Monday, June 22, 2020

Pandemic Scramble: Keeping It Simple

In my opinion, the big mistake that professors commonly make when moving an on-campus course to remote teaching is to make things more complicated than they need to be. That unnecessary complexity stems from the idea that one must take their entire course, including every element and detail, and move it more or less "as is" to an online environment. I think we get much better outcomes if we strive to keep it simple.

First, "remote" need not always be "online." There are a lot of learning opportunities to be had with reading and retrieval practice assignments from the Patton Anatomy & Physiology textbook. Students have invested a lot in acquiring this resource and a large team has worked together to make it an effective learning tool. Now's a great time to do better by our students by helping them engage fully in both reading and raiding their textbook. 

Second, now is a great time to revisit our learning outcomes and compare those to our course design. Most of us keep adding more expected outcomes, and therefore more content, to our courses over the years. As we consider various learning activities, we often add them rather than replace existing activities. Our course becomes bloated, complex, and heavier than it needs to be. So my advice is to prune, prune, prune to the main outcomes—the truly essential concepts—of our A&P course. Then, and only then, are we ready to move to remote teaching.

Third, rather than simply digitize our course components—recording lectures, converting tests and quizzes to online formats, etc.—we should rethink our course design. I suggest trimming back on what we are telling and showing showing students and rely more on their own discovery. And resisting the urge to use every last one of the cool toys that our instructional designers are helping us to discover.

What I mean by that is focusing our recorded lectures on the hard-to-understand "pain points" of A&P. And even then, we should consider trimming our narrative down to half or less of that 50-minute time block that we are used to. Then taking those shorter lectures and chunking them into even smaller, bite-sized pieces.

We can also substitute those occasional, mind-bending summative tests with frequent, low-stakes formative tests by using the our learning management system's online quizzing engine. This leverages the learning benefits of retrieval practice by shifting the work of learning to the student—where it belongs. This approach also makes light work of learning, thus avoiding a burdensome load during this time of stress and uncertainty.

To learn more about these suggestions and more, watch my video presentation Simple Ideas for Moving to Remote Learning or listen to an audio version from my podcast.

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