Hump Week for the Online Teaching Certification July Cohort

Wednesday marks the beginning of Week 5 for the 9-week Online Teaching Certification July Cohort. As part of the requirements for the year-long (maximum) certification process, I also need to take 3 electives, 1 one of which occurred last weekend. I didn’t do very well in that one, so I’m expecting to have to register with a 4th elective in the future. I’ll explain more about that whole ordeal in a separate post.

So far, the journey for the Online Learning Consortium (formerly SLOAN-C) has been interesting. Initially, I really didn’t like it, but I’ve since gotten into my groove and everything is getting better. As a general rule, each week consists of an original discussion post and then two replies to two separate cohort members. The original post is generally due at midnight on Saturday, with the replies to others’ discussions due at midnight on Tuesday. The week begins on Wednesday and ends on Tuesday, which is a little weird. I don’t know if I like it more or less than the traditional Monday-Sunday week. Each week features a complimentary extra credit assignment, though you can only have one extra credit assignment make up for one “not accepted for credit” original post during the entire workshop. The discussion posts are pretty even as far as the number of replies to each original topic, averaging 3-4 posts per thread. What is lacking is a system that rewards people for commenting on threads that do not have as much activity. If the thread author responds to every reply within their thread, then you will occasionally see a post with 7-10 replies overall spread across 2-4 people.

What Do You Actually Do?

Week 1:

Post an introduction about who you are, what you want to get out of the course, and any question you have related to online learning. There is also a mentor survey and student survey, both of which needed to be completed in order to help match students with appropriate mentors by the end of Week 4. Ironically, the person who was going to be my first mentor choice emailed me that same week because he had come across our virtual biology lab video and wanted to write an article about it online. Small world. 🙂 There was an optional extra credit activity that was quite easy: simply fill out your preferred contact info for use by your mentor. Overall, this week was quite simple and masked how chaotic future weeks could become.

Week 2:

This week dealt with reading through the Sloan Quality Scorecard (requires purchase if not a member), a metric of 70 quality indicators across 9 categories, where each indicator can have a score from 0 to 3. It is a more accessible format containing information modified from an April 2000 report by the Institute for Higher Education Policy. Appendix 2 starting on page 31 of that report is going to be the most relevant area if you want an idea for what the Sloan Quality Scorecard is like.

It is important to note that the Scorecard is intended for administrators of an online program. That said, as a non-program administrator, I still went through the scorecard and, due to my perspective of our online course as a designer, I felt that there were a few key deficiencies from an administrative standpoint. Those weaknesses are nobody’s fault other than the challenges inherent with small institutions trying to serve a wide population. That awareness allowed me to think about how I could adjust the content and its presentation in a way that would enhance the course and use the course’s design to try to overcome some of those administrative weaknesses that exist outside of the course but still impact course quality. As an example: not doing so well with online student support services? In my case, it was a lack of access to online tutors for online students, among other things. What kind of support services related to the course content can I implement within the course itself to help?

We also had to look over the Sloan-C 5 Pillars Quality Framework and the Chico Rubric for Online Instruction. The 5 pillars can be used by both faculty, designers, and administrators. The Chico Rubric is well suited for faculty. What I like about the Chico site is that they also have a list of exemplary online courses that you can read about here, though the summaries are just that, summaries. Since Week 2’s primary assignment was to identify 4 strengths and weaknesses of our course design, those exemplars were useful in coming up with solutions for the course’s weaknesses.

The extra credit activity for the week dealt with researching and sharing workload management strategies. My topic within that dealt with anticipating student learning needs to preemptively address problems that might appear in the course. To help generate ideas, I utilized this Michigan State University paper on Faculty Strategies for Balancing Workload When Teaching Online.

Week 3:

Week 3 managed to become even busier than Week 2. Now it was time to apply what was learned with the Chico Rubric and Sloan 5 Pillars and implement that information directly into the course design. To do this, we came up with a course design plan that included umbrella course goals, as well as complimentary learning activities and/or assessments and their associated learning outcomes. All of these should be written in a way that illustrates how they meet the various outcomes in the rubrics mentioned above. It was recommended that we plan our course to cover the first 5 weeks.

Additionally, we had to create or redesign a course syllabus. The combination of course design and syllabus redesign threw a few people for a loop, especially since this must all be accomplished in a week. So far, this is the week in which I observed the most complaints. Luckily, Dr. Julie Fronzuto already had a syllabus and lab schedule, so I didn’t struggle with this as much as other faculty who were just creating a brand new course. For some of them, this week was kind of a nightmare. If anybody is thinking of enrolling in this certificate program, it is critical that you have an example syllabus that you can borrow from beforehand, and an outline of what you want to do and why. This will make life so much easier in Week 3. My biggest hangup with the syllabus was that it is so long–they always get longer as institutions mandate more information be included–which seemed counter intuitive to my personal goals of student satisfaction and ease of access to critical information. This was why I also enrolled in the Creating an Interactive Syllabus workshop, which you can read about here!

The extra credit opportunity consisted of writing about a syllabus and/or course design resource, which nobody did. I suspect this is because they were all so busy working on their new syllabus and course design, which was chaotic enough. 🙂

Week 4:

Week 4 calmed down considerably in comparison to Week 3. The goal for this week has been to read about learning communities online (similar to what was covered in the New to Online workshop). What does our learning community look like? Is it forum based? Is it through a live chat protocol like Adobe Connect or BlackBoard Collaborate? If it’s a blended course, what does the Face-to-Face class look like and how does it fit into the social aspect of the online component of the course? How will the structure of that learning community facilitate student learning, satisfaction, and engagement? We then had to come up with a post detailing how that learning community encourages three types of interactions: student-content, student-instructor, and student-student.

I took this as an opportunity to write about some ideas I had creating group lab activities that segue toward the individually-done lab that reinforces lab topics for all students while dynamically allowing for the group to increase or decrease based on participation without punishing other lab members. No idea how I’m going to do that yet (that’s not true, its just fuzzy), but we will see.

Week 5 is going to deal with creating rubrics, assessments, and activities, so I suspect this will be another chaotic week like Week 3. This is also the week where we contact or mentors.

The Takeaway

So far, if I could offer one piece of advice to people who are new to online teaching (or teaching in general) and faced with the gargantuan task of creating a quality experience, it is this: find a faculty member who’s course is well-liked. See if that faculty will go over the list of activities that they do and explain their personal teaching philosophy. How do the skills they learn fit into what they will need to do in the workforce? What are those skills? How do they measure if those skills have been met on a per-assignment level. Remember, you have to design a course, so the more information you can have, the more specific it is, the better that will help you use the faculty member’s philosophy to map out your own. Do this before you start the workshop if possible, or during Week 1.

And don’t be afraid to experiment. This is a course draft, and it can always change. Brainstorm activities and outline the skills necessary to complete them. For example, if a lab deals with measuring substances, maybe students will learn how to mass objects, record the volume of liquids, work with titration, and write a lab report. That report would have them pose a hypothesis, have space for their results, and then list a conclusion, aka work with the scientific method. That is 7 potential skills in just 1 activity. Remember: you don’t have to commit to these activities from the get-go. The whole purpose of the workshop is to allow you to formulate your ideas and rationale and put it out there where others can comment.

Once you have your activities outlined, then go through the rubrics listed above and list which assignment meets which quality assessment, and why. Best of all, it’s okay if you repeat yourself while doing that. You kind of want to.

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