Satisfy the Cat – Student Centered Course Design

If you’re like most educators who have the pleasure of designing your own course before/while teaching it, you probably do something like this:

  1. Identify the topics/standards to be covered
  2. Sketch out a general course outline
  3. Step back and figure out how you want to teach each topic
  4. Spend hours creating lessons, activities, PowerPoints, etc. that make up your lessons
  5. Teach the lesson
  6. Reflect on the effectiveness of the lesson and (maybe – if there’s time) revise it for the next time you teach it

The problem with this is that by the time you figure out if the lesson was effective or not, you’ve already invested a whole bunch of time and effort into designing it. In fact you may have already designed the whole course – or at least large chunks of the course – before you find out if it really ‘works’ with your students.

Take a page from User-Centered Design and Agile Software methods. As you’re planning a course or designing lessons, create some ‘prototype’ content that you can share with actual students. If there’s 2 or 3 ways to teach a concept, show of all of them and see which students react to most positively. Then run with that design.

For an easy to digest explanation of UCD, watch Satisfying the Cat:

This means that you’ll need to plan ahead and have a set of students you can fly this stuff past. Won’t make it easy – but it’s certainly doable, even if you’re planning for the next time you teach the course. You could get feedback from your current students.
Think this would work for you?
Have you tried it?
Comments welcome!

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Your students are prepared for the test…but not for life.

Kudo’s to A. J. Juliani’s guest blog post on Edutopia about employing the smart “20% time” concept to schools. Innovated originally by Google (heard of them, right?) it is the practice of allowing people 20% of their work time (read school time) working on anything they want to that is related to their passions and interest.
Did you catch that? Their interests – not the employer’s or, in this case, the teacher’s or school’s.
Your students are probably doing great. They’re learning what the state and district say they must. They’re scoring well on tests and quizzes. They may even be doing well on the tests you and your colleagues have been so intent on preparing them to take.
But would they do any of this if they didn’t have to? What will they do when they leave school and there’s no one there to tell them what to think about, care about and do to make them feel the bliss of following their passions?
I suggest that you can help them to develop this sense of passion – and at the same time improve interest, engagement and performance in your courses if you gave them 20% of their time to work on a project – related to your course – that they defined and were interested in pursuing.
Have you tried it already?
If so, how’d it go?
If not – why not?
I challenge you to give it a shot. Heck, do it for a month and see what your kids come up with.
But be sure to come back here and share what you experienced.

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A “Stranger” Hugged Me Yesterday

I took a trip to the main office recently and met four women who I have worked with for the past 6 months, but never met in person. Two of the four hugged me when they were introduced to me. What does this mean? Were they just ‘huggers’? That person-type that just can’t help themselves but to hug everyone? Is it something about women that makes them want to hug?

I don’t think it’s any of these. I’ve met with similar exuberance from men…just without the physical contact. (I suspect in a different culture there would have been hugging involved). No. I think what I experienced was how several people – who have never met in person – can form a relationship through working and learning together at a distance.
I attended an online conference today ( at which several staff from Pittsburgh and San Jose State Universities shared the results of a study they did which measured the impact of online learning vs. in-person instruction in an inquiry-based course. They found that in many cases the online learners who were in cohorts had a very strong sense of teaching and social presence.

But this doesn’t just happen by accident. This happens when there is a considerate and planned implementation of close collaboration. When you work with – and learn from – people, you begin to forge these relationships.

How is your distance learning program decreasing the “distance” and helping people to form relationships?

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