Course rhythm

This class meets on Mondays and Wednesdays and has a well defined structure.

At the top level, the course consists of a sequence of topics.   After the first few sessions, each topic takes exactly one week to cover.  In one case, a topic was split into a Part 1 and a Part 2, each taking a week to cover. The calendar shows how the topics were presented this semester.

The material covered during a single week is called a “module”.   For a Monday/Wednesday class, a module starts on Thursday and ends the following Wednesday.  The following portion of the calendar page illustrates the days allocated to the Cloud-Based Hosting module:

rhythm

Thursday:   The module web page is released.  Here is an example module page. This page contains overview materials (online resources and screencasts) on the material.   In addition, it contains a link to a page containing 3-5 “practice WODs”.   These WODs (WOD=workout of the day) are short assignments with prescribed times for finishing, along with a solution video that I provide.  Students are encouraged to try each WOD without watching my solution video, then watch the video and repeat the WOD until they can complete it in the prescribed period of time.   Many students do the practice WODs two or three times.  (And some students do not complete them at all.)

Monday:  The Monday class is called a “Group WOD”.  I divide the class into random pairs of students who work as a group on a new assignment they have not seen before that builds off the practice WODs they did by themselves.   There is a time limit on the Group WOD. The Monday class provides additional practice with the skills presented for the module, and an opportunity to work with others.  Here is an example group WOD.

Tuesday evening: Students  submit a blog entry describing what practice WODs they finished or didn’t finish.  I grade them on the quality of their blog entry but not on whether they actually completed all of the WODs.   This is to encourage them to be honest and also to make it clear that  the real evaluation of their ability will occur on Wednesday.  Here is an example blog entry.

Wednesday:  Students are given a new WOD that tests their ability to utilize the skills presented in the module.   There is a time limit for completion of the task.  I have a method (involving index cards) for getting accurate data on the time they spent doing the WOD.  Here is an example in-class WOD.

After the Wednesday assessment WOD (which is graded), the students get the rest of the day off, and start the next module on Thursday.

In addition, it can be useful to have occasional assignments that take longer than a week, although care must be taken to not overload the students.  Here is an example longer-form assignment.

Here are some of the significant differences between this approach and more traditional classroom pedagogy:

  • Students are assessed almost purely on their capability to carry out tasks in an efficient manner.  In contrast, this approach is not suited to courses in which memorizing terminology is an important goal.
  • The instructor must find a way to present the material as a sequential set of tasks to be mastered, generally in durations of 5-45 minutes.
  • The instructor must present solutions to the tasks through online videos that demonstrate “Rx” times.  This turns out to be fairly time consuming.  I recorded almost 80 videos for this semester
  • GitHub provides an efficient and effective way for students to record their WOD work.
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