Lessons Learned

 

Here are some observation of this course, with conclusions in boldface. You may be running a corresponding course with one lecturer, course assistant etc. However, the experience gained with this course instance at Aalto may still be helpful in planning and carrying out the course.

The course was lectured by researchers giving between 1 and 5 45-minute lectures each. This made it demanding to keep the lectures aligned, with neither overlap nor too much gap in between them. On the positive side, when researchers are lecturing based on their own research, the students really are getting the latest on the topic.

Plan the lecture schedule well in advance and make sure that all the lecturers also know what has been presented before their lectures and what will come after them.

The only regular teacher was the course assistant, who really was a lecturer doing this course on top of her normal work load. While the arrangement as a whole was successful (see Student Feedback) the assistant’s schedule was such that she couldn’t attend most of the lectures. Also the main teacher (who was not of the normal teaching staff) couldn’t attend all the lectures. This caused some confusion which also showed on the student feedback.

Try to have either a main lecturer or an assistant attend all the lectures.

At times there was some confusion as to what were the minimum requirements and schedules for reading the material, writing learning diaries, reviewing them, contributions to the discussions etc. While this is understandable (the course being improvised), it still caused some difficult situations. Especially tricky were the situations, where some student had compelling reasons to be absent on some lectures (or an entire week) and compensating tasks had to be assigned.

Have clear rules for passing the course written, checked and published well in advance. Also, make sure that you have a policy for handling exceptional situations.

It appeared that not everybody had read all the necessary study material in advance. It seems to be against human nature to do things proactively. Not knowing the material sometimes made it difficult for the students to follow the lectures.

Be clear about what material needs to be read before each lecture and make this material available in good time.

The learning diaries and network discussions proved to be good ways of deepening the students’ understanding and making those who hadn’t read the material beforehand read it afterwards. However, it would have helped if the lecturers had been in more active in these discussions.

Make sure that also visiting lecturers have some good open questions though out before the lectures and that they mention these questions in class and start and carry on discussion on them in the network after their lectures.

Based on this experience, it can be claimed that the combination of background material (to be read beforehand), lectures (with discussion), open questions presented at the lectures, peer reviewed learning diaries, and discussions on the electronic forum are a good combination for learning a topic which is disruptive and totally new to the students.

Obviously, it would help to have assistants to inspect the learning diaries. Also a final exam (and possibly even mid-term) could be useful. However, in the way adopted here it was possible to run the entire course with a minimum of regular teaching staff without overly burdening the visiting lecturers or sacrificing anything essential.