Instructor Q & A: Mike Bierschenk

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In this series of posts, we’ll ask instructors to describe their experience at the onset of the online GE creation process. Once the semester has finished, we’ll revisit them to see how things went. 
Mike Bierschenk, English Department

Mike Bierschenk, English Department

Mike Bierschenk spoke with us about the process so far in developing the online sections of English 1110, a first-year composition course that focuses on teaching students skills in analytical thinking and writing as well as introducing them to university culture. Four online sections of this course will be available to students for the fall 2014 semester. On average, around ninety-four sections of this course are offered each semester at the Ohio State University. Starting in August, the new online sections will serve approximately seventy-two university students in their first offering.

Q: Thinking back to the initial decision to create the online general education courses and your involvement, what were some of your first concerns or questions?

A:     One of our first concerns was participation: what does it mean to participate in an online class? Is it just reading? Taking quizzes? We knew from the start that that wouldn’t cut it for us; we teach our GTAs that lecturing is often the least effective form of teaching, and instead encourage active student engagement, so there was no way we wanted to take a step backward! Luckily it turns out that in a writing class you can always get students to, natch, write. We’re planning for active written engagement, and we’re writing our syllabi and assignment prompts with that in mind.

Q: One aspect of any online course is the incorporation of technology, and this can happen to varying degrees and in different directions. What decisions about technology are you making (or have you already made)? What questions arose in relation to software and services available?   

A:     We incorporate a multimodal assignment in our face-to-face curriculum, and with that assignment our touchstone is transparency: we want the technology to fade away as much as possible, to refocus student and instructor attention on composition. We extended that goal to our online planning, so we’re planning for a fairly basic level of technical requirements: a reasonably decent web connection and basic office software. We don’t want this course to be only for the digerati; if you can interact with everyday web properties, you should have no barriers to your coursework.

Q: What do you hope to see happen in the course when it begins in the fall that will differ from a traditional course?   

A:     Honestly? As little as possible. The means of communication and production are often quite different — we’re completely redesigning a curricular element that comprises over 40% of the final grade in our face-to-face classrooms to better fit the online environment — but we’re still trying to achieve not only the same broad ELOs, but also the same nuanced shifts and turns we take throughout the course. I suppose it’s a typically Humanities move to say that, though we’re changing everything, we’re still aiming for the same goals!

 Q: What would be your advice to other instructors and professors who are just beginning the process of converting a traditional course into an online course?  

A:        Expect even the planning stages to affect your face-to-face teaching — and I mean that in the best of ways! The process of considering our underlying assumptions and motivations in teaching is clarifying our methods and our purpose, and we expect much of that thinking to flow back toward our face-to-face classrooms. Everyone should go through this process! It’s so enlightening.


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