Online Learning in a Hurry – a Course in a Hurry

When i started doing the videos for #oliah I was trying to put into words the things I’ve learned about working online. Many of those were hard lessons learned from experience, more of them are lessons that i’ve learned from the excellent educators and students I’ve had the privilege of working with in the last 20 years or so. The video series isn’t really intended to directly prepare someone for teaching on the internet, but rather put some concepts together so that someone can round out their preparedness.

Now, however, we at UWindsor Office of Open Learning (OOL) find ourselves facing the idea of ‘teaching teachers to teach online,’ not for few final weeks of emergency remote teaching, but for a term. At least. Tomorrow we start a course for faculty moving their courses online for our Spring/Summer session.

There are other people more qualified, definitely, and more reflexive, probably, to try and create a course for people who now have the need to go and teach online in what remains a hurry… but here we are. Fortunately this course won’t just be designed or taught by me: all my OOL colleagues have been supporting faculty flat out since the #pivot began, and together we’re a committed course team. Shout out in particular to co-designers Ashlyne O’Neil and Alicia Higgison, who’ve led the course idea from the get-go. Thanks, dudes.

We’ve been wracking our brains for right place to start. Should we be trying to swing for the fences? Do we want to start with comfortable certainty to bring people onside or push people with new concepts to set a tone of uncertainty, making room for growth? Do we come out technical or conceptual?

Ultimately, we end up coming back to what I always advise other people to do and find SO hard to do myself – examining our collective goals. So here’s a quick lay-out of our plan for the UWindsor Online Learning in a Hurry course.

(Caveat: the course is a collective effort, but this blog post is from my perspective and my colleagues are not to blame for any dumb stuff in here.)

Thinking about Goals

So… I don’t know the people who are going to be taking this course. I mean, I probably know a couple of them, but broadly speaking, I don’t know them as people. I don’t know what their level of Internetness will be. I don’t know how they feel about what education is. Some will likely be sessionals and some will be 30 year faculty members. The one thing they all will likely share, is that they have to teach someone in the Spring session online. That… is soon.

The course itself is going to happen in Blackboard (our institutional LMS). That decision is taken out of my hands… but I probably would have chosen to do this anyway. No need to insert another point of complexity at this point. The work we are going to do in Blackboard over the 5 day course will do most of what’s needed to give them a sense of what is possible in the platform… though I wont be ‘teaching’ any of the technology. We have great people doing blackboard support on campus and I’m a big believer in people learning the tech for themselves.

I want this course to be conceptual and the technology to be incidental

So. That decision made, the question becomes – what are the concepts that I think I’m going to want to include. I say ‘think’ because I only really script out the first day. I’ll see after day one how things are going, where the learners fit on the various spectrums of literacies and skills, and how much I think we can actually do together.

The ‘design’ of the course

I am NOT an instructional designer. I have designed a great deal of instruction, but, the same way that baking doesn’t make me a baker, designing instruction doesn’t make me an ID (hence the scare quotes in the section title). That being said, I’m more than happy to impose my own conceptual conceits upon my fellow teachers. The course is setup as follows –

Synchronous times, Mon/Wed/Fri – 9-12. Each synchronous session is broken into two blocks. They are (currently) titled as follows

  1. Introduction to Online learning
  2. Thinking through course goals online
  3. Finding content (includes learner/web as content)
  4. Creating content (includes lecture/text etc…)
  5. Assignments and assessments
  6. The student experience (reflection on their experience in the course and what that tells them about how students will experience it.

Blocks

Each of the blocks is designed as follows:

  1. Opening mini lectures establishing common language and concepts (Blackboard collaborate) 15min
  2. Break out groups for faculty to discuss with other faculty (they will be keeping notes on a powerpoint that will be used for feedback in the main group) 15min
  3. Feedback (using the slides created by the faculty in the breakout groups) 15min
  4. Assignment (submission of assignment using blackboard assignments) 45min
  5. Participants uncomfortable with the assignment can stay back in the live session for further direction. Participants may return early to discuss issues in greater depth until next block starts.

