3 Best Practices for Creating an Interactive Course Manual

Man in a Public Library Earning a Postgraduate Dentistry Degree Online

There are several pieces of circumstantial evidence that exist to support the idea that students don’t read textbooks anymore. For example, Pearson, the largest publisher of educational textbooks has said they are phasing out print books and making all learning resources “digital first.” This isn’t definitive proof, but it is a strong piece of evidence.

If reading a print book is a dying behavior, who is to blame? The New York Times published an editorial, The iGen Shift: Colleges Are Changing to Reach the Next Generation, in 2018 claiming that Gen Z students rarely read print books, only digital media. In addition, in the Atlantic, a very respected magazine, there was even an editorial that declared the death of the textbook.

There are many research articles on this topic. For example, back in 2002, Sikorski, et al. reported that over 78% of freshman and sophomore students reported NOT reading the textbook at all, or reading it only sparingly, for at least one introductory course. There are others who have reported the same trend but I will spare you the review of these articles for now.

Related Reading: How to Increase Student Performance with Active Learning


3 Best Practices for Writing an Interactive e-Manual

S Stands for Supplement Lectures with an Interactive Course Manual - Online Teaching Strategies for Postgraduate Dentistry Programs

Fortunately, there are alternatives! Continuing our elaboration of the acronym F.I.S.G.R., we move to the next letter, “S,” which stands for the supplementation of your lectures (hopefully interactive lectures) with written content that also has interactivity.

Of course, maybe students won’t read this either, but if you make it essential and relevant to their goals (e.g. passing the course), they might! Here are some best practices worth considering when you create your own interactive course manual.


Best Practice 1.) Include a 30 second video intro to the course manual

On the first page of your course manual chapters, include instructions and a link to an introduction video to a video platform like YouTube. In a standalone document, the link to an introduction file (audio or video) is a good idea. However, if the chapter is associated with an actual video lecture you can omit an introductory audio file to avoid redundancy.


Best Practice 2.) Embed QR Codes

QR codes can be read by a smartphone with a free app, or if you have the latest iPhone, the camera detects and scans QR codes automatically. These QR codes link to a URL where an audio, video or even a 3D image file is available.

QR codes encourage students to look at the manual, and while viewing these supplemental materials don’t generate points automatically, you can let students know on the final exam that you’ll provide extra credit points if they viewed the materials.


What is gamification?

Wikipedia defines gamification as, “the application of game-design elements and game principles in non-game contexts.” In education, gamification means an instructor employs game design elements to improve user learning and reduce learner apathy.

One example of how we use gamification at the Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC is through our Virtual Patient Game, which allows dental students opportunities to hone their diagnostic skills based on simulations of real-life patient case studies.


Play the Virtual Patient Game


A collection of research on gamification shows that a majority of studies on gamification find it has positive effects on individuals. The techniques used involve creating rewards for players who accomplish desired tasks or competitions to engage players.

Gamification Rewards

Types of rewards include points, achievement badges or achievement levels. Making the rewards for accomplishing tasks visible to other players or providing leaderboards are ways of encouraging players to compete.

Leaderboards in particular are used to rank players according to their relative success, measuring them against other users. However, the motivational potential of leaderboards is mixed. Most researchers regard leaderboards as effective motivators if there are only a few points left to the next level or position, but as demotivators if players find themselves at the bottom end of the leaderboard.

Higher education has used leaderboards for many years. For example honorable mention on the Dean’s list, the honor roll, and scholarships, which are equivalent to leveling-up a video game character.


Best Practice 3.) Use Thought-Provoking Questions

At the end of the lecture, handout, or course manual chapter, put in 3-4 deep questions that require the students to look at the suggested reading assignment and summarize what they learn on a class discussion board (usually in blackboard).


Example Questions:

  1. Do you think the characterizations that are given for Gen-Z are correct? Explain your answer!
  2. Do you think that the % of non-reading students decreases as you go up the academic ladder (i.e. do grad and professional students read more than B.S. degree or A.A. degree students)?
  3. Do you think it is unethical to “bribe” students with extra credit to read the manual by including polls and Easter eggs?


6 Things you Should Do to Create an Interactive eLearning Experience

Before we get to the six “dos” here’s one thing you mustn’t do when designing eLearning experiences: expect students will read your course manual or any other text-based supplemental materials just because you say it is good.

Here are six things we recommend you should do:

  1. Record an active learning lecture using TED talk format (~18 min)
  2. Regularly update content by checking Google and PubMed for new ideas, trends and even crazy stuff (must be evidence-based)
  3. Put links in your lectures to helpful, freely-accessible documents and media (e.g. YouTube, podcasts; Vlogs, recorded webinars)
  4. Embed questions and thoughtful discussion points inside your video
  5. Embed interactive content in a handout or online course manual
  6. Reward the students who interact with the embedded content with “bonus points”


Explore Graduate Dentistry Degrees

Like what you’re learning? Consider enrolling in our online, competency-based certificate or master’s program in Orofacial Pain and Oral Medicine to deliver appropriate and safe care to your growing and aging dental patients.


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