Hello, and welcome to another Maximizing Learning podcast. I’m Dr. Lauren Griffith, an instructional designer at Central Michigan University’s Faculty Center for Innovative Teaching. This presentation is designed with two primary goals in mind. First, I would like you to have a better understanding of how compressed format courses can enhance student learning and further our students’ professional goals. Second, I will discuss the importance of prioritizing what you teach as well as suggest strategies for addressing lower priority learning objectives within the framework of a compressed format course. Throughout this presentation I will be referring to a document titled “Prioritizing Learning Objectives,” which can be downloaded from the FaCIT website. You may wish to do so before proceeding.
We use the term “compressed format” to refer to a number of different teaching schedules that compress the traditional 16-week semester into a shorter timeframe. For example, you might be teaching a 8-week course that meets twice a week for 3 hours at a time. Or you might be teaching a course in which you only see your students over the course of two weekends.
If you already teach in this format, you likely know that there are some significant benefits. For example, the atmosphere often tends to be more relaxed and interactions more collegial. Also, because each session is longer, you have the freedom to engage your students in more in-depth discussions of the course content.
There are also some drawbacks of the compressed format course. Students will have less time to process and reflect upon the material they are learning. And students and faculty alike tend to experience anxiety about fitting everything into the allotted time.
In a survey conducted in 2009, we asked you to share your most common concerns about teaching in a compressed format course. The most common concern was having too much content to cover in too little time. You also expressed concerns about engaging students both within the class sessions (which tend to be extended) and in between classes. The majority of these issues can be resolved by determining where to prioritize your efforts and how to introduce lower priority objectives in the course of other activities.
If you feel that you have too much content to cover in too little time, you may need to sacrifice some breadth for meaningful depth. True learning results from deep understandings rather than surface coverage.
If you have downloaded the handout titled Prioritizing Learning Objectives, please refer to it now. Imagine that the box on this page represents all of the content in your discipline. Each of the concentric circles represents the content you want your students to encounter during your course. However, it is not all of equal importance. Thinking of the learning objectives for your course, which would you consider to be the big ideas and core tasks? If an objective falls into this category, it is likely so central to success in the discipline that students will not be able to succeed in the next course or within their intended profession without having mastered it. Focus the majority of course readings, discussions, and assignments on these topics. The next circle represents content that is important to know and do. These things are valuable, but can probably be taught in the service of your big ideas and core tasks. Since you are working with a compressed format, seek out opportunities for students to practice these skills and apply this knowledge while working on other objectives. This will save you valuable class time. Finally, you make have some objectives that are worth being familiar with, but don’t necessarily predict a student’s success or failure. These subjects can generally be introduced to students via case studies, shorter reading assignments, films, or podcasts without having to the be the central focus of your precious time together in class.
At this point, you may want to stop complete the prompts on page ____ of the document, which will help you prioritize your learning objectives and think through ways to introduce lower priority objectives at the same time. Your instructional design decisions should complement rather than fundamentally alter the master course syllabus, so be sure to communicate with your CMU liaisons as questions arise.
In part two of this podcast, I will introduce some active learning techniques that work particularly well in compressed format courses.