Online Courses: Experiments and Innovations

As I continue to learn what works and what doesn’t when it comes to constructing and executing online courses as part of my professional development as a teacher, I am emboldened by the amazing positive feedback I’ve received from my students on their evaluations of the courses. I expected a much rougher first year. Instead, student approval of my courses is as high as I achieved teaching in-person in small seminar courses. I might be doing something right!

My primary focus has been on achieving some that’s-a-real-person identity via remote technologies in spite of the severe limitations of those technologies in forging real human connection. In this brief post, I want to share two things I’ve learned and prospects for further online teaching improvement and effectiveness.

Minimize Handout Use

I love to write. Which means I love to revise and rewrite. Look at any handout I’ve written and used for five years running and not one of ’em will be reused without edits. It’s one of the ways I incorporate lessons learned as well as feedback from colleagues and students. I also love to “borrow” handouts my colleagues use and make them my own.

printed-handouts-of-limited-use-in-online-courses

Source: “5 Fresh Powerpoint Alternatives,” by Adam Tratt. Haiku Deck Blog.

But for an online course, printed handouts–or electronic versions of the same–have not been as effective in communicating background information, assignment instructions, assessment criteria, and other common types of supplemental course material I provide to my students. There are reasons for this phenomenon that are part of an ongoing research area of mine. The online nature of the course is itself not the direct cause of this; I have noticed the same ineffectiveness of communicating vital information via the printed word with students in traditional in-person classes. So this problem exists on a continuum.

The second thing I’ve learned from teaching online courses has been a result of trial-and-error experimentation.

Video Handouts

That phrase makes no sense, right? Nevertheless, this is how I’ve begun to conceptualize my handouts for my online students. The information in my handouts is critical, I believe, for providing the context and guidance students need to achieve the course objectives and learning outcomes.

Fortunately, before I taught my first full online course, I had already observed the problem of student use and understanding of printed text handouts in my traditional seminar courses. So I knew that I needed to communicate this information to my students in an alternative medium. Video was the obvious choice, but how best to deliver that video content?

I’ve tried three platforms: Periscope, Google Hangouts, and YouTube. In a separate post, I’ll review my experience with each. Presently, I am working with YouTube (links below). With Periscope and Google Hangouts, my focus was on real-time accessibility. I wanted to produce a kind of virtual class session / office hours space for students to connect live with each other and me. But this runs up against one of the main benefits of taking an online course as a student: the flexibility to complete the course assignments on one’s own schedule. Students are often working jobs full-time or have other responsibilities that limit the days of the week and times they can engage online. The same is true for us teachers! Since the majority of students could not attend these virtual meetings live, I decided to take the additional steps of recording and editing them for replay. I upload them to YouTube so that all of the students in the class can watch them at their convenience. But this misses the original goal of having real-time engagement. Unless such online meetings are “contractually” built into the course, that is, showing up for an online class meeting is counted like attendance in a traditional classroom, it is going to be difficult to find days and times when the majority of students can attend together.

So that has been a major lesson I’ve learned about online pedagogy for typical online courses. I think the promise of real-time online class meetings is so valuable that I don’t plan on giving up on it – just think how underserved communities could be reached with world-class courses taught live by master teachers. All that is needed is a minimal commitment to technological infrastructure in a traditional school, library, or community center, and colleges and universities promoting the program and dedicating a small staff for technical support.

One day. For now, I am pleased with the complementary written and video materials to deliver all of the course structure and content to empower my students to work their way through the course at their own pace. Having all of this in place before the course starts allows me to focus my time and energy where it is more valuable: evaluating the work produced by the students and giving them constructive feedback.

A version of this post was originally published on my LinkedIn site.

Links

Course Introduction (video only)

Course Syllabus (written and video – written primary)

How to Read the Course Texts (written and video – video is primary)

How to Use the Analytical Model for the Course Assignments (written and video – both essential)

How to Participate in the Online Discussions (written and video – video is primary)

If you’d like a copy of any of my written handouts, just drop me a line using the Contact form and I’ll be glad to share them with you.

Philosophy Class LIVE! – Week 13

Our next and final LIVE online meeting for PHIL 135 – Introduction to Ethics – is on Wednesday, 27 Apr 2016 at 11:00 noon (PT), right here and on Google+ Hangouts on Air. This week you have two articles on the topics of terrorism and torture. Next week you have two articles on the moral status of the environment. We will also discuss your final assignment – a research/analytical essay on a moral issue of your choice.

This is specifically for my Truckee Meadows Community College students, but everyone is welcome!
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Agenda

  • Quiz 13
    • Readings: “Terrorism: A Critique of Excuses,” Michael Walzer (Ch 24)
    • Readings: “Should the Ticking Bomb Terrorist Be Tortured?,” Alan Dershowitz (Ch 25)
  • Quiz 14
    • Readings: “The Ethics of Respect for Nature,” Paul Taylor (Ch 28)
    • Readings: “Ideals of Human Excellence and Preserving Natural Environments,” Thomas Hill, Jr (Ch 29)
  • Final Analytical Essay
  • Q&A!

