I Designed a New Course This Summer – Here is What I Learned


Note: This post is actually a blog post from a class blog in my OTID masters program. I am reposting it here as in introduction to what I did when I redesigned my course. I have now taught this course for 2 years and it is constantly evolving. I plan to discuss elements of the course in more detail in future blog posts.

Since I began the Online Teaching and Instructional Design program at Lenoir-Rhyne University this past fall, I have been learning different elements of course design. I have learned about tools to use for creating content, I have learned about how people learn, and I have learned about different instructional design models that can be used to help to plan a course. This summer I got a chance to put it all together by taking a course that I have been teaching in some form or another (a freshman level, college Information Technology course) and redesigning it completely. I used a combination of Merrill’s First Principles and Understanding by Design (see my earlier post on this mash-up) as my instructional design model. It was definitely an iterative process. I listed each of the topics that I wanted to cover in the course, then for each topic I figured out what I wanted the students to understand and what I wanted them to be able to do. Based on this list, I began creating content and assignments for the course (I opted to get rid of the textbooks and create my own content).

I think that my favorite part of designing the course was giving myself a blank slate to work with. When I got permission from the department to redesign and go book free my ideas started running wild. I originally was going to try to gamify the course, but I couldn’t come up with a storyline that I felt would work, so I put that idea on hold. In the end, I decided to design the course as an internship. The beginning of the course is an orientation and all of the assignments are work that an IT intern might reasonably be asked to do. The content that they learn is designed to give them the “training” that they need to be able to complete their assignments. The course design really allowed me to be creative and the assignments are set up to allow the students to be creative as well.  Instead of writing papers or giving presentations, they are creating Prezis or podcasts or flyers/posters. I actually piloted the course this summer and then worked on improving the course and making it better using the techniques that I have learned in my summer classes. Having a chance to try out my course with actual students gave me good insight into what worked and what didn’t. The students seemed to like the format of the assignments and the quality of work that I received was much better than what I was used to getting for equivalent assignments in the previous version of the course. I think that framing the assignments as part of an internship really helped the student to understand the reason they were doing the assignment and made it more meaningful.

In case you are curious, here is an example of an assignment:

Example Assignment

And if you click this link you can see an example of a student’s submission for this assignment.

I got to play with a lot of technology when I was creating this course. I used Blendspace to compile the content for the course. Each Blendspace was the equivalent of a chapter in a textbook and contained all of the information that the students needed to be able to do the assignments. The Blendspace contained links to web pages, video, or content that I created (click here to see what the Hardware Blendspace looks like). If I couldn’t find the content that I needed online, I used Prezi and/or Camtasia to create it myself. I also used Thinglink and Piktochart to create a lot of the content that I used in my Canvas site for explaining the details of the course. I had a lot of fun letting my creative side take over as I was generating the content for the course.

The element of the course that I am most proud of and the one that was probably the most difficult for me was the grading policy. Since I began this (On-line Teaching and Instructional Design) program I have been reading a lot about how the traditional approach to grading is not necessarily the most conducive to learning. I decided that I would take a non-traditional approach to grading in this class. The idea came from the concept used in a gamified classroom, where the student begins the course with a 0 and works up to the grade that they desire. I combined this with mastery based learning to come up with a grading policy that is intended to maximize student learning.  There is a no-fail policy on all assignments. If a student turns in an assignment that doesn’t demonstrate a mastering of the topic, they are given feedback (in the form of text comments or a video) and asked to re-do the assignment. They can keep re-doing the assignment as often as required to demonstrate that they understand the concepts.  I actually developed a mission statement for the course that I placed on the home screen so that the students will see it whenever they log in:

Course Mission Statement.png

When I originally designed the course I wanted it to be flexible. I didn’t want to have a set schedule because that isn’t compatible with mastery based learning (some students will master concepts very quickly while others will require more time – this is one of the problems with a traditional classroom). What I learned is that having no schedule inspires the students to do no work. I ended up creating a “suggested” schedule to keep the students on pace. If they needed to work on a topic for a longer time, that was okay, but at least they understood where they stood with respect to completing their assignments in the time that they had. The other area that I ran into problems with was actually introducing the new grading concepts to the students. I did not have enough of an introduction to this for the students in my summer course and what I did have required them to do a lot of reading. I used what I learned in my courses this summer to develop an interactive syllabus that gives the students everything that they need to know about the course in a friendly, clickable format with videos and infographics explaining what they need to do. Here is the syllabus that I created (I used Thinglink, Piktochart and Camtasia to make it):

(If the links don’t show up when you click on the above syllabus, you can get to it through this link)

Creating this new version of my course was a lot of work and a lot of fun. As I am finishing up the summer semester teaching with the first version of this course, I am very pleased with the results. The past two summers I have had very poor results in my summer online courses. Most students did very poor quality work, put in minimal effort, and in the end learned very little despite my best efforts. From my experience a lot of these problems were because the student hadn’t taken an online course before and didn’t know what to expect and typically over-scheduled themselves (either with work or vacations or both). This summer, I am happy to say that everyone who took the time to complete the course learned something. The grades and the participation were much better and the questions that I got from students showed a level of engagement that I haven’t seen before. I am very much looking forward to teaching my new updated version of the course in the fall.



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