Thursday, December 31, 2015

So long 2015! What a "teaching" year!

Well, 2015 is done!  Grades are in, courses are complete, and things are in process for next year.  Next spring I am not teaching, so I am thinking about cool (and instructive) things I can implement for the course that I am scheduled to teach this summer (intro to instructional design).

I won't work too hard on next summer's course just yet, too many other things to consider first.  That said, I realized late in December that 2015 was an interesting teaching year for me.  I am usually only allowed to teach 2 courses per calendar year, but through some fluke - and departmental needs- I ended up teaching three courses, all of which were at different ends of the spectrum for learners.  One of the courses was for learners around the mid-point of their learner career, one at the beginning, and one at the end.  It was also an interesting year because I handed off the course that I've taught for a long time to a friend and colleague, and I picked two other courses up that I had not taught before, so course continuity was also in my mind.

So, in the spring I taught INSDSG 684 (The design and instruction of online courses). The class was rather small (for such an important course these days), but I think it's partly my reputation as being a demanding instructor that has caught up with me ;-).  The course was mostly what I inherited from Linda B., with a few changes to keep the readings current and up-to-date.  For the fall semester I passed off the course to my colleague Rebecca, and it was at that time that I was really needing to explain the course in general.  When I got the course from Linda I did not receive a design document with ideas, specs, and rationale for certain activities, so as someone who has done Quality Matters I was left thinking through that framework - looking for things in the course that satisfy the requirements for QM, but without knowing for certain if that was the intent.  I think that if I went back in time, I would have re-done the course and documented the heck out of it for instances like this when a hand-off is necessary.  Things that were good practice in computer science (document your code) are also good practice in instructional design - document your designs!  This process also gave me pause to consider departmental course continuity beyond the syllabus.  I wonder if other instructors out there think in terms of such depth for their course designs.

In the summer, just by chance, I ended up teaching INSDSG 601 (introduction to instructional design), which is actually the first course, and a prerequisite for all other instructional design courses.  This time around I ended up looking at the course with a fine-tooth comb.  I looked at what was on Blackboard from previous instructors, I looked at assignments, and at three different syllabi.  It was quite interesting to see three implementations of the course, two designed for online and one for in-person.  I wasn't particularly happy with the versions of the course I saw, especially considering that I had seen students down the stream (in 684) for a few years and I had assumed certain skills that some did not have when they arrived at the course.  I started thinking about what an intro course should have, and how it should setup learners for success down the road - if they continued to be learners in this program, or for lifelong learning, if this was their only course in instructional design.

The two biggest things that I didn't like about previous implementations were:

  1. They were using videos created by an instructor who was no longer teaching in the program.  While the 20-minute lectures were fine, I think that there is something 'off' when the person teaching the course is different from the person you listen to each week on lectures.  It's fine to collect various TeacherTube and YouTube videos in your course (from different people), but when there is one person who is regularly lecturing to your course (and introduces themselves as an instructor in one of them), I think there is some potential for confusion on the part of the learner.  At the very least, to me, it signals that the instructor doesn't even care enough to redo the videos.
  2. I think parts of the course were bolted on to an existing frame (instead of preconceiving the instructional design of the course).  This meant that research papers and mid-terms exams (where you were tested on procedural knowledge) found their way into what I (primarily) conceive of as a studio course. 
So, I ended up redesigning the course, introducing learners to technologies, theories, concepts, and methodologies that they would see later on.  There is an aspect of learner choice in the course - both in deliverable formats and in topics to choose from - but the idea is still that of a studio course.  I rather enjoyed working on this redesign since I actually got to document quite a few things.  It's not as documented as I ask learners to document in their designs, however I think that's the difference between real life and a demonstration in an academic exercise.  I think I am probably teaching the same course in summer 2016, so I have an opportunity to tweak things!

One of the things that really came up (over and over) is that learners cannot separate grades from performance.  Last year I wasn't sure who to do ✓, ✓+, and ✘ in Blackboard, so I ended up using 50 (for the ✘), 80 for a ✓, and 100 for a ✓+.  The ✓+ is really meant to be an above and beyond type of grade (if you get a lot of ✓+ that means that you might not be in the right course).  I can't recall how many students were concerned that they were only getting a B- in the course (because all they were seeing was the 80 in assignments).  This time around I think I've figured out how to do ✓, ✓+, and ✘, so I'll see if there is a change in perception from learners.  Should be interesting.

Finally, in the fall I ended up advising in the capstone seminar, seeing students at the other end of the spectrum.  I think the challenge in undertaking this course is that you have a certain expectation of what learners, those who are almost credentialed instructional designers, should be able to do and the discourse that they should be able to produce in their documents. When deliverables are shy of those expectations it's challenging at times to come to a common understanding because the learners are also frustrated by this experience as well - that of being in their final course but things not being as easy as they thought they might be.  The experience here I think showed me that all faculty in a program should take turns being the advisor or grader in a final exercise.  This way they all get to see where structural weak points are in a program so that they can be addressed in the curriculum.  When only one or two faculty undertake this they might just sound like broken records and ignored.

Finally, to wrap things up, I've seen comments from colleagues over the years about 'final exam season' being 'student drama' season; you know of the country song variety - spouse left me, took my dog and my truck, and left me with the moving bill - or something along those lines.  I think that even jokingly this is potentially problematic because true student drama cases are probably few and far between, and joking about it being the season for student drama (potentially) predisposes us from expecting the worse from students. So, I guess - my advice going into 2016 is this: expect more from your students, not less and definitely not drama :-)

Happy 2016!

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