Last week I stumbled upon an interesting article, on Contact North’s website, titled How to Design an Innovative Course. I have to admit that initially my interest was piqued because the term “innovative” has been a buzz word in the e-learning industry for many moons, so I wasn’t sure if I would buy into the “innovation” the article was proposing or whether it would be just another article peddling non-innovative innovation. However, the article was posted by Contact North, and I respect Contact North, so I gave it a read, applying it to online courses in particular.
I quickly found myself nodding at my computer monitor – doing something differently ISN’T innovative (most times). Working within higher education, I find that faculty members often have a hard time wrapping their head around how they could possibly deliver their courses online, and a lot of these faculty members end up recording video lectures or podcasts of their lectures, uploading them to the Learning Management System (LMS), and call it a day. While these resources are certainly valuable, especially when you consider different learning styles and the fact that many distance students would prefer a face-to-face format, but are unable to physically attend classes, these resources are definitely not innovative. In these cases, I like to push faculty members (some are more receptive than others) to challenge their teaching preference and to step outside of the box to consider alternative approaches to presenting their subject matter.
Reading further, I continued nodding. “In particular innovative teaching should result in solving some challenge or problem you are facing.” (2014) – YES! It’s not particularly innovative to just throw a course on the internet and call it done! If the issue is that you are unable to interact with students regularly – maybe you need to research the technology further to see how you might be able to leverage forum posting or Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) communication sessions. Maybe you need to adjust your course outline; for example, if you grade for participation – maybe indicate within your course outline that students must post one original thought of X number of words and respond to at least X number of their peers in X number of words. Dictating this will ensure that your students don’t just do the minimum of “great post!” and consider that their participation. This could also save you a lot of headache at the end of the semester if students decide to challenge their participation grade.
Often times, faculty members may be intimidated by technology or feel as though they are limited in their abilities because of the technology they’re required to use. However, this is where individuals must be open to changing their way of thinking. Instead of thinking that technology is a hinderance (because it doesn’t always work or because of X, Y, Z reasons), individuals must instead think of ways in which they can make the technology work for them. If you don’t know, ask! If you’re too afraid to ask, research! There’s a whole technology (the world wide web) out there to answer any question you might have. Just don’t be part of the resistance or your students are the ones who stand to lose.
In my opinion, if you want to design an innovative course, you need to understand the problems that exist within your other courses (or someone else’s) and then challenge these problems by thinking outside of the box. Maybe you want to include relevant videos… or do dramatic readings or course material… or create interactive pieces (e.g. flash files)… or leverage aspects of your LMS that are seldom used (e.g. databases for students to upload information to and comment on other student uploads). Perhaps you want to create a more collaborative approach to learning the material (popular in graduate studies)…whatever you want to do, you need to first understand the problem, and then go out of your way to address the problem in a creative way.
Once you’ve developed and delivered your course. You can conduct student surveys and collect valuable information that may tell you what did and didn’t work, and then you can adjust your course accordingly. And most importantly, if the innovations you’ve made are deemed successful, SHOW IT OFF! Faculty members like to see what other faculty members are doing; there’s no point in being shy or modest about it. If you’ve done something cool that your students are loving, present it to your colleagues, and maybe your course will become a jumping off point for other faculty members! Pave the way.
Now go forth and innovate!