Today I began the work of revising an online course. They haven’t paid me anything yet, but promise to at some point in the future.
Most online courses I have worked on and teach, follow the techniques of face to face classes. You begin with an introduction, an overview, a statement of goals and purposes. After that you proceed week by week and if it is History, where all my professional teaching is slotted, you build chronologically, then end with a summing up.
There is a degree of sense to this linear modality, especially in the study of history. Yet some important realities are lost. Firstly one must always recall the old logic of post hoc, ergo propter hoc, ‘because one thing follows another, it is not necessarily a result of the first’. Secondly, a purely linear approach loses context and connections. History, that is life, is messy, not neatly organized in lines.
Some cultural practices, some social forms, some wars, some economics straggle inconveniently across carefully delineated periods and hermetically sealed regions. Catholics remained in England after Elizabeth I; Protestants popped their heads up here and there in renaissance Italy; blonde, blue-eyed Italian boys live in modern day Milano. Last night I saw an entire Muslim family of men and hijab wearing women sitting happily in Tim Hortons sipping coffees and munching Timbits. In short, life is as much a mishmash of congruences and contradictions, all happily ignoring, fighting, getting along with each other.
The result of this thinking for the revised course is to introduce a healthy portion of asynchrony. I began this in a small way in the World Religions course I teach. The techies designed a ‘star field’ graphic where I had icons and labels for the religions covered, arranged in cultural groups. For example, Judaism, Christianity, Islam were close to one another, and so on. Students can click on one of these icons and be transported to the linear unit containing the analysis of that religion. I also had a timeline chart designed which divided the world into rough eras, and then across were listed each of the cultural regions I developed and a student could then look comparatively at the social, cultural, economic and political status of the world.
In the new revision, three underlying themes are proposed. I used these themes in earlier iterations, but with a static weight given to each. This time, as chronology moves along, the relative size of each theme will be adjusted to suit context and times. An as yet to be finally determined map will also accompany each section that reflects context and change over time in a geographical sense. I hope also to utilize a similar device to the star field. This course is focussed on North America with deep background into the British Isles and continental Europe. The star field graphic will be altered to match this more focussed approach.
It is just begun, but I will enjoy working on this asynchronous interloper!