This is the 5th in a series of blog posts outlining the collaborative process of designing an online course for the first time from scratch. You can read the other posts here.
This meeting occurred after the winter break so Anne had added a lot of materials to the course Canvas site which allowed me to review the sequencing and organization and provide feedback. My suggestions included adding sub headings to the modules page to delineate different groupings of activities and readings within each week. In addition, links to readings were embedded directly in the module page in addition to being embedded in a weekly overview page to both provide students with context for the readings and enable them to access them with fewer clicks in return viewings of the material.
Getting familiar with Zoom
The team also discussed scheduling a Zoom testing session to allow Anne to test out different functionalities in Zoom that would be used during the weekly in-person meetings including breakout rooms and screen sharing. The testing session was scheduled with members of the DLINQ team.
Video editing assistance
Lastly, we discussed Anne’s request to have assistance with video editing from a member of the DLINQ team. This request was submitted to the DLINQ leadership team for review and was approved. Heather suggested that the faculty member discuss captioning options with the media specialist to determine the best and most efficient workflow.
Working with the Library
Lastly, Anne found her collaborative work with the library essential to helping her to put together readings for her students. Staff members were able to help her determine the best way to provide access to materials available in the collection.
Friday & Saturday – Complete assignments to be submitted by 11:59pm Sunday evening.
This information was included on a page titled “About this Course” in the Canvas site under the heading “Structure and Time Commitment”. The professor was also able to share the grading scheme prior to the meeting which allowed me to incorporate this information into the About the Course page as well as create assignment groups to correspond with the different grading category percentages.
It was determined that the synchronous sessions would provide a time when the faculty member could address various topics in a more flexible format that would allow her to adjust and respond to student feedback that occurs earlier in the week through discussion forums, activities, and entrance tickets. The team also formalized the integration of the Zoom room into the Canvas site and discussed setting up a test scenario during j-term that would allow the faculty member to practice using breakout rooms and other Zoom room functionality.
Course content was not yet ready to share so the team decided to focus their work on getting as much of the course structure and repeatable components in place prior to the end of the year so that content could be loaded into the course relatively easily. This shifted the heavier time burden from the end of the year to the beginning of the year. After looking at my projected future workload, I explained that I would still be available to support Anne but since time was budgeted to be more heavily used in 2018, I could not ensure that other priorities might come online at the start of 2019. This conversation highlighted the importance of planning, time-lining, consistent communication, and expectation-setting when working collaboratively on course development projects. In the end, workload did not pose any problems moving forward, but given the unpredictability of each semester – it was important to have this conversation early so there were no surprises.
Anne planned out extensive curriculum development and loading over the course of the month of January and meeting times were set and confirmed. No outstanding action items were set for Heather as most of the outstanding work was to collect course content before additional design work could begin.
This is the 3rd in a series of blog posts outlining the collaborative process of designing an online course for the first time from scratch. You can read the other posts here.
Prior to the meeting Professor Anne Campbell was able to share an outline for the course which broke out course content into weekly modules with different content focuses. Based on this information I focused on pulling apart module 1 and trying to reconfigure the content using online learning components. This resulted in a group of ideas and questions that would serve as the focus of meeting 3. The agenda for meeting 3 was:
Home page view options – Learn more here. We decided to use the pages home page option with a link to weekly module format
Academic honesty guidelines- We created an academic honesty quiz with references to policies at the institute. The Academic Integrity Tutorial is another option designed for Middlebury College undergraduate students.
Support available to students – we built pages for library and technical support into the Canvas template for the course.
Communication plan – we began to brainstorm a communication plan that used a set pattern from week to week
II. Build Out Brainstorm of Module 1
Heather shared ideas and solicited feedback about potential design
During the conversation the concept of entrance and exit tickets came up as a way to manage both formative and summative assessment based on weekly activities. We also discussed having assignments and activities build on one another so that students are given opportunities to refine their ideas and work in the course as they learn more.
Action items for the next meeting included:
Adding a introduction discussion forum to week 1 (Heather)
This is the 2nd in a series of blog posts outlining the collaborative process of designing an online course for the first time from scratch. You can read the first post here.
