Gimme S’More Learning Choices #InstCon

In the second afternoon session, I attended Travis Thurston and Erin Wadsworth-Anderson’s presentation ‘Gimme S’more Learning Choices,’ which focused on course design focused on student choice.

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The presentation focused on the ID for a transition from a 500 person face-to-face course into an online course with a self-directed learning model with “Assisted Freedom of Choice.”

The creative arts course had traditionally been taught in a large lecture format. In moving it online, the IDs parsed the course into four modules, each focused on a realm of the creative arts like Art. Within each module, there was an introduction section with a video and three intro sections. Students would then be able to choose from a set of submodules based on their own interests within that realm – Avant-Garde, Modernism, Museums, etc. The IDs used parallel design for each of the four main modules to lower cognitive load in terms of navigation.

After the initial semester, the IDs reviewed student feedback—collected at the end of each of the four key modules—on the factors that went into their content choices and the issues they faced as they went through the course. Students said interest and prior knowledge drove their choice of submodule. With great humility, students most often identified Procrastination/Time management as their greatest barrier, followed by (the less modest) assignment difficulty/length.

In the second iteration of the course, Travis, Erin, and the professor for the course are going to work to frame the model of self-directed learning. Despite having an introductory section on how to be successful, they now feel that they need to provide students with more information about time-management. The new Canvas assignment-path may help students better understand the paths through the course, but direction specific to the course, designed by the IDs and voiced by the professor is necessary. Maps for the paths and a dashboard explaining the interconnectedness of path content and assignments would provide further transparency for the students.

This course design is vary much like that for a course that Kate Sheppard and I taught at the University of Missouri Science and Technology. Our course was an introduction to the History of Science. There are a thousand ways to define the scope for such a broad course, so Kate and I tried to offer a number of possible paths and let the students choose the content that most interested them.  We developed six disciplinary paths (Natural Sciences, Life Sciences, Medicine, Engineering/Technology, Mathematics, and Philosophy). We also identified 6 chronological paths that cut across those disciplines (Ancient, Greek & Roman, Islamic World, Renaissance, Early Modern, and Modern). Students could choose the three paths that they were most interested in. Each path had shared themes and learning objectives, so the students were exposed to what we considered the key points for the course, no matter what content they chose.

Both our course and the course discussed in todays session encountered similar issues. Grading a variety of student assignments is far less mind numbing but also far more time consuming, and feedback was sometimes delayed. Students could get confused in their options, and both courses should have had more scaffolding.

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