Mixing up modalities and how to use additional content

Hello again!  Here we are at the start of another term, and it’s time for me to make yet another of my all too infrequent blog posts.  Last term was unbelievably busy, and I feel as though I have barely had time to catch my breath between the end of Fall term and the start of Spring term.  Over the past two weeks I’ve been working hard at putting together my courses for the term, and doing my usual round of reconsidering and redesigning where necessary.  In a previous post I mentioned an experiment I was running in all of my courses for Fall term where I increased the amount of discussion, and cut down on the extra writing assignments per term, with a greater emphasis on only two significant assignments, a midterm and a final.  I have to admit, that I am, for the most part, extremely pleased with the results of last term.  My students enjoyed the extra weekly engagement, and for the most part put a lot more effort into their final projects.   One of the extra discussion requirements was a personal response post that each student made to the classroom expressing their personal reactions to the material each week.  This had a very nice effect of producing more intimacy in the class, and a greater sense of community.  It also seems as though the students took more time with their final projects, and several of them came up with very engaged and creative assignments.  A winner all the way around, right?

Not entirely.  There were two classes where I found that this approach did not at all lead to greater student engagement.  In fact, I was very disappointed with these courses in general, and they were for the same school.  I needed to pinpoint what was going on there.  Why did the students not do as well?  Why were they not as engaged?  In one instance, there were some administrative problems that caused frustration for both the students and myself right off the bat.  This is never a good way to start.  However, the platform that these students are using is much more limited in range than the other ones I use.  The students don’t have any online tests to take in addition to their written projects, which is a feature all of my other courses have.  This is the only significant difference between them.  I’ve concluded then, that these courses simply did not use enough teaching modalities.  I think we really need to make sure that we’re mixing it up in our online classrooms.  So this term, I’ve added a whole new section of media and lectures to supplement their reading, in addition to the content links I have already put into the course.  Some of these will now be required, some will be just suggested.  What I’m wondering is whether not the addition of the media will stimulate them sufficiently into a richer learning experience. I’m betting it will.

Of course we need to consider course design when considering what we do with extra content.  Putting extra content into a course won’t really do much good if the students are not directed or inspired to engage with it, or if it visually appears incidental to the actual course content.  It will just look like a bunch of links to students, and there’s every chance they will ignore them if they think they can do so and still get through the course requirements.   Put your optional material in a place that will look appealing to students, and where it will be more integrated into the required reading.  I realized that in one of my schools, the extra content was in a place that was easily overlooked, and I have changed that for this term.  In the courses where additional content was more central to the course design, students are much more interested and willing to look at it.  Naturally, I always love to hear your thoughts on these matters.

Leave a Reply

Online Educational Specialist