Successful courses are those designed to work in collaboration with learners. Underlying the design of CDL course learning activities is the understanding that our students are adult students, and that it is essential that the activities engage them in meaningful ways. Following current research in the field of adult learning, (Wlodkowski, R. J. 1993), our activities are designed for adult learners who need to:
know why the learning is required;
direct their own pace/style of learning;
contribute their personal/professional/life experiences to the learning environment;
apply what they have learned to solve real-world problems, and
feel competent and experience success throughout the learning process.
For example, the Global Climate Change course engages students in a self-directed project called the “CO2 Calculator”. This activity requires students to directly observe their own daily routines, and then to assess how they might contribute to CO2 reduction by changing their daily behavior. This hands-on activity invites students to contribute to global energy conservation while also developing an individualized and very personal understanding of the effects of climate change.
Ever wonder why it is more difficult to remember long strings of information than shorter bits? For over 50 years, studies have suggested that our ability to accurately recall information is capped at about seven numbers or items (Miller, 1956) If we break up the information into little packets, or chunks, we are more capable of remembering greater amounts of information (Simon, 1974). For example, remembering a number such as 5138675309 is much easier when broken into chunks, i.e. 513-867-5309. More current research suggest that our limits may be closer to four chunks of information (Cohen, 2001).
When developing courses at CDL, the Curriculum and Instructional Design team strives to organize information to allow learners to easily access the information in a way that enables them to recall it better. Key to our course models, like the Hassenger and the Humanities Model, is organizing information in amounts that are easy to recall. For example, a quick overview to a given chapter or course module can act as a roadmap for students, and serve to reinforce their learning experience throughout.
Implicit within our courses is this type of underlying structure, or template, which encourages course organization into four to seven course modules, or chunks. This makes the content easier to access and recall and can assist or even improve learning. The Humanities course model also offers various modalities of presentation, so the learner can choose which presentation of the material best fits his or her learning style.
In the Women in Business course at CDL, students use a shared document to compile data related to their research on female CEOs from around the world. Each student is asked to provide authentic biographical data for a female CEO in business today, and to add it to a shared form in Google Docs in preparation for a class discussion and later in the course, a research paper.
The data each student enters on the Google Doc serves as an abbreviated research paper thesis, and because other students can view the entries of their peers, they not only learn a bit about other CEOs they may not have chosen themselves, but they also learn to recognize a growing number of influential businesswomen in today’s market.
The Google doc provides a real-time save/edit feature that provides students with the most current, up-to-date information recently added to the form by their peers or the instructor. It is important to note that students do not need gmail accounts to participate; the document is set up to allow anyone with the link to view and add data.
Because the Google Suite (Apps, Docs, Mail) doesn’t yet communicate with certain screen reader technology, students with visual impairments have the option to contact the instructor and receive a downloaded version of the document that they can add their data to and resubmit.
In the Communications for Professionals course, a professional, collaborative online environment is created to challenge students to tap into their existing knowledge and experiences, and incorporate newly learned skills when presenting themselves in a professional venue. It is intended to build self-confidence and professionalism into their communications.
This activity is designed to encourage participatory learning. The course instructor is charged with channeling the students interests and aptitudes into a more professional focus. By molding online and collaborative abilities and interests into academic pursuits, an authentic learning environment is created. While focusing on discipline-specific learning goals, the instructor scaffolds the learners through a series of activities that increase in complexity, thus shepherding the development of higher-order thinking skills.
Scaffolding activities: A series of role-play introductions to specific work environments, where each work environment is introduced by a first -and report from current employees and business owners (via video).
Collaborative social environment: A course blog was created specifically for the course, while also being open to the academic community. By placing the students in a collaborative social environment like a blog and scaffolding the activities, the students can role-play authentic learning activities.
One simple rule to follow when working on the web is that if we can increase the ease of access to something, we can automatically increase its use. Building on this idea, we can make the learning environment even easier for our students to participate in and succeed.
In the course Communications, Technology, and Convergence, we embed a webpage directly within a discussion page. Originally, the design of the activity required the students to open another browser window or tab, download a pdf reader, and toggle between pages to participate. All of this took away time and interfered with the students’ ability to seamlessly progress through the activity.
