Weekly Writing 8 (5.1) – Lori Sowa
Preparing a course that I’m not sure I’ll ever teach is a little bittersweet. If the opportunity does arise – I’ll be light years ahead in terms of preparation and quality of learning experience than if I were to be told at the last minute that I will be teaching this next semester (which is fairly typical). However, due to my current employment situation, there’s a good chance that I’ll never teach it. The work will not be for nothing, however, since I can see the application of this process in many scenarios both inside and outside of academia.
One significant aspect of preparing an online course that I hadn’t thoroughly considered before is the freedom to decide what material is better suited to synchronous delivery/discussion and what is most effective through asynchronous means, and then to craft the course content with this as the guideline. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. This is in stark contrast to traditional face to face courses, where there are very specific guidelines about “contact hours” (i.e. a three credit course requires 3 contact hours per week). With this in mind, I will likely design a course that does not require weekly synchronous meetings, but perhaps a 1-2 hour synchronous meeting every 2-3 weeks. The freedom this provides makes so much sense from a pedagogical perspective, and provides for much greater flexibility and creativity in designing learning activities and ways to deliver content. I would, however, advertise the course with a set day/time for the synchronous sessions up front since they would be required.
Having co-taught a couple of courses designed to prepare teachers for K-12 engineering, and spending some substantial time reading literature on the subject, I feel better prepared to design a course like this which does not come with a standard textbook. Most of the other courses I’ve taught in the past have very set content, so this course has been really fun, and challenging, to develop. Whether it would be effective or not remains to be seen. But, if I were able to teach this course, I’d like to incorporate data-collection measures into the course, and follow up with teachers after the course, to get an idea of whether or not it was successful. Defining success would be much more straightforward with well thought out learning objectives to fall back on. But gathering the teacher’s perspective on the relative success of the course perhaps a year after its conclusion would be interesting to measure.
Fink (2013) describes three general strategies to teaching: team-based learning, problem-based learning, and accelerated learning. I’m not sure that my approach to this course will follow the accelerated learning technique described, although I will likely include aspects of it, but I do think that much of the course will include problem-based learning that is conducted through small teams during the synchronous sessions. The major units that will likely preceed the unit I’m developing here are real-world problem solving skills (such as units, conversions, estimates, and assumptions) and model-eliciting activities (open-ended, interdisciplinary problem-solving activities – here’s a link for anyone who might be interested in these). While some content will be provided beforehand through relevant links and some synchronous lecture, the synchronous class sessions will mostly involve students working in teams to solve problems that require some level of self-directed research and reasoning.
The asynchronous blog would be a substantial component of the course. I’ve built a blog for a course through Blogger before, and it worked reasonably well. I’d like to revisit that tool now that I have a better idea of what I’d like to do with it, but I’d also like to explore WordPress, which seems to have a steeper learning curve and a cost issue to contend with.
Overall I’m happy with how the course design is coming together, but there’s still substantial work to be done to go from grand ideas to concrete, well-defined content. And seeing how it works in practice is a whole different ballgame.
Fink, L. D. (2013). Creating Significant Learning Experiences: An Integrated Approach to Designing College Courses. San Fancisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.