Tidbits, Resources, and Discussion for ELI Faculty

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Revising Your ELI Courses

As you all know, we are currently finalizing our preparations for the Student Success Initiative event coming up on April 7. You'll be leaving that event with a plan for a new strategy you'll try in one of your courses either this summer or fall.

As we've been planning this event, I've been thinking a lot about course revisions at ELI. I know that some of you keep your courses the same semester to semester, only doing a revision when your course is peer reviewed or when a new textbook comes out. Others of you tweak your courses regularly. In some cases, you do that working with ELI, and in others, you make changes without telling us about them.

I would like to better understand how you feel about course revisions in your online courses, and I'd appreciate your comments on any/all of the following questions:
  • How does what you do with revising your ELI courses (in terms of frequency, nature/breadth of changes, etc.) compare with what you do in revising your campus courses? What do you think explains the difference, if there is one?
  • What things prevent you from making revisions to your ELI courses? (Technology skills? ELI policies or processes that deter you? Time? Lack of interest?)
  • If you tend to make changes without working with ELI, why? If you tend to make changes and generally do work with ELI on them, why?
  • What could ELI do to help you keep your courses current, high quality, and exciting for your students?


Kevin said...

1) Changes to an ELI course have to be anticipatory whereas changes to a campus course have the option of being reactionary.

2) Time can be a factor, but I still make lots of changes.

3) Working with ELI is more difficult with the rotating ID's. You may have worked with one ID to make a course, but then they turn out not to be in the "ELI ID Help" group in the semester when you would like to implement the change. Their areas of expertise tend to vary. It is usually easier to just implement changes by myself.

4) ELI is generally very helpful in supporting its faculty. I would like to see better physical facilities, including the computer resources. I also think that having faculty solely dedicated to ELI would be another important change.

Aggie said...

I generally tweak my campus courses every time that I teach them; with ELI I don't make changes unless I want to make a major change like modifying an assignment or changing textbooks; because I teach all three cohorts I am usually teaching in two semesters at the same time; so the fewer changes I make, the less confused I get.

I do all my own changing of courses; I am comfortable with the technology and usually need only minor help with stuff like proctor directions for exams.

I second Kevin's comments about the faculty resources at ELI itself; we need more and better computers there

Arnie said...

The nature of ELI courses is that they are more difficult to "tweak," because so much about them has to be "set in stone" prior to the beginning of the instructional period (this is agreeing with Kevin). Also, as Aggie says, the overlapping sessions that some of us are in almost constantly make it hard to pick a good spot to introduce major changes.

I also think that time is a major factor, which can lead, perhaps too much, to the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" position. I am against change for change's sake, and I bristle when administrators tell me that I have to change something, anything, by a date certain, because that's a form of the tail wagging the dog. Nevertheless, having been an administrator I acknowledge that (1) such extrinsic parameters are the only practical ones, and (2) everything can always be improved.

My solution is to try to change things in a course when I see evidence of a need to change, and to do my changes in rather large batches and at moderate intervals for the sake of time efficientcy.

Laura said...

I do make changes to my campus courses more often and to a greater degree that my ELI courses. Most of these changes tend to be in the assignments I have students doing. I can do this more readily with campus courses because I do not have to answer to anyone else (e.g. ELI staff) when I make such changes.

The things that prevent me making more than [what I would consider] very minor changes to ELI courses (i.e. clarification in directions, a better question on exams, adding additional resources to the course site, etc.) is the ELI policy/process of making a course revision. The forms to fill out with plans and getting this approved has been quite involved in the past. My ideas for changes tend to take place bit by bit, on the fly. Unless I have an idea for a major change in assignments or the structure of the course site that seems important enough, I would not bother.

