On Friday, Chronicle Vitae published an essay I wrote in which I argued that tenured professors ought to start teaching online (especially if they hate the idea), since they have the power and the knowledge to do it right. I’ve been planning my own effort to put my money where my mouth is for a few months now so I thought I’d share exactly where I am. But before I do that, I need to extend many thanks to my very own volunteer instructional designer, Debbie Morrison (whose extremely helpful blog is here), for her excellent e-mailed advice.
My first decision was to jump in the deep end. What does that mean? Yesterday morning, I was tweeting with Claire Major of the University of Alabama (who literally wrote the book about teaching online). She noted something that I had already figured out for myself:
@jhrees It is really different, ya know? I've not been able to "transfer" a traditional course to online. Has required complete rethinking.
— Claire Major (@ClaireHMajor) September 21, 2015
That’s why I’m going to go entirely Lendol Calder on this thing. In other words, kill the fact memorizing entirely since you really can Google anything – at least anything that might end up on an American history survey course. There’s also the basic security issue, I’m afraid that the only way nobody can be sure that you aren’t a dog on the Internet is to set up a mini police state so I want to structure the whole thing like an extended writing seminar rather than a series of lectures punctuated by quizzes and tests.
We have fourteen-week semesters at CSU-Pueblo. With all the outside the LMS apps I want to use, I imagine one week of nothing but dealing with technical issues, ten one-week modules and three weeks where students will have nothing to do except write longer essays that will be akin to papers. A post will go up on the class blog every Monday morning at 9 am. It will start with a single broad essay question and a link to a very short intro video on YouTube about the topic. Yeah, I hate the idea of taping myself at all [I was on a frickin’ BBC radio documentary in February and I STILL can’t work up the nerve to listen to my own voice], but I saw that study that says online classes with intro videos from the professors get better results and I can’t think of a better way to personalize the course. As Debbie noted:
Students love hearing the prof of the their course—one prof I worked with said his online students liked him far more than his F2F students.
Of course, this will also make it harder for anyone to replace me…[He looks around in an extremely paranoid fashion to see if anybody is watching].
Then students will have to work their way through a series of primary and secondary sources. For example, each week will include a few Milestone Documents for them to read because Milestone Documents is the best primary source collection I’ve ever seen (and I suggested most of the ones used for my time period myself), then some links to documents, pictures and videos around the web.
I’m also thinking of using a textbook for the first time in a long time. While this is very un-Lendol Calder of me, it’s not really a textbook in the traditional sense of that word. [The best thing I can do is point you to this post by Lisa Lane, which I’m pretty sure is all about the exact same thing.]
Yes, that’s a lot of reading. Yes, students can’t possibly get through it all. I actually don’t want them to get through it all. I want them to have enough historical content at their disposal in order to write one 400-600 word essay per week related to that week’s historical subject and (more importantly) I want them to navigate the enormous amount of reading together in groups using Slack so that they can find what they need to answer the question that I asked them however they see fit.
I wrote about Slack here, but for purposes of this post let’s just say that it’s structured the way that every single LMS’s discussion page SHOULD be structured, especially since it allows students to break off into groups. With this class capped at forty, I’d establish arbitrary groups during tech week and then let them change up over time based on their experiences. Another tool related to the content that I think want to use is something called Hypothes.is which allows for web annotation, but I haven’t tested it yet. To substitute for the Dropbox-like functions in any LMS, I want to try what Kelli Marshall is doing. I’ve begun experimenting with it already. The only thing I’d use from our actual LMS is the grade book.
The broadly-worded essay question is what will tie all this together. I imagine something designed to force students to take off a chunk of what they’ve read and digest it into a manageable argument. I originally planned ten weekly modules with one 400-600 word essay each, but Debbie strongly suggested switching some of those assignments out to something that doesn’t involve writing. I’ve had an animus towards PowerPoint assignments since the global arm of our university system “bought” my US 1945-Present syllabus and turned my research paper assignment into a PowerPoint, but I wouldn’t mind doing something with curation for at least a few of those weeks. [I guess I better figure out what Pinterest is soon, huh?] The “midterm” essays would be twice the size of the weekly essays and include material from earlier modules. The final exam essay would be 1200-1500 words and cover the whole course.
Under this possible future. most of my work in the class would be answering questions, helping students find arguments for that week – possibly reading drafts for people who can work particularly fast. I would also participate in discussions about the material on Slack or in the Hypothes.is annotations about what any particular issue happens to mean. And, of course, I’d be grading and commenting upon completed essays or whatever other assignments I require. With forty people that’s a lot essays, but then again I won’t have to stand up and talk at forty generally uninterested college students for three hours per week.
So what do you think? Does this sound nuts so far? Debbie responded to those questions with, “Ambitious, not nuts.” Really, what do you think? I’ve got lots of time to make changes before next fall, and I’ll try to report them here in subsequent posts.