By embedding the page within a discussion webpage, students can refer to the paper instantly without leaving the activity. This allows the students to focus wholly on the content of the article, and how it relates to the questions proposed in their discussion section. And, with one click, they can print and/or view the paper in full screen mode.
One popular art course, The Photographic Vision, employs virtual field trips to enhance the student experience. Primarily an overview of photography, its history and the many genres it encompasses, this course also teaches hands-on techniques. The field trips are designed to expose students to a wealth of historical, educational and artistic knowledge directly related to each module’s topic. A visit to the American Museum of Photography provides a history of the discipline, as well as unique exhibitions and research resources. The websites of individual photographers and galleries offer high-quality, contextualized images and lessons in presentation. These in turn assist students as they complete their own photographic assignments for group critiques.
Throughout the course, students take full advantage of experts working in diverse photographic specialities such as journalism, portraiture and documentation. At the National Geographic Magazine site, students find professional advice on specific topics such as “Taking Photos in the Rain” or “Shooting with Available Light” in addition to the vast archive of the magazine’s renown images.
During an exploration of nature photography, students visit the website of master Ansel Adams. In a culminating module on fine art photography, inspirational examples include the modern color work of Chris Enos as well as the dreamy, black and white images of Dianne Duenzl, both of Box Set Gallery.
Virtual field trips offer countless pedagogical benefits, the results of which are often evident in lively online discussions grounded in shared experience.
A moderated “Think Tank” is created for students to collaborate and support one another as they plan, research and formulate a research project while taking the Nursing Research course at CDL. Students work collaboratively in Diigo to create a shared online reference repository, and their final research projects are “showcased” in a student gallery and peer-reviewed. It is hoped that students will feel some ownership for their peer’s projects when they have collaborated in the “think tank” and worked together in the shared reference assignment.
For instructors to maintain a presence and foster a mentoring relationship in their courses, they don’t want to spend the majority of their time trying to learn a new technology. Because the online environment is in a constant state of flux, it might seem like there is always something new to learn about – and that requires an investment of time, which is in short supply for most of us these days. Our new courses at CDL include Instructor Notes, informational materials written specifically for instructors to allow ease with the new teaching tools and resources. Providing this instructional material to instructors may seem redundant at first, but it allows our teachers to spend more time focusing on their students, and less time troubleshooting new technology.
The use of the Mapblog in courses offers a unique example. Because the Mapblog tool has been upgraded over time, it now includes that many more features and can therefore be daunting to new, or even seasoned instructors who are not consistently working with the tool. To address this issue, now included with the upgrade to the new mapblogs, CDL has released interactive instructional material for instructors that quickly review the pedagogical principles of the mapblog, offers tips for grading, and provides instructions for getting started.
Religion remains a powerful force in American political life, despite perspectives that the US is becoming more secular. This Humanities course examines the relationship between religion and politics from a variety of social and philosophical perspectives while establishing a historical framework within which to assess the role of religion in contemporary politics.
The slideshow shown here relies on interactive media to provide a visually-rich approach to the subject matter while giving students freedom to explore a variety of resources and topics at their own pace. While browsing the digital photos and portraits of historic and contemporary political figures, students can read notable quotes and follow links to biographical information.
Screen shots: Students collect data about their location using a handheld GPS and post to the mapblog (left). Then, students calculate the geographic center of everyone in the course (right).
Employing mapblogs with student-created content helps foster class cohesion and collaboration. In GPS and the New Geography as well as several other science courses, the use of Google-based mapblogs provide a visual data platform where students are able to contribute information, images and links related to specific locations. In the GPS course, they find the exact longitude and latitude of their own locale using a handheld GPS, underscoring the importance of accuracy and precision in geographic calculations. Later in the course they calculate the geographic center relative to the location of all students in the course.
According to the National Research Council (NRC), online learning should strengthen science education by providing students with digital content that enables them to gather, analyze, and display data. The mapblog serves this purpose wonderfully and in a hands-on way while adding to the sense of community students experience.