Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Online Course Strategies for "Bible as Literature"

One of my personal goals for this blog is to provide a space for thinking about how to design an online course about the "Bible as Literature," as well as accumulating good teaching tools and materials to use in such a course.

Currently, I teach three online courses, all using basically the same online course model, and I am extremely happy with what I've been able to achieve in teaching these courses. Here are links to the three course websites:
Mythology-Folklore
Epics of Ancient India
World Literature: Frametales

I have been teaching the Mythology-Folklore course for five years now (!), and the course has evolved considerably over time. I've been especially encouraged by the fact that I was able to take the Myth-Folklore course model and use it to develop the two other courses that I teach, changing the content but using the same basic learning activities in all three courses. This makes me confident that I can create a "Bible as Literature" course which will be based on the same model.

I'll explore these topics in further detail in separate posts, but here is an overview of the strategy that I've used in these online courses:

*Weekly modular schedule* Each course consists of a weekly schedule. The first week is devoted to Orientation activities, followed by 14 weeks, with each of those weeks having the same schedule of activities. Here is a typical weekly schedule.

*Semester-long project* The course is focused on each student creating and publishing a website on a topic of their choice. They work on the project every week for the duration of the semester, surprising themselves at what great work they can produce if they work on something every week for a whole semester. Here are the semester projects for my Indian Epics course, for example.

*Storytelling and retelling* Although students do some analytical writing, the main focus is on creative retelling of stories in their own words. Driven by their own creativity, students are able to really engage with the material in a way that is stimulating for them as they write, and a real pleasure for me and other students in the class to read. They do story retellings in their semester-long projects, in addition to story retellings based on the weekly readings for class. Here is a list of links to student writing, both websites and blogs, for the World Literature course.

*Reading and reading quizzes* Each week, students complete reading for the course and take reading quizzes. The quizzes are automatically graded by the course management system; no teacher time is spent on supervising the quizzes. Every student is expected to get at least 80% on the quizzes, so that they know they have understood the material well enough to do their story retelling and other writing assignments which are based on the reading (they can redo the quizzes and I do strongly encourage them to redo the reading and quiz if they get less than 80%). You can see a typical reading assignment and quiz questions at the Myth-Folklore course here.

* Student interaction* All my courses place a premium on student interaction. Students publish all their writing for class online so that they can share their writing with other students and get feedback about it. No writing is done for the teacher alone; all writing is shared. Students leave comments for each other in the password-protected course management system site, but the writing itself is published on the Internet in the form of blogs and websites.

* Teacher as writing coach * My main job during the semester is to act as a writing coach for the students. I provide detailed feedback on the writing they do for their semester-long project every week. This takes about 15-20 minutes per week per student, for a total of 25-30 hours per week for 90 students (my total enrollment in the three courses). My other tasks during the semester are responding to student queries about class assignments, maintaining the course website, and writing the daily course announcements.

* Daily course announcements* Although the students determine their own weekly schedule, I make sure that there are new course announcements every day, Monday thru Friday, which are distributed via the course website, via email and RSS, and also inside the course management system, so that on any given day students can immediately find out what's going on in the course. In addition to class logistics, I also try to cover campus-related events, relevant current events and online learning resources. You can also see this archive of previous announcements to get an idea of how the daily announcements work.

* Stimulating course environment * Inside the otherwise very dull course management system space for each course, I use dynamic javascripts to provide both weekly and random "factoids" to inspire students to learn more, so that they are constantly exposed to new educational information inside the course management system, pointing them to the enormously rich learning resources available to them online. I'm compiling a list of shared scripts at the SchoolhouseWidgets.com website - any teacher can take and use these scripts in their own website or course management system, if they would like to do so.

I'll explore each of these topics in further detail later in separate posts, and perhaps I've even forgotten something really important here about how the classes work. Since I'm immersed in these classes and have been for years, it's sometimes hard to "get outside them" in order to explain just how they work. What I can say with great pleasure is that they DO work, and I'm really excited about the possibility of creating a "Bible as Literature" course based on this online learning model.

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