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Jul 9, 2008

Virtual course

We had a great slowtalk with Elementary PTEP program this week. It is good to talk about the nitty-gritty of curriculum, and not about data, accountability, and other such boring stuff. One interesting issue we encountered is with curriculum strands. For example, we do not have a special class on classroom assessment. It would make sense to teach this content in several different classes, as a curricular strand or a theme. However, once you try to figure out how it works, the task is not simple. Do we hit the same skills and content in different classes? But then it might be redundant. Do we build a specific sequence of skills and content? But how do we make sure there is continuity, and that all instructors teach it? This is an interesting challenge, because we are used to think in terms of courses: there is specific content, outline, calendar, readings; one person is in charge of it; it has assignments, tests or other evaluations, and a grade. The strands or themes are hard to conceptualize and implement, because they encroach on faculty independence, and just require too much time for constant collaboration. There is no mechanism of enforcement.

Here is one possible solution. What if we use the same mental tools that we are used to, to manage the strands? In general, it is easier to think about a new problem, if you can cast in terms of an old problem. We can develop a virtual course called "Classroom Assessment." It will have a syllabus, content, readings, assignments, and tests, just like any other course. However, within it, there will be several sections: "You will learn this in EDEL 350, as a course within the course. It will be 20% of your course grade." And then the next section: "You will learn this in EDEL 445, and it will make 10% of your grade." The course will take three or four real courses to complete, and students themselves would carry records from previous evaluations from course to course. Instructors of each real course will then be more or less bound to the virtual course's syllabus, because students will expect it. Students will be able to see some coherence in the strand, so that assignments build on each other to reinforce and develop skills, and that their knowledge is gradually expanding. It will also avoid redundancy, where instructors use the same reading, or the same assignment, or just cover the same content.

Everyone likes to tweak what we teach and how we teach, hence the curricular drift. But if we have a virtual course syllabus, whoever is changing his or her portion of it, will be compelled to see if the change does not affect other parts of the syllabus (again, in terms of redundancy and connection).

Taking this idea a little further, course sequences (for example, the literacy sequence), should really be thought of in terms of one long course, with one super-syllabus. The same objective: to make sure readings, content, assignments, and tests build on each other, rather than overlap. And if they overlap, it is by choice, to reinforce certain concepts. What do you all think?

1 comment:

  1. Hi S- A blogging ghost from the past found you. Glad you're in Colorado now. You must be too. Jude the Obscure is one of the most darkest books I ever read. Hope you and family are well. Kate