The more I work on my first online course, the more I feel that one could spend an infinite amount of time on this and still find new things I’d like to add or expand upon. If you’ve never taught online and you want to know how this feels, think about the first course you ever had to develop to teach. It’s like that for me. But, I digress.
The question I’ve been struggling with is how to create an online learning environment that helps my students to:
- Interact with the course materials/readings,
- Interact with each other, and
- Interact with me.
How can I guide the learning process (e.g. these interactions) so that students “get” what they need to from the course materials? This is roughly analogous to what I do in class sessions.
At the same time I see a complication: The course has a great deal of content students need to learn. So I’m not sure DS106 is a good model for that. I may be wrong (and I’m sure someone will correct me) but it seems like the “content” in DS106 is broad categories, where students have a lot of freedom about what they learn and how they learn it, as opposed to the specific concepts, theories, etc. that characterize a content-based course.
I don’t want to play my “I’m not teaching a humanities course” card. I love teaching seminars about big questions and letting the class go where it will. But this isn’t a class like that. It’s an intro course, a general education course for the social sciences, but also an introduction to the major and required for several other majors. I love giving my students freedom to learn, but at the end of the day if they don’t learn the content, the course will be a failure.
Here is my current thinking to which I invite your comments. The course is divided into ten topics. Each topic includes:
- A list of questions to be explored [the answers to which satisfy the learning objectives],
- A list of readings/resources to provide content/expert views on the questions
1. First, I would like the students to engage with the content (i.e. read the readings, watch the video clips, listen to the audio recordings). As they do so, I’d like them to think about the study questions. Then they should tweet any questions they have about the content.
2. Next, I would like students to analyze the content using the schema I developed some years ago for my face-to-face teaching. When I say analyze, I mean answer the three extended questions at the end of the schema and then send me their work.
3. Both of the above items can be done individually, but I’m looking for ways to get the students to interact and to learn from each other. What I propose to do is ask each student to post [to the as yet undefined collaborative space] one concept, theory or fact/finding from the schema, as well as their commentary per the schema. The class size is capped at 20, but it’s likely the laggards will find that the early birds identified (& posted) all the items. In that case, the laggards may add an additional reason or example or present a reason against one of the previously identified items.
4. The last step would be to ask small groups to clean up each submitted item, resolve any issues, and present the results (e.g. on a new page).
In a sense, the purpose of this activity is to develop collaborative class notes. I see this as a worthwhile activity, because if the students can do this (both individually and as a group), they will have mastered the learning objectives for the course.
Would this work? What are the pros and cons? How would I get everyone to contribute productively and not encourage free riding? Your thoughts would be much appreciated.