Her course design modeled what she believed about differentiating (or personalizing) the learning experience for students. She provided choice in terms of what we would study (content), how we would approach our learning (process) and what we would create to demonstrate our development (product). In the course, we were challenged to understand and apply the key tenets of creativity and creative thinking in a project of our choice. At first, having so much freedom in my learning was disorienting. After I'd had a chance to acclimate to this strange new experience, I learned lessons about personalizing the learning experiences in my own teaching.
To illustrate how I've attempted to implement Carol's Content/Process/Product approach, I'll share below just a few quick examples from a course I'm teaching this fall on Designs for Technology-Enhanced Learning.
Providing Choice in Content
While the course content topics are relatively prescribed and constant, I've developed ways to provide students with choice in terms of resources, format, and focus. For nearly every reading assignment in the course, I've curated a variety of resources (Web content, journal articles, videos, cases) that all address the same content focus. In many cases, I'll select one as mandatory reading and then require that they choose one or two additional resources to help them build their understanding. This relatively minor course tweak is powerful for and valued by students.
I also provide choice in terms of focus. In many cases, the course topics are broad enough that I can provide students with opportunities for focusing on particular aspects. For example, one of the final projects in the course is a presentation on an issue. In this assignment, students select a contested or controversial topic related to technology in the schools. The students can select the particular focus for their work from a list of possible topics, but can also determine their own focus as well. This flexibility increases student ownership of the work and seems to increase their motivation and quality of work.
Providing Choice in Process
Providing choice in the learning process is probably the most challenging aspect for me. Of course there are the obvious choices in terms of providing students with flexibility in their note taking. As I discussed in a previous post, there are a number of different strategies to assist students in their note taking. I also encourage students to use Twitter to share observations, ask questions and share resources during class using a specific course hashtag. This feels a little superficial to me, though. This semester I'm trying something a little more substantive - and radical.
I often deliver my courses in a blended or hybrid format. I typically design at least a quarter of my class sessions to be completed asynchronously online. Some content lends itself to self-directed learning, and I try to leverage these sessions in that way. This semester, though, my goal is to put 75% of the course content online to provide students with more flexibility in their learning. I know, however, that many students prefer face-to-face sessions. I thought that this semester I would try an approach that would allow students to choose whether they wanted to attend particular class sessions face-to-face or work through the online options. It's more work for me up front, but I think that providing students with this flexibility in terms of the learning process will be beneficial.
Providing Choice in Product
The last method I'm attempting to use to personalize learning this semester is through providing choices on the learning product. This ties closely with UDL principle II - providing multiple means of expression. In my particular course, I'm incorporating this with two major assignments. First, I have my students create a content resource toolkit. In this assignment, students collect and curate links to different resources that they could use in their teaching. In the past, I've required a specific product and format for this work. In hindsight, this is unnecessarily limiting. When I think about my learning goals, the format doesn't really matter. What's critical is that they assess the resources' educational affordances and constraints. This semester I'm going to provide students with some options as to how they can share their toolkits with the class, but provide them the latitude to approach the work in any way they want. I'll use the same rubric, grounded in the learning goals, to assess their work.
Finally, students will be tasked to create a lesson plan for integrating technology in their teaching internship. In the past, I've utilized a rigid template for students to use to develop their plans. This has sometimes conflicted with what their primary professors require in their teaching methods and instructional planning courses. This semester, I'll encourage them to share their lesson plans in the format their major professors require - or in any way that best showcases their planning and thinking. In addition, I will also provide latitude as to whether the lesson plan should be a face-to-face, blended, or fully online class session.
My hope is that these three ways to personalize the learning experience for my students will lead to more student engagement, ownership, and quality of work. Sure, it's required extra time and effort to build in this flexibility. My sense, though, is that this extra time up front will pay off as the class unfolds, similar to preparing for an online course. Once I get the course fully planned, I'll update this post with a link. In the meantime, I hope these ideas inspire your own planning for the upcoming semester.
What options for student choice do you provide in your teaching?
Please post your comments below.