementation on the part of the instructor and build that course's identity. Take a look at some of these names arranged by discipline for a starting point:

These are just a few course items with which you can get creative. Whatever you decide to do, remember to make your naming conventions consistent throughout your course. This will help your learners know where to go each week, and they'll be able to dedicate their time to learning the content rather than the navigation.

Cecilia Bolich is an educational analyst/instructional designer, and Stephanie Parisi is the assistant director of online education at Emory University.