The changes that I do make without working with ELI are, as noted above, what I'd consider to be minor and I do it bit by bit, as I think of them (so long as no students in the course have get gotten to that point). Recently (after being asked by ELI) I have notified ID Help when I've made minor changes to exams. I think it was about a year ago that I did make a somewhat significant change to one of my assignments that had not been working too well - an adjustment rather than totally scapping it for something else. I e-mailed my idea to ELI ID to ask if I needed to file forms for a course revision just for the sake of this one change. Turns out I did not need to make this a formal revision request and get the change approved. I was, however, given some suggestions and advise and left on my own to institute the change. The advise was appreciated and taken into consideration. I appreciated being left on my own to do this.

Having ELI staff to field administrative issues and leave us to teach our courses, is very nice. I teach online courses for another VCCS school and they do not have anything like ELI. It is nice to be on my own to make changes to my course without consulting with anyone. But it would also be nice to have some administrative support such as ELI provides at NOVA

It has actually been quite a number of years (more than two) since my last significant course revision - when I worked closely with an ID. It's been even longer since I worked on a revision using the peer review process. I am actually looking forward to my upcoming course revision for the Student Success Initiative. A fresh, new approach is nice every once in a while.

Don Gregory said...

I would put myself in the “tweak” category. Since I’ve been around ELI more or less forever, I can usually do the tweaking myself or after seeking initial help. For “major” revisions, I’ve found the following the most helpful:

1. Ideas gained from New Horizons, PUP, and ELI conferences such as the one last fall and (I’m sure) the one coming up in a few weeks.
2. One-on-one conversations with ID’s and colleagues, more often than not in ad hoc settings.
3. Peer review (as most of you know, I live with my peer in philosophy).
4. Reading this blog and other resources such as the Discussion Forum in the ELI Faculty Lounge.

I’ve read the replies already posted and found that I agree almost entirely with what has been said. I particularly endorse and agree with these two comments:

From Kevin:

Working with ELI is more difficult with the rotating ID's. You may have worked with one ID to make a course, but then they turn out not to be in the "ELI ID Help" group in the semester when you would like to implement the change. Their areas of expertise tend to vary. It is usually easier to just implement changes by myself.

From Arnie:

I am against change for change's sake, and I bristle when administrators tell me that I have to change something, anything, by a date certain, because that's a form of the tail wagging the dog.

Anonymous said...

I agree that ELI is helpful in supporting faculty, but I sometimes feel that the “one-size-fits-all” approach (which is understandable, given ELI’s resources and the number of teachers and classes they have to monitor) can give me pause. For example, the shells created for our summer courses include a layout for syllabus, assignments, and so on, for which I have no need and which if I had to follow would be a real nuisance. The only things I use Blackboard for are exams, quizzes, and discussions.

My history courses are 100% web-based, and I revise them all the time. I use my own textbook, which is essentially my entire website, which students can purchase in print or PDF format if they wish, though everything they have to read is on my web site. With online publishing, I can update my text in a matter of minutes. Since the textbook and the website from which it is derived have hundreds of pages, I have to revise them during the course of each semester. If I make changes which might affect exams, I notify students well in advance. Generally, that’s not necessary. I see no reason to involve ELI in any of this, since none of it affects the basic course structure.

I am making revisions to my exams for the summer by rewriting questions and reassigning point values; however, the basic structure of the exams will remain the same. I have also revised my writing assignments to reduce the number from four to three. The total amount of writing, however, will remain the same. This semester I decided to give students the option of replacing one essay with participation in an extra forum. Since the inauguration of President Obama was a historical event, I decided to ask the students to reflect upon its significance. The response was such that I decided to continue that option for students who desired to continue that discussion in lieu of one essay.

Anonymous said...

I do most of my course changes by tweaking as I go. My guide has always been: if several students do not seem to "get it," then I have not explained it clearly enough. I do not need ELI help for this tweaking.

I do have two courses which are inside of Dreamweaver templates, so they are much trickier to deal with. They were much easier for me to tweak before they went into the templates. I would need ID help to get them out of them now.

