Image of globe on light, McGill University. Photo by Smallman
Two weeks ago I was supposed to be giving this paper in Hawaii. But I pulled out of the conference in early March, and then the International Studies Association conference itself was cancelled shortly thereafter. As I write these words China, the United States, Canada and most of Europe are moving courses online, in perhaps the greatest pedagogical shift in global history. In this climate, I wanted to share the paper’s content quickly. This paper was never intended to become an article. Instead, it is a practitioner’s paper, and is intended to support people who are moving their course work online.
In essence, this paper examines how a Negotiated Syllabus can create engagement in the online classroom. This paper is primarily directed towards asynchronous classes (which don’t have a defined class-time) rather than streaming lectures. As you can see in the acknowledgements at the end, I particularly want to thank the Instructional Designers at the Office of Academic Innovation at PSU, who helped me to reshape my classes over the last several years. To everyone struggling to adapt to remote teaching, thank you for how you are addressing this immense societal challenge in the midst of a pandemic, in order to best serve your students.
The Negotiated Syllabus: how to create community in online International Studies classes
Saturday, March 28th, 4:15pm
Tapa 1, Tapa Tower, Hilton Hawaiian Village
International Studies Association Conference
March 2020, Hawaii
*cancelled due to COVID-19
Shawn Smallman, Portland State University
At the same time that institutions with rich online offerings experience rapid growth (Southern New Hampshire University; Oregon State University), many faculty in the United States continue to hold negative attitudes towards online classes. In particular, they are concerned that faculty will not come to know their students, that the classes lack rigor, and that students will lack a sense of engagement both with their peers and with the class material. Critics of online learning, such as Power & Morven-Gould (2011, abstract) suggest that online teaching is associated with student isolation and withdrawal. There is a common theme that runs through these concerns, and that is engagement; that is, faculty who exclusively have experience with face to face classes often believe that the students will lack a learning community, so that they will fail to engage not only with the faculty member, but also with each other, in a way that will allow students to successfully achieve the course learning outcomes.
The reality is that online classes have many advantages for creating student engagement. Because the discussion board is often the core of an online class, faculty get to know all of their students, not only the ones who are comfortable speaking in class. Students who are introverts may be more comfortable sharing ideas in an online format, and they have often engaged deeply with the course material. Students also have the ability to join the discussion at the moment that they are best prepared. Finally, the online class can make it easier to structure peer review and group activities without the limitations posed by a class period. Still, one additional pedagogical tool can build on all of these advantages, and create a rich set of opportunities for faculty to connect their students.
This paper will argue that classes can achieve a high level of engagement -including a sense that the class constitutes a learning community- through the Negotiated Syllabus and Universal Design, which will include such elements as co-constructed curriculum, a capstone project that is shared with the entire class, peer-review as a community building tool, and a carefully constructed discussion board. This will be a practitioner-focused paper, which will be based on student discussion comments, teaching evaluations, student reflections, grade data and faculty journaling from seven online courses that have been repeatedly offered over the last six years. The goal is to give other faculty the tools necessary to foster student engagement in their own online International and Global Studies classes. Continue reading