WARNING: Changes can make you feel uncomfortable and learning can be messy…

During the summer I had taken part in a course redesign project with our Introductory Computing team (Introductory Computing is a mandatory first year course for all of our students) . A small team were charged with redesigning the course to work with the new 1 + 2 weekly structure. One hour would be spent in a lab with an instructor and two hours would be spent engaged in self-directed learning activities. The course would also make use of an online testing or placement tool (Accuplacer) that would allow the students and faculty to get an idea of experience and knowledge that the students were coming into the course with as well as giving the students an opportunity to gain an exemption from the course.

Part of the redesign allowed us to talk about how the two hours of self-directed learning could be structured and what supports and information would need to be in place in order to support the students learning. Decisions were made to create a course wiki with tutorials, exercises, and resources to be made available to the large teaching team and to the students. Teachers and students would be encouraged to add to the wiki and this site would be accessible to them after they were successful in the course and for those faculty and students that wouldn’t normally have access to the course resources and materials.

http://compassist.pbworks.com/

Now this is all background to the meeting that took place yesterday (Friday)…

Most of the teaching team had been off for the summer and they left knowing that a small group were working on changes that would be implemented over the fall. Yesterday was the day that the entire teaching team was brought together to meet and discuss the changes for the fall and begin to discuss how to best implement these changes…

For the most part the meeting was going along fairly well, great support for the design of the wiki and the intention behind it. The placement testing was well received as it would teachers an idea of the level of experience that each student brings with them. The big discussion took place once the delivery of the curriculum was discussed. The teachers were really struggling with having even less time with the students then they had previously. They were certain that the students wouldn’t use their two hours of self-directed learning and that they would end up trying to cram more into their one hour with them further alienating the struggling students. And who could blame them for being worried about this, I would have been as well!

I recorded some really key quotes in my notes:

“We don’t have time to experiment on the student”

This quote came early in the curriculum discussion and it was a good discussion opener to get people opening up and sharing their concerns with what they were being presented with and were be asked to own and implement for September.

We had a great discussion on how many of them were already experts in the teaching techniques that we were discussing, they were just naturally doing it. The big difference (besides the contact hours) in this new course design was the premise that by providing structure and accountability for the self-directed learning components of the course they would be allowing the students to come to their face to face sessions more prepared and just needing to fill in their own learning gaps or ask next step kind of questions or to work on the planned exercise or project.

There was fear that they would no longer be teachers… and this wasn’t a fear that I expected to hear… I’m not sure why… but it truly took me by surprise.

The discussion continued and then another quote came from the floor:

“We need to change the way we teach these learners in order for them to successful in the real world and help them develop independent learning skills”

More discussion resulted based on this and we were able to talk about what that means and what that could look like… for me at the meeting this was the game changer in the discussion…

It allowed us to talk more concretely about what the self-directed learning hours could look like. How content could be ‘delivered’ and how to assess that the outcomes of the learning were being met.

There is still much to resolve and discuss but the discussion continued after the meeting yesterday through email and hallway conversations and will continue on as we work our way through the semester…

Change certainly can be uncomfortable but staying the same wasn’t an option in this case. We had heard from the students that this course needed to be changed and we’ve known for a long time that this type of course (A mandatory introductory course) had to be designed in a way that allowed for flexible delivery and the opportunity for students to demonstrate the knowledge they had already gained through other course work or experience and be given credit for it…

Looking forward to our continued learning and sharing as we move … well … forward.