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Center for Teaching Excellence

  • Women Writers

Forming a Clear Path to Success

After the mass pivot online in March of 2020, Associate Professor of English Language and Literature, Anne Gulick had to figure out what to do with the accelerated summer course she regularly teaches. She contacted the Center for Teaching Excellence for assistance and worked with instructional designer Casey Carroll. He served as a resource to help her know what options were available for developing her course for an online format and provided feedback and support throughout the process of designing the syllabus and preparing the course design.

For Summer 2020, Anne planned a fully asynchronous online version of her cross-listed course Women Writers (ENGL 437/WGST 437/ ENGL 743). This summer course is a great example of innovation and creativity in translating the learning experience that her students usually had in person to an online, asynchronous, accelerated learning environment.

She has taken the lessons learned in summer and continued to apply them to her courses this academic year. In particular, there are 2 key areas in which she has received great student responses and positive feedback. The first is how she planned and structured her course. In order to convey her course structure to her students, Anne created a layered and detailed weekly task list (this was converted to weeks from her summer accelerated course where the tasks were daily). These lists began with a cover page that has the broad tasks of the week: readings, lectures, writings, etc.

The next list broke down those broad tasks into a breakdown of what those will each entail for that particular week. Each of those, is in turn broken down into concrete expectations and guidelines including the specific prompt and criteria, the approximate time they should take to complete, the length of the expected outcome, and the due date.

For Anne, this was a huge adjustment from how she has usually conducted her face-to-face courses. This new way of planning and thinking about her courses helped her to learn to break down expectations further than ever before and lean into the idea that more information for students about what they are supposed to be doing is always better than less. Students have reported that it gives them a clear path to success and that it makes the course and requirements very easy to navigate.

Anne said that she is very proud of this approach and that setting her students up for success has also allowed her to be more accountable as a professor for what she is asking students to do. When she is transparent with them, they have the opportunity to be transparent back in their feedback as to whether tasks are clear, and how much time they are spending on work for the course. The feedback helps them all adjust as they go so that everyone gets what they need from the course.

The second key area that Anne adjusted for her courses was the primary platform for engagement. She decided to utilize the business communication platform Slack as the tool through which to engage students and facilitate conversation. This platform allows for a lot of natural-type interaction that social media does within a private space and a more professional atmosphere. Students were asked to respond to writing prompts and discussion questions through Slack and Anne found that they did so enthusiastically.

Students reported that they liked using the tool and were excited about posting and seeing what their colleagues were going to post. The interface allowed for a more real time interaction, especially if students were working at the same time, while also allowing for easy upload of multimedia elements. For one of their tasks, students were asked to upload to the conversation a meme that expressed how they felt about the upcoming paper. The responses were heartfelt and funny. Anne said that this tool allowed her to fully translate how she wanted to see her courses play out in an asynchronous online environment.

Through Anne’s hard work and the investment of her students, she was able to create a creative and interactive environment for her courses that allowed students to express themselves while also providing enough guidance for them to achieve the learning outcomes of the course. All of these are things that she has been able to continue doing while teaching at a distance and new teaching skills that she will be able to continue to adapt and rely on as she eventually moves back to the in-person classroom.

About the Instructional Designer

Casey Carroll is an instructional designer with the Center for Teaching Excellence at USC. Carroll works with all who teach to support the creation of innovative and accessible courses and the continued development of teaching skills. He also works with instructors teaching online to help with course design and learning technologies. Prior to joining CTE, Carroll designed curriculum for professional training and leadership development. He has also taught First-Year English and English as a Second Language at the University of South Carolina. Carroll holds a master’s degree in linguistics from USC and a bachelor’s degree in Spanish and psychology from Pacific Lutheran University. 

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