Asynchronous days Tuesday and Thursday

The asynchronous days will involve some options for content and some challenging questions for use in the discussion forums. Participants will be encouraged to both start threads in the discussion forum and respond to other participants. The first asynchronous day our contributed content will be this contribution sent to me on twitter by @thestacylynn http://libguides.lehman.edu/oer and this video we recorded with our excellent librarian friend Scott Cowan.

That first lecture

I think i basically want to do four things in the introductory lecture… which is probably too many, but why stop now? The first think I want to do is give them a fair idea of what they can expect form the course. If they’re expecting me to teach them which button to press to make the machine go ping… they are going to be very disappointed. so…

Introduce the social contract (both for this course and as a concept)

The second thing i want to do is introduce the distinction between complicated and complex ways of knowing. This is a distinction I’ve written about on this blog a 100 times, stolen from Dave Snowden, and I find it a critical concept to introduce in education. There are some things that are step by step things that you need to know – those are complicated. There are other things that no one really agrees about, but everyone in a given field of knowledge have a sense or (or an opinion about) those are complex. When we teach we inevitably do some of each. Online… they are very different beasts.

Introduce the distinction between complicated and complex

The third thing I want to introduce is the concept of information abundance. Working on the internet breaks the wall of control that a faculty member has over the knowledge in a course. Our education system and our face to face classrooms were designed for a world of information scarcity, where a student needed to come to class to acquire the knowledge in a faculty members head. We now have limitless ways of acquiring information, some of it good, some of it not so much. Teaching online allows for us to integrate this new reality into our teaching

Introduce the idea of information scarcity and abundance

The last thing i want to do is address the human concerns that the participants are likely having about teaching online. I’ll do a couple of live slides, an approach i’ve been using for years, to allow the participants to reflect on their own thoughts and concerns regarding their upcoming teaching assignment. I’ll ask them what they are concerned about teaching online as well as what opportunities they see.

Give learners a chance to process their feelings… introduce student created content through liveslides

Group Discussion

This is a simple breakout group where faculty will be discussing the questions brought up in the liveslides. I want to give them a real chance to talk about their concerns. In order to make sure we’ve got that feedback, we’re going to have other OOL staff in each of the breakout groups keep notes on a powerpoint deck, each facilitator using one slide per question per group. When we all come back to the main room, I’ll lead a discussion based on the notes on that slide deck by using a screenshare of the shared powerpoint deck. We’ll have support in those breakout rooms for the second part of day one, but allow it to be participant lead for the Wed and Fri instances.

Assignment

The assignment submissions are going to an iterative version of a new syllabus. The first submission will just be a word doc with some headings (and their name on it) and after that we’ll start to include new things each day. From an assignment perspective, the work is to keep adding to a syllabus based on realizations that learners are picking up each day.

Tests

We’re also going to use the testing module for participant feedback. I like to offer lots of opportunity to do learner feedback and this seems like a nice way for participants to experience what a student experiences using the testing section of blackboard.

Goals

So after all that… what are my goals for the course? I want participants to experience an online course that is more than videos and MCQ. I want them to experience the difference between a live structured learning experience and an asynchronous open ended learning experience. I want them to get some sense of how many options there are for communicating their field to learners, and think about what impact that has on what and how to assess. I want them to come out of the course with a start on their syllabus for the spring with some ideas about how they are going to imagine their Spring student, and think about what they can do to make that learner’s experience a safe and interesting experience.

Author: dave

I run this site... among other things.

7 thoughts on “Online Learning in a Hurry – a Course in a Hurry”

  1. Hi Dave,
    a few questions:
    1. Is reading your blog part of the SOLS course? Or just side, auxiliary material?
    2. Why are you using Zoom, when we have to contend with MS Teams and other allowed tools?
    3. Technology gets in the way: content of your link to your Live Slides is not viewable – Chrome (recommended browser) is not allowing Flash …
    4. The assignments you are giving us (attendees) – can you fill them out of this (SOLS) course to give us a better idea and an example?
    Thanks,

    ZJP

  2. Hello Dave!

    This is very interesting and thought-provoking because it shows how things can be done IRL (or in real online life? IROL?) with some pointers to the conceptual basis, but mostly as a report on experience. I hope that some instructors find time to do the same for their own courses. Look forward to reading your follow-up!

    Andreas

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