While I am not new to developing curriculum plans, I found this exercise to be both challenging and interesting. I felt that my process relied heavily on training that I had done in the past, such as Backwards design and SIOP. The application of this background knowledge to the online environment, however, made me rethink much of the way I structure my presentation of the material and particularly the types of activities that would be feasible in an online classroom. Traditionally, I have always tried to make my face-to-face science classes very hands-on, however, the online environment adds a level of challenge to this type of instruction. After working through the steps involved in designing the curriculum plan, I found that there was a lot more opportunities for hands on activities than I had believed possible.
The actual design of the learning objectives followed backwards design principles. I knew that my final assessment for my unit on ecology should be a lab report on a unit long ecosystem model that the students would design and study. The objectives themselves were derived from standards set out by the Utah State Office of Education (USOE) Science Core, with only slight modifications. With the summative assessment and objectives in place, it was really the activities that were the most challenging. The Fink (2013) reading on active learning vs. passive learning was particularly helpful in giving me ideas of ways to create more active online learning activities. I still struggle with the desire to have students do hands on projects in an online class, while worrying how successful they might be. I know that success will depend greatly on the scaffolding that this course will provide, but ultimately requires motivation from the students. I think that through the article reviews I have done, I have gained new insights into how to better scaffold student projects and that having students interact with the instructor and with each other more frequently can be an effective tool in having them produce meaningful products. Scaffolding and monitoring for understanding is something I can do easily in a face-to-face environment, but requires much more deliberate effort in an online situation. I still have three distinct concerns for my plan: 1. That students will not have a realistic experimental design that can be carried out. 2. Students will lose interest or not take accurate data. 3. That they will have difficulty interpreting their results and produce a meaningful lab report. For the first concern, I feel that one way to reduce the error possible in a faulty design, is to give students detailed instructions on the basic materials to use in the project, while allowing for a degree of choice in the variable that they will manipulate. I will have them write a design plan and collaborate and review plans with other students to find possible challenges to their design. For the second challenge of loss of interest, I will require students to maintain an online journal and data notebook of the project. For the third concern of difficulty in interpreting their results, I think that I will try to build a solid foundational understanding of biogeochemical cycling and have them review articles that relate to human impacts on the environment. I will have them discuss possible human influences on their own models and that of others. Then I will have them peer review each others drafts and make recommendations. By requiring them to post their final version, I hope they will feel the importance of developing a quality product. Overall, the process of designing curriculum for an online unit has given me the opportunity to reexamine how and why I teach certain concepts in ecology. I think the process of reflecting on each objective and how to create active, meaningful assessments and activities to support that objective was a good exercise and I plan on applying some of my new insights into my face-to-face classroom as well.
Fink, L. D. (2013). Creating Significant Learning Experiences: An Integrated Approach to Designing College Courses. San Fancisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.