A course in course design :)

During my undergraduate years, I enrolled in a class that allowed me to teach the composition portion of the first year English survey course.  Periodic tutorials provided instruction in pedagogy and marking standardization session ensured that all of us in the program were marking essays neither too harshly, nor too kindly.  I also tutored in the writing centre and received attended an information session on the specific learning needs of native students.  I did this for two years.

When I started my graduate degree, I, like many grad students, taught the first year composition course.  Essentially, there was an orientation lecture, we were given our texts, and the rest of it was up to us. I used what I’d learned during my undergraduate degree, but really, I shot from the hip.

When I learned that an optional course called “The Theory of University Teaching” was offered, I signed up right away.  A lot of what I learned at that point was muddled with all the other courses I was enrolled in, the teaching, and my ongoing creative writing project.  I taught that course for two years as well.

Most of what I learned about course design from those days was focused on university teaching.  Most of what stuck with me was adult learning theory, creating syllabi, and the importance of learning outcomes.

While I’ve put together some creative writing workshops and helped a friend, who was a high school teacher, work on her redesign of her Writers’ Craft course, I didn’t start writing courses myself until last year.

I generally run on instinct.  I think about what I’d need to know if I was the learner, and go from there.  Systems training is easier.  There’s a logical progression to the course provided by the structure of the program: Basic navigation > menus > screens > fields > inputs.  It can be boring, but I do my best not to turn into a computer in the process.

My team receiving our awards 🙂

The SMART Board course for which I receved a Service Excellence award was essentially systems training, as were the SharePoint videos I produced.

I also helped to cobble together a course on elearning design, not having a clear idea of what I was doing.

The last course design project I worked on was not writing from scratch, but rewriting a course that was originally designed as a self-instructional module.  The new venue was in-class, using with participant centered methodologies.  It may seem like a step backward in a world where virtual training is king, but it was what our participants wanted.

The response to this course tweak has been positive, though further revision has been recommended.

My writerly goodness tends to emerge in the process of course writing.  I like metaphors; creating stories and frameworks for the training to play out within.  I like to play.  I try to be clever, but it was never one of my strengths.  In the end, I’ve learned by doing and will continue to do so.

And I’ve learned by learning.  Last fall, I attended two courses, the first on participant centered training (see last week’s post, linked below) and the second on participant centered course design.  The courses were only a month apart, and there was some concern that I wouldn’t have time to assimilate the knowledge from the first before being thrown into the second.  I found the opposite to be true: the second course reinforced the learning from the first and expanded it in new directions.

Some of the things I’ve learned:

  • Allow the participants to take control of their learning;
  • Include sample questions;
  • Always include the purpose of an exercise or activity;
  • Include proper learning points for a debrief;
  • Link! (current topic to last topic; current topic to next topic; learning to application on the job; to value added pieces, etc.)
  • Assess seven ways from Sunday 🙂 and
  • Provide lots of opportunities for skills transfer and application.

I’m still missing a few bits and pieces, but I’m sure they’ll all fall into place as time goes on.  I’m addicted to learning, you see.  I can’t stop.  I learn however I can, whenever I can: reading, Webinars, informal learning …

Most recently, my employer has made available a suite of elearning courses from a third party provider.  I have my licence until the end of the year and have already completed the Change Management and mapped out enough elearning to keep my busy if I ever have a moment to spare 🙂

As I develop my platform, slowly and steadily, more opportunities will reveal themselves.  I still have a number of in-class courses I’d like to take at work, and I’m just beginning to figure out what books I want to read on the subject.

It’s going to be a great adventure.

Any gems to share about your own adventures in course design?