blogcoverThis post was written by Kathleen Howland, who teaches in the Music Therapy Department, with a specialty in music and cognition. She is a licensed speech language pathologist and holds a Ph.D. from University of South Carolina. She maintains a busy music therapy practice, and is an active music therapist, and performs regularly on baritone saxophone and clarinet. She is in the process of writing several online courses for the forthcoming Music Therapy masters program at Berklee. She shares her thoughts on writing here.

When I was first assigned to write online courses for my department, I needed to first build capacity to do this. I had the ability, but not the know-how. These tips are to help you think through and prepare for your process. Perhaps my learning curve will be your tailwind in writing efficiently and producing the best course you can.

First Steps.
Taking the online course that our Faculty Learning Community (FLC) has written is an important first step in looking at your capacity, desire and drive to meet the writing demands. Writing an online course is a hybrid between brick-and-mortar teaching and writing a book. It is also unlike teaching in a traditional classroom or writing a book. You work at a very detailed level, which varies from the spontaneity of relationship-based teaching. You write in a style that is unlike a textbook. It is a cross between informal speech and formal writing. That’s why going through the FLC course is key to your success. You have to get a sense of style and timing of online courses in order to write optimally.

Create Big Blocks of Writing Time.
This type of writing cannot be accomplished in 2-3 hour blocks. It works best if you give yourself more than 6 hours at a time. Getting away for a weekend with books and a WiFi hookup can really advance your work and help balance the intensity of the work.

Understand What an Online Course Is.
Be sure to review other online courses that the college will make available to you. This is an important resource. It will help you to understand the style and flow of the college’s writing style. It is especially helpful to see the media component (graphics, video) examples. The media team here at Berklee is extraordinarily talented and your exposure to and collaboration with them will help to maximize the process and product.

Find and Read Outside Resource Material.
The best way to learn how to write or to write better is to read. Try this:
How to Write a Lot: A Practical Guide to Productive Academic Writing
This is a resource for grammar and writing mechanics available for free on the web:
Grammar and Mechanics for Writing

Record Yourself Teaching.
One idea that can help get the ball rolling is to use speech recognition technology in the classroom to record your lectures. Be aware that we don’t write the way we talk and we don’t talk the way we write. Transcribing your lectures will give you a lot of material to work with in terms of key points, sequencing, etc. A recorder on your computer or smartphone could also be used in lieu of getting more software. It is ideal to begin recording yourself the semester before you write. Please note that these recorded lectures are not to be used as your lessons for the online course. They meant for course planning purposes.

Know Your Students.
Begin by imagining your target audience: students.

  • Who will they be? Where will they be? What will they expect from your course?
  • What do they need to learn in order to have their expectations met?
  • What will engage them fully in the content?

Next Create the Syllabus.
Begin writing the syllabus by connecting the anticipated audience to the writing of three to five learning objectives.

  • What do you want the student to leave this class with knowing and being able to do?
  • What will make this class invaluable to their development?

The more work you do on the details of the curriculum at the syllabus level, the easier it will be to write the lessons.

Develop Learning Objectives.
Write three key learning points and activities for each of the fourteen lessons. I liken this to creating a skeleton upon which you will build muscle (content). The more you keep your eye on the overall flow, direction, and objectives of the course, the easier it will be to write each lesson.

Be Open to Input and Feedback.
Always connect with your instructional designer/editor when you reach a writing block. Each time that I have attended a meeting with my instructional designer, I have left with more direction and steam for writing. The instructional designers understand the process and the product. They are great allies for our success and experienced at supporting faculty to realizing curriculum online. Make the most of their resources.

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