Since we had not met for a month meeting two was a bit of a review session where Anne and I went back over course details and Anne outlined some items that had been worked out a bit more. She explained that she was still working with other professors to finalize the curriculum and readings. Since the course was going to be cross listed, this meant that more professors would need to be consulted.
We also discussed how the time limitations of the course (1/2 of a semester) might impact the depth and complexity of the activities that could be assigned. We decided that the best place to start would be an outline of how Anne would teach the course if she were teaching it in person. That would serve as our starting point to build from.
Action steps for the next meeting included:
Creating a Canvas course shell – Heather
Creating a course outline for how this course would be taught in person – Anne
This project was the first experience for both Anne and I in working collaboratively on developing an online course. Over the course of the development period we came up with a number of structures that can be reproduced to guide the development of future online development cycles. In this series of posts I’ll share what occurred at each weekly meeting, tools that we created to help guide our development, and things we learned along the way.
During the initial meeting we discussed the general concept of the course including topics such as how online curriculum is viewed by other faculty members, who is the intended audience for the course, what curriculum currently existed for the course (none), and what curricular need the course intended to address.
We also discussed the pedagogy for the course which would focus on a project-based component as well as the overall timeline for development and deployment of the course. The ideal launch date was determined to be mid-March and at that point we set to work identifying what the weekly workload amount would be based on that timeline and how that would impact the design of the course. Components such as synchronous and asynchronous time commitments were discussed. Our draft timeline is below.
We set up a weekly meeting time to commence in a month after Anne had completed some outside commitments.
Timeline/Checklist – Launch Date – 3/25
Timeline – complete in
Readings & course texts identified
Determine # and grouping of modules
Grading scheme set & added
Determine structure of course/home page
Design student feedback mechanism & schedule
Design a communication plan (announcements, social media, email, )
List, schedule & plan synchronous sessions
Copyright/Fair Use review complete
Start sequencing of activities, assessments & communications plan
Embed support materials into course and integrate into communication plan
Review alignment of activities & assessments to course goals/objectives
Complete sequencing of activities, assessments & communications plan
Complete build out of activities & assessments in Canvas
Testing of course content
February 18th start**
Set up open office hours & sign ups
Modifications to content & retesting
Introduce yourself – discussion board – make it creative
“…learning technology is most useful when it is designed to meet specific needs and contexts” (p. 164).
I read sentences like this and I sometimes wonder…does that really need to be written? Is this an a-ha moment for anyone? Are we still doing things in classrooms without thinking about why we are doing them?
Unfortunately the answer (as most students would attest) is a loud YES. Informally I’ve spoken to many students of all ages who’ve expressed frustration with an activity that is taking place in their class that they don’t understand the reasoning for. It doesn’t make sense to them why they are doing what they are doing and in too many situations – they don’t feel comfortable asking why.
One of the reasons I really enjoy working at the intersection of education and technology is that technology makes it more difficult to do anything without having a reason for why you are doing it and a methodology for sharing this with students. I think of it as the ‘emperor has no clothes’ moment. These moments happen with traditional teaching methods too, only it’s more challenging for a student to ask “Why are you lecturing this content? How do you expect me to process this material?” because lecturing as a teaching method is normalized within our society. It looks like “good teaching”, it’s familiar, and has been used for decades. However, it’s much easier to question a new methodology because it lacks this normalization – which is actually a really good thing. It forces educators to be more critical of and deliberate with their approaches to learning and teaching because they need to be ready to explain them.
When students are asked to create a web site to share their papers on – the emperor has no clothes. What’s the purpose of the extra work here? What are you trying to accomplish in this medium – and does it work? If you can’t answer those questions meaningfully – you are missing the why.
Assignment: Create a poster of your research using Illustrator. No additional info given.
Assignment: Create a podcast of your interview. No additional info given.
However, each of these assignment has a potential ‘why’. The key is in the description and assessment of the assignment.
A web site – can be used to strengthen persuasive skills in a multi-modal context. Teach and assess your students on the variety of ways that visual and navigational elements can impact someone’s understanding of a new concept. Added bonus? – Integrating digital and information literacy skills into your curriculum.
A poster – can be used to distill the most salient points of your research into a format that can be consumed by someone with limited knowledge of your academic area. Creators need to consider what is common baseline knowledge in a set population and adjust the description of their work to target that audiences’ pre-existing knowledge.
