Methods, Materials, and Media

Whatever methods, materials, or activities I use in class are there for a purpose. I do what I do because I’ve usually thought it through carefully, using my core teaching values as my guide. I design each course to be a complete experience or “conversation” that achieves a particular objective and makes a particular point. For example, the objective of an economics principles course is to enable students to begin to “think like an economist”, to begin understanding and observing economic behavior in their world, and to prepare them for additional study. in which they live. Each course design necessarily involves trade-offs. Students don’t have unlimited time or resources to spend on learning the material. I, too, have limited resources. Students have expectations and interests that often vary with the needs of the community that wants them educated. For example, How I teach a course depends greatly on the students and context. By context, I mean the combination of format, context, delivery format (face-to-face, online, hybrid, etc), background and needs of the students, nature of the material

Example: My Online Principles Courses

Design: Flexible Scheduling and Assignments

My online courses provide a great deal of flexibility in scheduling and activities. This flexibility is intentional. I feel strongly, and student feedback confirms, that the flexibility of scheduling and location is one of the most powerful attractions of online learning. The technology supports the flexibility, so I try to maximize it. This flexibility takes two forms. First, there are a minimal number of “deadlines”. Students really only have two calendar deadlines to meet. They must post to the first unit forum and complete the unit one quiz by the end of the second week. This is so that I know they are active in the course and know the requirements. If they fail to meet this first deadline, I drop the students as non-attending.

The other deadline is the end of the semester. All work must be completed. Since there are no instructor-imposed deadlines for completing particular assignments, each student must schedule, plan, and monitor their own progress. I do provide students a “recommended schedule” that makes the assumption that an equal amount of work and time can be devoted each week. Of course, students do have other commitments – the opportunity cost of working on economics varies from week-to-week and day-to-day. When students manage their own schedule, they not only get maximum flexibility, they also experience the concepts of opportunity costs and tradeoffs that we are discuss in economics. It also helps the efficiency of learing: students learn more by making the best use of their time.

The course is structured into 14 units. In practice, there are only 12 real learning units with new content, since unit 1 is devoted to the syllabus, how to navigate the course, and introductions. The last unit, 14, is devoted to summarizing in preparation for the final and getting feedback. Each unit contains some required learning activities, some optional or supplemental activities/materials, and a mix of formative and summative assessments. Students use the formative assessments (practice quizzes and worksheets) to determine whether they have acheived the learning objectives for the unit from the required activities. If they wish to improve their learning, they can then choose the optional or supplemental activities. Some students can achieve the objectives from the required material alone. Others need the additional work. They make the decision.

Course Materials

Each unit typically has the following materials. The required and and supplemental learning materials are organized and linked from a single web page called “Jim’s Guide for Unit xx”. This page can be hosted either within the college’s CMS (Angel at LCC), or independently. The assessments are hosted within the CMS so that grading can be done automatically and feedback presented immediately to students.

  • Required learning assignments:
    • Jim’s Guide. An overview and explanation of key points of this unit written by myself. The Guide also provides tips and “watch-outs” based on my experience of what students struggle with most.
    • Reading Guide. A prioritized and annotated description of what parts of the textbook(s) to read.
    • Textbook assignment
  • Optional learning assignments: (called extras – not all are in all units)
    • Tutorial. A powerpoint-based tutorial written by myself. Usually it explains some particular model or problem-solving procedure. Typically the tutorial will provide detailed guidance needed to complete a worksheet assessment assignment.
    • Prof Nelson’s Tutorials. These are flash-based tutorials created by Prof Rick Nelson of LCC.
    • Jim’s Lecture Notes. I provide copies of the Powerpoint slides I use in my face-to-face classes.
    • Other Tutorials. Links to other tutorials available on the Web. For example, The Federal Reserve provides some excellent material on the money supply.
    • Answers to Textbook Questions. Answers to questions at the end of textbook chapters.
    • Other links Links to other sites on the Web that may be of help. Often these are glossaries, enclopedic sites, or biographies of economists.. Wikipedia has many very useful pages
    • Help Forums. Students are encouraged to ask questions of each other and help each other with asigments. I monitor these forums and if questions are unanswered after 2-3 days, I will answer them.
  • Assessments:
    • Practice quizzes. May be taken an unlimited number of times, answers provided, and no record of attempts kept.
    • Worksheets. Although technologically, these are “quizzes”, they require a student to complete some data analysis or mathematical problem first such as completing a table of economic data. Students must then answer 10 questions based on interpreting the data in the table. Worksheets count towards final grades but may be attempted an unlimited number of times.
    • Unit Quiz. A 10-15 question quiz taken for points and counting towards final grade. Students may attempt each quiz twice. Immediate feedback provided on which questions were missed, but correct answers not provided. Highest score counts.
    • Mid term Test. A 20-25 question test to be completed online at the end of each “part” of the course, typically 3-4 units. Tests count towards final grades, are timed, and may be attempted only once.
    • Forum Postings. Two forums are required, graded, and count toward final grades. Unit 1 forum is an self-introduction. Unit 14 is opinion.
    • Final Exam. The final exam is 50 questions, multiple choice. This is the only assignment that cannot be completed online. It must be proctored or taken at the Student Assessment Center.

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