option-based final projects for creative online learners

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  • Describe a successful classroom teaching tactic that could be replicated by other instructors.

    Option-Based Final Projects for Creative Online Learners

    Aaron D. Conley, Regis University

    The context: I use this final project model for online classes with both masters level andundergraduate students (majors and non-majors alike). Class sizes typically range fromtwelve to twenty students.

    The pedagogical purpose: This is a structure for organizing students final projects,encouraging them to take ownership of their learning by applying course content to theirown knowledge, interests, and experiences. The sum of shared projects provides an over-view of the entire course, demonstrates the wider ways content may be applied, and pro-vides closure on a more personal level.

    Description of the strategy: Students final projects must relate directly to course themesand satisfy at least one of the learning objectives listed in the syllabus. Midway through thesemester I suggest a range of forms that their projects might take, including: a traditionalanalytic research paper, a short story or play, a PowerPoint or Prezi presentation, a film orliterary analysis, and so forth. My role is to enable and assist students as they develop andexecute their projects and to assuage their anxiety pertaining to such an open ended assign-ment. I provide students additional training or resources as needed. The end of the term isreserved for sharing and dialoguing about each students project. I set up a staggered due-date schedule for uploading projects and include individual discussion forums for each one.Instead of engaging new reading materials, we devote our time these weeks to analyzingand learning from one another.

    Why it is effective: The assignment emphasizes application over summative repetition ofcourse content. It allows students to connect with content in personal ways, freeing them totake risks and invest in their learning. They also summarize for one another the entire con-tents of the course. This option-based pedagogy challenges top-down approaches to learn-ing. Assessment requires a high level of relationship with each student in an effort to chartones process towards critical thinking over the course of the entire term. Because they donot measure summative learning, these projects can also be weighted more evenly withrespect to other course assignments.

    Option-based final projects are a way to value students as creative learners and individuals,self-motivated and capable of connecting course material more directly to their own lives all of which increases students learning.

    (NOT) IN THE CLASSROOM

    Teaching Tactics

    2014 John Wiley & Sons LtdTeaching Theology and Religion, Volume 17, Issue 3, July 2014222