eCoaching Tip 120 Best Practices for Accelerated Courses Revisited Plus a Look at the Maker Movement

April 8 2015

eCoaching Tip 120: Best Practices for Accelerated Courses Revisited Plus a Look at the Maker Movement

This tip revisits the best practices for accelerated summer courses from an earlier tip (Tip 98). You will find that many of these practices are also helpful as you are wrapping up your spring courses and wondering how you can finish your original plans!

It is universally acknowledged that summer courses are concentrated, fast-paced, and thus, often chaotic. There is a great deal of pressure felt by everyone to “cover the content.”  At the same time, accelerated courses, with minor tweaking, can be inspiring and intellectually very successful. The best tweaking is to design more “creating” activities into learning experiences. How might we do this?

Can We Design in More Making and Creating?

A trend called the maker movement provides some clues. The focus of this movement is hands-on experiences using physical and digital tools. More specifically, the movement is about creating and making physical objects, leveraging the power of modern technologies to embed customized features and designs.  A simple example is squishy circuits kitsthat allow kids of all ages to create circuits and explore electronics using play dough.

What is the definition of a “Maker?” Broadly defined, a maker is “someone who derives identity and meaning from the act of creation.” (Hagel, Brown and Kulasooriya, 2013, p. 3)  A question for us is, How do we include the joy of making into learning experiences that are often so brain-based rather than hands-on?

This goal of more hands-on experiences aligns well with classic educational theory, as creating and evaluating activities are the two highest levels of Bloom’s taxonomy of cognitive thought (Bloom, 1956; Krathwohl, 2011). The movement is also closely aligned with the situated cognition and cognitive apprenticeship theories developed by educational researcher John Seely Brown who is deeply involved with this movement.

For more on the Maker Movement, you can browse in YouTube. To get started, here is a short 3- minute video from the LA Times calledDefining the ‘maker’ movement.  From here you can find many longer videos on the Maker Movement related to higher education.

Can We Find a Way to Include Making and Creating in Accelerated Summer Courses?

We started out by saying that accelerated courses by their very nature are compressed and intense. Is there any way to design making and creating into these courses?

One step forward might be to reframe learning outcomes such as “What knowledge do I want my students to gain?”  Focus on learning outcomes that ask, “How and where and in what contexts might my learners be using this knowledge?”  Have students search out and find answers to that question.

Devising strategies for doing this within current course structures requires innovative thinking.  If you are feeling adventurous and try something new, be sure to share with your colleagues.  You can also call me if you want to talk through some possibilities.

Revisiting the Five Best Practices for Summer Courses

Here are five best practices for effective summer courses to quickly revisit. Pick one that fits how you teach and live and make this summer’s teaching and learning experience even better for you and your students.

  1. Keep your finger on the pulse of how students are doing and feeling. Check with them frequently and be open to their requests.

The number one feeling that students taking summer courses have is always being on the verge of losing their carefully planned balance of life and work. This means that little surprises, unknowns, unclear instructions, perhaps read too quickly, can throw students off balance. We may want to say, “It’s all right there in the syllabus;” but students will really appreciate the ready answer from you.

Here are a couple of strategies for staying close to how your students are doing.

  • Post a general, “How are you doing?” question in the discussion forum at least once early in the first week and weekly thereafter. This is not intended as an official survey, just a casual inquiry and caring question about how things are going and if there is anything that would help the course experiences go a little more smoothly.
  • Be a bit more flexible with due dates and assignments. Students do like to do good work, and can be very frustrated if they totally run out of time for doing at least reasonably good work and thus learning what they want to learn. This doesn’t mean that you should be a pushover; rather it suggests being more like a willow tree bending with the vagaries of the flow of learning and yet being firm enough when really needed. Life brings changes and surprises no matter how much effort we — or students — put into planning.
  1. Reaffirm frequently and with many examples, the core concepts and big ideas of the course.

Earlier tips (#78 and #94) encouraged creating a visual knowledge frame for your students — an overview of course concepts, relationships and patterns. Keeping the big picture front and center is a particularly crucial teaching strategy for summer courses. The speed with which new ideas, vocabulary and clusters of new details assail learners can make them feel as if they are drowning in bits and pieces of data, uncertain of which data are the really important bits to remember and use. And there is little time to reflect and figure out how they all fit together. While we cannot create their internal knowledge structure for our students, we can provide the tools. Frequently reaffirming the big picture, the visual frame, the core concepts and how the ideas all fit together can be incredibly helpful for students to understand where to focus their energies and to facilitate learners building their knowledge structures. This clarity goes a long way in easing student anxiety.

Here are a couple of strategies for reaffirming core concepts.

