Charting the course

I am very excited to implement the course design which was inspired by participation in Connected Courses. In January, I’ll be teaching a course on “E-Collaboration for Instructional Technology” which is intended to introduce students to the ways we can use technology to promote social and collaborative learning. The course is in the master’s program in Instructional Technology Management.

In many ways, the course is traditional – it’s 15 weeks, primarily on Canvas, open to registered students only; the syllabus contains learning objectives and course flow that I have designed, and I’ll be using traditional grading practices. Some readers may be dismayed with that list, but I have gleaned some important ideas from my participation in Connected Courses and I’ll be pleased to consider any suggestions you may offer.

Course Features
These were the major innovations (for me) in the new course design:

> Students will inject content into the discussions as a major part of their required activity in the course. (Minimum is for them to contribute to 7 out of 13 of the weekly discussions, as their own interests dictate.)  I will provide a short list of resources to get us started on the weekly topic and will seed the discussion board with comments and questions based on these. Students are invited to research the topic and share additional resources for our joint consideration. I made a list of suggested student contributions for each week to scaffold this activity but I am open to other ways the students can contribute. (The still-evolving draft syllabus is attached, so you can see the list as it stands.)

> I wanted to underscore that the techniques we talk about that they can use to support learning in organizations are exactly the same techniques they can use for their own personal learning environments. I have them documenting the components of a personal learning environment they are engaging themselves (I’ll share an example), and I’ll be asking them to review a peer’s approach and provide critique and advice on what might be enriched to make it more impactful.

> Their big “make” for the course is to design and prototype a collaborative learning environment for a specific learning need – to curate a set of resources rather than design a course to support learning. This has been the final project for the course, but I am scaffolding it differently – and strongly encouraging students to complete this as a collaborative project.

Alignment with Connected Learning Principles
I’ve tried to check this design against connected learning principles, even though the course will not be open. And I feel pretty good about how far I was able to get.


  • Invited students to make substantial contributions to course content.
  • Devised ways for students to get official feedback from peers on major projects.
  • Encouraged students to collaborate on contributions and on major final project.

Interest-powered (the student’s why)

  • Laid groundwork in the beginning to promote application and benefits of learning e-collaboration tools and techniques
  • Allowed students to select topics for their projects and to sign up for the technology they will review

Academically oriented (rigor)

  • Will include academic material as core reading.
  • Suggested contribution list frequently encourages students to contribute and comment on academic articles.
  • Put tips for finding academic material on syllabus and on Canvas.


  • Students will document and sketch an aspect of their personal learning environment.
  • Students will design an e-collaboration exercise for an example situation (multiple options).
  • Students will design and prototype a collaborative learning environment as their final project. Could be suitable for students’ portfolio.

Shared purpose (joint attention)

  • Each week will focus on a topic, but contributions will come from a variety of perspectives.

Openly networked
This one, not so much. I am required to use the course management system, plus I am concerned about FERPA and the fact that my experience tells me half the students would be uncomfortable being required to engage in public spaces. Nonetheless:

  • Will use Google docs (linked in Canvas) for collaborating on our technology review framework.
  • Established a course hashtag.
  • Students may prototype on the internet if they desire.
  • I will publish course readings on my blogs and invite contributions. I can also update my blog readers on progress and insights as the course progresses.

Thank you, Connected Courses colleagues, for many terrific discussions and for strengthening my understanding of connected learning and the web. I will continue to tweak this design as we move forward in Connected Courses and I gain additional insights.

Latest version 11/25/14: ITM 640 Syllabus Notes 2014

5 thoughts on “Charting the course

  1. wonderful, Catherine! This sounds like a great course with a strong grounding in good pedagogy. I’m all in favor of NOT connecting a course or making it open even if your institution allows it–everything digital should be allowed a private beta the first time around at least. thanks for sharing your process.


  2. Thanks for connecting with me – and for sharing your work openly as well. It’s such a benefit to all of us – and it’s not lost on me that this experience of collaboration provides authenticity to what we teach.

    Am with you on the struggles with LMS’s and FERPA and student comfort. 🙂 But besides that: Really like the final project (and collaboration encouragement) and some of the “looseness” (choice of when to contribute) on the discussion posts.

    The thing that I continue to work on is my own presence in the class’s digital space (I do also have the advantage that my courses also include face-to-face meetings). But there is something about the instructor role in creating the culture of the course – in my case, often about making discussion posts less like responses to me or my questions, and more like conversations about the students. Sometimes it happens quickly and naturally. Sometimes I need to play a role in signally that it’s ok to just schmooze and think out loud.

    Once that happens, though, the energy around collaboration usually increases. And that helps things like final project collaboration…

    Much more to share as we experiment, I am sure!


    • I agree that how we interact with students online is key. My courses are 100% online and I don’t feel like I am adding value if I am not active on the discussion boards. I found that I saw far more student engagement when I switched to a model where students were posting what they wanted to talk about (rather than me crafting a set of discussion questions for the topic of the week). Duh. I try to model online what I’d like to see them do. I may post additional resources, share my opinions, ask them questions, etc., and I let them know they are entitled to their opinions (although I will clarify if I think they are misrepresenting or misinterpreting our readings). Depending on the topic, I’ll comment on a third to half the posts and comments – and in a number of instances, I make a point to comment on all of them (often after I let the students make comments for a few days first). I totally agree that we have to signal that it’s okay to think out loud (and we should model what that looks like) and even to joke around a bit.

      I have found it is harder to generate online discussion when the students meet face-to-face every week. I imagine it would be easier if they didn’t meet every week, but did have some time live together to build their personal connections before engaging together online. I would like to see the schools that I work with (I’m adjunct faculty) try to build their graduate student community in a more deliberate way. It’s clear that some of the students come to know and enjoy one another after running into each other in several classes, but I think there could be more community building outside of the class work as well (e.g. profiles, Twitter feed, some open online space).

      Thanks for your feedback on the design. I’m finishing it up this week since I have to build it on Canvas by December 15. The loose structure is new, crafted to try to find a way to be more open and learner-centered as #ccourses has discussed. The students may have a bit of angst because they are used to more structure, but I think they’ll like it once they understand it. I’ve tried this final project several times before and some of them are GREAT – and collaboration really makes a difference. This one is scaffolded differently than before, and I hope that, too, will make a positive impact.

      Thanks again for your comments, and for sharing your own work. Let’s stay in touch!

      Liked by 1 person

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