What's your story?

The Educationalist. By Alexandra Mihai

Welcome to a new issue of my newsletter! As we are gearing up for the fall semester - or have already plunged into it- let’s try to step away from all the madness for a moment and think about why we are teaching. What story do we want to tell our students? It’a all too easy to be overwhelmed by all the tools available and even helpful pedagogical advice can fall on deaf ears if we dont take the time to reconnect with our teaching at a deeper level. Earlier this week I wrote a Twitter thread on how to use a storyboarding approach to teaching online asynchronously. I refined it a bit and added some links to further resources and you can read the result below. I would be very happy to get your reactions and, why not, hear your stories! Enjoy the weekend!

Designing asynchronous activities

Are you planning to design asynchronous learning activities for your courses this fall? It's all about story, structure, sequence and schedule. Add to that clarity and consistency, and you might be onto a winner. Here are some tips on how to approach this:

1. First of all, let go of the idea that students are not learning when you don't see them or when you're not around. Instead, challenge yourself to create activities you know will keep them engaged regardless of space and time. Remember who your students are and be creative. I’ve written some more on this here.

2. Start by creating a storyboard for your session. You can do it for the entire course but the more granular the better. Think of it like writing the script for a play or a movie: imagine the "bigger picture" first and then craft each separate scene. Here is a useful template from the Online Learning Toolkit.

3. Once the storyboard is ready, start narrating your story. Ideally, each activity has a clear purpose and is linked to the learning objectives you've set for your course/ session. It's a good idea to keep those visible at all times and reference them as you go along in your design process. Here is a nice tool to help you build your learning objectives.

4. Make sure you provide clear instructions/ prompts as well as an estimated Time on Task (and deadline, where applicable). Also try to make any additional materials, templates, etc. available to students in one place, to set them up for success.

5. Still on the topic of communication: list all the tools necessary for completing each activity (digital / analogue) and provide guidance on their use if necessary. For group tasks make sure you create dedicated work spaces and explain any roles and expectations.

6. Once you are done with the different activities, check the sequence: make sure they build naturally on each other. Most importantly, try to look at them from students' perspective: are the links between them clear? Think of how to make that explicit in the course. The result should make sense both to your students and to you.

7. Now it's time to zoom out and take a good look at your story again. Are there too many activities? Are the explanations clear? If anything is superfluous or missing, now it's your chance to adjust the design! Also, try to keep a bit of room for manoeuvre, you might need it.

8. One crucial thing to consider at this point: make sure students are not overloaded! The sum of activities should be similar to an equivalent face-to-face session. Also, one pitfall of designing asynchronous sessions is that you might over-design and give yourself too much work. Look out for that!

9. Most importantly: this should be a creative exercise. Ok, so you have to approach your session differently, but the principle is still the same: creating engaging learning spaces and narratives. So, what's your story?

Further resources