Just enough and not too much

After having watched Lisa and Jim’s session on the interactive syllabus, I am convinced by their argument that having one is a good idea. I liked Laura’s comment about how making a syllabus interactive requires student’s to look at it more than once at the beginning of the term; it is instead a much more integral part of the course. So I am planning to develop an interactive syllabus for my next course.

One thing I need to think about is where to put it. I took a look at BB, which as I mentioned in my last post I haven’t used before since my uni just switched over to it (well I have done a couple of Blackboard Collaborate sessions, but that’s about it). It is very structured, and it seemed difficult to modify, as Lisa mentioned in the session. I did like Lisa’s Moodle syllabus, but I also think that the POTCERT syllabus has some nice features, with the weekly postings of the readings and tasks for the week, so I may try to work out something similar.

In looking at the Ko and Rossen text, I found the comment that most instructors include too little detail to be an interesting one. I have no doubt that they are right about that. I suspect my inclination would be to provide too few details.  But I’m also thinking that it is equally possible to provide too many details. To have something so busy that students are distracted by it. To have it so much information and so many links and images that it is easy to get lost in them. Indeed I’ve seen a few syllabi for online courses that seemed to me way, way over the top. I suspect I wouldn’t respond well to those were I taking the course.

So a question I have, then, is this: how much is just enough and not too much?

On multimodality and course design

I love text. Love it. Love to read it. Love it so much that my bachelor’s and master’s degrees are in English literature. Love it so much that when I give presentations, I spend ages trying to select the most appropriate font to express my meaning. Love it so much that I write books (my husband calls writing academic books my hobby…I really need to get a hobby). I could go on, but I won’t. In short, I’m really into text…

Except when I’m not. I think about how I approach Web-based stuff. Although I truly love reading, I don’t want to read a bunch of stuff online. Perhaps the technology is just not “there” yet or perhaps it’s just me, but I feel like seeing too much text online just drags me down. I don’t want to have to look at a lot of bullet points. I don’t want to see lines and lines of links, sitting there waiting for me to click on them….

Rather, online I want mutlimodality; I want pictures and sounds and words. I want those pictures and words and sounds to have an easy and comfortable coexistence. I want them to relate and interrelate and make my online experience an easy, informative, and visually-appealing one.

I think that multimodality is something I want to translate into my online teaching as well. (It’s occuring to me at the moment that it would be nice to work on it in my blogging! I’ll have to do that sometime). So I’m thinking about the online course design process and my next online course and how I would very much like to avoid designing a primarily text-driven course. The question is how to go about that. Todd Conaway’s post, in which he describes asking teachers to draw their courses, resonated with me. Seems like drawing is actually a good way to go, and I have done drawing and storyboarding when designing an online course before with good success. So in theory, I am planning to start the design of my next course by storyboarding….

In practice, I’ve got couple of issues to contend with. As it turns out, the course I’ll be teaching next term is Reading Research in Higher Education. This is a course, as the title suggests, in which students learn to read social science research studies related to higher/postsecondary education. They also learn to write about these studies, as in a literature review. In sum, then, it is a course about texts which involves producing text.

The other issue is that, if I teach more than half of the course online, I am pretty well required to use Blackboard. I have not used this LMS before (I have used WebCT and eLearning), but on a quick glance, it appears to me to be fairly text-oriented. I’m sure that there are opportunities to upload videos and include images and such, and I’m guessing that there’s a way to work with it so that the course layout doesn’t appear to be so text-y, but on a first look, pretty much what I see is text.

So here is how I am set up for next term:

  • As a person who is  enamoured with text;
  • As a designer working in Blackboard, text driven as it appears to be;
  • As a teacher who is to help students learn how to read and write about a certain type of text.

Storyboarding this as a fairly mutlimodal class should be a really interesting exercize. I believe that I have some hard work, and creative thinking, ahead of me!


