Virtual Teaching and Learning

#oltak Week 6 It’s All About the Course Design


Essential Question: In what way is the process my group is using facilitating the design of our course? 

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 The English group, in some ways, has struggled a little bit up until this week with trying to figure out how the hell to design this course. The standards are put into place (we just discovered we didn’t have to cover the writing portion, whew!) but we were struggling with what the content should be, what materials would allow these students to learn the required criteria, and was any of it free? Should we have them read Hemmingway or Shakespeare? Poetry? What about poetry? We were spending our precious time debating and not really understanding how to be a cohesive team.

 We finally, last night had a meeting where we were able to gain some insight into the direction we need to be going in as a development team. We had gotten ahead of ourselves. First things first! Chapter 5 in Distance Education this week was an eye opener for me and especially after our last meeting, I have a much greater understanding of what we are to accomplish and how to go about it.

  Within our group, everyone is an English major (except me)! They are dedicated and passionate, not only about teaching, but about literature. An important statement I read was, no individual is a teacher in this system, but that it is a system that teaches (Moore & Kearsley, 2012). I think one of our obstacles we had to overcome was understanding that we will gain more by sharing our information, being open to different ideas, coming to a consensus as a group and ultimately, remembering that our student population is a diverse group of learners.

 One area that stumped us for a bit was that the modules may be taken independently of one another. We originally had gone in thinking that the credit recovery would take place after completing the modules from beginning to end. Not so..if all the student needs is to show that they meet writing standards in research to build and present knowledge, why should they have to slog through the rest of the modules? Moore and Kearsley talk about how it’s actually a good thing to break up the modules of a distance course, 1. it makes it easier for the student to fit study into the normal, active adult life style (boy, can I appreciate that), 2. short segments help students to concentrate, making information easier to assimilate, and to integrate, and 3. it’s easier to identify student problems when the material is divided in this way, since they can be localized to a specific objective or learning activity (p. 107). All of our group members had expressed concern about being able to build cohesiveness between the units but what we have learned is that many of the standards will present themselves throughout all of the modules and inevitably, there will be a braiding of those learning outcomes, even if only two modules are studied. As course designers, we can assure that takes place.

 Our team has brought up some important considerations such as student time management – not making a module so intensive and trying to shove too much on their plate. How do we keep them engaged? How do we make learning fun? How, or should we incorporate gaming? Do we need to consider their culture? Is the reading material we choose going to prove to be too mature? Right now we are writing rubrics. Next we will discuss activities and then materials…the process has taken a bit more time than we originally expected, we have had to redefine some rolls and learn to work together in a more productive way, but now it’s coming together and it feels a lot better!!!

Moore, M., and Kearsley, G. (2012). Distance Education: A Systems View of Online Learning. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth. [E-Book edition]


6 thoughts on “#oltak Week 6 It’s All About the Course Design

  1. Hi Naomi,

    You have contributed much to keeping our group on track. Also, scheduling meetings with us I imagine is much like herding cats!

    I agree that we needed (and will continue to need) to being open to different ideas. Our population is diverse, and we need to serve the needs of students who are already adept a questioning, clarifying reading and their thinking, analyzing, synthesizing, evaluating with a need for only some push forward. Others struggle to comprehend day-to-day reading, and if the material somehow relates to their way of living, it really helps to immerse and engage. It is also true that by 11th grade, students need to expand their thinking to make connections to life beyond their own circumstances.

    In an experimental research design for 10th/11th grade students, using an independent silent reading (ISR) method/strategy, was evaluated after reading from a standard American literature textbook for 1 hour, in one sitting weekly. Group 1 answered open-book questions that included short answers, summarizing, paraphrasing and predicting. Group 2 was evaluated the same way, but reading these same selections on computers. The group 2 students were also provided with layers of intervention in computer reading modules to help them with comprehension. Students used advance organizers to “stimulate background knowledge, activate schema, and help generate predictions” (Cuevas, Russell, and Irving, 2012, p. 454). Scaffolding included putting the same reading in a PowerPoint for students to click through the same reading. There was also a vocabulary function that allowed easy access to word meaning by scrolling over words. Probe words were provided prior to reading certain sections to trigger inferences and predictions. So, when we design instruction within the modules, we are not only chunking information from the whole course, we are scaffolding learning along the way. We had talked about scaffolding in our group sessions as well, an this article just affirms to me we are on the right track (group 2 scored significantly better than group 1).

    Cuevas, J. A., Russell, R. L., and Irving, M. A. (2012). An
    examination of the effect of customized reading modules
    on diverse secondary students’ reading comprehension
    and motivation. Education Tech Research Dev 60, pp.

