Since my last post I have been working on setting up the online class in a Blackboard development shell. As I was filling in the work schedule for each essay cycle, I realized two things: 1.) the details matter, and 2.) break the work into small chunks if you get overwhelmed.
Before I even began attempting to make any folders or activities in Blackboard, I created a MWF workload schedule based on my previous lesson plans and essay cycles in my f2f classes. Also, I looked at my old syllabi to gauge how much time to devote to each essay cycle. Then I made a list of the readings I wanted to use and broke those readings down into each essay cycle. Having these hard copies really helped me visualize how to fill in each essay cycle on Blackboard, and they also served as my guide or checklist for what activities to create.
Before I began actually working in Blackboard, I gathered all these schedules, my lesson plan binder, activities binder, and texts in addition to lots of scrap paper to jot notes down as I was working. Probably the most important of all of these materials was the scrap paper. By the end I had about 5 sheets of scrap paper filled up: one for reminders to do as I was working, one for things to revise as I realized the older folders I created in Blackboard needed the things I was creating in the newer folders, one for a to-do list for my lecture podcasts I need to record, one for a to-do list of revisions I want to make to assignments, one for questions I had for my IDEAL consultant, one for tallying numbers of Discussion Questions and Brainstorm sessions on the Discussion Board, and one for teaching ideas (for online and f2f) I had while working. OK, that's more than five...I told you scrap paper is important AND the details matter!
Honestly, I think the details are important to the class I am creating because I want to do different things: wiki, blog, podcast, etc. to engage my students at various levels. The more stuff you do, the more details there are. I am a very detailed oriented person, so being detail sensitive was not overwhelming to me at all. I could see it being overwhelming to those who are not detail-oriented. In that case, I would recommend not doing as much with newer technologies and just keeping it very simple--use the "Add Items" feature for lectures and the Discussion Board for brainstorms. Wikis, blogs, videos to introduce each essay cycle, and podcast lectures aren't necessary. I just feel, for me, they better represent how I think about writing and how I teach writing--metatext, different methods for all learners, and engaging for my students and me. The wikis truly let students collaborate, which is really important to my teaching philosophy. I want my students to learn how to work with each other and apply wht they have learned to figure out how to approach writing an essay. The blogging, I feel, helps students reflect and think critically about the material being taught and its application in the "real world." And the videos and podcasts are just my attempt to get the material to a generation that is video and iPod savvy. These things also are very interesting to me, so they keep me in engaged in my teaching.
Once I got started creating the essay cycle folders, within each essay cycle, I created a folder for each week within that cycle. For example, the first essay cycle folder reads "Essay 1: Arguing A Position (Weeks 1-4)". Within that folder, there are four folders: one for Week 1, one for Week 2, and so on. Then within each of those folders is the week's course work in the order I'd like to see students complete it. Any time I had more than one item, such as more than one lecture or reading, I created a folder so the course work looked more streamlined and not as overwhelming to the students. At first, I thought each week's course work looked more intense than my f2f classes. However, I quickly realized that the work load was the exact same; it just looked like more because a.) it was a whole week, not a day and b.) some of work is what I give my f2f students as homework and all online work is basically homework.
The basic order of work each week is: lecture, reading, lecture/reading quiz, discussion board, brainstorm wiki, and a prompt for the blog I'm requiring each student to author. Then when assignments (rough drafts, final drafts, etc.) are due, those tasks are added into the core rotation. I really wanted consistency, so the students would grow accustomed to a routine and find themselves not overwhelmed but prepared for the work. The weeks that were the most difficult to plan were the weeks where there was a day off, fall break, and Thanksgiving break. I wanted to make the work load a little lighter on these weeks to reflect the days off.
If I had to anticipate a question from those considering to build an online class, it would be how long did it take you to set up the course? To answer this, I would have to say (right now, without any revision and more details to add) about 30 hours total--5 hours planning with lists and 25 actually loading activities into Blackboard. What took the most time was building the first two essay cycles and making sure I recorded what I still needed to add later and double-checking that everything was in the right folder. After that, my work became much easier. (The first two weeks took me about 10 hours, which I chunked up. Then we had two rainy days here, so I worked 10 hours each day and five on one day to finish up.)
IMPORTANT: Blackboard has a "Copy" feature in its "Edit View." I strongly suggest opening several windows in Blackboard and copying folders. Then all you have to do is revise the essay title and page numbers of a reading or change the essay title of the rough draft that's due. Once I figured out that I could copy and change folders and items it took me about an hour per week. (Note: I was worried that copying and changing folder contents would change the original. That is NOT the case!)
Also, I strongly suggest breaking down the work into one week at a time or one essay cycle at a time. This way you are more likely to not get burnt out and to catch typos and mistakes (placing the wrong material in the wrong folder, etc.) Of course, I offer up that advice after I marathoned my work. Once I start a project, I become obsessed until it is complete. For my own sanity, I really wanted to create the class and then go back and gradually add podcasts I record and/or revise typos and such. (I'm a true believer in the revision process!) I understand I have all summer to do this work, but I have several weekend trips planned, a lengthy trip planned as well as part-time tutoring I start in June. I enjoy multi-tasking, but I really wanted to devote all my energy to the online class so it turned out the exact way I wanted it to. And it has. For me, I feel more comfortable having all the work planned and loaded and gradually going back and making changes than perfecting each week one at a time. It all depends what works best for you; for me it worked best to do more work initially and revise gradually.
The big pieces that are left for me at this point are recording my intro to the essay videos (there will be five short shorts no longer than 5 minutes) and welcome video, recording my podcast lectures (these will be no more than 5 minutes long each and there's about 25), revising two essay assignments (I'm using the same assignments for my f2f class, so working on the online class has really helped me improve my f2f classes too!), adding in activities that relate to the handbook (I'm thinking about adding these to my class blog where the lectures will be posted as well as announcements), and proofreading.
SIDENOTE: The blog for the class where announcements, lectures, and other helpful hints will use RSS technology, so students can subscribe to the blog to receive any updates that have been added. I plan on adding to this blog a link to the class blog and podcast lectures and I plan to upload my videos once I have completed these features.
Doing all this work to my online class really motivated me to improve the Blackboard shells for my f2f classes as well. That won't take as long, though, because all I really want to do for those is create essay cycle folders and revise the side panel buttons that navigate students to various places in the course shell so there are fewer buttons, which would make the shells look a little cleaner.
Seeing the course put together, for the most part, really makes me excited to teach online! And doing this work online has really helped me critically evaluate my teaching and lesson plans, which has helped me, in turn, make improvements to my f2f class activities. It's been neat for me to reflect on my teaching even more and have more direction fine tuning it. I'm seeing that f2f and online teaching are more alike than different. And f2f teaching and online teaching, for me, fuel each other, which is cool because it has really inspired me even more as a teacher!
I am anxious to see what my online students are like!
I'm just concerned about how the Portfolio will work. More details on that soon.