The Guiding Force

The Guiding Force of a class is the heart of it, from which everything else issues forth. For most college instructors, the Driving Force is the syllabus, or the course objectives.

But I have seen courses where the Driving Force is the discussion. One of our earliest online instructors, Judy McIlwee, back in the day before course management systems, put all her lectures as the start of a discussion topic rather than on a separate web page. I was amazed – it changed the whole focus to student discussion rather than lecture, just by placement.

In our Beginners Workshop, we used a workflow sheet to help instructors articulate their Guiding Force. Is it the syllabus, discussion, the student learning outcomes, the textbook, the courseware, their own objectives? When we determine this we form a core for our class.

[This is one of the reasons I hate opt-out course management systems like Blackboard — its Guiding Force is an an organization based on the type of the course elements: tests, materials, etc., with a course menu that implies that each is separate but of equal weight. The only visible pedagogical Guiding Force is the presentation of information.  As I tell my students when writing essays, presenting information is never the reason for an essay — the Guiding Force for an essay is answering a question or proving a point. We could see a course as an essay, too.]

Articulating the Guiding Force of a course can set up the design for ones first online class. Shifting the Guiding Force of a course can reinvigorate a class.

Connectivist theory makes the connection between learners the Guiding Force.

Constructivist theory makes students creating things the Guiding Force.

What Michael Wesch and others are doing (see his Digital Ethnography Netvibes page) makes student collection, annotation and curation of content the Guiding Force.

The Digital Storytelling DS106 class at University of Mary Washington makes student creation of content the Guiding Force.

I’m currently appalled by assessment. It’s driving me crazy. It’s not teaching the students anything. I want to run away, never grade another test. So maybe I should do the opposite. How could I make assessment the Guiding Force of a class?

Students could create the assessments, take them, retake them, evaluate them according to a rubric they create. It would change the shape of the class.

What’s your Guiding Force?

2 comments to The Guiding Force

  • A step further: at the end of a course, each student should be able to write concise, well constructed but complex thesis statement for the course. You could call it an annotation if you prefer. Remember that dss director’s ploy of asking for the thesis statement of your dissertation? (quick tell me in 25 words or less… yet others lay it all in the title)

    Presumably the instructor would have a working (if subject to revision) thesis statement at the start. Student theses would vary according to both what they got out of the course and the expectations they brought to it. Just think, this could make the world’s shortest final exam…

    Or consider applying the WAC (Writing Across the Curriculum) exercise of entry and exit slips to an entire course. What is (your, theirs) Guiding Force at the beginning, at the end?

  • […] Lane has written a blog post  – The Guiding  Force –  that has captured my interest. In her post, she asks us to identify  our ‘guiding forces’ […]