No One Writes Alone
One of the first courses I worked on when I arrived back at USASK was an online graduate level course. The course had been taught in a face-to-face settings previously (often the case), but if I recall correctly it was the first time the instructor/SME was asked to teach it. When I meet an instructor for the first time I ask them a number of questions; trying to tease out their views on how learning happens, how they teach, what they value in the learning process, etc. What struck me about the conversation with this particular instructor was the assignment format he likes to use for many of his graduate level courses, creating a prophetic vision. That was definitely a new one for me, but apparently more common in courses that are grounded in the field of philosophy. In his face-to-face classes there were generally three assignments, a concept paper, a proposal/draft, and the final prophetic vision. This vision would be articulated in the form of an Advocacy Paper dealing with an issue related to the concepts and issues discussed in the course. One of his main goals was to have students really commit to and idea and drill down on it, rather than having a few smaller pieces that are loosely joined at best.
As is often the case when courses move online, the class size was about twice as many students as he normally had face-to-face. Another change from the usual format was that the course was to be delivered over 6 weeks in the spring/summer as opposed to the regular 13 weeks in fall/winter. These two conditions put serious limitations on his ability to provide detailed feedback in a very timely manner, and he expressed concern about students getting enough feedback fast enough that they could make use of it.
So we got to work. We laid out the flow of the course concepts, readings, and activities for a 6 week period. I suggested to him that we could help scaffold students’ writing experiences using both peer review as well as introducing a couple more stages to the writing to help students with the pacing of the course. What we ended up with looked a bit like this:
Developing Your Prophetic Vision
- Identifying an Issue
- The Philosophical Ideal
- Concept Paper & Peer Review
- Proposal Paper & Peer Review
- Final Advocacy Paper
So here we had at almost every stage some amount of readership and feedback. The first two steps included some guiding questions for authorship, but also for students’ classmates to provide specific feedback. The first steps were smaller, 250-350 words, and completed using a discussion forum. The primary goal of the first stages were to help students identify an issue and what “the ideal” could be. Those who provided feedback then could push and pull on those ideas presented. Students could of course abandon ideas before getting to the Concept Paper, so these first two stages were quite low stakes. The design was meant to be a bit less formal, more like a brainstorming and ideating session you might do in a face-to-face setting.
The final three stages were much more like traditional paper assignments, but each one built on the assignment previous, and included more opportunity to get feedback from other students, the instructor, and to gain more exposure to their peers’ writing. Upon the end of the term I asked the instructor how the final advocacy papers using this design compared to his previous experience. I was met with the words every ID wants to hear (thankfully), “The papers this term were clearer, and better prepared than in previous experiences”.