A podcast – can be used to tell a story using first-hand accounts. Podcasts also lend themselves to helping students examine the power of narrative and specific examples in helping audiences to connect to complex topics. Creators can layer in storytelling and analysis to draw a more nuanced and personal argument.
In each of these examples what is most often missing is a more specific breakdown of what the assignment is trying to accomplish. Often this is hidden under the guise of “engagement”. Using a new mode of communication will allow my students to better engage with the content. While that’s often very true – we still need to explain how and why.
This explanation can help on many levels. The authors point out that
“Whether technology is motivating to people is likely to depend on the learner, the task, and the learning context” (p. 173).
The authors also reference 5 stages that creators often move through: 1. Identify or find a place where creation is happening, 2. Lurk or watch what’s going on, 3. Begin to make small contributions to creations, 4. Create their own material, and finally 5. Begin to lead the creation of materials (p. 175). This is important information for teachers to be aware of. It indicates that taking time to familiarize oneself with the process of creation is not a quick or single-step process. For authentic creation to take place, students must be given time to assimilate to creation environments.
No technology has a defined outcome. In fact, “there is considerable evidence that use of a single instructional technology can lead to different outcomes when used by different learners in different contexts” (p. 194). The “why” is so important and it’s more difficult to avoid explaining why you choose to use a certain technology than why you have chosen to lecture today. We should be asking and answering the ‘why question’ for both actions – but for now technology seems to be the home of “why”.
In chapter 7 the authors examined how learning in school would be impacted by the points discussed earlier in the book. Some of the most outstanding points are summarized in quotes below that focus on the experience of school for different students.
“School is a cross cultural experience” (p. 136)
“A key dimension of creating equitable classrooms involves building a classroom environment where all students’ ideas are valued” (p. 141)
“Third spaces: social environments that emerge through genuine dialogue between teachers and students” (p. 142)
The concept of “third spaces” particularly stuck with me. In my experience, creating a third space was often the only way I was able to establish trust with my students. Until they felt that I truly cared for them as individuals and was interested in what they had to share, we made little progress. Logically this makes sense to me, particularly for students who may have lost trust in an education system. It’s a signifier of the importance of interpersonal communication and empathy as teacher qualities.
Discipline Specific Learning
This chapter also focused on discipline-specific learning and the differences between “ways of thinking and intellectual challenges” within different areas (p. 143). It seems to me that this is an area that could be explored at great depth and after doing a little research I found an article titled “Decoding the Disciplines: A Model for Helping Students Learn Disciplinary Ways of Thinking” by Joan Middledorf and David Pace in New Directions for Teaching and Learning in 2004. In this article the authors outline seven steps to overcome obstacles to learning that include:
“What is a bottleneck to learning in this class?
How does an expert do these things?
How can these tasks be explicitly modeled?
How will students practice these skills and get feedback?
What will motivate the students?
How well are students mastering these learning tasks?
How can the resulting knowledge about learning be shared?”
“Decoding the Disciplines: A Model for Helping Students Learn Disciplinary Ways of Thinking” by Joan Middledorf and David Pace
If we work to put ourselves into the place of the learners we can see how important these steps are. Middledorf and Pace point this out explicitly:
“We need only imagine ourselves in a learning situation that is unfamiliar to us–a first lesson in knitting, a new computer program, or the grammar of a foreign language–to realize that simply hearing a lecture on a complex process is rarely sufficient to permit us to actually perform the task and to imagine it with dozens of other new procedures”
(Middledorf and Pace, 2004, p. 7).
This chapter emphasizes how much we expect and how much we need of our teachers. We need them to be both experts in their field, and individuals who possess the ability to empathize and connect with students who have experienced life in a complexity of ways that is never reproduced the same.
Putting it into practice – tips for applying this information in the classroom
Consider one way that you can create a third space in your class. Is this something that you already do, and if so – is it effective? Devise a strategy to establish rapport individually with all your students.
Begin to work your way through the seven steps to overcome obstacles to learning. Identify the bottlenecks within one class that you teach. How can/do you address these?
Evaluate and reflect on any strategies that you use or have used in the past to address these issues. What is working well? What needs to be improved? Use these reflections to fine tune your practice in the next semester.
“Motivation is also increasingly viewed as an emergent phenomenon, meaning it can develop over time and change as a result of one’s experiences with learning and other circumstances” (p.111).