  • Keep referencing and have “at the ready” the big picture of the course that shows relationships and patterns. This big picture can be a concept map of the big ideas that you have developed or a graphic that captures the core concepts and relationships of the course content. Or it can be a short list of really important key concepts. Keep this concept map, graphic, or list at a prominent place in the course site, and refer to it frequently as you discuss or introduce new content. This will aid the students’ understanding of any new content relationship to the existing content and most importantly, to the core concepts.
  • Refer to this concept map or visual frame as you are summarizing a discussion topic, or as you are introducing key readings or assignments. Simply state how certain topics relate to, echo the pattern of, or describe the characteristics of key relationships within the concept map. All it takes is a sentence or two, answering questions, such as, “Why are we doing this?” “How will I be using this information?” that states clearly how the content fits into the overall desired knowledge and skill acquisition of the course.
  1. Use content immersion activities such as case studies and problems.

You may think using problem-solving in summer courses is counter-intuitive, as we know that problem-solving takes time and makes it difficult to cover all the content. On the other hand, the challenge of covering all the content is often a primary source of summer stress anyway. So switching the course processes from imbibing content to using and applying the knowledge to cases and problems shifts the focus to integration. We can still stress about not covering all the content, but the focus is now on using content in meaningful ways.

Here are a couple of strategies to try, even if you are in the middle of a term.

  • Identify a case, scenario or narrative that can make use of the core concepts. It would be best to find such a case within some content that you already have planned for the course. Then, you might consider swapping out a planned discussion forum to focus on how this case might play out in a context that is personal to each of your learners. Have the learners apply the content suggesting how the problem might be solved, interpreted or addressed with core concepts.
  • Search out a case study or scenario from current news stories that might be changed, illuminated or reshaped with course knowledge and insert it into a discussion as an informal challenge or as a separate bonus discussion forum.As learners think about how to use their knowledge in a specific context applied to some current news, they can then share this story around the barbecues and campfires, reducing the social distance from family and friends during this highly focused learning time.
  1. Give your learners choices in how they learn and provide evidence of their learning.

Learners instinctively embrace learning experiences that challenge and stimulate them. A corollary to this is that learners instinctively reject and push back on assignments that they feel are unnecessarily rigid and do not promote their growth. How do we provide this level of personalization to our learners?  Here are a couple of very simple ideas that have been in other tips that you may not yet had time to try.

  • Let your students make choices among their resources. For example, in an education course on special populations, the course included a textbook and a required supplemental book — The Road of Lost Innocence— and then provided a set of eight other books from which to select another book. The students then created a wiki of book summaries, reviews, and comparative ideas from their readings. As added benefit to this choice element is that the faculty member broadened her personal repertoire of deeper understanding of these books as well.
  1. Help yourself and your learners be organized. Provide tips, next steps, daily hints, summaries, and checklists, and encourage learners to support each other.

Online learning has lots of moving parts. This best practice has lots of implementation possibilities. The goal is to really support the processes of learning.

  • Post frequent announcements with tips and hints. This lets learners know that you are there and that you care.
  • Find ways to have them “do something” as well as listen and read. Our brains need variety; they need time; they need fun and doing something gives them a different way of engaging with the content.
  • Provide a friendly forum/café where students can help each other with clarifying directions, finding rubrics, and just “being there” at midnight.


Some of these ideas can work really well in full semester classes as well. Try one or more and keep what works for you, your learners and your content. Enjoy and have fun this summer. Find ways to broaden your discipline repertoire as well.


Anderson, C. (2012).Makers: The New Industrial Revolution.  New York Crown Business.

Arieff, A. (2015, April 3 2015). Learning Through Tinkering. New York Times.  Retrieved from

Boettcher, J. (2010) Tip 78 Content Framing and Case Studies: Design Strategies for Summer Intensive Courses.In the SLPA Faculty Webinar site at

Boettcher, J. (2011) Tip 88 High-Impact Practices for Summer Courses: Reflections and Patterns. In the SLPA Faculty Webinar site at

Boettcher, J. (2011) Tip 94 Creating a Syllabus that Jumpstarts Learning. In the SLPA Faculty Webinar site at

Boettcher, J. (2012) Tip 98Best Practices for Summer Courses – You Might Like One of These. In the SLPA Faculty Webinar site.

Bloom, B. S. (Ed.) (1956). Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, Handbook 1: Cognitive Domain (Paperback): Addison Wesley Publishing Company.

Hagel, J., Brown, J. S., & Kulasooriya, D. (2014). A movement in the making (pp. 24).  Retrieved from

Heer, R. (2012). A Model of Learning Objectives based on A Taxonomy for Learning, Teaching, and Assessing: A Revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives.Retrieved April 6 2015, 2015, from

Mam, S. (2008). The Road of Lost Innocence: As a girl she was sold into sexual slavery, but now she rescues others. The story of a Cambodian heroine. Spiegel & Grau, Random House

Note: These E-coaching tips were initially developed for faculty in the School of Leadership & Professional Advancement at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA. This library of tips has been organized and updated through 2016  in the second edition of the  book, The Online Teaching Survival Guide: Simple and Practical Pedagogical Tips coauthored with Rita Marie Conrad. Judith can be reached judith followed by

Copyright by Judith V. Boettcher