  2. Just a note, Naomi–it’s the reading standards we don’t have to cover, not the writing! We’ll be focusing on the writing standards, as well as the speaking and listening standards. We’ll still be addressing reading standards by using different reading selections as something to write their essays/research papers about, but we won’t have to worry so much about hitting all of those standards.
    Also, I went ahead and split that writing 9 standard into two sections and made the rubric for 9b. I hope you don’t mind! I linked it to the matrix page, feel free to give feedback on it.

  3. Thanks for mentioning that your group has had to battle through the developmental concepts of producing a work of art, an online course. The Math group has struggled as well, but in different ways. We all know math is linear and that it is built brick by brick and therefore easy to scaffold heavily. My particular problem was inputting the math problems into Blackboard, a platform or learning environment you have probably not attempted as of yet.
    In math, problems are set up in specific terms, e.g., 2+3=, 4×5=, 6 divided by 2=, and 1/3 x 1/4, etc. Well, when you put these everyday terms into Blackboard, usually you get ‘Error.’ That’s when I started to freak! I froze! I called the help desk and they solved one problem, and almost solved a second. Jeffrey, a leader in our group was as patient as they come and explained to me to just, “skip the questions that need extra attention and I will handle those”(J. Laube, 2014). That actually calmed me down and I could start moving again.
    I think the biggest issue both teams have had is that we are afraid to spring ahead, partly because the information is new to us, (State Common Core Curriculum, Building an Online Course, Finding needed information in chapters we have not read yet, etc.) and it is basically ‘new to the industry.’ While not to some colleges and universities, it is new to this high school. This year alone in western Alaska is moving away from centralized VTC classes in villages without highly qualified teachers in areas like science and math to adding opportunities of online courses in all areas. Our students have not been too successful with either so far.
    At this point in the term we are all wondering if there is a chance at being successful in putting these courses together on our own and in a timely fashion. Here I think of the words ‘cobbled together’ because that is what it seems like we are doing. But, every prototype invention starts with taking some of this and gluing it to some of this… trial and error. I have already identified some of the problems and had the ‘Error’ warnings flash up on my screen multiple times. I ended up trying something different, but now the glue is about dry and seems to be sticking!
    You wrote, “We had gotten ahead of ourselves” and indeed we have only because we have not been here before. There have been others doing the same thing as we have been assigned and have created online courses, but for most of us, it is brand new. In fact, I didn’t read the intro syllabus to the class as having to do a group project for the benefit of the university.
    I do know that unless this course is designed with it having a low enough reading level and a high enough interest level it will be of no purpose (Davis, 2013). This is not supposed to be another course for those who are gifted and talented looking for something else to tackle (An Online Class!) but rather a course for struggling learners who have not been able to successfully pass Algebra or LA. I can see us as a group putting a course together and calling it an online optional course, offered by a university, but I don’t see us, as a group of distance educators, as a first project, not knowing where we are headed until tomorrow’s readings, not having time to build either course cohesively into a highly demanded class (Holzweiss, 2014).
    I do see us being able to build a better design with having unlimited time, a group of students as a practice class where we can get immediate feedback and make corrective input into the next generation distance learning course. I do see us as having tried and failed, but even more eager to try again. This is the way education is moving and as with any art form, you get better at design with practice. Your thoughts, “we will discuss activities and then materials…the process has taken a bit more time than we originally expected, we have had to redefine some rolls and learn to work together in a more productive way, but now it’s coming together and it feels a lot better!!!
    My food for your thought:)


    Davis, M. (2013, November 5). Common Core ELA Resources for Middle School Educators. Retrieved from

    Holzweiss, K. (2014, February 12). Common Core Conversation. Retrieved from

    (J. Laube, personal communication, February 19, 2014)

  4. Hi All, At my session yesterday in the Leadership Session at #ASTE2014, the question was asked – will this credit recovery class cover standards, yet allow for students who are not at reading level? I was so pleased to be able to answer yes. The question came from a district who is currently using 2400 online courses to serve their students through APEX; however, these classes just don’t work for students with reading and other disabilities. Also, the idea of standards baed modules (students only have to take the modules they have not mastered) was met with gratitude, and very big smiles from superintendents and technology coordinators as well as facilitators for online learning in districts. So I did want to share – we are serving an underserved population and filling a gap with our course design! Rock on fine students!

  5. Naomi,
    Thanks for the post. The math group seems to have the opposite problem, we are all about the structure, but content creation, especially test/quiz questions is a lot of work. I’m not a math major and I teach fourth grade, so I can relate to feeling like the odd one out.

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