Thinking about a course on College and University Teaching

Next semester, I’m teaching a doctoral level course titled College and University Teaching. My main “problem” for the course is how to help future faculty develop knowledge and skills that they will need in their teaching roles. I have a physical classroom (which is fairly flexible with moveable tables and chairs and decent a-v should I need it), but I also plan to teach just under half of it online (long story on the “just under half of it” bit; institutional requirements and such). The course objectives include (but are not limited to) the following:

• Identify different perspectives on learning
• Synthesize primary literature and key resources on postsecondary teaching
• Evaluate a wide variety of traditional and developing models and styles of college teaching
• Evaluate current and emerging practices of assessing teaching and learning in higher education
• Locate and use resources to improve teaching knowledge and practices.

For my video, I offer Mike Wesch’s (of The Machine is Us/ing Us fame) take on knowledgeable vs knowledge-able students:

I agree with him that it’s important to help students learn to ask important questions and to use resources to find the answers to them.

If you happened to read my last post, you’ll know that this week I’ve started to think that it is important to think about what this course is before deciding how to go about it. If I think of the course, for example, as a seminar (definition: a group of advanced students studying under a professor with each doing original research and all exchanging results through reports and discussions), that’s a different thing than if I think of it as an event (definition: an important occurrence; a happening).

My conception of what the course is will necessarily influence how I see my role in it (if I see it as a seminar, for example, I see myself as a research expert guiding new researchers through the process of doing original research, whereas, if it see it as an event, I see myself as an event coordinator, bringing the students in and designing activities for them to participate in). My conception of what the course is also will influence how I accomplish the different objectives (if I see it as a seminar, I might have them do original research on learning theories, while if I conceive of it as an event, I might have them talk about their own theories with others and situate them within the broader context of learning theory). And so forth.

I’m just beginning to consider this idea of thinking through what the course is, and I’m still thinking about what that means for the college teaching course and how this will shape what we will do in it!

Course design: What are we missing?

Over the course of my studies and professional career in higher education, I’ve run across several models of instructional design, including (but not limited to) the following:

I think such models provide good information about the kinds of things that are important to think about when designing and developing courses, for those new to teaching in particular. Even for those with extensive teaching experience, I think these models can provide good guidance and can remind us to stay focused on what students should learn and how we will know if they have learned it.

On the other hand, I’ve found some of the design models to be fairly narrow and prescriptive. And I’ve felt that focusing on the specifics such as learning objectives or even outcomes is not in fact the best place to start course design. I mean, I know I’ve got to identify my learning objectives and outcomes, and I know it’s great if I can use the Bloom verbs when I’m writing them up. But there’s been something nagging at me that there’s something more to course design than all these steps and objectives and outcomes and such. What is it?

Something this week has triggered for me a few thoughts about course design. I think the first steps we really take at course design, even if we don’t articulate them, are much more philosophically driven than task-oriented. I think, for example, that we actually start by thinking about what our main problem/question for a specific course is. I think we think about the students we will meet in the course (as Ko and Rossen suggest). And I think we think about teaching and learning spaces (as Todd Conaway suggested in the video for the week).

One thing I think we may be even less intentional about, which is still a philosophical matter, is thinking about what a given course is. How do we conceive of it, really? What is it at a fundamental level? Is the course to be a monolog? A conversation? A text? An event?  A seminar? A game? A bricolage?  These are just a few possibilities, and I imagine that there are many conceptualizations of specific courses (and would love to hear your ideas about what those might be!). I imagine that the answer to the question may well be linked to philosophical structures of specific disciplines and fields as well as to an instructor’s own philosophical perspectives.

TLDR: I think it is important to consider philosophical questions, including “what is the course,” prior to parsing out the learning objectives. Our answers could very well inform our objectives and our ideas about how to accomplish our learning objectives.


Ko and Rossen’s overview of online teaching

I found Ko and Rossen’s first chapter to be fairly interesting.  I liked their point about the lack of physical markers online; both my reading of the research on online learning and experience teaching online suggest that this is accurate, and that there are both upsides and downsides to it. We may not be able to rely on physical cues which can help us understand each other more easily (particularly in text-based courses rather than those with a strong visual element), but on the other hand, we may not judge Gerda before we meet her.

