Activity Planning Reflection

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.

PCOE Goals

I have three distinct goals for the Professional Certificate in Online Education:

  1. Better understand the instructor experience in teaching online courses;
  2. Build skills as an online instructor, as distinct from a course designer/developer;
  3. Learn models for supporting instructors in teaching online courses.

I have taken several online courses and have a good sense of the student experience. I have assisted faculty members in building online courses and have a sense of the work required. But I have not taught an online course and thus have no experience of the demands and challenges faced by instructors while teaching the course.

Readiness Reflections for Online Learning

Online learning presents a mix of benefits and challenges for learners. While providing flexibility in time and place, online learning requires additional discipline and intrinsic motivation from learners. By virtue of being computer-mediated, online courses also involve different technical proficiencies, changes in personal interactions, and a shift from oral to textual communication. Understanding the specific benefits and challenges of online courses helps instructors and course designers scaffold the online learning process for students, directly informing online course design considerations.

Learners and instructors meet regularly in a typical in-person course. Class time is set aside for regular interaction, and instructors often grade students on attendance and participation. Course content can be ephemeral, particularly if instructors tend to lecture during class time. In contrast, a typical online course allows learners to engage with course content, the instructor, and other learners at the time and place of their choosing, requiring learners to set aside time for engaging in the course. While online course material, including lecture content, typically remains available indefinitely, the responsibility for engaging with the material falls firmly on the learner. Online courses thus provide welcome flexibility while significantly shifting the burden of time management and responsibility, thus demanding increased discipline and intrinsic motivation from learners. Given individual differences in these areas, online courses may seem quite natural for some learners and much more difficult for others.

Computer mediation significantly changes the learning experience as well. Differences in technical proficiency contribute to learner experiences of the learning environment. Learners with strong technical skills may find online environments easy to navigate and relish the opportunity to work on assignments that test their technical abilities. Learners with less technical backgrounds may find it confusing to navigate online settings and become frustrated with online learning as a result. In-person meetings and in-class discussions often contribute to a sense of community in a course. When these are absent, as is typically the case in online courses, learners can feel isolated or alienated and learning can seem impersonal. Content and participation often shift from oral means like lecture and class discussion to textual means like reading and discussion posts. Learners will react differently to this modality shift based on their learning preferences. Some learners may find this shift quite difficult, while others will appreciate the ability to contribute to class discussions via discussion board (particularly those learners who may not be comfortable speaking in front of their peers in class).

How can online course designs take advantage of the benefits and minimize the challenges? A important first step is introducing learners to the differences between in-person and online courses and encouraging self-reflection. Do learners understand the responsibilities involved in taking an online course, as well as the benefits? Do they feel comfortable with the tradeoffs involved? These and other questions can help learners decide if online courses are a good fit for them. Course design considerations can also mitigate some of the challenges described above. Instructors might require regular assignments throughout each week to ensure that learners are regularly engaging with course content. Instructors might decide to hold synchronous meetings through virtual conferencing software to encourage learners to get to know each other through oral and visual interaction. Regarding technical proficiency, course designers should make sure that learners have access to a robust introduction to working within the online course environment. Instructors and course designers should ensure that courses are well-structured and easy to navigate, deadlines for assignments are clear, and necessary software is readily available. Instructors might also provide learners with a range of assignment options so that learners with technical skills like graphics, video, or website design will be encouraged to use these abilities. Furthermore, instructors might provide a range of content in various modalities to provide flexibility and reinforcement for learners.

Online courses are significantly different than in-person courses. If well-designed and purposefully scaffolded, however, they can be just as meaningful as in-person courses.

U.S. History 1 Online Course

U.S. History I

Course Overview

This course will serve as a foundation to further study in American history from the pre-Colombian era through Reconstruction. In the process we will discuss not only the major events of this period but also the ways in which historians have interpreted and argued about them over the years. Thematic elements like race, religion, gender, and class will feature heavily in our discussions throughout the course as we try to get a handle on the way people of the past understood themselves and how historians have come to understand them better. Though these lenses sometimes lead to uncomfortable conversations about structural inequities and rampant injustice in the past, we will also attempt to avoid the historical fallacy of presentism; that is, we will try to judge actors by their own historical context while acknowledging both the positives and negatives of historical American culture.

Format

This course will take place completely online.

Course Status

I have worked on this course on and off for the last four years, though I have never actually taught it. I have some idea of the assignments and content that might be a part of this course, but not a fully fleshed-out course at this stage.

Course Selection

I chose to focus on this course for PCOE because it reflects a course that I would like to teach in the future. It was also the subject of my Master’s degree, which lends me a certain familiarity with the content and will hopefully allow me to apply PCOE concepts to real issues facing faculty members.