There’s been some discussion recently about students and lectures and attention spans.* As conversation about this turned to how students grapple with long form texts in an online course, I thought it might be useful to gather some ideas on course design and working with texts in online courses.
Structure your course around the texts not the weeks
Some instructors structure their reading intensive course around the books that are read. A module per book with multiple discussion boards and prompts per book. This subtly shifts the focus from what am I doing this week to what is this book doing. For example, in ENG 210 Literatures of the World: Asia, Jeff Fearnside structured the course around the five books they were reading.
Other course elements allowed summative reflections and integrative questions to address themes throughout the course.
Shift format away from only reading and writing.
If reading, multiple books you might change how students interact with one or more of the books.
In engaging with a text, students might:
- watch a play rather than read it
- listen to a poem rather than read it (For example, this recording of The Waste Land – poem begins at 16:10)
In responding to a text, students might:
- create a video journal or podcast as they progress through text(s)
- tweet (or write within 140 characters) summaries of characters or plot themes (similar to the idea of Tweet your thesis)
- build a timeline of the narrative (for example, this timeline of Russian History created with student entries for Betsy Ehler’s RUS 233: 20th Century Russian Culture course)
Check for understanding
I’m wary about the idea of reducing student engagement with a text to quizzes but as a feedback mechanism as part of a process and on the way to richer engagement I think quick polls, quizzes, or surveys have a role. You could have quick short post reading quiz or survey to figure out if the students have followed the reading. This would let you respond before the students get further along and further behind.
Other interpretative tools
There’s a whole range of interpretive tools Digital Humanities tools and engaging with them is well beyond this blog post. However, many projects have available outputs in some form that instructors or students can draw on as they grapple with texts.
A great starting point to explore digital humanities would be to take a look at this overview & contact Jane Nichol the emerging technologies librarian. And as you think through how to use these tools in your course
One example of the type of output you might find is this collection of visualizations of the word counts in Shakespeare’s plays
Collaborative writing and commenting
There are also other ways to dialogue around a text – especially when it’s a short dense text with lots of debate and discussion around the text. There are examples of creating your thesis on a blog as you write or using github or a federated wiki as collaborative authoring tools. However, for many courses google docs (which is integrated into canvas) offers a fantastic, known, and private tool for a course to create a document.
A manifesto for teaching online
As a open experiment let me invite you to engage with a text. The Digital Education team at the University of Edinburgh recently released their 2015 Manifesto for teaching online. There’s a lot to think about in their manifesto and how it works or doesn’t work in our context. Please join in and add your voices this copy for comment – an annotated ‘manifesto for teaching online’. **
*The statement spun off a conversation triggered by the NYT opinion piece on lectures, (which I can’t mention without also noting this thoughtful response)
**If you want to author a new pathway through the text or add resources beyond what comments allow request an account and I’ll add you to the project.