Conventional wisdom states that things should be consistent. When things are consistent then people are comfortable, they know what to expect, things are easier for them. Unfortunately people also become complacent when things are consistent and this is not always desirable in effective teaching.
What I am going to propose is that you keep some parts of the look and feel consistent but that you regularly mix up others. The idea is to keep students on their toes, to keep them awake and to potentially also guide their mindset in useful ways.
I would recommend you change things about every couple of days or weekly. Every couple of days would be better as then students don’t necessarily know when to expect the changes. You also want to find the right balance between how much you change things around as well. You don’t want to change too much as this has the possibility of confusing more than benefitting. You can change just a little which can incite intrigue or you can change a bit more to generate a shift in mindset.
Things you can change
Let’s look at a few aspects of the course page you could change. We’re going to label these according to whether they are affecting right brain or left brain thinking as well. The idea is that incorporating a mix of these two types of thinking can serve to engage the whole mind. As such, incorporating changes that will trigger both sides of the brain may serve best in terms of keeping students awake.
- Colour – (Right Brain), change the colours of headings or borders or such on the page. You can also tie this in to the current activity. Certain colours are known for inciting creativity, such as orange while others such as blue are calming etc. In this way you can vary colour to help create the right mood or mindset in the students for the current activity.
- Placement of Blocks – (Right Brain), you no doubt have several blocks on the left and right sides of your course page. Why not try playing with the placement of these. Move them all to the left, all to the right, or rearrange them on both sides. There may even be the potential to take advantage of Visual Accessing Cues. These are the idea that your eyes look in certain directions based on what your mind is doing. While not proven, some people believe you can do the reverse (by making someone look in a certain direction you can have a mild effect on the type of thinking they will be doing). So for instance, if you want people to reflect on a statement, put it in the top right corner of the screen. If you want them to think creatively about it, put it in the top left of the screen. Etc.
- Order of lists – (Left Brain), maybe you have a list on the page (objectives or class rules or some such). If the order of this list is not important then why not try mixing the order up a little. You could do this to emphasise certain points at different times in the class.
- Words used – (Left Brain), Change the words you use to name certain items on the course page. It could be headings, or names of activities or words in sentences that are present on this page. This is rather easy to do for a lot of instances without changing the implied meaning. Doing so can have the effect of getting students to think in terms of their meanings rather than just titles.
You may find other ways, these are just a few examples.