Continually Improving Courses

Some of the continuing conversation from Will’s It’s Not Just the Read/Write Web post has been about, well, continuing conversations. It’s the idea that learning shouldn’t be about memorizing for a test or completing a project, but lifelong learning. David Warlick wonders if we can focus more on learning and less on just what has been learned. Carolyn Foote writes about how these tools can help us focus on the process rather than just the product.

I admit that my initial reaction to David’s post was pretty much, “That’s nice, but how would we do that in the real world?” David said that in real life, “It’s all ongoing. It’s all conversation,” arguing that it isn’t about creating finished products, whether they are papers or podcasts. I’m not convinced on that though. When I develop a course with a SME, there is a product at the end. All the web pages and Blackboard setup and Flash files are products. I have deadlines, and my products have to be done at a certain point. That my real life. David’s ideas didn’t seem to mesh with the reality of my job.

Fortunately, what Carolyn wrote forced me to look at it from a different perspective.

How can we refocus students on the process? How can we extend the conversation beyond the specific project? And how can we connect cross curricular content so it’s more meaningful, as it is in the “real” world?

I think one of the powerful things about blogs and also about social networks, is that you can create an ongoing community conversation as a class or as a school, which can serve to unite those discrete assignments or efforts into a more unified and continuous learning experience.

When I read David’s post, I saw it as only conversation, without any products or milestones along the way. But I think I was wrong. I don’t think he meant we shouldn’t have these projects and products, just that we should view them as part of a larger conversation and process. Instead of a project being just an independent thing that isn’t connected to any other learning, it’s connected to a process and a network and dialog. I was too focused looking at the trees to see the forest.

Looking at it from that perspective, I can see how it relates to what I do. I know that no course I develop will ever be perfect. I can always do more to improve them: make them more engaging, more relevant, more visually appealing, more usable. We have that idea built into our review process. Yes, we have to have courses in a reasonably “finished” state so students can take them. So I do have deadlines and I do complete projects, and I celebrate the milestones of finishing and launching courses. But they aren’t really done when they launch or even after a field test; we’ll keep working on them and continuously improving them. Our conversations will mostly be internal, between the instructors and our course development team, but it is the same idea. Continuous improvement is my real life experience.

Now that I see how this relates to what I’m doing in my development, it makes me wonder how to create this kind of environment for our students as well. I’m not sure I’m really creating that kind of environment, at least not consistently. That’s a post for another day though.

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