If you’re planning to teach a course during the three-week intensive session at the end of the fall 2020 semester, you may have lots of questions about course design and teaching strategies. Should your intensive course be simply a shorter version of a conventional 16-week course? What particular issues should you keep in mind as you design the course? How can you ensure that students have appropriate expectations in terms of workload? What teaching strategies should you use to facilitate student learning in this context? In this article we address these questions and provide guidelines for designing and teaching intensive courses.
Course design considerations
- Don’t plan to teach a 16-week course in 3 weeks; you’ll need to adapt your course design and teaching strategies for the intensive format.
- Rather than thinking in terms of breadth of coverage, prioritize a few key concepts and give students a chance to work deeply with them.
- Design smaller assessments rather than major projects.
- Many intensive courses are worth fewer than 3 credit hours, so adjust your expectations and the course requirements accordingly.
- Have everything in place before the course starts: all readings, resources, assignments, lectures, videos, etc. Plan out each day of the course ahead of time, including both synchronous and asynchronous activities. Consider what readings you are using, and make sure students will have access to them before the class starts; there is no time to wait for a book to arrive in a 3-week course.
- Make sure you’re familiar with any departmental or school policies regarding attendance, withdrawals, and grades of Incomplete for intensive or short-term courses.
- Plan to devote the majority of your work time to the course while it’s going on. Minimize other professional commitments, and design the timing of assessments so that you can give feedback promptly but also on a schedule that is manageable for you.
- Make sure you provide feedback on assignments very promptly, since students need to incorporate that feedback into their work in a short time frame. Rubrics can make this process faster.
Communication with students
- Contact your students in advance of the class, so they are aware of expectations and timetables up front.
- Explain how the course is structured, and set clear expectations regarding the daily and weekly workload. Reassure students that you’ve designed the course so that they’ll be able to complete all course requirements within the time frame of the course.
- Tell students this course should be their primary focus while it is going on. Like you, they should minimize other commitments during this time. This might cause some challenges for students who are also finishing 16-week courses.
- Help students stay organized by providing checklists, daily reminders, and tips on how to get the most out of their work time.
- Instead of collecting formal feedback from students, check in with them periodically by posting a question such as “How are you doing?” or “How is the course going so far?” in a discussion forum.
Effective teaching strategies for intensive courses
- Create a succinct list of the key concepts or big ideas of the course, and refer back to it often. If possible, make it a graphic, concept map, schematic, or other visual representation. Post it prominently in the course Canvas site, and refer to it in lectures, activities, and assignments throughout the course. This will help students consolidate their learning.
- Overtly connect all assignments and activities to the course’s learning outcomes; assignments that seem like unconnected “busy work” will be extra burdensome to students during the shorter time frame.
- Be a bit more flexible with due dates, and consider minimizing or eliminating penalties for late work as long as the work is completed within the time frame of the course.
- Be patient with students as they adapt to the new format and intensive nature of the course. They may feel overwhelmed, and some encouragement from you will help alleviate their stress.
- Give students a variety of ways to show their learning; offer some options for ways to meet the requirements of an assignment.
- To ensure students understand key concepts in readings or videos, don’t just ask students to read or watch them; have them do something to engage with the ideas. For example: make a list of the main points, think of an application or example in their daily lives or current events, create an analogy (“Concept A is to Concept B as ____ is to ____”), create a drawing or haiku about a key concept; or write a tweet-length definition of a key concept.
- Encourage students to take advantage of other instructional support services such as Writing Tutorial Services for help with their assignments.
- Be cautious of using technologies that may be new to students. Having to learn a new technology, or needing to do troubleshooting over a short time frame, may detract from focusing on course concepts and activities.
- Long Zoom meetings can be overwhelming, so give breaks, find ways to vary activities, and make these meetings fun.
Getting more help
As always, instructors wanting assistance in course design can contact the CITL to arrange an individual consultation.
Mike Beam, director of the Intensive Freshman Seminars (IFS) program, has offered presentations on quick engagement based on IFS-informed concepts. He will provide a similar session for instructors teaching upcoming short courses. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org for details.
Thanks to Terri Tarr and Stephen Hundley for giving access to their recorded webinar, “Preparing to Teach a 3-Week Intensive Online Course,” and the accompanying materials.