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Saturday, March 21, 2020

So you want to put your course on line



In these days of “sheltering in place,” there is a mad rush to move education at all levels online. Unfortunately, nearly all of these efforts are reminiscent of the early days of movies in which moviemakers filmed plays; it was not until they began to recognize the unique characteristics of the medium that movies began to achieve their full potential. The same is true for online courses; until we get beyond trying to replicate the classroom online, the potential of online education will not be realized. So given that, how do you rethink a course in light of what is possible in an online experience?

  1. think about the goals of your course

This is a hard question. Teachers rarely ask themselves about the goals of a course. They have the idea that they need to teach what they want you to know, and they will tell you about it. But learning and knowing are different things. We learn every day — through experience — but many of the things we “know,” are decontextualized facts that school said were important to memorize. I know that Lincoln was the 16th president. Why do I need to know this? Only because school said so. The same is true about the quadratic formula, the formula for salt, and the War of 1812. To turn your classroom course into an engaging, effective online course, you must ask about the utility of what you teach. You can’t really teach students things they don’t want to learn, and you can’t teach them by telling them because learning by telling doesn’t really work.


2  ask what people should be able to do after they have taken your course

When you teach someone to play the piano, hearing them play something well is the ultimate goal. When you teach a kid to play soccer, one goal is scoring a goal. What about mathematics, for example, solving simultaneous equations? No one needs to solve them. No kid will learn to do this in an online course unless you force them to the threats of with tests and grades. Insisting on kids learning something might work in a classroom because they are a captive audience and have no choice, but it won’t work online when they’re working from home; they’ll get bored and turn on the TV.

3. figure out who the experts are

School has only one expert  — the teacher. But in the real-world, there are many. Letting students ask questions and having true experts answer is possible in good online education. You don’t know how to do that? It’s hard to do on your own. In our experience with corporate training, a company has experts who can be interviewed on video, telling stories from firsthand experience. The same thing can work for school, but you may have trouble finding and interviewing experts on your own. However, groups of people who want to teach the same things may be able to work together to find experts, interview them, and record their answers. These video answers can then be incorporated into a course where they can pop up in places where the corresponding questions are likely to arise.
4. ask what this course is really for

Is it to fulfill some sort of requirement imposed on students, or is it to learn something they are really interested in? Asking this question is not something teachers typically do. What do you think most students would say if you asked them if they want to learn geometry, or history, or creative writing? A good course should make it clear to students that they are going to learn something they really want to be able to do, and it should deliver on that promise by helping them to do it. The key words here are “want” and “help.” Forcing students to do something to fulfill a requirement which doesn’t interest them is unlikely to work online. Instead, a good course will make it clear to students that they will learn something they want to do and that they will receive the help they need to succeed. Such a course will “teach students to swim by throwing them into the water,” while making it clear that a mentor will always be there to stop them from “drowning.” For example, in our cybersecurity program we present students with compelling, realistic problems and ask them to solve them; they are provided with extensive learning resources keyed specifically to the things students are asked to do and knowledgeable mentors who are always available to provide help, advice, and feedback help them to succeed. These things — compelling, realistic problems, immediately relevant learning resources, and knowledgeable mentors — are key attributes of an effective, engaging, online course. 

In summary, to build an effective online course, you must rethink what you have been doing in the classroom, paying more attention to what the student’s real goals are and giving them the support they will need to succeed.


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