The course you are teaching was not created out of a Big Bang. Nor does it randomly exist without purpose. It was conceived as a collection of knowledge and competencies which fit into a larger picture. The larger picture we call a degree, or perhaps a concentration. When a course is well designed it fits into that larger picture as a piece fits into a puzzle, revealing and contributing to the fuller understanding of the knowledge which that degree/concentration represents.
The connection of the course you are teaching to the larger whole can be found in the Student Learning Outcomes, which can be found at the beginning of your module. Sometimes they are called Learning Objectives or Competencies. They usually vary in number from 3 to 12, with 4-6 being the ideal. I have no doubt that you have read through them when you first looked over the module. The question I have, is: to what extent do those outcomes/objectives/competencies guide your instruction?
You might say, especially in the online course, that everything is so prescribed that there is little you can do that would impact the achievement of the outcomes/objectives/competencies anyway. Therefore, you might easily gloss over them as more academic rhetoric that is simply part of the course module which has no real bearing on the REAL job of teaching.
This, of course, is absolutely wrong. It is only as the outcomes/objectives/competencies for the course are achieved through student learning that the course can be considered a success. While an effort has been made to align those competencies with the assignments, quizzes, and grades, the true measure of success, for you and the student, is whether they have indeed been met.
How to do that in a curriculum which is relatively “fixed?”
- Make sure YOU know the outcomes/objectives/competencies for the course.
- Through discussions in class and online tie the content back to the objectives.
- Through announcements online and in post-class email summaries, reflect on the connection of them to the work the student has done in the previous week, or the work which will be addressed in the coming week.
- Actively evaluate the achievement of the objectives both at the mid-point of the course and the end through discussions and any other ways you can.
Using these outcomes/objectives/competencies in an ACTIVE teaching pedagogy will make you a better teacher. It will also better equip your students for success as they leave your course and move on to other courses.