I agree that having a pool of IDs instead of one ID to work with has drawbacks. It interferes with institutional memory about the nature of the course. However, in an ideal world I might crave TWO IDs--one an expert in communication with students and the other a tech expert. So perhaps roving IDs is better, so long as I can rove among them.

The state of the faculty rooms at ELI is a shambles. That discourages faculty from going to ELI, and yet so much of the understanding of distance learning and inspiration for change has come from faculty informally talking together at ELI.


Dolph said...

I do major changes when there is a textbook change. And minor changes ususally at the end of each semester for the start of the next one. I generally keep notes about comments students make for changes and for items I feel should be changed.

Julie P. said...

Hi Jennifer,

Course revisions are a more complicated process through ELI, simply because of the layering of administration that involves faculty, instructional designers, ELI course specialists, and so on.

What I've mostly found is that ELI policies (such as requiring a midterm and final at a testing center) do change the way I create and manage a course.

For example: the recent course that I teach through ELI is ENG 3. In my "onsite" class at Woodbridge, we do not have midterms and finals; we work on a 3-chapter writing project and other assignments as well. For ELI's ENG 3, my class has stayed much more static (I do updates, but the core content has not shifted) based on how much time and effort it takes to work with designers or as I consider what additional information students might need to fill in for lack of face-to-face time. I have had to update policies, create weekly schedules, clarify assignments, etc. each semester I teach the course. Staying flexible has helped.

Problems do arise, however. I tend to have a hard time instilling the "scheduling" idea for students: that my class runs on weekly due dates (versus particular days due, so that they have a bit more flexibility with their own schedules), and that they must abide by submitting work on a regular basis. I've recently had a student complain that all ELI classes are "at their own pace," which is incorrect at best but my concern really is whether some students understand full ELI course requirements before they sign up...

At our meeting on the 7th, I'd like to understand how intensive student orientation (or preparation) is before students take their first online course.

Julie P. Quinn

Nancy Hoagland said...

I read the post on Saturday but did not have time to respond because I was grading papers... I think time is the big issue but here are some thoughts.

1. The main changes to the ENG 111 class, which is about two years old, have been those made out of necessity to keep links current, to change the number of weeks for the summer, and to make updates when the textbook was suddenly provided in a new ediition.

2. With the new edition of the textbook, I think teachers are all looking forward to revising the course. We are planning to meet this week, and I have no idea how extensive proposed revisions will be.

3. For me, I have been teaching Web 2.0 workshops on the AL campus so I am considering how we might include some Web 2.0 uses. But I don't want to add another layer of technology to the course without a good reason so I look foward to feedback from others who have been teaching the course as well as ELI instructional designers.

Laura J. said...

When it was first announced that ELI wanted to redesign the MTH 3 course I thought, "Why fix what isn't broken? Kevin created a great course that's working very well already." However, since being involved in the redesign I've learned a lot more about ELI and on-line teaching and I'm pleased not only that the course is being redesigned but also that I'm part of the process.
I particularly enjoyed the phone conference with Gisela, the instructor from Valencia CC who's teaching a similar course on-line there. I feel that I got some good ideas from her and it was also good to see that NOVA and Valencia are doing a lot of the same things already.

Nancy McT said...

I just designed a new course and am now redesigning another one. I've worked with Rong on both of them and have loved the collaboration!

I found that just being asked to think about what was keeping students from completing the course successfully and what could be changed to help them through that obstacle was thought-provoking and useful. Like all of the rest of you, time is such a problem that stopping to step back and look at these big questions doesn't happen as often as it should.

When I identified what I thought was stopping students from being successful, Rong was right there to put all of the options on the table with me and talk them through. She was able to push to get me to consider alternatives and help me examine my beliefs about what students needed to learn. In the end she embraced my solutions even when they meant less radical changes than originally contemplated.

It remains to be seen if the changes will make the difference we hope to see, but I think it's an incredible luxury to have someone else think through my course with me and debate the choices I have made.