This post comments on how I plan to avoid one of Elizabeth St. Germain’s five pitfalls of online course design. St. Germain challenges instructors to not just upload the usual class handouts onto a website, but rather, to “Step back and take a fresh look at your content in the larger context of the world and the Web.”
One idea that I have is to add a regular instructor’s blog into my online content. My introductory environmental economics course has videos of traditional lecture content as well as the usual assigned readings and homework assignments. However, a terrific feature of the web that has become a mainstay for millions of people is the blog. To me, the best blogs have the following characteristics: i) they are much more informal than traditional journalism or textbook writing, ii) they are regularly and predictably updated, and iii) they engage readers on a consistent theme. In contrast, much of the material in traditional introductory economics courses is formal and focused on learning the ins-and-outs of setting up and applying economic models.
I aim to include a regular series of blogs into my course that will have the following objectives aimed at avoiding pitfall #1 of uploading course material and calling it a day. First, I want to write about content or current events that relates to what we cover in class, but I want to do this in a much less formal way than lecture. For example, I could write a post about today’s news that the U.S. EPA plans to drop the Clean Power Plan to regulate carbon emissions, and try to bring in some basic supply-and-demand ideas about energy markets and my thoughts on how energy markets might react to this policy news. Second, while I want to be more informal than class, I do want to maintain a scholarly discourse of reasoned inquiry. Many blogs are inflammatory and offer far too little evidence to back up assertions, and I think an instructor’s blog could offer an example of how to integrate scholarly discourse with a more informal blogging style. And finally, I want to write consistently about matters that complement the more formal lecture-oriented material in the class, rather than have blogging provide a substitute for lecture.