ask a scatterbrain: course material online

I understand that many of you folks have experimented with blogs in your class. I have been thinking about trying to structure my classes in ways that opens them up to a broader community. I’ve been looking at MIT’s Open CourseWare (which now has over 2000 courses online!), as well as some of the things on iTunesU. I’m curious about a few things. (1) Do folks know of good models that I might emulate to do this? (2) Are there guides that might help me avoid some of the pitfalls of the process as well as design things that get the most of out the process, and (3) Any general advice? I’m on leave this Fall and will likely get this up and running for our intro class here in the Spring. So there’s no huge rush. But I’d like to dedicate a little time this fall figuring it all out. Oh, and (4) does it matter that I’m low-tech teacher: that basically I teach without powerpoint and just a piece of chalk? I like teaching that way. I want more on-line content, but I like the classroom experience as it is… Does that matter?

3 thoughts on “ask a scatterbrain: course material online”

  1. I was just thinking today about using a blog this coming Fall semester for an intro soc course. It would be very simple to arrange, and compatible with a low-tech teaching style.

    Each student would sign up at the beginning of the semester to write a blog post for a certain week of the semester, so that the blog posts appear regularly the whole semester. The blog post would be a graded assignment like any other, but it will be posted anonymously on the course blog (probably a blogpsot or wordpress blog), perhaps after being modified in response to my feedback on the first draft.

    The post can be relatively short, but it should contain some elementary sociological analysis of something in contemporary culture, whether it is a song, youtube video, news story or whatever. I’ll have them read things like the Sociological Images blog, and other sociology blogs like the Everyday Sociology blog, so that they have an idea what sociology blogging might look like. I’ll encourage the students to make them as interesting and thought-provoking as possible, with an eye to using the posts as discussion or lecture material in class.


  2. The Open Michigan has some good ideas for finding, creating, and designing “open” materials.

    Various OpenCourseWares are run differently. Some motivated professors build the courses as much as they can using open content (content released under a permissive copyright license, like some of the Creative Commons licenses). Other OCW programs (especially those that have $$$) do most of the work for the faculty, and simply take the completed course and “transform” the material into “open” material that can be shared widely on the Internet–trying to get permission to post specific pieces of content, or replacing difficult images in powerpoint presentations, etc. Sometimes students are involved in this process.

    Other courses have a more participatory lean, where students attend class and are expected to share their thoughts, etc. on an open blog or wiki. This can be an interesting way to structure it, especially for classes that aren’t “media rich.” Some students really get into it, and post insightful and interesting responses, especially when they know that other classmates (and even others on the Internet) are watching. However, you just need to take into consideration your own teaching style, the comfort level of the students for doing this, and other considerations, such as copyright issues. For one of my classes at umich, we also encouraged students to share their final research papers, etc via OCW. This can be a cool way to showcase cool work.

    Although it doesn’t seem like the class would be open to students or interested persons outside the university, there are a few interesting online classes done this way–take a look at least to see how they designed them…


  3. I used ITunes U to post my soc of mass media class and it was pretty painless. One nice thing is that it lets you post several kinds of files in the feed so I posted both MP3s of the lectures and PDFs of the (minimalist) slides.
    btw, if you use the chalkboard and are comfortable with it, don’t change your style. if you feel it’s important to have the visual material accessible, just sketch your chalkboard scribbles on a piece of paper and scan it then post the PDF.


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