A couple of points interested me. It seemed to me that Ko and Rossen presented teaching online as freedom from stuff (like freedom from having to go to campus and having to show up at a given time) rather than as freedom for stuff (like using tools students use in everyday life or like doing something pedagogically interesting that you couldn’t do offline). I wondered if others found this to be the case (could just be me!), and if so, why the authors framed it in the way that they did.

They also contrasted teaching online with traditional teaching.  I recently read something that put moocs (massively open online courses) on the new and different end of a continuum and “traditional online and face-to-face courses” on the other. So I wonder whether our view of online learning as non-traditional might be changing. Could it be?

There were some points in the chapter that I was not entirely convinced about. The suggestion that it’s “people oriented people” who make the best online instructors, for example, is one of them. I’m not entirely sure what “people oriented people” means, so that could be part of my difficulty with the point, but I can imagine that instructors who rely upon highly intellective rather than highly interpersonal skills could be quite effective online. Perhaps the people-oriented people amongst us can shed some light on this point!

I also am unsure about the assertion that “there’s no need to start from scratch when teaching online.” While that may technically be true, I think it glosses over the fact that simply transferring a face-to-face course as it stands to an online environment may in fact be a terrible idea. In my own teaching, I find that I really need to rethink courses from a fundamental, philosophical level before going online with them. In my experience, online courses are fundamentally different from offline ones. Maybe others have been more succesful with a direct transfer of offline to online, but I’ve not been able to manage such a direct conversion well.

Last contrarian point, I’m not sure I buy the suggestion that “teaching online heightens our awareness of what we’re doing in the classroom.” Again, I think it’s a different thing. And I think that one disadvantage many of us face is that we haven’t taken an online course and thus actually don’t have any awareness of what this different thing is or how it works, particularly from a student perspective (one reason the PotCert is such a useful concept!). Perhaps teaching online does give us a point of comparison, however, and maybe that’s what the authors mean.

I look forward to hearing from others!

Where am I? Good question!

In working through the assignments, I appreciated the “beginner’s questionnaire” and the “getting started chart.” I think these are good tools, and I like the fact that they suggest starting with I want to do and how I want to do it, before planning out the technology; this approach puts me, rather than the technology, in the driver’s seat.

I identified as fairly clearly constructivist and thus was pointed toward using more social tools when teaching online. I do believe that’s an accurate representation of my teaching philosophy, and I agree I need to use more social tools (part of the reason I’m pleased to be participating in Pedagogy First!).  I think, however, that there are differences in the way that I teach a certain group of students a specific content and skills than I would teach another group different content/skills. I may, for example, teach an introductory content/theory heavy course from more of a presentation/content delivery perspective yet an advanced course for developing professional skills from a more problem-based approach.

I think I likely would be well served to think through the questionnaire/chart from the viewpoint of a specific course (or even module) rather than from the perspective of my general beliefs about teaching and learning. I think I’ll do just that!

Interesting times

Hello everyone,

I’m Claire Major, professor of education at The University of Alabama. I am in a unique position this semester. I am teaching courses about technology and higher education as well as about distance learning programs in higher education (these are face-to-face courses in which we are broadly considering how these forces are changing higher education and vice versa), and I’m doing this while I also will be learning about teaching online with potcert!

The assignment to set up a blog has been an interesting one for me. I’ve had to think through issues such as who my intended audience is for my blog in general as well as what kinds of posts I might make for particular and perhaps multiple intended audiences. Doing so in turn has required me to think through issues such as what feed to send to Lisa, what categories I need to establish, and what I want to tag as what.

All of these activities make the writing feel somehow different to me than writing for a book or article. For the book or article, I would likely think of single intended audience, whereas for the blog, I’ve had to think about multiple audiences and how to structure things (the technology) so that I’m saying what I intend to say to whom I’m intending to say it. So writing so far feels to me more structured and more parcelled (and more technical). Yet at the same time, the audience for a book or article doesn’t necessarily (or likely) have a face, and I’ve seen many nice photos here of participants and their families, so I have a better sense of what part of the audience for my musings actually looks like; therefore, the writing seems in some ways more personal and more conversational. Interesting times.

Looking forward to more interesting times this year and to learning with and from all of you.