Collaborative Course Design: An Interview with Dr. Megan Meyer

You took a leap in designing your course in a new way. How was developing your SOWK 631 SW Practice with Communities and Organizations course different than preparing to teach the course in the past?

This semester was an entirely different “animal” than any semester I have taught before. I was intending to teach a hybrid class (which was the first time for me) and as Course Coordinator for SOWK 631, had already begun collaborating with other 631 faculty in March to co-create on-line sessions or “modules”. With help from the amazing Ashlie Kauffman, we designed lesson plans that included learning outcomes mapped to VoiceThread lectures, readings, Ted Talks/Films, and class exercises. In May, when we realized we would need to create 15(!) on-line sessions – rather than the 6-7 initially planned - many 631 faculty (FT and Adjunct) stepped up to take the lead on specific sessions where they had expertise. We collaborated on lectures, recorded panel interviews in Zoom, identified films and useful YouTube and Ted Talk videos, and created exercises that could be implemented either asynchronously or synchronously. This collaborative spirit continued throughout the semester, as we managed “just-in-time production” to complete each week’s session. In the end, it was a TON of work and a very steep learning curve, but we now have 15 “curated” modules with content among which faculty can pick and choose in the future – whether they are teaching in-person, on-line or hybrid courses. Having such packaged sessions for multi-section courses has been a goal of the IDEAteam and Academic Affairs for a number of years, so “mission accomplished.”

What are the benefits to both students and instructors of developing/teaching a course in that way?

There have been so many benefits to this process including: 1) 631 faculty learned from one another by collaborating and viewing different approaches to delivering course content and lectures; 2) students were exposed to the variety of terrific macro faculty we have in the school through their VoiceThread lectures and panel interviews and reported feeling they “know” more faculty as a result; 3) recordings of interviews with practitioners who may have in the past been guest speakers in one or two course sections are now available to all sections; 4) faculty were able to adopt the “flipped” model of teaching where they focused more on classroom discussion and deepening of student learning during synchronous sessions rather than using this time for “lecturing” or showing films; 4) students could revisit session content and lectures throughout the semester (one student did this to confirm which macro faculty they wanted to take before registering for the spring semester!), and 5) we now have a solid foundation of materials to support the variety of faculty we have teaching 631: FT, Adjunct and PhD students.

(Continued from Now That's a Great IDEA below)

Any downsides?

Yes, I experienced downsides. Personally, I found synchronous class time to pale in comparison to in-person classroom interaction, and many fun and engaging classroom exercises we typically use in this course were simply not possible in an on-line learning environment (although adjunct faculty member Steven Rivelis introduced some of us to Trello, which will become a more useful on-line group engagement tool in the future, I think!). Nevertheless, we used weekly synchronous time to the best of our ability - maximizing break-out rooms etc. - and I was pleasantly surprised by the strong bonds created in my classes.

In terms of COVID-19 and teaching online, how would you say this type of course development has affected your teaching and your class?

This experience has motivated me to learn more about and use flipped classroom strategies in the future, and reinforced my gut feeling that the hybrid model can be effective, even in practice courses.

It is pre-course evaluations, but have you received some feedback from students and/or fellow instructors regarding the course format or design that you can share?

Yes, I created a Qualtrics survey that students could respond to throughout the semester and received a number of responses. Overall, students liked having the combination of a VoiceThread lecture, a couple readings, and a panel interview, film and/or Ted Talks that were tightly-coupled with the lecture. On the occasions where we had 2 lectures, more than 1-2 videos, or over three readings, students felt there was too much content. Students really liked the exposure to a variety of faculty lectures and recorded zoom interviews with local practitioners and craved synchronous interaction. They loved break-out groups during zoom sessions, and almost universally gave a big “thumbs down” to on-line discussion boards. Since my classes ended up meeting synchronously for 60-90 minutes each week, I minimized my use of the discussion board. A reasonable amount of asynchronous content paired with a 90-minute synchronous zoom session using polls and break-out groups seemed to hit the “sweet spot.”