Apr 20 2012
Translating Information-Dense Courses for E-delivery
Currently, I am translating my on-campus version of FW315 (Ichthyology) for online delivery, and am certainly running into some challenges! Chief among these is the fact that by necessity, this course is information-dense, and requires students to comprehend a set of foundational information that they need to succeed into subsequent courses in the curriculum, such as fish ecology, fish physiology, or my own 400/500-level Advanced Ichthyology course. While this doesn’t prevent me from including some degree of synthesis and analysis in my course, it does mean that some of the learning objectives focus on lower levels of Bloom’s taxonomy . . . if a student fails to comprehend the basic mechanisms of respiration and buoyancy in fishes in FW315, they’re going to struggle when they reach the 400-level physiology courses and need to apply that knowledge!
The necessary information-density of the course presents something of a problem for online delivery, because I find that the online format supports analytical and evaluative goals and assessments (discussions, projects and so forth) better than it does lower-level information delivery. I am working to include a variety of discussion-board topics and activities that will help students engage with the information presented in the course, such as an opportunity to place fishes that live near them geographically in the context of the evolutionary family-tree of all fishes. This is a good application/analysis-level assessment that provides some reward for digesting and comprehending a set of information-dense lectures on fish classification. Even so, it doesn’t circumvent the need to present a ton of data and facts to the students that they’ll need to understand and apply in this and subsequent courses.
Even in my on-campus course, I sometimes feel like I’m turning a firehose of information on my students . . . . we cover evolution, ecology, behavior, physiology, reproduction, anatomy, conservation and other topics all within a single quarter’s course, with a taxonomic scope spanning more than 30,000 species! I am hoping that I’ll still be able to teach this information effectively in an online format, but doing so still a involves a lot of reading assignments and recording of lectures, neither of which really play to the strengths of the online format (such as facilitating interactions between students). Hopefully the course will still meet its objectives and prepare the students for higher-level classes that more closely target the pinnacle of Bloom’s pyramid!