Monday, December 28, 2009

Best of 2009: On the Net without a net... The Bookless Course

This week I am re-posting my favorite blogs of 2009: This one frst appeared, Feb. 19 2009:

My school has made considerable progress this year with our laptop initiative. Unsurprisingly, we've had our hiccups over the past four years. Initially, there was a strong desire to find electronic book substitutes for traditional texts. This goal was mainly driven by a desire to justify the expense of the computers (see ....ebook Joy), but I now realize that it reflected our inability to see beyond texts.

Even when I decided to go completely bookless in my American Government course last year, I conceptualized the course as a kind of virtual book on Moodle. If you had checked Moodle last year, you would have seen the course organized by units comparable to those found in a standard text.

This year I reorganized the course and broke it into smaller components (....Tinker Toy Playland). The process has been liberating. The course seems more nimble and flexible, allowing me to easily match instruction to the presidential election calendar. So, now that I no longer feel as though I am conducting a pilot program, here are some observations from the trenches:

The mp3 lectures have worked marvelously well and freed me to explore other forms of media for the class. What is more, at no time have we gotten stuck in any kind of rut. Without the book we have far more variety which becomes richer with each iteration. I have also been delighted to experiment complaint-free from students, parents, or colleagues.

I had not expected that quite so much maintenance would be required. American Government invites this problem because specifics quickly seem dated. And of course, links die and typos are discovered. As noted in (Not!) Collaborating...., the seamless fit of Google Docs with Moodle has eased this problem considerably. Still, it is much less fun to review and maintain the curriculum than create it from scratch.

I have not observed that the new program has developed student independence or responsibility. I expected that providing an online assignment calendar and conditioning the students to use Moodle would cultivate independence, but a sizable minority consistently come to class unprepared and clueless. Though fewer fail the course altogether, many underachieve because I don't take them by the hand and walk them through their assignments. (sigh).

By all means, try a bookless course with Moodle. Two cautions: 1) Try it with a subject you know very well. 2) Make sure that online resources are available for all aspects of the course. Then go for it! The time you invest in transferring materials to Moodle will pay off for you and your students.

As usual, your reactions and suggestions are welcome.

Above: "Without a Net!" Flickr photo with kind permission of arpsquire

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