My first introduction to online teaching came a few years ago, when I started considering reaching some of the less traditional students at Oakland University who still wished to take News Writing but had scheduling conflicts. I then moved to adapting the Digital Photojournalism course to the online format, too.

Teaching online suits me, but is certainly a much more of a challenge than face-to-face teaching. Some of my early questions included, how do I ensure that all students benefit from forum discussions? How do I ensure that students check my feedback on assignments, in order to improve their writing skills?

Then I attended last year’s Lilly Teaching Conference in Traverse City, Michigan, packed with sessions about not only online teaching, but also “flipped learning.” Once I was back on campus, I noticed an email invitation to join a faculty development group that was setting out to examine flipped classrooms. I signed up right away – and started applying the concepts in the same semester, to great success.

As soon as I finished reading the assigned book for the group, “Flip Your Classroom,” however, I was even more sold on the mastery learning model.

“Incredible,” I thought, “a class to truly focus on the development of skills, not on measuring every step that students absorb my words, don’t cheat on tests, or follow textbook chapters! In fact, the model allows for learning, editing, and fine-tuning skills as the main focus”!

So here’s what sold me:

Mastery Learning enables students to take responsibility for their own learning. Students … work on assignments, interact with the class learning management site, have one-on-one discussions with their teacher, and get tutored by their peers and cadet teachers. … Mastery Learning allows students to work at their own pace through the curriculum. When they complete a unit they must demonstrate that they have learned the content by taking an exit assessment … If students score less than [fill-in-the-blank] on these exit assessments, they must go back and re-learn those concepts they missed and retake the exam. Grades are no longer determined by a percentage but rather how much content they have mastered.”

I want to repeat the last part again – students that don’t achieve an agreed upon “passing grade” on a set of skills (to be determined by each instructor) have the opportunity to redo assignments – and this opportunity is embedded in the course structure, not a perk/extra credit for motivated students only.

This idea was shocking – and lovely – and I wanted to see for myself if it could work with news writing. So, I wrote up a proposal, got a grant, and here I am, half-way through my first semester of teaching in the mastery learning approach.

And I have stories to share. Keep reading. I’ll be back with these.

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