24 September 2012

Creating an online syllabus

I'm working on a class to get a certification for online learning - course design. As a result, I'm working on an online class and I needed to create/tweak a syllabus. I've been studying some different resources for online syllabi:

  1. The Syllabus

  2. Creating an Effective Online Syllabus

  3. Online Course Design: 13 Strategies for Teaching in a Web-based Environment

  4. Developing Your Online Syllabus

I've collected my thoughts while looking at best practices for creating an online syllabus:

One of the interesting differences between K-12 and higher ed is the importance of a syllabus. I think this mostly has to do with 3 factors: (1) the amount of time you have students on a weekly basis, (2) the fact that you only have higher ed students for half of the year and (3) students in higher ed also have more responsiblity to do independent learning as far as the content of the course goes.

In K-12, students get a lot more handholding than they do in higher ed. We need to give explicit information concerning the text (students have to find their own text, it’s not provided), students need to know where to go for help (tutoring, disability services, etc. - they don’t have a guidance counselor or special ed case worker to guide them) and the list could go on.
Inviting a colleague to see your syllabus is an interesting thought. Usually, this doesn’t happen on our campus unless there’s a problem, i.e. grade appeal. Having recently been in K-12, there isn’t the culture of sharing that is (more) expected in higher ed. Many (even on my higher ed campus) are unwilling share and show what they are doing. Without getting too philosophical, I think this is what’s wrong with education. We’ve cultured an atmosphere of secrecy instead of a collegial peer learning network. I definitely see the value in encouraging peer review on syllabi. If for no other reason than to get another set of eyes on it to “keep the university out of trouble”. For instance, if I forgot to include our disability statement, that could be a real problem in many cases.

As an adjunct instructor in Physical Geography, I really appreciate the analogy of the syllabus as a road map. Not only to see where we are going, but what kinds of challenges/experiences will the learner encounter along the way? Do I have to buy my own gas or is there a built-in system of help available?

I know many students have a problem with organization. Most classes use the first day of school as a day to cover the syllabus. This probably seems like drudgery to many students. What kind of strategy can we use to increase the usefullness of the syllabus and recapture that first day of class? Here’s my idea: why not create a screencast of the instructor going over the syllabus and require students to watch that and take a quiz over it? Just a thought. We need to sell this syllabus as a tool, rather than a requirement. I do really like the idea of giving a schedule to show explicit scaffolding of concepts so students can understand, I need to learn A before I can get to B. It’s a process of sequenced steps, not a bunch of individual activities. It’s got to be sold as an overview, not simply a list.

For students, the contract is likely the most important piece. They want to know “how they are going to get (earn - hopefully) their A (B, C, D, whatever). Explicit instructions on how to earn what points for what activity. Certainly the expectations from the instructor may be the most significant piece in this section. What can they expect time-wise from me? Do I keep up on grading? Do I start and end class on time? If I am contacted, what expectation is there for a response? What is the best way to contact me?


05 September 2012

Fall 2012

So I'll resist the urge to talk about how long it's been since I've posted. I haven't posted. Oh well.

I'm starting on my SLOAN-C certification for Online Teaching. This is a fully online workshop designed to prepare faculty to teach online (as the name implies). Another adventure. More learning. Just my thing. I'm excited to learn more about something that will make me more effective at my job. What is that job? I'm an instructional designer and I work at helping faculty discover the tools and strategies they need to effectively accomplish their learning objectives in an online format. It's a new job and a new position; I've only been here since January. I have zero formal training in Educational technology except for an undergraduate class and one graduate class. Why did they hire me again?

I know my writing has been quite boring and dry lately. I'm hoping to make it more conversational and reflective again and move away from the drab literature review I was doing during my last class. I've got to get back in the habit of reflecting. I miss it and I miss knowing that I have something to catalog my progress as a novice course designer.

I will just say I've learned so much over the last several months. I'm beginning to play a little bit with code. I really want to learn more HTML, JavaScript and CSS. It's a large task, but I really love it. I've even toyed with the idea of a second undergraduate degree in programming or computer science or network engineering. However, that's likely not to be due to my advanced age and time restraints on getting this doctorate done.