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Course Design with a Purpose

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As a pre-teen, I was introduced to chess. To this day I continue to play when I have the opportunity. The game itself is intricate with each piece having a specific role and ability, but when the player understands that the pieces can operate in tandem to achieve the goal which is to conquer the opponent’s king the game becomes somewhat easier. I am also a sports fan and former coach, having coached track, tennis, football, basketball, and soccer. The latter three involve a lot of Xs and O’s as well as the players in their positions understanding their roles. Plays are drawn up by coaches and each position has a specific task to complete in order to make the play successful. So it is with instructional design for K-12 students, but with a twist. In a classroom the teacher wants all students to succeed and with a well-thought-out and designed plan that occurs. Variables play into the lesson such as each student’s talents, the content, and those variables that are beyond a teacher’s control such as where the student lives, their past educational history, and social-emotional well-being. Yet much like a coach who cannot control who plays on the opponent’s team, the weather, or playing conditions, the teacher adapts accordingly.

Planning for All Students Success

Over the past four months, I have been working on coursework to become a Canvas Certified Educator. Interestingly enough with my 36 years as an educator, I have found not only the classes challenging intellectually and also providing me with new insights on how to design a course for students. For the last year, my planning was done with the idea that a student’s well-being needs to be considered equally with the actual content. Recently, Jeffery Benson wrote about Social Emotional Learning in his book, Improve Every Lesson Plan with SEL. The basic premise of the book is that SEL is important to integrate the practice in daily lessons and it is not a stand-alone component of the lesson that is simply checked off. He encourages teachers to also review their own goals and share them with the students at the beginning of the year. Student goal setting at the onset of the year is imperative to set the tone for growth as well.

As I complete each module I am ever reminded of the student perspective of course navigation. Here are a few questions that I now consider important as a course is designed for online access:

  1. Is the coursework available for students 24/7?

  2. Can students navigate through assignments in the least amount of clicks possible?

  3. Is there a built component that allows for feedback from both teachers and students alike?

  4. Can students set goals for achievement and continue on the path to mastery even if they do not succeed in the initial efforts?

  5. Is the student’s social-emotional growth considered in the building of the course?

Far from being a comprehensive list, I would apply these questions to any type of course design that is created for both students in K-12 learning environments, higher education, and teacher professional development.

Much like chess or sports, educational course design has an end goal, that of success for students. However, in the same light, a course can become cluttered with unnecessary tasks much like a coach can complicate strategy with too many Xs and Os. This only creates confusion and clouds the desired outcome. And for the foreseeable future with the increasing availability of virtual learning, there will also be a need to understand the science of course design.

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