Reflection on this whole…process

Whew! Moved into a new house from start to finish in two and a half days. That’s gotta be a new record. Just got internet up and running – it’s amazing how, in our crazy modern world, you feel  really  out of the loop without stable wi-fi. Kinda sad, really.

Gotta try to keep this short, because it could get looong.

I first started developing this course idea in 2012 and had absolutely no idea what I was doing. No teaching experience, little  pedagogical grounding, and only a vague understanding of how courses need to be designed. The whole process involved was very confusing and the course skeleton has been through multiple drafts since then, being looked over by professors, committee members, Alaska Native educators and students, non-Native teachers, and even a district admin or two. They helped immensely, but, unsurprisingly, most of these people have never designed an online class. So the course has sort of been in limbo for some time before this semester – with me basically knowing (mostly) the sorts of things I want to teach but without much of an idea of how to structure it (in terms of the interface and unit layouts), organize it (in terms of content), or specialize it (in terms of making it place-based for different areas).

So far, the way this course this has gone has helped immensely with these three issues. Firstly, just watching the physical arrangement of the course has been immensely helpful. The unit arrangement in this course has helped me visualize in more detail how I want to organize the course. The concept map we made made me think especially about how to sequence the (admittedly very high number of) topics I want to cover in the course, and as I fleshed it out, I started realizing exactly which things are more important than others.

The interface and the organization of the content are tied together, and I had never realized that. I think it would actually be pretty cool if you could navigate the course by topic, but since that’s not possible (???), I’ve been thinking about dividing the course into units that the students can work through in an order that’s more on the students than me. Khan Academy style? I’m not sure how to go about building that but I’m sure it can’t be that hard (…).  I’ve been playing around with that idea because as we build our unit for this course it seems  somewhat natural  in an online course to have semi-isolated units that build on each other in a spiral (or, um, not in a specific order, but in relation to multiple units) instead of chronologically like in a face-to-face course. Specifically in a literature survey because, really, you don’t need to do things in order. Once you kind of know how to talk about literature, and if you start out with a good level of foundational knowledge (unit 1), then you can tackle different units in whatever order you want, really.

Lexie suggested that the units be arranged chronologically, so that’d obviously be different, but the great thing about online classes is that you can organize your units in different ways. As I’ve been working through this unit I’ve really been thinking about how online course design simultaneously restricts you a bit (assessments seem more limited), but also really frees you to do things you just can’t feasibly try in a face-to-face course, and I think Khan Academy (much as I’ve been hating on it) is a pretty interesting example of that. A sort of choose-your-own-adventure course. I don’t think it would be that difficult to plan out, especially this since unit I’ve been working on is sort of self-isolated.

If we’re supposed to be metacognating here, well, I just realized how important the social aspect of this course has been. I think I lambasted forced interactions in a previous post but they’ve become by far what I look forward to the most about each week – reading other people’s posts is a lot more informative for me than doing my own. Only just now, as I write this, do I realize I haven’t at all incorporated the social aspects of online learning into my unit. I’m not sure exactly how to do that, really, because I have so far been conceptualizing this course as a unit that was aimed for courses with small numbers of students (like, literally one at times, you know how rural Alaska can be). I’ll spend some time thinking about how to do that. Anyone who has any suggestions for how to go about that with classes that might have only one student, please let me know!

In conclusion, the units we’ve been designing have  been quite the journey. The progress has been wild and hard to keep track of and confusing. The course isn’t going to be done by the time this semester is over, so any version of the unit I’ve got ready is still not done. It’s as seemingly never ending (stoooory) project. This class has been very useful, but it’s also made me realize this is a larger thing than I kind of wanted it to be. There are a lot of threads and they’re a lot clearer than they were two months ago, but…there are a lot of them! I hope as the semester starts to wrap up, I can weave all these things together into one cohesive thread, because as is, the whole process has been a bit overwhelming.

2 thoughts on “Reflection on this whole…process

  1. Nice post. I like the idea of independent learning modules that together create a body of knowledge. I like anything that lets the student have a choice. It might be really nice to have some extra units and, if possible, allow students to have some choice in which ones they complete. I am not as familiar with your unit, but I know I have enjoyed being able to choose articles that were of interest to me in this class. Creating a community of learners in a class of 1 is an interesting dilema. I was hoping to make my unit open entry and would love ideas on this as well.

  2. Nicholas,

    Nice work. I’m glad to hear you’re looking forward to our weekly social interactions. This is an interesting topic and one I enjoy talking about – I just wish there was more time for us to discuss and argue various aspects.

    Non-linear courses. Great concept. The Internet is one giant non-linear course, right? We can sit down and follow our interests whimsically, wherever they may take us. This is easy to do on our own. It gets harder when more people get involved. Two people sharing one laptop or computer might have to agree on where to go next. But if each has their own computer, soon they’re off in their own lands.

    In a way, this course has been partly non-linear. Each of you has journeyed in your own directions through the Article Review process and brought tales of your adventures back to our round table.

    That is one of the main challenges of non-linear or multiple-points-of-entry design. How do we maintain social cohesion? If we can universally agree that the social component of learning is important, then this is a challenge if everyone is at their own place at a given point in time.

    My suggestion regarding non-linear design is to go for solid linear design first. That’s hard enough. Then, if that seems solid and feels like it is working, experiment with adding a non-linear layer. Send students out to explore and come back to share their adventures. This is classic research paper or any other student-inquiry type of exercise. I’d be careful of solo inquiry without a group sharing or social reflection component.

    One of the greatest strengths of online learning is that it can create community across time and space. Even if there’s only one student in a given small remote community, they can meet and interact over your content with other isolated students and share their learning experiences. This is hugely powerful.

    My 2 cents. 🙂


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