Building KU's Teaching and Learning Community

Engaging learners through flexible course design
Cheryl Wright, Curriculum & Teaching

As experienced by colleagues earlier, I found myself pondering ways of how to effectively teach online during the pandemic. Recognizing Zoom would be my platform for synchronous instruction, one of the resources I referenced was CTE’s Flexible Course Design program. Whether attending summer workshops or reviewing the website’s literature, I focused on pedagogical methods to motivate students and connect online learners in a purposeful way.  

Specifically, I sought best practices for the application of course content through real-life situations, methods to generate critical thinking, and ways to encourage detailed discussion.  The resources were substantive as I found myself challenged to consider how I might broaden my instruction in ways I had not considered previously.

With adjusting my instruction as a focal point, I reconsidered how I design my Zoom meetings. As a result, I chose “chunking” or “organizing the course into modules” (Patterson, A.). This along with intentionally taking time, at the beginning of meetings, provides the opportunity to check-in with students and foster an engaging climate (Lyles, W.). For example, such comments as “Does anyone have a celebration?” “How are you doing overall?” and “Where are you struggling?” is a formality that only takes a few moments; yet, it is key to setting a positive tone for introducing the day’s learning objectives and preparing students to participate in interactive lecture.

Synchronous course time is embedded for structured think-alouds as we collaboratively problem-solve scenarios, linked to the course content, to develop critical thinking skills and rapport. Emphasizing an inclusive and equitable climate, everyone is encouraged to actively participate.  

Equally important, with a focus on real-life applications, the Zoom meeting is designed to include virtual conversations with guests who are practitioners in the field. For example, my course centers on cultural diversity, equity, and inclusion for aspiring educators.  Guest appearances have included school administrators at the elementary and secondary levels and the executive director of an education project that uses documentaries, photo essays, and stories to explore global issues.

As a result of our Zoom redesign, our weekly meetings emphasize an integrative and holistic approach. Key takeaways and self-reflection are embedded through verbal responses and emailed feedback to the instructor communicating evidence of the outcomes learned. With an emphasis on active learning, I have found these methods of best practices beneficial in blending theoretical material with real-life situations, lessening Zoom fatigue, and making learning feasible.

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