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Re-Imagining In-Person Activities

Illustrated laptop featuring the video feed of a person typing and wearing a headset

Teaching on a new modality is a daunting task not only because we’re faced with learning new teaching techniques and approaches, but also because we are asked to examine and assess the teaching and learning materials we’ve already created. For some of us, those materials have been created over a lifetime of teaching, which can make it harder to reimagine them or even to recognize that they won’t work.

In my cultural studies course, for instance, I taught a lesson that included cultural maps of our physical campus. When I moved this course online, however, it wasn’t going to be possible for students to come to the physical campus, and even if they had, the physical campus culture didn’t resonate with their experiences at the institution. To help me think through this challenge, I asked myself questions that allowed me to step back from the specifics of the problem and remind myself of the goals I wanted to achieve.

For those of you in a similar situation, here are the questions I asked myself in order to arrive at a workable solution:

Consider Effectiveness

  • What makes this item effective?

  • What learning outcome(s) does it meet?

  • How do students respond to it?

  • Will it still be as (or more!) effective when moved online?

  • What alternations may need to be made to maintain its effectiveness?

Reuse and Recycle

  • What items can be easily translated into an online platform?

  • If you can’t easily translate it online, can elements (resources, instructions, rubrics, outlines, templates, exemplars) still be used and/or used in a different way?

  • Can you use this item as a template for other items in the course?

Think Cost/Reward

  • How much time will it take me to revise this item for an online course?

  • Is that amount of time worth it?

  • Would it be more efficient to redesign this item?

  • Would it be more effective to redesign this item?

When moving to a new modality, we’re not merely “translating” our materials from one space to another. We’re re-imagining what it means for us to teach and for our students to learn. We’re rethinking what our goals and outcomes will look like when given exciting options and new challenges. Yes, sometimes our teaching approach and materials can be easily adjusted. More often, they need to be re-imagined and redesigned—and that’s if they can be used at all.

In the case of my cultural map activity, I decided that the critical analysis of the culture that surrounds our education was an essential outcome of our course. My challenge was re-imagining it from my students’ experiences as online learners. Instead of a cultural map of our physical campus, we created a campus map of our digital one. We marked places that held the most value to us as an online community. These included tangible places like our website, but also less tangible ones like our institution-wide due dates and digital badges. Re-imagining this activity allowed my students to meet our course outcomes and gave them a platform for expressing their educational culture. An unintended outcome was that we also had a robust conversation about digital culture and digital literacy that may not have happened otherwise. Reflecting on this activity allowed for it—and my course—to flourish in our online space.

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