Good Organization and Feedback Benefits Students and Teachers

For Dr. Carolyn Dunn, the value of consistent, well-organized course materials first became apparent when she was teaching an on-line course.  As an assistant professor who teaches technical writing in the Department of Technology Systems, she found that posting coursework online in folders each week helped her students stay on a schedule even if they were trying to juggle other responsibilities.

                  “I was asking them to be organized, and I figured why shouldn’t I do the same,” she said.   Dunn had an understanding of the needs of distance learners because she had done some of her master’s and doctoral work on-line and experienced first-hand the value of good course structure.  

                  The next step, however, was to try it with her in-person classes, and she was delighted to find that it worked for them as well.   “Dr. Dunn gives appropriate assessments and feedback. She sets (a) clear goal and (an) intellectual challenge.  Her Power Points are well-organized,” reported one student.                 

 After students began praising her for her approach, she worked with the Office for Faculty Excellence and the College STAR  staff to create an on-line module  “Using Organization to Streamline Courses:  Organizing Content to Increase Representation, Expression and Engagement.”

                  The module, available at www.collegestar.org/modules/uosc/introduction, also features the organizational efforts of Dr. Douglas Schneider in the Department of Accounting so there are examples of different approaches and disciplines.  It was developed using the same Universal Design for Learning principles that have been proven successful for reaching students with diverse learning styles.

                  In addition to weekly folders of course materials, Dunn puts particular emphasis on providing consistent, comprehensive feedback to her students.  She gives them real-world writing assignments such as writing technical reports or writing a set of instructions.   “My students are passionate about their majors but don’t view themselves as writers,” she said.   “I want them to understand that writing takes practice, just like anything else.”

                  Lots of writing practice, however, means delivering lots of feedback.  To facilitate that, Dunn has found video to be a good way to ensure her students get maximum benefit.   She uses video to talk to her students individually while she is marking up their papers.   “That way they can experience my body language and tone and understand that I am trying to be helpful,” she said.   “When you just write something in the margin, it can be unclear and students can take it too personally and be offended and hurt.”   The mini videos are then posted privately for each student.

                  This approach has proven to be very popular and, once again, she’s sharing what she has learned with others on campus through training sessions organized by the Office for Faculty Excellence. Try, refine and share has proven to be a winning formula for Dunn, her fellow faculty members and a diverse group of students.