Deciding the Content

Recently, I explained that starting in the fall I would be teaching fully online for the 2017-2018 academic year. My first thought was about how I would foster community. However, once I got past that I realized that I needed to back up and think about the content first. Community is incredibly important for the class, but I can return to it another day (plus it’s always spinning around in the back of my head anyways).

Start With What You Know

I was excited to finally be able to teach fully online. However, that excitement quickly gave way to feeling overwhelmed. Where do I start? While I had the question about building community in my class, it seemed like the most reasonable place to start was making decisions about what I was actually going to teach/wanted students to learn.

That’s right. Just start old school style. No point in getting fancy when we don’y even know what we’re gonna be teaching over here.

I have the syllabi from the previous instructor. This is, of course, immensely helpful. But I don’t have to do it exactly the way she did. In fact, I assume they hired me because I would put my own spin on things. But. I am starting with the basics here. I’ve ordered five or six books from a few publishers that are on the way. I’m sure at least some of them will work for the course and help me refine what I want to teach and when. Because this course is really a course in two parts (spans across the year), I am not feeling constricted.

Having the Year To Teach

The idea that I have a year with students to cover a broad topic (in my case adolescent literacy) is very unique. I’m told that I should expect to have the same students for both classes. While students have to register individually for both classes (fall and spring), I can view the spring class as a continuation of the fall class.

You can view the spring class any number of ways:

  • as a continuation of topics (improve breadth)
  • an opportunity to go deeper into topics and perhaps extend breadth a bit
  • pretend these boundaries don’t exist and seriously play with competency based education

Yes, boundaries do exist between the courses, but they are artificial. It’s the typical semester divide. The course number changes between fall and spring. But, particularly in this case, who says I have to work within that structure?

Thinking about Competency Based Education

I haven’t gotten too far down this path yet because the first step is for me to decide what the course objectives are and what students need to learn. Given that I’m waiting on books to arrive (and my current job takes priority) this will move at a slightly slower pace. But that’s ok. I’ve got time. I think it is possible here to create a master syllabus that

content creationImagine if you had an academic year and could focus on students demonstrating competencies. You want, of course, for your students to demonstrate that they have learned specific things, and that’s what competencies are intended to do. I could see how I could identify a number of things for students to demonstrate. Within a given competency, I could provide students the opportunity to go deeper (this is a way to level a competency to use a gamification principle). It’s not that you have to be advanced on every competency, but I could see how getting a particular grade would require some competencies to be at a basic level and others at a more advanced one. Students could then have options.

You could do this inside a semester. There’s obviously a very definitive deadline for students to demonstrate what they have learned. I could start all over again with different competencies in the second semester even though it’s an extension (Part 2) of the previous one.

Ok. That’s an option to consider, but I kinda like something else….

What if students were presented with all the competencies for the entire year at once. For this class, a masters class with teachers in it, this is actually a very reasonable approach. You can work on a given competency as it makes sense for you and your students. For example, if I have you working on how to teach vocabulary in the spring that’s fine, but maybe you really needed that in the fall. Well now you can pick and choose, go back and forth, as it makes sense for you as the student.

But What About Grading?

Of course these classes still sit inside a traditional university system. At the end of each semester I still have to award everyone a grade. This is simple actually. All I have to do is make a particular grade (A, B, C, etc…) about competencies learned in general. I don’t say you have to have completed XYZ competencies. Instead, I might say that you have to complete a specific number each semester (the student chooses). To get a specific grade, a certain amount of those competencies would have to be more advanced – a higher level if you will – than others. I think this is actually pretty easy.

The Downfall

I’m sure there are multiple downfalls, but the one that popped in my head first was the fact that I will teach this course every other year. What that means is that any cleaning up and revising I want to do based on Year 1 won’t happen until I’m in Year 3 at my position. I don’t like that so much because I like to make changes/revisions in my courses while they are fresh and useful. However, I am thinking about how I can take what I develop and put it into an online platform that would be useful for others outside the university. This allows me to continue to develop the course while offering others an opportunity to dip in and take what they like. It’s a thought worth exploring.

One Year Ago

Two Years Ago


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