Weeks 3 and 4 in the online teaching program have been about course design. Part of the lessons this week was about stating goals and objectives for our classes. While the distinction is still a little fuzzy to me, I’m thinking of it like this right now: The goals are like a description of an ideal state we’d like to achieve with our course, while the objectives are measurable steps we can take towards reaching that state. It’s not really a perfect definition, but it’s how I’ve come to think about it.
In the face-to-face classes I’ve taught, goals and objectives were usually handed down from on-high and I didn’t really have a lot of input into that. For one thing, I was teaching night-school classes and there was a day-school version that was supposed to be equivalent, so I guess it makes sense to have common goals and objectives. Nevertheless, I had the freedom to run my classes as I saw fit.
I teach technical classes, such as computer programming. I initially thought it would be an easy transition to online classes. After all, most of the course work is on the computer, and the online course is on the computer. Further, there’s a lot of material already on the Internet – lectures, free e-books, videos, code samples, you name it. There are also good programming textbooks for beginning students. I don’t think I would have to create a lot of online presentations; rather I could collate and curate existing content, prepare assignments, assess progress and answer questions.
However my face to face classes weren’t really like that. I tried lectures and presentation at first, but I wasn’t getting too far with that. Even after some of my best sessions, there were rarely any questions from students. I sometimes wonder if I did such a good job that there was nothing more to say (unlikely) or that I lost them in the first two minutes (more likely) or perhaps my demonstration was drowned out by snoring (did I mention it was night school?)
I soon found out that students have a lot more questions after they start working on a project than they do after a lecture. The problem with that is they are at home working on the projects with no one to answer the questions. So they get stuck, frustrated, give up and save their questions for the next class, losing several days of work in the meantime. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this “It all made sense when you explained it in class, but when I tried to do the homework, I didn’t know where to start” If you’re hearing a lot of that, something must be wrong.
cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo shared by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
After some experimentation and trial and error I ended up “flipping” my class and had students work on projects during assigned class times. I figured it was better to have them in class with me at the point where the questions emerged. My classes were like a computer-lab. Students, especially night students, liked having something to do (it helps with staying awake). Being less formal than a lecture, there were more questions for me, but also more chatter within the class and more ideas flying around. When I was tied up helping one student with a problem, students would find help from each other instead of waiting for their turn with me. My students seemed to do much better in this arrangement, and attendance improved too.
Now I find myself wondering how to capture this kind of experience online. I don’t want to have to make myself available 24/7, but I’d like to find a way to teach them to get quick answers to their questions. My face-to-face students rarely used email to ask questions, they seemed to prefer saving the questions for class. Hopefully online students would not be so inhibited. I’ve never tried online forums with programming classes. I can’t imagine these students using a forum for any reason other than to ask questions, so I would have to monitor it closely or no one will be there to answer questions. I think a few screencast tutorials to cover the frequently asked questions would be helpful; something like the tutorials and worksheets we had here in potcert. Twitter might be useful too, though in my case, very few of my students used it. Perhaps online would be a different story.
I’m sure if I get some time to do a little more research online, I’ll find some more ideas but I’m starting to think this course design activity is going to involve some more experimentation and trial and error.
By the way, I found the tutorials and worksheets very helpful. After watching the tutorials I tried the worksheets and had my own moment of “It all made sense when you explained it in class, but when I tried to do the homework, I didn’t know where to start”. Luckily the tutorials were recorded and I could go over them again (and again). That’s how I’d like things to work in my classes too.
That’s all for now. Let me know if you have any questions.