Tips on Teaching

Facilitating Independent Study Courses

Reinert Center typeset_icon_2014_solid_082214by James Fortney, Instructional Developer, Reinert Center

Back in June, I wrote a blog post about designing independent study courses that listed several strategies for working with students to help create a course to support their goals for learning. With the start of fall semester quickly approaching, I wanted to share a few tips and resources to help you facilitate an independent study course. The University of Waterloo’s Center for Teaching Excellence recommends four tips for you to keep in mind:

First, recommend learning resources such as books, journals, people, organizations, or library materials. You may have started this conversation during the design phase of the course, but be aware of additional resources the student may need throughout the learning process. But be careful not to overwhelm the student! Only suggest resources that you feel are essential to helping the student meet their goals for the independent study course.

Second, allow the student to take the initiative in asking for assistance with learning. Do not hover, micromanage, or insert yourself into the learning process. Empower the student to learn how to learn independently.

Third, meet regularly with the student to review progress, share ideas, and encourage learning. What “regularly” means will vary depending on the student, the course, and the timeline to submit final grades. When I supervised an independent study course on a 12-week quarter system, we had six scheduled meetings (one every two weeks). We certainly had additional meetings during office hours, but they were not required and did not impact the student’s final grade. During each scheduled meeting, the student either turned something in for evaluation or prepared a reading for discussion. Both learning activities were part of the assessment plan we agreed to during the design phase of the course. Which brings me to the final tip…

Evaluate the student’s work based on the criteria described in the course syllabus. For some students, their entire grade may be based on a final paper, research proposal, or project. For other students, it may be a mix of required meetings, reading responses, blog posts, or periodic updates/check-ins online. But whatever happens during the semester, stick to the original plan for how you will assess the student’s independent work.

As you begin facilitating any independent study course, consider the four tips described above and ask yourself the following questions. When and how will you recommend learning resources to the student? How will you make yourself available as resource for information? How will you meet with the student to review progress? What will happen during those meetings? How will you evaluate the student’s work?

If you would like to discuss independent study courses or specific facilitation tips from this blog post, please contact the Reinert Center to schedule a teaching consultation.