Powerful Reasons for Creating a Self-Paced Curriculum

At the start of the semester, I released the first two weeks of content to my students. This class, like last semester, is 100% online. There are 12 weeks total, and each week is clearly delineated in terms of dates and what to do during each week.

I chose to release the first two weeks of content so students could move through these initial weeks a bit faster if they wanted (or not – it doesn’t matter). The first week there are some content-based things to do, but a lot of it is about learning what is expected and how to navigate the course. The meat of it all starts in Week 2.

Last semester, I would typically release the content for the upcoming week one-two days ahead of the official start date. When I say release, keep in mind that this statement is not entirely accurate. Students had access to the syllabus from the beginning of the course. They could see what we would be reading each week, any videos they needed to watch, and assignments to work on.

So, what did I release exactly?

Well, each week I released an overview (both written and a video) that discussed what they should focus on during that week. We also had weekly assignments, and I provided the directions for those as well. Anything else they could have been doing well ahead of schedule for all I know.

And, honestly, it made me wonder something…..

What if I just full on opened up the course?

I’ve played around with this idea before, but suddenly I felt like I was ready to take it on. Like I actually understood what it was I needed to do.

Related: Dual Pathways in Online Learning

See, most of the content is released to students at the start of the semester. What’s the point of holding back that little bit? Why not just release it all? In thinking this through I realized a few things:

  • While I could release it all at once, students are free to stay on the traditional path as I have it planned out in the syllabus. Any student who feels uncomfortable or overwhelmed has the option of staying on the path that I have laid out. Just don’t skip ahead (there are no bonus points for doing things early or differently)
  • Due dates still need to be in place, but these could be flexible in terms of what is due. For example, I have weekly assignments. Most of these need to be completed within the week they are given. However, if I released all the directions at once then you could pick and choose when/what/how you did what you did. I would still have students complete an assignment each week, but they could skip around.
  • When you skip around, things don’t align with the syllabus. If I said that the topic for Week 2 was, “How to Take Care of Your Cat” and you were doing an assignment from Week 7 on “Why Birds Make the Best Pets” then what you are doing/sharing isn’t in line. Does that matter?

Here’s the thing….this semester is not going to be all that super freewheeling. For one, I don’t have everything developed that would need to be developed. There are things I am filling in as the semester progresses. Two, I’m not going to undo a bunch of stuff I have already done.

What I am going to do is start releasing the full content as early as I please (or as it makes sense to). We’ll see what happens. However, I’m going to keep the traditional due dates in place. For example, I released Week 3 content during Week 1. This means that students can start Week 3 assignments early if they wish. However, they must have Week 3 work done by the end of Week 3.

For now, this seems like a reasonable way to dip my toe in the water and see what happens when I loosen the reigns even more….

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