Finding the Right Road – Brick Yellow or Not

I’ve got a busy quarter going on, busier than my usual super busy.  I needed to refresh my time in the online teaching trenches. Too much time in the old administrator’s seat makes a gal forget what grading is like, I thought. (Quit laughing, I can hear you). I convinced the Computer Science department to let me take over an entry level course on Microsoft Office applications and proceeded to design the course in my style.No biggie! No sweat! Half of it is graded by Cengage! (Note to self: Exclamation points do not make it true!)

Holy crap.

Did you know redesigning a course from someone else’s style takes longer than if you just start from scratch? (Insert sarcastic eye roll).

Anyway, I managed to get the course together in time, in my style, and on January 6th we were off and running…on top of my overly full time jobby job (as Alyson Indrunas would say) as the elearning admin.

Holy double crap. You’d think I’d know better.

Flying MonkiesMoonlighting is hard – I don’t care if it is online. What the hell was I thinking?

For the first month of juggling my 50+ hour full time job and a new-to-me online course, I felt like Dorothy in Oz…there were flying monkies of chaos everywhere!

Flash forward a month or so, and I’ve kind of found my rythm on that brick road. Don’t get me wrong…I won’t do this  again for a long while, but it has been good for me to dust off my ruby teaching slippers (okay okay, I’ll stop now) and get back online with students.

In the past I’ve always taught composition, literature, or professional development classes online.  These were all heavy discussion-based classes and, naturally, building a strong community  was important to get the students talking both with each other and with me. Wanting to keep the community together, I’d always released modules (and their discussions) just one week ahead – so early bird students could get started on the assignments, but they couldn’t leave their discussion community behind.

This course, however, is more independent. It’s each student versus Microsoft Office 2013…a grudge match.  (Most students were winning the fight, btw, until the tag team of Excel and Access entered the ring…now it’s a toss up).

Because of the nature of the content and the sheer quantity of skills to be learned in ten short weeks, there is little time for discussion and no real time for group work. I decided to go against my usual style and I opened the entire course from the beginning.  There are due dates for each module, but there is nothing preventing students from working ahead…in fact I encouraged them to work ahead on stuff they knew, to give them more time to deal with the data brothers who I thought might give them a harder time…

My more Type A working style students have loved it – no one is holding them back.  My more Type B working style students are being pushed by regular deadlines to progress through the course in a timely manner.  For this content and these community college entry level students, this sort of differentiated pacing seems to be just about right.

As you may know I am participating in the Fedwiki Teaching Machine project – and while writing about SRA cards for that, I actually started thinking about my CS 110 class.  I loved SRA as a 4th grader (shout out to Mark Twain Elementary!) for exactly the same reasons my  students like the lack of closed modules in my online course– I didn’t like being slowed down to someone else’s timeline. I loved reading, and I liked the challenge in accumulating those little colored cards and moving to the next color! Other students needed the due date push — I didn’t. My teacher needed to accomodate all of us learners. With SRA we had flexibility. With other content, our community was more structured as the content and students dictated interactivity requirements.

We’ve changed a lot of things in education and ed tech, but in the end, the trick always has been about finding what works to get the content connected with the students, and the students with each other when needed.

And just like Dorothy, we’ve known what works all along.



Filed under teaching and learning

3 responses to “Finding the Right Road – Brick Yellow or Not

  1. I’m SOOOO excited that you are in on this project, Lisa. I just need to catch up–a bit of a nutty week now in the rear view window. And your pain and suffering with the moonlight helped me turn down a gig that I was contemplating, so thank you, my friend. We’ve been joking about selling the dog’s kidney on eBay because we have already sold all of ours (that’s our go-to joke for all pocketbook related despair. Try it, kids! We’ll throw in the cooler that we’ll ship in. Keep the dry ice.)

    Interesting about not opening up the entire course at first–I resisted that for years as well, and then I became a student while working more than full-time, and it just plain made me angry to not have access to everything in the course. Grad teachers were the worst with organizing their content, and you know, little sassy pants here couldn’t question anything because I may have needed a letter of rec. from them, so I said nothing. And fumed. But it did make me change as a teacher, so that suffering helped me, I think.

    Now that I teach new OL teachers, I advise them to make all of the content available and if they don’t like that, I tell them to at least time-release assignments. Exposing all of readings and content is a better practice, IMHO. I’m not sure what the happy balance is, but in the final years of my comp teaching, I found that giving students access to everything really made the go-getters shine. And, it helped the middle-ground students see what it took to get better. The students who struggled, unfortunately, did worse, I think.

    This is good stuff, Lisa, can’t wait to get to the hobby job in the fedwiki:)


    • Lisa Chamberlin

      I’ve taught a lot about building community online so I am not sold that opening the whole course is the way to go for every content, but after this experience, I am open to evaluating more places where it could work, for sure.

      I feel for your week. I have been there. It’s sucha drag when the jobby job gets in the way of the hobby job 🙂


      • Just the content–not the discussions and assignments. I see what you mean. I got angry at not having access to the reading until the week came. You know, my inner nerd doesn’t like to wait. #GradStudentMonsterRage

        Oh my word, you’re rocking in the fedwiki! And thanks for taking on the jobby job and the hobby job–it’s such a compliment from an English major friend when you “fork” something totally ridiculous from my brain:)


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