Restructuring Course Content and Delivery for Online Students

Restructuring Course Content and Delivery for Online Students

Joanne Healy1 and Janene McMahan2
1College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics
University of Alaska Fairbanks, United States


Primary school children who were invited, inspired and excited about working with robots in their classroom changed teaching expectations for special education teacher candidates (Roscorla, 2016). If six-year old students were coding robots pre-service special education candidates could do the same in their classrooms. Inspiring exceptional children with hands-on motivational activities is an excellent strategy (Almarode & Almarode, 2008, Jensen, 2008). Collaborating with an online course designer eased creating this new experience for pre-service teachers by breaking it into manageable chunks (Greenwell, 2013). The instructor must articulate what pre-service special education teachers should be able to accomplish, around scaffolding and student accountability in designing the learning experience and its culminating assessment. The course designer, through backward design, maps out how the goal can be accomplished and provides suggestions on how students can report back on the process (Saulnier, 2015).

Through activities that engage students’ brains, special education teachers make learning fun, plus increase students thinking about future college and career-ready goals (Meacham & Atwood-Blaine, 2018). Some future career fields have yet to be imagined (Chalmers, 2018). Teaching students to code stimulates their brains to create something new and unique as well as to think about cause and effect. Learning to read, write, compute numbers (code), and apply reasoning are important higher-level thinking opportunities in which students thrive. Taking a new learning experience and connecting it to the brain’s knowledge base stimulates the brain and reinforces new neural pathways (Jensen, 2005). The goal of redesigning the course was to: (1) ensure the end-users, K-12 students, were getting a quality education and (2) instruct the consumers, pre-service special education teachers, so that they understood the pedagogy and had a new, successful, andsupported teaching practice they would continue after graduation.

Our institution is lucky to have a robust eCampus with a diverse staff of talented course designers who work with faculty to create quality online courses. Advantageously, working mainly with one designer for the past ten years has improved course design, delivery, and effectiveness of getting students the skills they will need in their future classroom. The longevity of this creative partnership is strengthened each time we meet (Anderson, 2018). The next step is to map out the big ideas and discuss why they are important. This discussion reaffirms the worthwhile ideas and clips off frivolous and insubstantial ideas. Course designers Keep the students’ best interests in mind by keeping ambitious faculty from overwhelming students with too many different technological tools at one time (Atif, 2013). Years ago, the team systematically decided to build the program’s courses with only one or two new technology tools in each. Each new course enhances the students’ technology skill level. Students graduate from the program comfortable with many new technologies. In order to fulfill college and career-ready goals, students needed experience teaching coding skills. The new goal for implementing a robot into courses was for the consumer (pre-service special education teacher) to effectively teach three robot lessons to the end-users (K-12 students) and reflect on the effectiveness of each lesson including what they could have done to improve it (Czerkawski & Lyman, 2016). The three topics of the lessons were:

  1. An introduction to robots–demonstrating the wow of the robot.
  2. To teach students correct handling and driving of the robot.
  3. To teach the students how to successfully code the robot.

To ensure online students time to collaborate, the instructor and designer team created a calendar with small group meetings that required an audio report of their progress.

A course designer can help map the semester to see what it is already in place, what has to stay, and help make the difficult choice of what can go and decide where the final products (lessons with reflection) would be due and how they support other assignments (Vlachopoulos, 2016). In order to build an online community within the course, students in the online arena need connections to keep them coming back to the course (Robichaud, 2016). This assists them in the desire to interact with course materials. Faculty and course designers determine what supports students will need to be successful and monitor progress of the end goal.

Students may not understand what the expectations are, or the instructor does not realize how to best build in peer-to-peer interaction to foster a cohort in the course. Building a cohort is not easy. It may look different from semester to semester with different group dynamics. Welcoming students into a course and getting them to engage with the course content is not just about a welcome letter. It could include the following:

  • Set up small group meeting times to collaborate on a larger project, discuss new ideas and hold them accountable by requiring an audio summary of their meeting builds small cohorts within the course.
  • Use VoiceThread webcams for students to report lesson learned and reflections on assigned readings and require students to respond to two new class members each time. Being able to see each other throughout the course and discuss reading assignments builds a community of learners.
  • Schedule drafts (with a point value attached) to be delivered to a shared Discussion Board (classes under 15) Group board, or to a shared Google Drive, Dropbox, or Evernote folder (classes over 15). Providing feedback gives pre-service teachers an opportunity to practice their craft and build rapport with others.
  • Set up a timeline whereby students check each other’s work against a rubric. Or ask them to work in groups with the Writing Center. Groups–while difficult to schedule at times–make some tasks feel less onerous.

At the same time as the courses were being improved for engagement they began to be improved for accessibility, usability, learner support, and assessment through the Quality Matters (QM) higher education lens and course evaluation/design principles. Recently introduce QM rubric became a natural fit for the special education Masters program. Each course initially went through an internal QM review by qualified and QM certified designers. The required courses also went through an external QM review providing expert feedback and suggestions from faculty around the country (Swan, Day, Bogle, & Matthews, 2014). Using two different perspectives to improve courses first allowed for innovation in the course design and then a common structure for the courses. Using the QM framework dovetails efficiently with what a special education teacher will be doing for their students. Special education teachers provide clear learning objectives for their James and Cobanoglu: Proceedings of the Global Conference on Education and Research: Volume 3107 students; introduce materials in a meaningful way; assess and measure learning; provide engaging instructional materials; make learning activities accessible and monitor learner interactions; infuse assistive technology; and provide learner support. Due to the undeniable match between special education and the QM rubric, faculty with course designers have pursued, and received the QM program design certification.

Keywords: design, technology, collaboration, learner-engagement


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