Philosophy Class LIVE! – Week 10

Our next LIVE online meeting for PHIL 135 – Introduction to Ethics – is on Thursday, 07 Apr 2016 at 12:30 noon (PT), right here and on Google+ Hangouts on Air. This week you have two articles on the morality of abortion. This is specifically for my Truckee Meadows Community College students, but everyone is welcome!
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Agenda

  • Quiz 10 Preview
  • Readings: “A Defense of Abortion,” Judith Jarvis Thomson (Ch 30)
  • Readings: “Why Abortion is Immoral,” Don Marquis (Ch 31)
  • Final Analytical Essay: Overview
  • Q&A!

Philosophy Class LIVE! – Week 8

Our next LIVE online meeting for PHIL 135 – Introduction to Ethics – is on Friday, 25 Mar 2016 at 12:00 noon (PT), right here and on Google+ Hangouts on Air. This is specifically for my Truckee Meadows Community College students, but everyone is welcome! Post-production note: the first 60 seconds has no sound! You may want to jump forward to the point when I enable the microphone!
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Agenda

  • Quiz 7: How did you do?
  • New Book! The Ethical Life
  • Quiz 8 Preview
  • Readings: “Puppies, Pigs and People: Eating Meat and Marginal Cases,” Alastair Norcross (Ch 26)
  • Readings: “Moral Standing, the Value of Lives, and Speciesism,” R. G. Frey (Ch 27)
  • Q&A!

Philosophy Class LIVE! – Week 7

Our next LIVE online meeting for PHIL 135 – Introduction to Ethics – is on Friday, 11 Mar 2016 at 10:00 am (PT), right here and on Google+ Hangouts on Air. This is specifically for my Truckee Meadows Community College students, but everyone is welcome!

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Agenda

  • Quiz 6 Autopsy: How did you do?
  • Quiz 7 Preview
  • Readings: Virtue Ethics (Ch 17)
  • Readings: Feminist Ethics (Ch 18)
  • Q&A!

Philosophy Class LIVE! – Week 6

Our next LIVE online meeting for PHIL 135 – Introduction to Ethics – is on Wednesday, 02 Mar 2016 at 11:00 am (PT), right here and on Google+ Hangouts on Air. This is specifically for my Truckee Meadows Community College students, but everyone is welcome!

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Agenda

  • Quiz 5 Autopsy: How did you do?
  • Quiz 6 Preview
  • Readings: Ethical Pluralism (Chs 15-16)
  • Q&A!

Philosophy Class LIVE! – Week 5

Our next LIVE online meeting for PHIL 135 – Introduction to Ethics – is on Friday, 26 Feb 2016 at 10:00 am (PT), right here and on Google+ Hangouts on Air. This is specifically for my Truckee Meadows Community College students, but everyone is welcome!

Agenda

  • Quiz 4 Autopsy: How did you do?
  • Quiz 5 Preview
  • Readings: Social Contractarianism (Chs 13-14)
  • Q&A!

Philosophy Class LIVE! – Week 4

Our next LIVE online meeting for PHIL 135 – Introduction to Ethics – is on Thursday, 18 Feb 2016 at 10:30 (PT), right here and on Google+ Hangouts on Air. This is specifically for my Truckee Meadows Community College students, but everyone is welcome!

Agenda

  • Quiz 2 Autopsy: How did you do?
  • Quiz 4 Preview
  • Readings: Consequentialism (Chs 9-10) and Kantian ethics (Chs 11-12)
  • Q&A!

Philosophy Class LIVE! – Week 2

Our next LIVE online meeting for PHIL 135 – Introduction to Ethics – is on Tuesday, 02 Feb 2016 at 6:30 (PT), right here and on Google+ Hangouts on Air. This is specifically for my Truckee Meadows Community College students, but everyone is welcome!

Agenda

  • Quiz 1 Autopsy: How did you do?
  • Quiz 2 Preview
  • Readings: Psychological Egoism (Ch 7) and Ethical Egoism (Ch 8)
  • Q&A!

Philosophy Class LIVE!

We’ll be having our first meeting of the semester for PHIL 135 – Introduction to Ethics – on Thursday, 28 Jan 2016, right here and on Google Hangouts. This is specifically for my Truckee Meadows Community College students, but everyone is welcome! Live streaming philosophy class and office hours? Yes. See you then!

Agenda

  • Introduction
  • Syllabus
  • Readings: Introduction and Natural Law Theory (Ch 6)
  • Quiz 1 Preview
  • Q&A!