This past semester I was tasked with curriculum development: taking two face-to-face undergraduate courses and adapting them for online instruction. One was an introductory course on literacy that had inquiry groups as a part of the structure. The other was a course on interdisciplinary learning which revolved around a large unit plan project.
In some ways I felt well-prepared: I have previously taught a number of online graduate courses and I had previously taught the literacy course face-to-face. This previous experience was helpful in providing me with familiarity with the course content (in the one case) and online pedagogy, which is somewhat transferable from the graduate to undergraduate level. I started with the assumptions that it is possible to adapt these courses such that they meet the same learning objectives and have the same degree of rigour as their counterparts. I knew that some of my students would have connectivity challenges (some because they lived rurally, others because they were on international placements) and I had to wrestle with planning the synchronous online sessions at a time that met the waking hours of several times zones, but those problems were foreseeable, but not predictable, so I did my best to plan for them, but knew I needed to be flexible and adaptable when problems arose.
I also had the luxury of planning time, so I was able to do a number of things in the summer that made the course design and execution easier. I contacted past instructors of the course I had not taught before to discuss with them the successes and challenges they had had and to ask them to envision teaching the course online. This proved helpful for envisioning the course, but also resulted in collegial connections which I benefited from while teaching. I contacted the Teaching and Learning Office of my university and arranged for a tutorial on producing screen capture video. Having someone walk me though new software is my preferred method of digital learning and from there I was able to create several videos during the semester.
The test of curriculum development is in the running of the course. Looking back, I would say that the planning I did paid off. There were however, unanticipated problems that stemmed from assumptions the students and I had that didn’t match. In the case of one course, the second year students viewed online learning as a self-paced correspondence course and, in the first two weeks, oriented themselves toward completing the assignments, not co-constructing knowledge among peers, as was my assumption. Although I had placed information and expectations into the discussion board of the learning management system (LMS), they had gone straight to the content section and grabbed the course outline only. That had been sufficient in their previous uses of the LMS in their first year face-to-face courses, but I had not anticipated it as our online graduate students are well-versed in online learning after the initial course. It took repeated messaging by both of their online instructors in the first two weeks to orient them toward the discussion board. Lesson learned: the expectation of co-construction of knowledge in the discussion board needs to be communicated in advance of the course (and opportunity we had as we had met with them in the summer). Students in both courses struggled with expectations around what to write in the discussion board. The temptation to write at the level of encouragement, rather than critique was strong. Lesson learned: my colleague David Scott blogged about what makes an educationally valuable academic discussion board post and I shared that with the students.
Having adapted these two courses and taught them both this fall, I look forward to the opportunity to teach them again, improve upon them and expand my repertoire as an online instructor. I will be taking my lessons learned and including them in the preparatory workshops we have when we meet the students the summer before the courses.