CEP 820: Reflecting Thoughts on Building an Online Course Module

My goal was to create a fully online learning environment that afforded the same unique learning experiences and opportunities as my traditional math classroom, which proved to be a lot more difficult than I imaged.

The design decisions within this course changed several times. When I first began developing my online course, I had the idea that I would just upload content and make it available for my students to access as they needed. Sort of like I do now for my face-to-face classroom. I hadn’t really considered the organization and I definitely didn’t consider the factors that go into policy and practice. As a traditional classroom teacher, the specifics of policy and practice are developed and modeled much differently; they occur much more naturally. However, after reading through various lectures and participating in is several “play” and “design” activities, I realized that developing an effective online course model would require a lot more than I had initially thought. It would require me to be intentional not only in my design choices but also in my instructional choices. Specifically, in order to create an online learning environment that is conducive to learning, my instructional and design choices would have to be much more explicit. I would actually have to think about the learning progression and how my online classroom would run, opposed to the natural progression that occurs in the classroom.

Similarly, the style of teaching has to change with an online course. By reflecting on my own online learning experiences and through the assignments in CEP 820 (assigned lectures, resources, and tasks) I began to realize just how naïve my initial thoughts were about online course development. Additionally, I was sort of disappointed in myself for forgetting about my own powerful online learning experiences and how they helped me develop as a learner and teacher…I should have known that it would require more than uploading content to create an effective online module. Let me elaborate. I would say I am not a traditional mathematics teacher. I use a much more progressive, creative approach. You see, I have a particular passion for online learning, especially when it comes to math. As far back as I can remember, math has always been a struggle; it never came easy for me. In fact, I was actually pretty bad at it! I wanted nothing to do with it after high school. However, as a freshman in college I took an online math course and REALLY learned math for the first time. It was the most rewarding experience; it is the reason I became a teacher. I loved being able to rewind the video- something you can’t do to a teacher- and learn at my own pace. After that I took several other math courses using video instruction–all the way up to Calculus II. I also took four other courses using online instruction–all of which I excelled in. With that established, you should also know that online learning is really the driving force as to why I became a teacher; it changed the way I felt about learning and helped me realize I was capable of understanding math. Consequently, technology integration has shaped my classroom environment and my teaching methods.

Through this reflective process, I was able to refocus and refine my online learning design to better align with my instructional goals. That is, I wanted my online course to encompass similar design features, tools, and supports that afforded me with such positive, powerful learning experiences. Additionally, I wanted to provide my learners with the opportunity to engage in the type of learning that fits them best, using tools and resources that support their unique talents and abilities. Because I know first hand the effectiveness of carefully designed and operated online courses, I felt a lot of pressure to ensure my online course would encompass the design features and tools necessary to make learning possible for ALL learners, including learners who struggle with math, much like I used to. Thus, I concluded that organization was key to producing a successful online course. As an online learner in the MAET program, I have particularly enjoyed the overall design and setup of my graduate school classes. Consequently, I modeled a similar structure in my online course. This model allowed me to scaffold instruction and learning by delivering lesson content in chunks and it provided consistency in content delivery.

After I had mastered content delivery and organization, I was able to tackle differentiated instruction, unique assessment opportunities, collaborative workspaces, and timely feedback amongst other things. Rather than dispensing knowledge and information as I had initially thought I would in my online course, I was able to optimize learning through scaffolded instruction, tools and supports and by creating differentiated, unique opportunities for learners to interact with the course content and each other using interactive multimedia and discussion forums stimulating conversation while providing direct, immediate feedback. Through the differentiated tasks, “quick checks,” and feedback, I was able to inform teaching and learning. Also, after reviewing the Universal Design for Learning guidelines, I refined and improved my content delivery and organization to ensure I was providing all learners with the opportunity to engage in the type of learning that fit them best, using tools and resources that best supported their unique talents and abilities, which I was able to identify through the task design and feedback. Specifically, I focused on providing multiple representations of content and differentiated delivery approaches in addition to unique assessment opportunities, affording all students with the opportunity to demonstrate learning. This is shown in module six in my online course where the learners are provided with additional instructional videos, multiple representations of lesson material, interactive applets, practice problems and activities of varied levels, and objective (skill and performance) based assessments.

Taken together, both organization and differentiation of content led me to my ultimate CMS choice, which is Haiku Learning; however, as I will explain below, it wasn’t an easy process. The goal for my fully online math course was to develop an individualized and differentiated approach for students learning online, and I was hoping to discover a CMS platform that would encompass my instruction, design and feedback ideals through features built right into the framework. As I will elaborate on below, the biggest issue I ran into during my CMS selection was that I would focus on one aspect of something I wanted my online course to encompass, and I would focus on that only, neglecting the other must haves I identified. So, for example, if I liked the organization and grade book feature, I would ignore the design capabilities…typically finding out too late that the platform didn’t accommodate the type of content delivery I needed it to.

When it came time to choosing our Course Management System (CMS), there were several aspects that I focused on, such as but not limited to: organization of information/course design, usability, built in grade book, collaborative work spaces, built in assessment tools, assignment collection features, and the ability to embed outside content/multimedia. So, during a CMS comparison task, I focused on checking whether or not different management systems afforded the design, features and tools I was looking for. After the CMS comparison activity I selected CourseSites because it aligned the most with the type of platform I was looking to use. However, it didn’t take me long to realize that I didn’t spend enough time “playing” during the CMS comparison activity, rather I spent most of the time reading about features and clicking to see how they would appear on a course page. So, despite the fact that CourseSites checked out on paper, it didn’t check out during the construction stage, which I elaborate on here. Because I planned to embed multimedia and interactive applets to make certain online learning experiences more tangible, I made the quick decision to switch over to Weebly for Education. This was a safe choice because I have used Weebly throughout my teaching profession. However, after spending quite a bit of time designing my online course on Weebly and uploading content, I realized that what I was gaining in freedom of design, I was giving up in organizational structure. Trying to set up links and hide content pages proved to be too much of a hassle; disorganization and confusion was inevitable. So while Weebly meets my more traditional needs as a face-to-face instructor, I realized that it was definitely not working as a platform for my online math course. With no idea what to do next, I headed back to the drawing block (AKA: the CEP 820 showcase of student work). However, through my platform-choice-failures, I was able to develop a clearer understanding of the CMS features I could not work without. That is, I had to figure out which CMS platform could offer me structure and organization similar to that of CourseSites in addition to the design freedoms, such as the ability to embed multimedia, afforded by Weebly for Education. Having established a more explicit design agenda, it didn’t take me long to realize that Haiku Learning was the obvious CMS choice for me, which surprisingly, wasn’t one I reviewed earlier in the course.

Looking back, if I were to offer up any advice to future online course developers, it would be to spend time actually “playing” & building during the CMS comparison activity, rather than researching and window shopping. That is, any car salesman could show you a beautiful car and hand you a printout of the car’s history and features, but chances are you wouldn’t buy it without test-driving it at least once, right? What I mean is, to really understand if the CMS’s tools and features will align with your course vision, you need to test them out. Reading about them in FAQ section isn’t enough, even if they show you pictures J Trust me when I say this: you will save yourself time and trouble in the long run if you spend adequate time properly playing and experimenting with the different course management systems upfront.

Having completed CEP 820, I have a much better understanding of how to effectively design and inform online learning. Through this course, I was able to reconnect with personal learning experiences that I had forgotten about to create an effective online course module that I can build and expand on in the future.

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