This makes it a challenging concept to pin down to a neat set of bulleted points to follow. However, it does not mean that learner motivation can not be impacted by a teacher’s actions. This chapter connects motivation to several components of a learners’ beliefs and values including
A growth vs. fixed mindset
A sense of belonging
The value of a task to a learner (based on interest, connection to learner identity)
Learner interest (personal or situational)
Intrinsic motivation has a strong impact on learners as well. Autonomy, competence, and psychologoical relatedness all play a role in motivating learners. (p.115). Conversely the impact of external rewards on learning is strongly contested with some believing that “External rewards…may also undermine the learner’s perception of autonomy and control” (p. 115). However, others point out that external rewards like praise can positively impact learning if they focus on interest, encouragement, and guiding learner progress (p. 116). It’s also important that praise focus on effort vs. ability.
Putting it into practice – tips for applying this information in the classroom
Incorporate self-assessments and goal setting into the introduction of the course to enable students to integrate interests and strengths into their plan for the course.
Include community building activities like peer review and pre-assessment into your course structure to reinforce a sense of belonging among the group. Use office hours to get a better read on students’ sense of belonging as the course progresses. Make adjustments as needed based on this feedback.
Ask students to monitor and share their progress towards personal goals and next steps based on this progress throughout the course.
Use the information collected in steps 1 and 3 to help direct feedback to guide learner progress and their effort towards meeting those goals
Iterative knowledge building, learning and knowledge-related biases, and the value of “desirable difficulties” and elaborative interrogation are only four of the topics covered in this chapter but they are more than enough to focus on for this blog posting.
“…memory traces with common elements [that] are simultaneously activated and linked, knowledge is expanded and memories are iteratively reworked” (p. 86).
A web of connections to present and past experiences underscores all of the work that learners are doing to make meaning of new pieces of knowledge.
Me as a novice learner. Strawberry Shortcake was my alter ego.
“…studies underscore the active role of the learner; that is, even young children do not simply accrue knowledge from what they have experienced directly but build knowledge from the many things that they have figured out on their own” (p. 87).
Expertise comes with many benefits and is most often seen as an asset in any environment, but although experts can organize their knowledge more efficiently and effectively, they also often have learning biases which are “implicit and unknown to the individuals that hold them” (p. 91). A learner’s initial level of knowledge can also impact their interpretation of new knowledge (p. 92). Biases can have both positive and negative consequences. They can:
“Undermine the acquisition of new knowledge and skills” (p. 91)
“…blind individuals to new evidence” (p. 92)
“Promote well-being and health” (p. 92)
“Refine perception and serve to blur distinctions within categories that are not meaningful” (p. 92)
Desirable Difficulties & Problem Based Learning
Some of the desirable difficulties or “useful challenges” that are identified in this chapter as the best ways to positively impact learning include:
Interleaved and varied practice
Summarizing and drawing
Explanations: elaborative interrogation, self explanation and teaching” (p. 98)
Problem based learning can also present useful challenges to learners and the learners point out that this learning technique “…instills in learners flexible knowledge use, effective problem-solving skills, self-directed learning, collaboration and intrinsic motivation” (p. 94).
Putting it into practice
So how do you apply this to the classroom? Here are a few ideas:
Have students start a unit of study with a self reflection of what they already know about the topic. Use this as a starting point for them to examine as they move through the unit of study so they actively identify ideas/concepts that are disputed or different than what is being discussed and studied in class. Encourage them to examine why that is. Where did the original understanding come from? Is there some truth there?
Identify content in your class that students need to know quickly in order to access other knowledge. Definitions and calculations often fit nicely into this category, however you could also use this activity with a topic like connecting the correct genre to a piece of writing to help students become more comfortable with identifying and differentiating between different genres of writing. Using a quiz mechanism return to this practice of retrieving the correct answer/classification throughout the semester using different examples and questions. By spacing out these practices you will further strengthen students’ knowledge and retrieval skills
Design a problem based unit of student that requires students to explain and teach complex topics to support their proposed solution. This activity has the added benefit of providing potential presentation and public speaking practice. Like this — SO AMAZING!!
What’s up next?
Next week we’ll take a look at one of my favorite topics – motivation.