Last updated on August 16, 2023
Know thyself (γνῶθι σεαυτόν) is an ancient Greek maxim. It speaks to the importance of analysis of self and the connections made with others. When designing a course, it is equally important to know thine audience. Is the course for learners new to higher ed? Is it a capstone project? Will it fit the lives of learners who have family and work obligations? Questions like these help set the tone for a course and ensure that learners get the most from the content presented in the most effective ways possible.
These questions are asked and answered by Dr. Arlene Sgoutas. She received a bachelor’s degree in political science from Emory University and a Ph.D. in international studies from the University of Denver. She is passionate about politics, human rights and development, and international women’s movements.
Dr. Sgoutas is a lifelong learner and traveler, constantly seeking to broaden her horizons and challenge her personal boundaries. She sees education as both a public good and a tool for empowerment. Above all, she strives to recognize the differences in learners and honor that which each learner brings to a class.
Dr. Arlene Sgoutas, in collaboration with Soj Sirivanchai, Anti-Oppression and Academic Excellence Program Manager at GITA, ambitiously included a series of twelve CTLD-recorded “pro-tips” and institutional resource links for students new to higher ed and/or online learning. Dr. Sgoutas utilized these videos to add her voice and instructor presence to this online course, creating a personalized educational experience for learners. These videos provide a space for learners to enhance their soft skills in topics ranging from Canvas navigation, note- and test-taking, study skills as well as stress management, to name a few.
Let’s take a look at two pro-tip videos that highlight how Dr. Sgoutas was able to assist the learner’s experience in Canvas as well as empower learners in future educational experiences:
- “Canvas: Friend or Foe”
- “Learning Styles”
The very first pro-tip video is “Canvas: Friend or Foe”, introduced in the Course Information section, directly after the Course Overview. Dr. Sgoutas goes through the inner workings of Canvas, directing learners to all the tools that will assist them throughout the course. She has created a tool here that not only introduces her to her learners but also provides a resource that they can revisit should they need Canvas help.
In Module 2, Dr. Sgoutas introduces students to a pro-tip video geared towards discovering their learning style. She guides them through the four main learning styles and then encourages them to complete the quiz. Imagine, as a new and/or nontraditional student, identifying your learning style and then applying that insight with every educational experience you encounter going forward.
These value-added topics allow students to leave this class not only more knowledgeable in Gender and Women’s studies but also more rounded overall in higher-ed expectations. Dr. Sgoutas has put the power of learning truly in the students’ hands and given them many advantages to succeed.
UDL (Universal Design for Learning) principles take a whole-brain approach to course design, emphasizing the “why,” “what,” and “how” of learning. Instructors who use this approach provide multiple means of student engagement and representation, as well as action and expression. The process aims to remove barriers to learning in the course-planning phase so that every student can access the content in ways that just work for them.
Dr. Sgoutas took the UDL approach to heart. Since GWS 1010 is an introductory course, the planning and design phases of the course sought to include learners who are new to higher education. Her course materials included links to resources for university supports so that all students could have their needs met in inclusive ways. Dr. Sgoutas ensured that students are aware that accommodations are always available and that those requesting them would be treated with dignity and respect.
From the start, GWS 1010 provides ways for students to get to know the instructor and each other. In an online course, this is key. This online course rivals in-person learning opportunities for learner engagement. Dr. Sgoutas surveys students about their year in college, their major, and allows them to freely express who they are and what they hope to learn. She varies the types of assignments to maximize participation. The course content is as varied as the assignments, allowing students to read OER materials, view videos, and discuss their findings, disagreements, and new ideas in civil ways. Dr. Sgtoutas also offers frequent office hours when students can have small-group or one-on-one time.
OER for low cost
Dr. Sgoutas created the course using all free materials including open access and open educational resources (OER). Students were able to access the Introduction to Women, Gender, Sexuality Studies textbook for free, reducing the overall cost to students by $24.49 when compared to similar and previously used gender and women studies textbooks.
Using a pre-existing OER textbook with a Creative Commons License gives instructors the freedom to adapt content and make the textbook unique to department and course goals, which greatly benefits the students as opposed to requiring learners to purchase a one size fits all textbook. Students who participate in courses that use OER typically have better grades and lower failure or withdrawal rates than their counterparts who have had to buy or rent textbooks. Utilizing free course materials such as OER can remove barriers to learning, giving learners the opportunity to add skills at little to no cost and the flexibility to access that content anywhere. For more information on finding OER, see our spotlight, Find Open Educational Resources and Use Them in Canvas.
Want to get involved?
One way to find help with implementing student supports in your course is the CTLD Course Development Cycle. This is an intensive, but rewarding, process where an instructional designer will work with you over several months to identify course objectives, develop learning activities, create a user-friendly course, record high-quality multimedia content, and much more.
Our instructional designers will help you build student support and implement them in your course. As compensation for the time and effort you spend developing your course, faculty are offered a $5,000 stipend for completing the development cycle. For courses that use OER, MSU Denver offers additional incentives.
For more information on the CTLD Development Cycle, as well as how to apply to join, please see our CTLD Course Development Cycle spotlight.