This week’s discussion requires each student to review an online course and answer the following questions regarding that particular course’s closing activities:
- What closing activities, if any, are present in the course?
- How does the closing activity or activities reinforce the most important core concepts?
- Do the activities provide ample opportunities for closure and reflection?
- Based on what you have learned, how might you change or improve the closure of the course?
I do not mean to be a fly in the ointment, but this is one discussion question that Walden should rethink. First, a previous class also had students from the program evaluate online courses for the effectiveness. During that term, it was discovered that the majority of open online courses consist of previously recorded lectures and pdf notes downloadable from the internet. There are no actual meetings, interaction, and collaboration, projects to be reviewed or critiqued. There is no course credit, certificate, or recognition for learning the material. In the purest sense, these courses are for dedicated, self-directed, highly intrinsically motivated life-long learners.
Second, it is unrealistic to expect effective instruction from open courses freely available online, especially some of those from the larger universities. As described above, these universities are providing a service, but as they are not reaping financial benefit from it and not providing actual recognition to those who learn the material, they have little investment in ensuring the courses are instructionally effective or engaging to the online learner.
Third, the only possible reasons I can imagine using these types of examples would be to (1) provide the absolute worst examples of instructional design. In fact, many of these courses are quite literally poorly instructionally designed for face-to-face courses, much less online coursework; (2) the courses are easily accessible for review; and (3) by reviewing these open online courses, it will become clear, albeit indirectly, we have been fortunate to have received our online education at the hands of Walden.
As to the actual questions of the prompt:
- What closing activities, if any, are present in the course? I reviewed a few different course offerings from Yale and MIT, in addition to some from openculture.com. The courses from Yale and MIT were of the quality I described earlier. There were no closing activities, as the course was not even currently being offered. The material, videos, lectures and texts were from previous classes, some as old as five or more years. On the other hand, I also considered Lynda.com tutorials as online courses. I have spent quite a bit of time with the tutorials lately improving some lapses in my repertoire for various programs. Unfortunately, although these videos do adhere to some instructional sound design methodologies, they do not provide “closing activities.”
- How does the closing activity or activities reinforce the most important core concepts? Again, sans any closing activity, there is no way to evaluate reinforcement of concepts. According to the syllabi for the various open courses offered from Yale and MIT, the original real-time versions had ended with summative assessments in an attempt to determine if the students had achieved knowledge acquisition of the basest form. The Lynda.com tutorials do not offer any cumulative project exercise that would require reinforcement of core concepts. Rather, each tutorial builds on the previous one. There are some advanced tutorials you can transition to once you complete the basics. However, the learner is self-directed and it is perfectly acceptable to skip around and watch the videos most relevant to your situation.
- Do the activities provide ample opportunities for closure and reflection? Clearly not in any of the courses, I reviewed.
- Based on what you have learned, how might you change or improve the closure of the course? The only truly relevant question of this series, at least in light of my information-gathering trek is this question. From my perspective, the strategies and/or closing activities most useful are the “pausing, reflecting, and pruning strategies” (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010, p. 234). Similar to the reflection paper required by Walden at the close of each course, these strategies provide the learner with a necessary opportunity for reflection, synthesis and assimilation of information. In contrast to the examples in our text, Walden’s courses are only eight weeks long. My sister attended an online school where the classes were only five weeks long. That is incredibly fast.
As much as it is a blessing to be able to speed through our courses and immerse ourselves in the knowledge, it can sometimes be difficult to take the time necessary to allow the reflection process to take place. I find myself thinking about our readings, discussions, and blogs at the oddest times, aside from dedicated homework time for reading, writing, etc. For instance, I contemplate coursework driving to work, driving home from work, in the shower, while walking the dog, and right before bed. Sometimes I will have an epiphany while talking to a friend on the phone because my brain just never seems to give up the subconscious coursework thinking.
Therefore, I believe quiet reflection and/or contemplation is always beneficial. However, will any of the course closure activities be able to improve the courses I reviewed? I strongly doubt it. These literal transplant courses from pre-recorded previous courses would only intrinsically benefit the learner. There would be no one to share the information with other than the learner’s friends, family, and possibly, someone online with similar interests. (Maybe the learner could set up a special chat room or blog inviting others with similar interests to buddy up and take the course together.). As for the Lynda.com tutorials, they are simply not designed for closure activities. They function well as intended: systematic instructions and application utilizing various software effectively.