I’m back in the saddle with teaching PR Pubs at the Gaylord College. This semester is extra special because I’ve launched, for the first time in the college’s history, an online section of PR Pubs. The Gaylord College has not historically offered many online courses, so I was humbled when Dean Foote asked me to test out a version of it for the Spring. I built out a course site which you can peruse at prpubs.us. Currently, 25% of the course is built out and I will continue to build out content over the semester.
I’m utilizing the Academy WordPress theme, one that I blogged about before and have used once before. I’ll be honest, I’m very lightly using the LMS-like features of it. Most of the functionality being leveraged is the custom “Lesson” pages, but no assessment takes place on here. That is happening inside of D2L (more on that later) because the theme is currently missing some key functionality that I needed (mainly deadlines and grade book views).
First, I need to give a nod to a couple different points of inspiration. The first is Laura Gibbs, who is using OU Create to blog about online course design. If you browse one of her courses, you’ll find a few similarities that are brand new for this course: orientation week and declaration “quizzes.” (read more from her on those aspects here and here). Many thanks to her for exposing a lot of her techniques on that blog and for building out her course on a pbworks wiki. I took a TON away from those resources. I take great admiration in how much she cares about online learning and, more importantly, her students!
The second is DS106.us, Digital Storytelling from the University of Mary Washington, which was the original inspiration for what I consider the heart of the course, the syndicated blog hub. Thank you Jim Groom and Alan Levine for turning me on to the FeedWordPress plugin, so that I’m able to pull in all of the student blogs RSS feeds into one space. This enables students to be exposed to each others work and learn from each othek. I’ve done this before for the face-to-face course, but I feel that it’s power is only amplified in a fully online environment.
Last is Seth Hartman, in OU IT, who was instrumental in bringing Lynda.com to campus. My class isn’t super tutorial heavy (I subscribe more to the philosophy that you learn best through trial and error/feedback) but it’s very helpful particularly for the beginning of the semester when students are learning to first grasp design programs like Adobe Photoshop and InDesign. I’m using several videos from the Introduction to Graphic Design course on Lynda.
From a broad perspective, the course is VERY similar to the face-to-face course, which is already a fairly active learning environment as it takes place in a computer lab. For the online section, I’ve added a more robust structure with weekly quizzes. Students complete 15 lessons for the 15 weeks of the course (minus finals week). Each week they complete a series of activities such as writing blog posts, watching videos, building Pinterest mood boards, playing games (it’s fun to learn typography!), and commenting on each other’s post. On top of that are the five traditional design projects that my face-to-face course has always done. I enjoyed building the course structure so much that I’m having the face-to-face students also use PRPubs.us as the course structure. In all reality, the face-to-face section will perform a majority of the activities in class so the declaration quizzes almost become a quasi-attendance policy with the flexibility of accommodating students who end up, for whatever reason, missing significant portions of class. For me, this is one of the biggest advantages to running an online and face-to-face version in tandem. At any point, a student can take advantage of course hub and work from wherever which is HUGE if something like, God forbid, a student loses a parent in the middle of class. Ultimately, my goal has never been to get students to come to 100% of the classes, though they benefit tremendously from consistent attendance. My goal is to see students be successful and the road that they take to get there can take many forms. More than anything, it’s an adequate safety net.
The last thing I want to note is that, as I mentioned earlier, I’m still using the D2L assessment functionality so that students have the grade book. While building my course this semester, I realized you have the ability to change the homepage to whatever website you want it to be so PRPubs.us is literally inside of it:
Remember that scene in Men in Black where Edgar devours Kay so Kay destroys him from inside? Yeah, something like that.
I’ve heard my fair share of LMS debates over the last year or so, but, for me at least, this seems to solve most of the issues I have with it. I genuinely enjoy building with WordPress and genuinely don’t enjoy building courses in D2L (I spent what felt like an eternity trying to figure out the quiz functionality). This allows me to use the CMS of my l liking when building it out and gives the added benefit of allowing the public to easily view the course’s contents. That said, there are some excellent benefits to the LMS. First, students know to go here for course work and get access (even mobile access) to the grade book. I’ve done a lot of testing and, from a user perspective, and the course site still has full functionality. I only seem to get problems when I want to enter the Admin panel, but that’s not a big deal and doesn’t impede the student experience. Last, and most beneficial, is that students works and efforts aren’t locked away. In fact, I don’t, nor does any large tech company, hold the rights to the student work. If they are using OU Create, their domain is registered directly in their name and they have full ownership to do whatever they wish to do with the content at the end of the course.
Speaking of OU Create, we’ve got a couple of new shiny features for users this Spring thanks to Tim Owens, so I’ll be writing a blog post about that shortly!