This is the first post about how I design my online classes for asynchronous delivery. This coming Spring semester of 2021, I will be teaching all three of my classes online and will deliver them asynchronously. I will be teaching a 1000-level History of Western Art II (from the Renaissance to Modern), as well as a 2000-level class in Medieval Art and a 3000-level class on African American Art. This last is a new class for me; I have never taught it before at all so it may be the one that gets the most posts about the course design.
However, all three classes will begin with the establishment of learning goals. While that may sound like someone who has been dipped too long into the waters of the River Styx (also known as the Waters of Higher Education Assessment), they are key to establishing a sound online course. I learned about this when I took my first online course - which was about best practices in online teaching - back in 2013. It had a profound influence on how I approached ALL of my courses, whether face-to-face, hybrid, or online. I started to think more about WHY we were covering the topics. For instance, it was time to teach the art of Emperor Augustus in Roman Art, but what is the key to teaching him? What is the most important element about his art that I want to get across? The answer to that question becomes a learning goal: students will understand the propaganda that Augustus was communicating through his sculptural and architectural works in the city of Rome.
Learning goals for a course come at different levels. There are overarching goals for the entire course, as well as for a class. We have a "Multicultural" requirement in our general education plan, and those courses must consider marginalized groups in the US, analyze the factors that led to that marginalization, and study the culture of these groups. My African American Art course will do all of that, but it's important to break all of that down into specific goals for each module.
Yes, module. I know that many of us have designed syllabi by the week. That made sense, I guess. But it's not the only way to design a class. In online courses, it makes much more sense to group topics and unify them for students with a theme. Thus, while the overarching goals remain, I come up with learning goals for each module that I will create with content, discussions, and assignments. I will have about 6 or 7 modules for my 14 week class. Module 1 will consider the roots of African Americans. The learning goals for this are to: 1) consider of the time of enslavement and its impact on the making of art; 2) examine the art made by African Americans; 3) examine contemporary black artists reference themes from the time of slavery, reconfiguring them to say new things.
For this module there will be links to a site called Smarthistory, which was started by a grant from the Mellon Foundation to create an online free video art history "textbook." The videos and written pieces are shared by art historians from all over the world and always growing. Here is one of the videos I will use in this first module of this course: a Face Jug from Edgefield county, South Carolina, c. 1860. We will consider more than this one piece in order to have students think about the realities of living as an enslaved person.
For the contemporary exploration of these themes, we will consider Kara Walker's A Subtlety which you can read about here. The term "subtlety" refers to confections made in Europe and were, essentially, edible art. In the seventeenth century and the early American colonial period, the increased desire for sugar led to an increase in enslaved laborers in the sugar fields. The slave trade was fueled, in part, by the demand for sugar, which is discussed in this video which will also be a featured assignment in my class module. Walker's piece explores all of these themes. It was constructed in the late spring 2014 in a defunct Domino Sugar warehouse in Brooklyn, NY. It was as big as a football field and five stories high. Our class will look at this piece, after looking at pottery, quilts, and other works of art uncovered in archaeological digs to achieve the goals of this module.
Now that we have established the learning goals for this module, I can start to think about what students will do: what will they read? Watch? How will they engage with me? With each other? What assignments will they create? These will be discussed in future posts.
For now though, consider this. How could you rearrange your class into modules? What learning goals could you establish for them?
Please leave a comment if you'd like to have a conversation about these ideas.