Instructor: Les Johnson
Department/School/College: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Studies, College of Letters and Science
There is a perception that teaching online is more burdensome than teaching in a face-to-face context. Time-draining, low-value tasks like calculating and entering grades, or chasing disengaged students, have the potential to drain an instructor’s time spent teaching, interfere with the ability to provide high-quality feedback, and prevent frequent and sustained interaction with students. Disengagement on the part of the instructor may enable students to reach the end of the term without having received confirmation of their learning or feedback on their work, equally stressful for instructors and students as it may force instructors to issue a failing grade or require students to redo papers or projects. The pedagogical problem of a runaway workload may be exacerbated in a large online class. However, there are a host of strategies instructors can employ to mitigate many of the potential issues that can lead to increased workload in the online class environment. One strategy is the design of an assignment segmented into several phases, each of which contains built-in mechanisms to support student learning.
Title: LGBT 200: Introduction to LGBT Studies
Session type: 16-week semester
Enrollment: 47 students
In a course with high enrollment such as this one, it is challenging to attend to students individually if the entirely of my time is spent performing administrative functions, grading papers and assignments, or managing student attendance, while concurrently losing a sense of balance in my life. By managing my workload though peer learning opportunities and a scaffolded project culminating in a final assignment, I was able to ensure that the students received my full and refreshed consideration of their curiosities, questions, and other learning needs.
The purpose of the strategy was to provide quality instruction, support quality learning opportunities, and still be able to spend quality time with my family. The Demonstrate project, with its phases, allowed students multiple opportunities for improvement. Each phase required students to think about how their project was explicitly connected to the course learning objectives. It was designed to allow students choice in deciding both their topic and project format. This freedom promoted quality work from students that sustained their interest.
The project was broken into six distinct phases meant to scaffold students’ learning. There was a separate module in the D2L Content area dedicated to housing the documents related to the Demonstrate project, with separate sub-modules for each phase.
During the Intervention
Phase 1: Idea
The first step, the Idea phase, involved writing a statement describing their project topic and the format their project was going to take. Students were given creative freedom to demonstrate their learning in formats beyond the standard research paper. Suggestions from the syllabus included a “short film, dance performance, slam poetry, poster presentation… the sky is the limit!”
Phase 2: Learning Objective Map
The Learning Objectives Map phase asked students, after restating the their topic and the format of their project, to review the course learning objectives, to think about how they may need to be rewritten to better match their specific topic, and then explain how they intended to “demonstrate” their learning of those objectives.
Phase 3: Outline
The third phase, Outline, was for students to organize their project by laying out their thesis, main ideas, and supporting evidence. Outlines could take the traditional (hierarchical) form or be done as a concept map.
Phase 4: Peer Review
In small groups, students engaged in the Peer Review phase, which required they use the supplied rubric to evaluate a classmate’s outline.
Phase 5: Submission Questionnaire
The Submission Questionnaire phase was significant in that it represented just over 40% of the total project grade. This phase required students describe not what they learned, but how what they learned helped them meet the course objectives.
Phase 6: Final Project
The Final Project phase concluded the assignment with the submission of their project to the Dropbox and posting it in a class discussion forum for others to see.
Students provided anonymous feedback on the intervention through an instrument that provided closed and open-ended questions. These questions focused on measuring student satisfaction regarding the intervention, as well as the impact the intervention had on creating peer-peer learning opportunities and how workload management techniques impacted their learning. Students were also asked to reflect on things that worked well and convey constructive feedback for future changes to the intervention to benefit future students.
Nineteen students (40%) completed the anonymous feedback survey. Those who completed the survey agreed that the intervention:
- Engage with their classmates with their classmates around language, events, and media in LGBT studies; and
- Helped them feel as if they were part of the class.
They also agreed that the instructor:
- Gave grades and feedback on the parts of the project in a timely fashion;
- Provided quality information regarding the grade they received;
- Was present and connected to the class; and
- Organized the project in a way that was easy to understand what needed to be done.
Students described liking the project because it allowed them to get “to know people” in their community and become educated regarding appropriate language. Other students commented the project helped them to stay engaged with the course material and enjoyed that they were not restricted to just completing a paper, enabling their creativity.
The design of the Demonstrate project, with its various phases, assisted students in achieving the course learning objectives, but from my perspective, led to concomitant release of pressure from my workload. Overall, because of the informational documents and videos, templates, examples, and rubrics (described above), students were better informed, with less need to email me or ask questions. When an individual student would email a question about the project, I would respond to it in a format -- usually a home page announcement or informational video -- visible to the class as a whole. The use of rubrics in D2L allowed for both the quick calculation and entering of grades, and provided students an explanation of how I determined the number of points they achieved.
The Submission Questionnaire phase served as a form of self-assessment. It forced students to really break down their learning into essential elements, which was helpful in focusing my evaluation of their final projects. This phase, which occurred at the busy time at the end of the semester, transformed from an assessment of their work to an evaluation of their learning, a subtle distinction that freed some time for me to continue direct interaction with students. Finally, the ability for me to check in on students’ work on an ongoing basis at the end of each phase ensured students could clear up issues as they arose, and prevented small problems from accumulating into large ones.