The Global Freshman Academy Experience thus far…

Hello! Haven’t been here in a while, here’s what’s been going on. I have the great privilege of working right now as the lead instructional designer for the Arizona State University-edX partnership project Global Freshman Academy. Now, those of you in instructional design and open education will be saying, “wow, that’s pretty cool,” or possibly, “better you than me” if you’re really in the know about how much work it takes to even imagine large-scale open learning at a global level, never mind adding a for-credit option.  I work with an insanely awesome team of education professionals, including everyone at edX, and that is my complete super power.

Many posts of this type might focus on the impressive numbers of students that enrolled in the first course, or those that completed it (these are impressive numbers). What I want to focus on is the experience side of how truly difficult, and truly rewarding it is to support the learning of so many people at once, from so many different places. I can only speak of my experience as part of a team, although I’m in the process of gathering data from the balance of stakeholders.

Here’s what happened recently (more or less). Our university President wanted us to partner with edX to create to most stunning open, engaging, for-credit learning experience that students have ever encountered, or humble words to that effect. And…go. Our team (and our team here included the lead faculty member at every step) took this instruction to heart, with about five months of real development time available, and got to work (construction sounds here…jackhammer, saw, hammer, etc.). We met, we planned, we worked, we worked, we recorded, we input questions, readings, more questions, ideas, the kitchen sink, wow factor, we added wow factor, we got into some stressful situations, encountered some team conflict, managed that, and voila, we were completely ready with the Before the Course begins section 2 days prior to launch. We then built the remaining 7 weeks while we were flying the plane, while planning, building, and building some more the next two courses in the series. With these next two courses we’re at least 6 weeks ahead of the game, though, having learned everything from our first 7 week experience (no, we didn’t, we learned as much as we could).

We work in an extremely lean and agile manner, meaning, we do all that we can, and whatever it takes to hit the deadline with the highest degree of excellence possible. That’s more or less our cultural statement. Then we focus on the learners in the course, and provide them with the highest possible customer service we can muster. Some things are beyond our control, many things are imperfect, we are sometimes tired, we make mistakes, we apologize and we learn from them. Anyone who claims that instructional design and delivery in open higher education is different from this, that it is perfectly planned and implemented, nicely perfumed, and adheres to a pretty Gantt chart, is full of whoohaa. We make the pretty Gantt chart at least. What we focus on every minute of the work, is how the learner is doing in our courses. We take every question and concern, every word of content, and every stumble to heart.

We don’t know much about large-scale open learning yet (the royal, global, we). We (the local, team we) are taking what we already know about online learning, and classroom teaching and learning and applying it to the wilds of the Internet. We’re building on what we know in small, seemingly invisible ways, and moving forward. Sure, we’d like to adopt all the infinite wisdom of open learning experts and critics, and we at least read about it, then we get back to work.

What I love most about my work on this is that I close out every day knowing that I have given it my best, as has everyone I work and partner with. That’s good enough for me, and based on the overwhelmingly positive feedback we received from learners in the first ever edX course leading to real university credit, also good enough for them. That’s my story thus far. Now I have to get back to work.

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