Things I Know 80 of 365: Building online courses is scary

In my experience, it takes about twice as long — prep time, putting materials together — to actually deliver the online course than it does to deliver the on-campus course.

– Denise Keele, professor of environmental policy, quoted on

For about an hour this afternoon, I felt as though I’d written myself into a corner. I’m doing some work with a school district’s professional development office to build a course on inquiry and project-based learning in the literacy classroom.

The thing should be a piece of cake.

I’ve spent the better part of a year in an online grad program that gets it wrong in so many ways that I am acutely aware of the pitfalls and pratfalls of online learning.

Building the course is about more than distilling the core beliefs and approaches of how I think about teaching and passing on those ideals.

It is also about building a space where the discussion board isn’t a place where discussions go to die and feedback consists of copying and pasting from a rubric.

After eight months of knowing what it feels like when done wrong, I sat scheming today, dedicated to constructing an online learning space and process that felt real.

The worry we have about K-12 teachers ignoring the needs of their students and teaching in mentally tortuous ways because their education is compulsory, is too often exacerbated in adult learning spaces.

Sometimes, I let my mind wander and imagine what the planning sessions must be like.

“Okay, we want our faculty to be trained in how to take an inquiry-based approach in the classroom. Let’s sit them all in a cafegymnatorium and tell them about inquiry.”

“That’s a great idea. I’ll build a PowerPoint with all the information from the book we’ll buy them and see how many words I can fit on each slide.”

“Great! While you two are doing that, I’ll build the online follow-up that will vacillate between assignments giving them directions to follow that are so specific that the implementation can’t possibly fit their students’ needs and assignments so vague they’ll never be certain they completed them correctly until they receive the final e-mail.”

You can see what I was working against this afternoon.

I don’t want to build what I hate.

Turned out the answer was the same as it ever was. I need to do what I say I believe. I started drafting questions to help focus on the ends toward which participants will work. I imagined how a participant would ideally shape his classroom upon completion and worked backward to design modules that help participants raise relevant questions and work toward their answers through inquiry, implementation and reflection.

The course is still in its most nascent stages, but I’m building somewhere I’d like to learn. That can’t be all bad.

It turned out the best way to avoid becoming the practitioners I resent wasn’t to work against becoming them, but to work to be more myself.

I wonder how many times I’m going to have to learn that lesson.


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