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What I learned from my 2014 PA311 class, and what I’ll modify in 2015

I completed my fifth year teaching a Nonprofit and Government Technology class (PA311) to students at Grand Valley State University in April 2014.

I made three major changes to the class from prior years:

  • A Google+ Community served as the main course hub, instead of WordPress. This worked so well that I wrote up what I learned for TechRepublic (See “Set up a Google+ Community” and “Seven tips for using Google+ Community features“)
  • I increased the number of hands on, in-class projects. Nothing beats trying something to learn it — especially when you have people nearby that can help out.
  • Reduced lecture time and eliminated guest speakers. I reduced my lectures to between 45 and 60 minutes. This left more time for me to work with students during class individually.

A few things didn’t change. I still shared the syllabus via a Google Site (pa311.com). Students still created and gave an “Ignite”-style presentation, and recorded and shared a video interview. I still lectured during class on a wide range of topics.

Next year, I intend to change four things:

  • Move entirely to a “project-based” grading system. I want students to demonstrate proficiency with a wide range of tools and ideas. Grades should reflect both breadth and depth of this proficiency.
  • Add additional editing cycles to writing assignments. Word count isn’t a good measure of clarity, coherence or cleverness. I need to figure out a systematic way to help students both think and write more clearly.
  • Have the students meet online. I want everyone that completes the class to be comfortable holding an effective work-related meeting on the web.
  • Add a couple of guest speakers in the latter half of the semester. 

I’m sure I’ll tweak other things. Suggestions welcomed!

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