Uncomfortable Formats

First written in October 2015 and dredged out the drafts folder as I am yet again prepping for a distance learning module.

I’m in the middle of prepping the first week of course materials for a distance learning module.  In theory I am converting a 1st/2nd year module delivered through 12 2-hour workshops in to 10 weeks of online distance learning. In practice I am struggling with how to convey content in appropriate formats.

I have no experience of distance learning from the point of view of a teacher, and limited experience as a learner. From the few MOOCs and other courses I’ve attempted to enrol on, I know just how easy it is to consider the course as something to be done ‘later’ and later rarely comes. I know that I find extensive discussion threads in such courses extremely overwhelming and difficult to sift through but I suspect I’d get slightly better with practice. I like short videos and written materials that I can scan through. I also like structure where someone has taken the time to help me navigate the maze of materials provided. I find a folder with ‘this week’s stuff’ very off putting.

So I guess not doing the bad things in the paragraph above form the principles of my course design!

The catch is that my students are in China and this is one of the many English language bridging modules they will study before coming here to complete the final year of their degrees. Why is that a catch? Well, there are a whole host of complexities when it comes to delivering material over the internet to students in China. Ensuring that my students will be able to access any materials I might upload or  link to is one. Fortunately I have people to help with that, and hopefully some others to help me navigate any copyright issues.

If this module was a ‘typical’ chemistry module I’d be worried (and I will worry for the next distance learning module next year on inorganic chemistry). But I’m really quite worried because this is a module on ‘sustainable chemistry’ and as such, is really quite a long way from typical. As I prepare the materials, I become increasingly aware of how Eurocentric my perspective is. And, quite frankly, a very privileged position in the context of sustainability.