When David Cunning, professor and DEO of the Department of Philosophy, approached redesigning his large-lecture course The Meaning of Life, his primary objective was to create a classroom environment where students felt they had a voice. To accomplish this goal, he considered how to incorporate more public speaking activities into his course.

“There is always the concern that students have to go above and beyond in large-lecture classes to speak and be heard,” the Collegiate Scholar says. “I wanted to put a structure in place that made it more seamless for students to weigh in, and public speaking is a critical skill in nearly every field, including law, medicine, education, and business. If we don’t provide students opportunities to practice, they may never acquire that skill.”

During the summer of 2017, Cunning enrolled in the Office of Teaching, Learning & Technology’s Learning Design Collaboratory, a course redesign initiative intended to improve student academic outcomes. As a Collaboratory faculty fellow, Cunning began his course design project in an interdisciplinary Community of Practice, facilitated by a Center for Teaching staff member, where he and his peers reflected on their approaches to teaching, discussed educational research, and refined pedagogical ideas for implementation into their courses.

The Collaboratory process also was informed by learning analytics data collected and analyzed by OTLT Research & Analytics staff and supported by individualized Course Design Teams.

“The Collaboratory gave me the opportunity to think outside the box,” Cunning says. “Speaking with other faculty members about the changes they made in their courses and about the risks they were able to take helped me create a workable idea.”

Data-informed course design

Cunning developed a strategy for the general education philosophy course: Ask students to post online videos, encouraging in-depth thought about the material and creating a public forum. He utilized the video assignment for two semesters, making improvements, addressing technology issues, and trying to create a sustainable system.

As part of his work in the Collaboratory, Cunning assessed data and student feedback, which showed that some of the methods did not have as significant an impact on students as he intended. So to better serve the students in the large-lecture course, he transformed the video assignment into a targeted small-group discussion activity, providing students a prompt and giving them three minutes to discuss.

He also transitioned the video assignment to a 2000-level course with 30 students—something he says he wouldn’t have done without developing the video assignment during the Collaboratory and trying it out in the large-lecture course. Each Thursday, Cunning provides a prompt to which students must respond—either by video or text—and where they also comment on the responses of two other classmates.

“The results in my 2000-level course have been phenomenal,” Cunning says. “We know exactly what we need to cover on Fridays because everyone has already weighed in on what they feel are the most important and interesting questions. The students are conversing with each other more openly and creating a back-and-forth dialogue in class.”

For more information about the OTLT Learning Design Collaboratory, please visit the Collaboratory website or contact Chris Clark at chris-clark@uiowa.edu or 319-335-5651.