Academics: The Overt Curriculum

Updated: Nov 14, 2020

As a symptom of the uncertainty that is present in this COVID-19 global pandemic, educational professionals are rightfully concerned about learning continuity for students between this and last year. While some hope campuses will reopen come fall, no one knows for certain right now. In the meantime, the field of education is girding itself for the possibility they’ll have to offer another course of instruction online and asking themselves how to best prepare for more distance learning.


Though Spring 2020 has taught us that teachers can’t completely replicate at-school days online, there is one thing that we can’t deny. The most effective teaching principles apply regardless of modality and often stand the test of time. To help educators continue leveling up in distance learning teacher skills, this blog post is dedicated to helping teachers iterate individual modules for learning in small chunks, given that school buildings may be open at any point in the upcoming school year.


Here’s some general principles that informed the below process:


  • The role of a teacher is to be a specialist, not a generalist. As you teach during this time, the balance of the role of a teacher shifts to more of providing individualized support and accommodations for access and equity because you can address the questions and content instruction in a different way like online resources and references in video, audio, and text forms.


  • The amount of independent work can make or break a course. Education experts recommend that students spend no more than 50 minutes on independent study at a time, and no more than four hours of total independent study time a day. While four hours might sound like a lot less time than a regular school day, keep in mind that the independent learning a student does in a brick and mortar school is less than that on a good day as well. Dependent on your school or district expectations, you may be limited even more (especially because this isn’t just learning online - it’s learning during a pandemic).


  • Good online courses have a mix of modalities to support access and equity for all learners. This includes asynchronous and synchronous learning tasks. Asynchronous learning happens on the student’s schedule. The teacher provides materials for reading, lectures for viewing, assignments for completing, and exams for evaluation within a flexible time frame. Synchronous learning is the kind of learning that happens in real time. This means participants interact in a specific virtual place, through a specific online medium, at a specific time.


Steps to Creating a Module


Step 1: Map out a module.


Just like in a brick and mortar classroom, an effective way to develop learning modules is by planning backwards.

  • Look at the content you want to cover for a time period, and then identify the major or thematic chunks of information. Each one of these chunks is a module. Don’t worry about planning the whole year now - you may be back at school soon! Instead, focus on one module at a time. Within this module, you will create academic tasks, their related assignments, and supplemental resources.


Tip: Your module should be no more than 5 learning objectives. If you have more, your objectives may be too task oriented or your module theme could be too broad.


  • Decide how long this module should take. Try to keep it no longer than a month. Any longer and your students could lose focus or their place in the path.


  • Sequence the learning in the module into a logical order. The duration between modules can be flexible based on the depth of knowledge students need to engage in for that topic.


Tip: Don’t get too caught up in specifics. This map should be an outline of the unit NOT the individual lessons.


Step 2: Create a replicable structure/pattern for every module.


By including a variety of interactive exercises and creatively using technology tools while following a logical order, you can keep your students interested and engaging participants frequently, you will help them learn. Creating chunks of information students will encounter can increase the effectiveness of your online learning module.


  • Ideate a pattern, such as "introduce it, practice it, and apply it," that's repeated throughout the module. A good rule of thumb is to have a weekly cadence to learning. This makes the structure predictable for students so they can actually focus on new content.


Tip: Each module should look like the previous modules, only with updated content and learning outcomes.


Step 3: Create the module’s content.


You’ll now create the academic tasks and their assessments, including supports, opportunities for collaboration, and resources. Use your structure to plan these out to make them accessible for students as well as organized.


  • Academic Tasks - How are you asking students to learn?

A common perception is that online courses require students to just read or view videos, and then regurgitate the information in an essay, simple discussion post, or demonstrating mastery through the selection of a correct answer. However, this is inaccurate because there are numerous activities that can fully engage the minds of your students. Students should demonstrate their understanding of the content through heightening their engagement with the content throughout any course. Ask yourself these questions to create your module’s content.


  1. What resources will students need to learn the new information?

  2. How do each of these relate to the learning objectives?

  3. What resources will help the student get more help academically if they need it?

  4. What will they go to if they have trouble using the technology?

  5. How flexible are your tasks?

  6. Do all of your students have to do the same tasks, or can they choose how they demonstrate their understanding?

  7. How does your module compare to other ones?

  8. You’ll get a wealth of design ideas from courses regardless of the subject area. Good design is not content specific. Check out some Canvas courses and Open Source course (like Merlot, edEx, Open Educational Resources (OER