Online Learning with The University of Western Ontario, Part 2: Navigating Content
July 17, 2013 | 10:32 am
By Joanna Cabot
This week saw Module 2 of my online course rule my life. I had plans this summer to get out more, to explore the city, to take my iPad with me and work as roving correspondent/student/writer/whatever, in all the hot spots. That will have to wait until August, when my course is done!
The difficulty is two-fold: Tech limitations constrain where I can go, and course requirements constrain how much time I have free to go there. I will elaborate on each of these points in more detail.
1. Technical Issues
The good news is, I was able to get the course website working on my iPad. There is, as I explained earlier, a sidebar that organizes the different areas (messages, forum, content, assignments etc.), and then a main screen that displays whatever area you click on. I’d like a more organized message board—can’t win ‘em all—but I have gotten into a routine where I open it all up, and head for the course content first. That area is automatically set to open up in a new browser tab, so that you can read the course content and cite it in your forum postings. Once that is set up, I go back and load the forum in the main window so I can read and reply.
It all worked fine on my iPad—the organizer ran smoothly, the course content opened up in a new tab and the forum loaded up in my main screen. The difficulty I had was that at home, I typically open up a third tab for Google Translate—the course is in French and I find that’s the easiest way to proofread my verb tenses and get accented characters.
But the mobile version of Google Translate is a little more limited than the desktop version, and that threw off my whole workflow. After one message board post where I had to peck two or three words at a time, I called it a day, then went home and finished it on my more full-featured laptop.
This meant I was restricted to laptop work if I had things to do for my course. So I’ve been staying home in the mornings, and if I want to be there when the Beloved finishes work, that limits my afternoon exploring time to just a few hours. Knock off an hour each way in public transit commuting time, and that limits me all the more.
I have been making efforts to go out so I’m not the hermit who sits at home all day, but I’ve been limiting that to a rotating circuit of three or four coffee shops I can walk to. I am saving a fortune on subway tokens, but I’m not exactly the explorer I thought I would be!
2. Course Workload
The course workload is another factor. It isn’t excessive, per se—actually, it’s on the surface very reasonable, averaging one fairly vanilla assignment per week.
But it is punishingly regular—my previous courses with this university were, I have come to realize, double-length ones, with the workload spread over two ‘sessions’ (aka months). The summer session is just one month long, so the expectation is that we participate daily. And what is this participation?
a. There is a group assignment. We were all assigned our groups in week one, and every week a new leader is appointed by the teacher and has specific tasks to perform regarding starting certain discussion topics, moderating the replies received and collating them together. If you are not the leader, you are not off the hook by any means—you have to reply to every single post the leader makes. Posts this week included “summarize an article which you think contributes to our research question,” and “list any bullet points you have which you think belong in our final presentation.” This is a message board area which requires daily monitoring and participation over and above the ‘regular’ course message board. If you take a day off, you’ll fall behind and come back to find 100 unread messages you need to deal with before you can proceed any further.
b. There are individual tasks the teacher assigns to you. For me, this module, I had to summarize and respond to two of the required readings, plus a case study. This meant that at my earliest chance once the module was officially open, I had to read these articles, craft my replies, post them to the module 2 discussion board and monitor them for replies which I could then address. ‘Leadership’ is one of the evaluation requirements for the course; if someone answers my discussion topic and I don’t reply—in detail, citing the required readings—I could be seen as lacking in this area and it would affect my grade.
c. Additionally, as all other participants had discussion questions they were assigned as well, part of my participation grade involves responding to at least three of these questions—in a way that shows ‘leadership’ and proves I did the readings for the course. I found it impossible to keep up with all of these. I picked one a day and responded in detail, then after I had done my main tasks each morning, I’d go back and monitor the ones I had answered which had new messages.
d. On day two of the module, the instructor emailed us to say that an interesting discussion was going on in another course she was teaching—part 2 of the 3-part specialist, which I have already taken. So she opened up that message board to us and invited us to participate ‘if you want to.’ A third board to monitor and respond to. Yay.
Today is the last day of Module 2, and I will be spending it on our big assignment for the week—a four-page review of an educational resource of our choosing. We have to analyze its suitability for use in our classroom, and answer a series of guided questions to show its fitness or lack of. I’ve chosen to review an e-book series called Lingo Encore, which our school has ordered but not, as yet, used.
Next week: Module 3! Almost done!