As part of my Professional Certification in Online Education, I have spent some time working directly on a course that I would like to teach. Included in this work is assignment design. Having never taught an entire class before, it has been good for me to think hard about this work, particularly the level of detail that is necessary when planning an assignment. I started out by saying what many online instructors say, I’m guessing – have them use the discussion board. But actually creating an assignment that aligned with my learning objectives and felt like it would be meaningful to students took more thought and effort than I anticipated.
Discussion boards have a way of becoming repetitive, catch-all assignments that ask students to recapitulate what they’ve read in the text or heard in the lecture. After the first few posts, there is not much left to say that is different from what has been said before, and responses to this content don’t really rise to the level of discussion. It has been more common in my experience for the discussion board to be a compulsory form of “can you find the right answer in the text” rather than a meaningful contribution to class discussion. Because of this I wanted to change the typical assignment slightly from all students discussing the same thing to students contributing unique content to the discussion that other students likely wouldn’t know. I did this by requiring each student to choose three indigenous American societies and describing, comparing, and contrasting these cultures, before commenting on the work of their peers. This way the content that students were creating on the discussion board was not simply a recapitulation of textbook content, but was “net new” material for the course. Students might then take some ownership over the decisions that they made about which groups to focus on, might enjoy learning something on their own that the rest of the class could learn from them, and could then discuss similarities and differences among the posts of their classmates with something constructive to bring to the assignment.
I hope to teach this class soon, and when I do I hope that students will learn from and be motivated by this assignment.