20 September 2010

Adaptive Syllabus I'm experimenting with the idea of an "adaptive syllabus" this year.

Fear not. I haven't removed the basic required course outline, but I've warned my students that things may shift and that they should be prepared to be adaptable. This isn't an experiment with their education but rather an investigation of how learning can be adapted when we embrace the unexpected (which always happens in classes but is rarely documented or monitored, from my experience).

Imagine a wall in a classroom where a student could make comments using a colored marker or post-it. Imagine weekly assignments getting shifted as needed. Imagine new ideas emerging because of real time experiences that a student or a teacher are curious to explore. If industry operates this way, shouldn't design education address it in some manner? If the design of things, ideas, products and software are meant to be agile, then shouldn't a design education promote the same model? Once you enter the daily reality of work, you find yourself getting interrupted for meetings, conference calls and site visits, which suggests another level of agility. The reality is, you have to shift. So I suppose I'm asking, "What if a course syllabus operated in the same manner?"

I don't profess to have a full grasp on this idea but I like the concept that a course outline has the potential for some interactivity and can mimic the realities of industry. I think it could be developed into a digital tool that would enable a student to interact with it before/during/after class (since I don't have a fixed space at ECU to allow for an analog interpretation, I'm hosting a one-sided test here). The image above simply highlights a framework but hardly represents the full experience of interactivity. Any interaction designers want to help me test the idea? #wink

I'm sure some instructors wouldn't enjoy this format so I'm hardly declaring it as the new way to develop a syllabus. But from watching the folks at the d.School and Hyper Island, I can see that there is definitely room for alternative methods of course development - and some that pursue interactivity at the same pace as industry.

Since this is a new concept for me, I'd love to hear your thoughts on this topic (whether you're a student, an instructor or an industry professional).


mary13 said...

Hi Kara,

I have ran courses in this way, and I find it pretty successful. I give a good outline of the projects that are to be completed over the semester, and ask what topics the students would like to learn as well. I'm teaching in the realm of web design, so they usually do have some specific topics they'd like to cover. Be prepared that you may not know anything about these topics - and thus your own personal learning and research ensues.

I also run the classes more like a creative director than an instructor: I review the students' work often and give feedback. This gives me an opportunity to see the gaps in their learning, and add or adjust the lectures accordingly. I can also throw in lab time if I see they need it, or group workshops if that's appropriate. I like your point about the agility we need to have in the daily work world, and I try to introduce this as much as possible into the classroom environment. Good luck with your experiment!

Zach Bulick said...

This sounds awesome. I'm interested to see how this plays out, especially: "Imagine new ideas emerging because of real time experiences that a student or a teacher are curious to explore"

In one course it sounds awesome, but wonder how it will play with people on a personal level as they balance everything else in the semester.

olivelife said...

Thanks to both of you. I hear you, K. It is a fine line between what will be helpful as far as expectations of the discipline and what will be interesting as far as what they desire (especially in light of diverse backgrounds and experience!).

Some of the "real-time" will be achieved by a) inviting industry folk into the classroom and b) by asking students to engage opportunities outside of the classroom (Zach, you know this all too well after taking my class).

More to come!

jaybcastro. said...

Hey Kara,

Jay here. Just wanted to say that I like this adaptive syllabus, preparing us students to learn how to adapt to change could prove quite paramount in the way we approach things in the future. Well, for me at least, I feel adaptability is the number one asset anyone could have anywhere, anytime. It's something I live by.
When a spontaneous problem confronts us, and we have no choice to face it, it's amazing how people's true characters surface.

Our class in particular, for me, feels comfortable, so no problem here. I find that the students who follow course outlines to a tee usually stress out the most. Going week by week is somewhat relaxing.
Anyways, not that I want to be 'that guy' but... let's turn up the spontaneous atmosphere all the way up for one class!

olivelife said...

Glad it is working for you, Jay. I appreciate your insight about how it will ultimately add to your skill set in the future.