Plan the Rhythm of Your Course Carefully

Create a calendar with a focus on rhythm / repeating pattern for most of the course, if possible. Setting the rhythm is one of the most important factors, and it’s often neglected. People are creatures of habit – whether your course is taught over 4 weeks, or 15 weeks, setting a certain repeating pattern will help your students plan better, and – consequently – will help them be successful.

  • SET MICRO-LEVEL RHYTHM (for example, weekly)
    Example: decide that new Modules with new course content, are always published on Fridays by 7 AM, then students have until Monday at 7:00 AM to post questions about the content, which you will answer by 11:59 PM that day. Ask students to post [what exactly, is not relevant here, see posts on discussions] to a discussion about new content by Tue. 11:59 PM, and to reply to one classmate’s post any time after everyone posted (meaning no replies before Tue. 11:59 PM), but by Wed. 11:59 PM. Commit to posting your summary of the class discussion by Thu. at 11:59 PM, wrapping up a discussion and highlighting important points. Have a quick low-stakes self-assessment (but quite challenging) quiz that tests students on the most important concepts from the material just completed, and that opens after your summary is posted, and stays open (and needs to be completed) over the next week. Ideally students can take the quiz multiple times (our LMS allows up to 10), with only the highest attempt score recorded. Make sure to shuffle question and answer order, and be very clear if you want students to complete this individually, or if they can work as a small group to discuss it, but have to submit answers individually. You can set a minimum threshold for passing (say, 75%), and grade it on the low-stakes credit/no credit scale…
  • SET MACRO-LEVEL RHYTHM (for the duration of the course), and adjust micro-level to fit…
    Example: If your course is taught over 15 weeks, set logical time points for major assessments or assignments. Say you are planning on 3 exams, and 2 papers beyond regular discussion posts. Set midterms and the final at weeks 5, 10, and 15. And set the paper deadlines for week 7 and 14. This approach ensures that there is only one major milestone event per week (there is no exam and paper dues in one week). Putting assignments (which you probably have to grade manually) at 7 and 14, gives you the last week of class for correcting, and offering grades and feedback before the course is over. Setting exams (which are probably mostly self-grading) at 5-10-15 points means students are busy studying for the exam when you are correcting assignments.

    Importantly, during the weeks that have a more important, somewhat disruptive activity ( exam or paper due ) reduce the load by shortening/adjusting the regular-rhythm (weekly) discussions, without breaking the rhythm: for example (see diagram, above), in weeks of the exams (5, 10, 15) require a post, but no response to a post, which will release one day (for and exam, or for submitting the paper) and lower the load for these specific weeks. Yet, it will not disrupt the rhythm, which can resume on Friday… Additionally, with this rhythm “flow” students never have more than one thing to submit in a single day, yet they are required to submit something at least every two days.

Photo by David Werbrouck on Unsplash

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