I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on course design and exploring tools for teaching with this summer. Hell, I even installed edX, the darling of the MOOC delivery world. (Turns out, you can’t actually submit a file using it; they assume everything is multiple choice and checkboxes.)
To put my goals in context, I’m going to go back to Chickering and Gamson’s seven principles for good undergraduate education. Specifically, excellent undergraduate education:
- Encourages contacts between students and faculty.
- Develops reciprocity and cooperation among students.
- Uses active learning techniques. (a.k.a. “Encourages active learning”)
- Gives prompt feedback.
- Emphasizes time on task.
- Communicates high expectations.
- Respects diverse talents and ways of learning.
I’ve taken several steps along these fronts this summer.
I’ve been researching collaborative learning and culturally relevant instruction. Put another way, I’ve been thinking about what kind of classroom culture I’m trying to create, and the steps I’m taking to create it. I generally do this well, but intentionality in my course and community design process is the name of the game here.
I’m putting in place tools to aid in collaboration. It’s a small step, but I’m going to commit to Vanilla Forums as a tool for managing communication outside of the classroom. And, in doing this, I’m going to be specifically requiring them to engage in question asking and answering behaviors. I view this as being valuable both in terms of direct learning (they’re wrestling with course material) as well as human dimensions (awareness of others) and lifelong learning (many technical communities are distributed and online).
I took part in a 5-day workshop on active course design (based on Dee Fink’s strategies). This was transformative, and has shaped my detailed thinking.
I’m choosing tools to make feedback easier. This term, we’re going whole-hog on Google Docs. Students will write in docs, I’ll be using Kaizena for feedback, and I’ll be automating recognition of submissions via tools like IFTTT. And, I’m going to ask my TAs to track how long it takes us to complete feedback on all assignments… and we’ll publish that number. I want feedback to be prompt and excellent, and I want the students know we’re committed to it.
Course structure is going up a tick. I’ve used course projects before, but haven’t realized how much (infra)structure is necessary if you want really excellent learning to come from them. More, not less, detail is necessary for open-ended learning experiences to be invaluable, and it helps students focus their time better. (I might also require my students to keep worklogs, so they can track and report their time on task.)
Grading criteria will be more explicit. Specifically, I’m reducing the number of graded pieces of work, so that there is more work that carries explicit feedback regarding excellence. “Ungraded” work will be checkpoints—that, if not done, will impact grade negatively. However, it will be the final product that, scaled by the checkpoints, will determine a student’s grade. This way, if they work consistently, and hard, they can do well. If they skip precursors, and do rushed work at the end, they’ll do poorly, or fail. I expect students to work consistently, and to ask questions early and often. This structure will help codify the expectation that excellence comes from consistent, hard work.
bell hooks, what do I do? I’ve been reading Teaching to Transgress, and asking myself what it means to create a liberatory classroom that respects and encourages multicultural epistemologies. Frankly, I don’t know. But, I’m going to see if I can start engaging the politics of the tech and computing world in my classrooms, and getting my students to start to question the status quo, and their role in transforming the racist/sexist culture that seems to thrive in the computing and technology world.
Of course, I haven’t killed myself working on these things this summer. Actually, the thinking behind some of this has explicitly required me to have time to think, which means not doing stuff non-stop. I’m cleaning the office, cleaning the lab, streamlining tool choices, and generally going to be focusing my work efforts (think productivity). I have, in the past, spent too much time doing too many things the hard way, and I’d rather have more time for kids, or research, or any of a host of things, as opposed to spinning wheels on unproductive reproductions of round objects…
Fun though that may be.