Response to the Reviewers of My Online Course Proposal

This summer I’ve put a great deal of time into developing my first online course, which is part of the UMW Online Learning Initiative.  The Initiative is among the most extraordinary faculty development opportunities I’ve participated in.  The last step in the process is to invite a number of reviewers from both inside and outside of UMW to examine the course, “kick the tires” so to speak, and identify flaws before I teach the course.  This post is a response to my reviewers from whom I learned a great deal.  It makes me wonder what a better teacher I could have been if all of my courses had been so reviewed.

Thanks to my reviewers:

  • Steve Deloach, Elon University
  • Paul Latreille, Swansea University (in the U.K.)
  • Bob Rycroft, UMW
  • Jeff McClurken, UMW
  • Becky Conway, a student who previously took my face-to-face course at UMW
  • Wendy Drexler, Brown University, and
  • Bryan Alexander, NITLE

The feedback you provided was extremely helpful!  I very much appreciate it, especially the many points I didn’t think of.  I really am a newbie here with respect to online teaching.  Here is my response:

@Steve @Paul  I wrote the course description for the reviewers, most of whom are not economists.  It’s not the course description my students see.

@Multiple Reviewers  With respect to the expressed Course Learning Objectives, I agree that they are fairly abstract, but the operational ones, listed 0n each Topic page they both concrete and quantifiable.

@BryanAlexander  A class release for developing and teaching an online course?  Ha ha!  This is a public university.  They think I’m underworked as it is.   I did receive a small stipend, but only because of the work done during the summer.  The face-to-face section is parallel, but entirely independent from the online section.  I did that in part because I want to assess the outcomes in the two approaches.

@Becky  The online section has assignments the face-to-face doesn’t have, like the intro video and twitter.

@Paul  You can see the “product” by looking at the course website!

@Paul  Good idea about linking the sections, but see my comment above to Bryan.

Wendy:  Thanks for the reference to brainshark video.  I wasn’t familiar with it but will have to give it a try.

@Wendy  Both discussion fora are accessible from the tabs on the header on any page of the website.

@Paul  I definitely need to do a better job of explaining the various spaces in the course website.

SG: The main website is econ201online.  The purpose of the Discussion site is to flesh out our understanding of the content of each topic.  The purpose of the MOOC is…

@Bryan  The discussion pages are threaded;  I thought I put the norms on the directions page.  I’ll add to this as things come up.

@Jeff “Useful, but is it something [ Final class notes on a topic ] you can replicate in future iterations?  ANS: Yes, I’ve done this before in seminars.  I simply make those notes disappear for the next class.

@Bryan @Jeff  Re: MacroMOOC “Will you require a baseline of quantitative work for each module?”  I think it will depend on the question being discussed.

@Jeff  Why are  the essays listed as Essays 1,2,3, … 6?    ANS: Because those are the only ones I’ve put up yet.

@Jeff  For this iteration, the exams will be the same as my f2f section: Multiple Choice.  For future, perhaps I’ll do it differently.

@Jeff  The Course Website doesn’t provide enough info for a student to know where the class is and what they should be doing.  SG: That’s because the site isn’t live yet.  It will develop more as the course plays out.  Also, and perhaps more importantly, because you can’t see the twitter discussion yet which is where the day-to-day communication will take place.

@Jeff: “Do you think people will actually watch these videos (from you and from their classmates)? Does it matter if they don’t?”  SG: Jeez, I hope so!

Re: Daily Tweets – Perhaps I need to go to MWF or something.  I’ll see.

@Bryan – Yes, I’ve built up a list of tweet prompts.

@Jeff – The tweets represent the daily discussions about everything in the course.  I expect some tweets will prompt a discussion on what we’re currently studying since I’ll choose my prompts that way.

@Paul  Yes, I plan to give general feedback on the essays, good features, common problems, etc.  I’d like to do so peer review as well, but not until at least a few weeks into the course.

@Bryan Re: twitter use, yes we will use the hashtag “#econ201online” and all such tweets will be archived for review.

@Becky: “If no one responds to other students’ questions and both the question poser and the classmates get used to the Prof. eventually answering them by the next day, how does that encourage other students to step up? It seems too easy for students to sit back and only check in on conversations without playing an active role themselves.”

SG: Good questions, but we’ll have to see how it goes.  I can be pretty persuasive about getting students to respond.

@Paul, Yes, I generally plan to answer questions with other questions, rather than providing “the” answer unless it’s a factual/mechanical question (“How do I find the Topic 3 page?”

@Paul  Class size is capped at 20, though I’ve given some thought to running larger sizes.

@Paul: “All good stuff, and you ask students to do an essay of their own, but then retreat to more orthodox essays. I’m wondering if you could get students to do something a bit more imaginative for another assignment as an alternative to an essay – a video, poster or photo collage for example?”  SG: Possibly, but this is a Writing Intensive course so we need written work as well.  Perhaps there’s a work around here.

@Bryan: “Will you identify useful and relevant social media sites? I’m thinking of various econbloggers, the EconTalk podcast, etc. “  Yes, I will have students track down the ones I know, and any others similar that they find.

@Steve: “Another interesting thing you might try — I am thinking for potential paper/assessment — would be to ask a series of agree/disagree statements at the beginning of the course. Think likert scale stuff. Then at the end, ask the same ones. This would allow you to quantify the extent to which their views have changed. Theoretically, the strength to which they agree or disagree with simple dualistic statements should decrease after the course. e.g., “tax cuts are beneficial to economic growth.” If you get a lot of 4s and 5s on that early, you hopefully would get a lot of 3s and 4s afterwards, right?”

SG: Great ideas, though I may have run out of time.

@Paul: “I’m wondering whether there is scope for students to reflect on their own learning in a more metacognitive sense, i.e. not simply in terms of the meaning, but reflecting on their own learning?”  SG: Yes, that’s the final, final essay for the course (w/maybe a midterm draft).

@Jeff: “How would you identify such students? Would this be ad-hoc? Poor performance on an exam or essay?”  SG: Poor performance on exams and essays, but also (and sooner) on twitter and the discussion pages.  For the latter, I’ll be on the lookout for non-participation or perfunctory posts.


Thanks also go to Jim Groom, Martha Burtis, Andy Rush, Tim Owen and Alan Levine from our Division of Teaching & Learning Technologies, as well as the faculty who made up the first cohort of the UMW Online Learning Initiative from whom I learned a great deal.

If the course is successful, the credit belongs to the people I’ve mentioned in this post.  I simply followed their advice.


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2 Responses to Response to the Reviewers of My Online Course Proposal

  1. Pingback: First Reflections about ECON 201, the Online Version | Pedablogy: Musings on the Art & Craft of Teaching

  2. Pingback: First Reflections about ECON 201, the Online Version | Pedablogy: Musings on the Art & Craft of Teaching

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