Saturday, April 20, 2013

Changing the Message: Degree-Level View (Part 3 of 4)

Continuing the discussion on changing educational media to change the message we send.

Degree Path Sheets

ME Department

The degree path sheet is a very helpful tool for students. This single page summarizes all of the courses that they need to take to complete the degree, including links (connecting lines) to pre- and co-requisites. As I pursued my undergraduate degree I referred to this page very often. (Side note: In my day the form was in black and white! I've always wanted to say that...)

I think we can take advantage of the digital medium and do better.

Add more information 
(information that's already available elsewhere)

Couldn't this be an interactive web app? Imagine being able to click each course and find useful information. Linked to the scheduling system, times that the course is offered could be displayed, along with the number of open seats. Click the one you want to instantly add it to your schedule. The entire app could sync with the student's transcript, showing completed courses and grades. Courses could be "clickable" only if the pre/co-requisites are satisfied. Selecting a course could automatically select co-requisite courses.

Professor bios could be linked displayed, allowing students to pick their teacher based on research interests and examples used in class. We could add lecture previews, student reviews, links to course materials, and publications by the professor. Previous class projects could be linked, letting prospective students see what those who have come before learned.

As a student progresses, the system could "learn" her/his preferences and recommend certain elective courses or professors that align with the student's interests and learning styles.

The learning management system (even though I don't like the current one much) could be linked in, allowing the student to use this page as a launch to current classes. Information such as current grade and how much of a course grade remains could be available. GPA (which I also don't like) scenarios could also be computed.

If we got to a point where students could truly customize their education, a % Complete bar could indicate how much of the course they have completed based on the learning modules they have selected. The division between subjects and the need for completing a course in a certain semester could be eliminated. Imagine this entire sheet broken into smaller chunks of concepts that add up to form a uniquely-designed curriculum.

How ready am I for this course?

A preparedness index could be fashioned based on a student's past performance in prerequisite courses. Suggestions for important background material that the student found challenging in the past could be offered as study aids over breaks, before the course begins. If we changed the way we grade (see next post) the system could point out specific areas that the student should work on. Example: the introductory course I teach uses first-order ordinary differential equations, but that's about it from the "Differential Equations" course that is listed as a prerequisite. If a student struggled with that part of Differential Equations we could flag it for them.

Perhaps over time this is an answer to a challenge facing almost ALL courses: we spend the first 1/3 of the semester reviewing concepts from previous courses.

A Liberal Education

If you take a close look at the degree path sheet, you'll see classes marked "Area 1" and "Area 2" etc. As part of a liberal education, we have 7 Core Areas that students must engage with to complete a degree. As a student, I never took the time to read the description of these Areas (take a look at the link). The truth is that the idea behind each is beautiful and very exciting. Why can't these show up on the interactive degree path sheet as well? I wish I had seen the inspiring ideas behind these requirements, rather than just "toughing it out" through some required "useless" courses. They get at the heart of the difference between education and job training. The available courses that satisfy an "Area" during any given semester could also be suggested/shown.

My Story is Different!

One of the big drawbacks to the rigid degree path sheet is that very few people follow it. We all have extenuating circumstances (drop a class, change majors, take a co-op) that put us "off schedule". In a year of teaching, I've met very few students who are actually "on track."

This sheet serves as a constant reminder that students are off track, or that they are somehow "doing it wrong".

 Why not make each class "draggable"? Students could slide the courses around, and maybe even add a "solve my schedule" function that charts a path to degree completion based on current standing and course availability.

The New Message

The point here is that with some application of fairly standard web design, the message we send is completely changed:

"We recognize that you are a unique individual with a unique story, and we want to meet you where you are at and help guide you along. You don't have to fit our mold, because there is no mold to fit. Your education is important to us, and you are in the driver's seat."
ME Department (modified)

1 comment:

  1. Wow, this is so cool. What great ideas - and my mind is spinning thinking of the linkages to other information systems we're struggling to get a handle on as a university right now... how a personalized degree/curriculum path could feed a student's ePortfolio, populate their CV/resume, load into systems to track research projects and publications. Link students with like interests, whose class-paths may or may not cross. Make suggestions about interdisciplinary collaborations... Beyond curriculum, could such a system recommend service opportunities, internships, student mentors...?? Awesomeness.