By Lilium Rajan of the University of Washington
To structure an all-class conversation at the end of a term for an online asynchronous graduate course, I decided to post a letter I wrote to the class on Hypothesis instead of the usual LMS discussion feature. My aim was to share what I felt were the major themes and challenges of the course and to invite student feedback on both the concepts as a whole and the content specifically. I hoped that this format would also facilitate discussion synthesizing the themes that often felt disconnected as we went through them one by one. My first attempt at this use of Hypothesis was more successful than any discussion board assignments I have created.
At the top of the document, I wrote instructions on how to annotate the document. Throughout the document, I put discussion prompts in bold colored text so that students could easily find them. My instructions were very open-ended: Students were asked to make five comments anywhere, about anything. They could annotate any part of the letter I wrote or respond to classmates’ annotations.
Following the instructions, I shared a bit about my previous experience teaching this class in other formats. I summarized what I felt were the highlights of the experience working with this group, as well as the challenges of teaching in this mode.
Following this personal reflection, I summarized the seven course themes, which mostly aligned with the groups of readings we did each week. In these short paragraphs, I included the questions we had tried to address as well as some prompts asking how students think about these issues now and how they would apply these ideas in their future work.
Finally, I included a week-by-week list of all of the readings that have been assigned.
The discussion that unfolded allowed this very diverse group of students to connect with others around the ideas and questions that most resonated with them. They were able link their conversations directly to course content while easily asking side questions or making recommendations. This rich document was both beneficial for students, by clarifying their understanding of the course as a whole, and for me, by providing detailed feedback on how the course worked (or did not) for different students.