Examining the Object(ive) An EPIC case Study

Yesterday, I called up my friend and colleague, Jaclyn Bergamino, to chat about objectives and objections. Jaclyn has spent the summer at her family's cabin in Anchor Point, AK and when she answered the phone she was whispering: hello? I forgot about our call. the baby's sleeping ... She snuck out to the front lawn, which was dewy, she said, but aglow in fall colors.

hello? I forgot about our call. The baby's sleeping ...

Jaclyn is a writer, editor (Fireweed Editorial), and teacher. She is also an EPIC alum who designed an innovative, student-centered WRTG-211: Writing and the Humanities course as part of the program in 2018. I called her because I remember long, conflicted conversations with her around objectives and her EPIC course design.

She saw the value of objectives for goal setting, but could not get behind setting them before she met her students. I wanted to remember how she managed this tension, and to hear how it had developed over two semesters of teaching the course.

“I resist setting objectives early in the course design process," she told me. "I feel like the objectives I do set are vague for that reason.

"You don’t know before you meet the students what they bring into the classroom, so you also don't know what will be most beneficial for them. I wanted to meet students before I made big decisions."

But she also recognized the need for a foothold to help guide her course design -- the sort of foothold that instructor-created objectives can provide.

“Instead of designing based on the objectives,” she says, “the project-based nature of the course drove the design. I asked, ‘What is the range of tools I could give students to improve their writing?’

"For example, here are ten ways to brainstorm, which one works for you? I built the course on a writing process -- even though I don’t think there is just one way to do it, one process.”

She doesn't teach without objectives -- but she does ask students for help developing them. The first two weeks are spent on getting students to set their own goals for the course -- connected to their educational goals, professional and personal lives. In week 1 of the course, students are asked to write in response to this prompt:

"What are your experiences with writing and writing courses? What were your expectations of this course when you signed up for it? How have your expectations changed? What are you hoping to gain from this class? How does it fit into your aspirations as a student? Who are you as a writer?"

I wanted to meet students before I made big decisions.

In week two, students expand on these ideas and set their own goals for their time in the course. Students get feedback on this assignment and are prompted to return to and assess their progress toward those goals as they proceed through the course. Watch the video below for Jaclyn's introduction to this assignment.

I asked Jaclyn how she manages resistance to this approach, which explicitly asks students to participate in the course design process. She explained that she's "gotten a lot better at explaining to students why I am asking them to do what I ask of them." The best response to resistance, she says, is to explain WHY.

I've changed my weekly videos from an intro to the course module, basically repeating what's already written out on the page, to talk more about the approach, and the why they are doing what they are doing. There’s something about seeing and hearing the purpose spoken that seems to work better and be more convincing.

In addition to customized videos, Jaclyn uses Google Forms to facilitate student self assessment and reflection. She’s teaching a different course this semester (ENGL-270: Intro to Creative Writing), but shared this end-of-semester form for tracking objectives, and this one for general reflection. She also uses forms for students to self-report their learning progress each week.

Toward the end of our phonecall, I asked Jaclyn to tell me a lightning learning story -- a time in her education when things took a turn.

She immediately knew the story she wanted to tell.

She was an undergraduate taking an independent study, which meant she was designing a course for herself -- her first experience with course design.

“I had to think about what I was trying to get out of it," she told me. "And that’s what I am trying to do for my students: satisfy the requirements and make it your own.”


Created with images by ulleo - "no stamp cube" • Zetong Li - "untitled image" • Christopher Windus - "untitled image" • Tegan Mierle - "untitled image" • Johannes Plenio - "untitled image"