Lessons from an Online Summer Course (Introduction)

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I taught an experimental online introductory sociology course this summer  and I planned to write a blog post summarizing some of the things I learned from that experience.   As I drafted the post, it got longer and longer until it became clear that it was silly of me to try to tackle all of the issues raised by the class in a single post.  Instead, I’ll return to lessons learned in a series of posts in the coming days.

For now, let me set the stage and introduce what was a learning experience for me in a number of ways.  This was my first time:

  • teaching entirely online
  • teaching a summer course in a shortened 8-week session
  • using WordPress as a course platform
  • using student blogs as a major assignment

So the forthcoming series of “lessons learned” comes from both a long-time teacher but also a first-time newbie, reflecting on the challenges of this type of course, the opportunities it provides, and its connection to broader education issues.

Premise and Context

This course:

  • was during an 8-week summer semester
  • was capped at 50 students but after drop/add 42 remained
  • had no TAs
  • was supported by an ed-tech specialist (Thanks, Tom!) who assisted me in setting up the WordPress site
  • was the only class I was teaching this summer

I mention all of these details because they are important in considering whether or not this course model can realistically be adopted by faculty teaching with a regular course load (anywhere from 2 to 4 courses per semester here) with as large–and often much larger–class enrollment (the situation most faculty face).  I’ll return to this issue of transferability in a later post.

Finally, the primary goal of this introductory course was to familiarize students with the basic sociological perspective, including seeing connections between micro/meso/and macro level phenomena and understanding the role of culture/socialization, structure/agency, and power/inequality in social life.  Almost none of these students were sociology majors, so I was trying to help students see the relevance and applicability of sociology to better understanding everyday life, rather than focusing on detailed specialized knowledge of the field.  That, too, was an important feature of this class–and one that may not be transferable to courses that are unavoidably more content-driven.

So there there you have the basic premise.  What did I learn?  That comes next.

One thought on “Lessons from an Online Summer Course (Introduction)

  • August 19, 2014 at 10:13 pm

    I like the new theme and look forward to the posts.


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