Course Design – Technology Meets Substance in On-Line Curriculum Development

After setting course learning outcomes for the on-line government ethics course, I had to revise my syllabus to better match my goals and desired outcomes mindful of the on-line format, and I had to develop creative strategies for creating a vibrant virtual discussion that would satisfactorily create a functional equivalent of an in-person classroom discussion.

To be honest, this was easier than I thought it would be using the functionality of TWEN.  I selected one soft cover book as the course text, and have supplemented that with readings mostly available on-line or in the public domain that are posted to the course site in weekly course resource folders.

I typically require students to complete assignments in my courses, and I wanted to find a way that these tasks could add to the vibrancy of the course by being shared with all  participants rather than being e-mailed only to me using the TWEN assignment drop-box. At the end of December, TWEN added a Wiki function to the site, and this was the perfect opportunity.  Each student was asked to sign-up for one state that they will follow through the semester.  I set up a series of Wikis where students will be posting short narratives and links to statutes, regulations and opinions from their state about subject matters we will be studying that particular week.  All of the states the students selected appear on the Wiki page for a given week, and each student accesses the Wiki and inputs the information for their state. So, for example, in week two, students have to merely find and post the on-line links to their state ethics commission, ethics laws and lobbying laws.  In week three, students will have to actually critically read and start to parse aspects of the state statutes in order to answer a series of questions about their state ethics commission.  The assignment reads as follows:

Using the state laws from the state you have selected for the semester (note: the following 10 states do NOT have ethics commissions – Arizona, Idaho, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Virginia and Wyoming), please find the applicable provisions dealing with the composition of the state ethics commission. Under your state listing in this wiki, please answer the questions below:

1. How many people are on the commission (board)?
2. Who appoints the members of the commission (board)?
3. What is the term of office for members?
4. Are there criteria/qualifications/disqualifications for members?
5. Are there provisions for removal of members?
 How is the chair of the commission (board) selected?
7. Who appoints the executive director of the commission (board)?
8. Is the executive director appointed for a term?
9. Does the law provide for removal of the executive director?
10. Does the commission (board) have subpoena power?
11. Does the commission have jurisdiction over both executive and legislative branch officers and employees; municipal employees; lobbyists?

Provide the on-line link to the applicable provisions of state law that support your summary.

When completed, the class will have a 23-state comparative overview of the differences and similarities of state statutes on this topic which will be the basis of a question on our Discussion Board (I’ll write more about the Discussion Boards in a future posting).

For those interested, my colleague Darlene Cardillo, our Instructional Technologist at Albany Law School has posted a summary of week one of the course from a technology perspective on her blog here. The results of our pre-course student survey about their familiarity with on-line learning and with TWEN can be viewed here, you can read about the only in-person class, a one hour orientation here,.

Patty Salkin, Albany Law School

7 Responses

  1. Much of this plan for structuring and incorporating assessment into an online course is also potentially applicable to traditional in-person coursework. I have experimented with TWEN, but may try again with the new wiki capability. Thanks for posting, Patty.

    One question raised for me is the degree to which teaching time is substantially increased when transitioning to an online course, either due to 1) technology set-up, 2) technology glitches, and/or 3) the substitution of electronic discussion boards for in-class discussion. Also, how necessary is a fulltime instructional technologist?

    Margaret Moore Jackson, University of North Dakota School of Law

    • Thanks Margaret. I believe I have invested considerably more time in the transition of the course from in-person to on-line than I would have normally done in simply “tweaking” and updating a course from the year before. Although I have taught government ethics in the past, I had been away from the subject matter in terms of instruction for more than 6 years, so I need to separate the effort required to update and revise from where I was, before adding in time for the on-line component..

      Fortunately, there have been few technology glitches, but I believe it is due to TWEN and faculty/student familiarity at this point with the product. What has been timely in terms of technology has been other things like learning how to do the audio for powerpoint slides, making a judgment on just how many slides to use for an on-line course (I’ve cut back, not added), and trying to “guesstimate” how to replicate three hours of in-person class time with an equal amount of on-line teaching/learning (striving of course, for not too much and not too little).

      I will reserve comment for a later posting on the substitution of electronic discussion boards for in-class discussion since we just started. I’d like to read through more than a half dozen of these before reaching an initial reaction (should be next week). This will be on the short list to blog about.

      Regarding the instructional technologist, Darlene is not assigned to this course anywhere near full-time. I think it has been helpful that she has been absolutely responsive to me and to the students in the class when issues arise (all of which have been minor). In figuring out ways to manage inquiries, she set up a discussion board just on technology questions/issues. This way, if more than one student has the same question, they may find an answer quickly without having to seek out Darlene. Also, working together in advance of classes starting, Darlene helped me to think through the organization of the TWEN site to make sure we use it in the most user-friendly manner, and she developed and posted the technology-related requirements students would need (e.g., which version of Adobe Acrobat did they need, etc.) and she put together and posted on the home page a memo with Tech Support information for course participants. As the days go by, I am hoping her time on this course is reduced. Check her blog (linked on this site) as she has been discussing the technology issues from her perspective with this course. In short, is it a benefit to the course that her position at Albany Law School is full-time – absolutely. The position enables not just this course, but lots of other innovations in legal education.

  2. Part of your approach here sounds similar to that of David Thomson, author of Lawyering 2.0. I heard David give a wonderful presentation at the Institute for Law Teaching and Learning conference last June in Spokane on how he used wiki in an administrative law class taught on campus to foster group assignments. He was startled by the production of the best learning results he had seen in awhile. I’m going to see if David – who also hosted the stimulating Crossraods Conference this past September in Denver wants to add his two cents here!

    • I found myself very interested to read this discussion about legal online pedagogy. Patty is clearly doing some very good thinking (and work) in her course redesign as she transitioned it to an online environment. I think she will find that the mixed media approach she is taking can be very effective (Voice-over PowerPoints, discussion boards, etc.) If there is anything I have learned about this, it is to try to pick the technology that best fits the goal for each “class” (or module) in the course. I am so glad that my book (Law School 2.0) was found to be helpful by Patty.

      Thanks to Mary for the heads up about this discussion – in the busyness of the new semester, I might have missed it. Good luck to both of you, and please post with more reflections as you have them (and are able). I will be very interested to follow your thoughts and experiences in teaching this way.

  3. I did read David’s book in the fall before getting started. It was very insightful and helpful. I highly recommend it for everyone, whether or not on-line teaching is on the horizon for individual courses.

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