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Learning From the Meta Course: Bigger and Better

By Celine | 2020-12-23

A few weeks ago we wrapped up our 7th (we zero-index our cohorts thanks to Jared) cohort of the Meta Course. We learned so much, and we have an amazing cohort of beautiful, intelligent, amazing course creators to thank for it. The following a recap of some of the takeaways, peppered with some thoughtful comments from the participants themselves.

The Changes

A LOT changed. Brendan and I ran a Meta Course each at around the same time. Both these courses were a complete structural overhaul from our previous model. I'll talk specifically about my version of the Meta Course, since that's the content I'm familiar with.

The Old

In the past our Meta Course curriculum was very straightforward. In our first session we mentioned Hyperlink, our values, and our origin story. We then did introductions and talked about the courses we wanted to run. Then we tasked everyone to take a stab at writing a curriculum for homework. The following two sessions were 1.5 hour long group feedback sessions. We looked at every person's curriculum in turn and thought about how to improve or solve problems. The homework was to expand and polish the curriculum. You can read a review we did of of those here.

The New

This time around, we expanded the Meta Course to 5 weeks. Each week included some time giving feedback in smaller breakout groups, and some time focused on a specific aspect of curriculum making (Hyperlink courses, course structure, exercise design, facilitation). Homework was sometimes a specific assignment, but usually to develop the course more.

This Meta Course was also much bigger. We started week one with 12 people! Past Meta Courses had somewhere between 3-6 participants.

Thoughts

Feedback

I really enjoyed all the conversations we had about each others courses. I felt that feedback and encouragement helped a lot, and I really valued the perspectives and pursuits of the other members of the cohort and how they made me rethink what I was doing.

Stephen

I think we could have done breakout groups more because we spent a lot of time giving each other feedback (which was good) and it felt like the scheduled things we were supposed to get done each class never actually happened?

Angelica

We had some REALLY good and helpful conversations in our feedback sessions. I think the course on a whole benefitted from them. BUT we often went overtime on those conversations at the expense of our group discussion on aspects of course creation. I don't think the answer is time boxing the feedback or having less of it. The quality of the feedback will increase the longer people have to think and respond.

Next time I will budget time differently, making a dedicated session for feedback and using other session time to focus on discussions around course building. This balance between feedback and course content is both one of the larger problems to iron out and also one of the more nebulous. There likely isn't a solution to make everyone happy. Some people would like more guidance in the form of discussions. Some people prefer targeted feedback. There's not a perfect amount of both.

Forum Fatigue

I did like having time for 20-minute brainstorming and organizational activities during class sessions, but I probably would’ve found it far easier to do those activities on my own rather than pulling together the brain power to leave feedback on everyone’s forum threads.

Lucy

I also wanted to participate more in the forums and just got overwhelmed, maybe that’s just the state of things. And I also would have liked some of the discussions to have went longer so we could have gotten through more of the agenda.

Stephen

Async feedback has lots of perks:

  • You leave feedback and reply at your own pace.
  • It doesn't eat into session time where we should be talking about other aspects of course design.
  • There's a written record that you can always refer back to.
  • Spur of the moment feedback isn't always the most considered. Async gives you the time to think and digest and give the best golden nuggets of feedback you can muster.

That said it's a TON of work to read, comprehend, and leave thoughtful feedback on one person's curriculum, let alone 12 different ones. I often found myself sinking 4-6 hours a week into thinking of and leaving feedback. And that's not to say anything of the time you need to spend developing on your own curriculum. Given that, I'm not surprised that forum fatigue set in so quickly.

The balance between sync and async work is something we're still working out. I do think we should lean into feedback delivered in person. I find people are more likely express the fears, hopes, and wants for their courses in a way that a written document cannot. The rest of us can respond better and engage in a more two-sided conversation, resulting in more impactful feedback. This, however, is a theory I'm still testing and something that we as a team don't yet agree upon. We'll have to keep playing with it.

A side note about writing things in the forum: In past Meta Course cohorts, we asked that everyone start a topic in the forum to post their curriculums, and post any changes and developments as replies. Interestingly, this is the first cohort of the Meta Course that figured out you can write your curriculum in a Google Doc and just link to that in the forum. Lots of people seemed to prefer it. It makes sense since text editing in the forum software is... fine but not great, and we ask you to do a lot of writing. We'll have to think about that more.

Guided Discussions

Having a list of parameters to work through (how many people? what’s the cost? what kinds of exercises will you have?) made this process feel approachable and measured, which is a great counterpoint to the mental spaghetti I usually bring to the table when dreaming up something new.

Lucy

I thought a strength of the new Meta Course format was focusing on an aspect of course creation every week. We ended up focusing on Hyperlink's course philosophy, course structure, exercise and assignment design, and facilitation. Having these topics helped frame, organize, and diversify our conversations.

To be clear, I don't really think I "teach" anything at these Meta Courses. I simply suggest to the group a topic that I think will expand the lens through which they view course creation. We explore and learn together.

To help us on our journey I made sliiiides~

I'm a visual thinker right down to the core of my being. Having these slides helped me guide the discussions in course, hit the points I thought were important, and gently remind people what we're talking about. Making the slides helped me think very concretely about the questions I wanted to ask and why. So much so that to some extent, slide making = course creating.

I also used the slides to take notes on our discussion, which I thought worked well, and I will be doing again. Here is a link to a Figma with the slides if you would care to read it :)

This method yielded interesting conversations that I thought most people enjoyed and found useful. This group was ridiculously thoughtful and amazing. The discussions were much more about asking questions than giving answers. I'm not sure if it would have benefitted from being more concrete. Instructional design is an ancient field with a wealth of learning across generations. It might make sense to incorporate more content on existing research and academic theories of learning.

As we do more of these I will learn more about what topics people want to think about. And about what sorts of conversations provide a diverse and useful set of tools for course creation.

Learning Facilitation

I suppose one thing I would like more help in is facilitation: being a better facilitator, maybe overcoming my own social anxiety as someone who hasn’t formally taught before.

Jackie

The horrible, anxiety inducing, nails on a chalkboard truth about learning to become a good facilitator is that there's no way other than just facilitating a lot. That doesn't mean we can't help lower the stakes for facilitators and provide a testing site where its ok to fail.

We introduced something called "test runs" early on to address this. Each person can schedule an hour with the group. The Hyperlink team will be there, and everyone else in the Meta Course is invited to join (though it's not required). In that time, the person can try facilitating an hour of their planned curriculum. It's a great way to work out kinks and just get a feel for what's it's like running this with others.

People showed a lot of interest in doing a test run but no one actually scheduled one. Further, many people gave me feedback asking for more facilitation help, which doing a test run would have at least worked toward. Test runs likely don't pan out because we don't have any easy and specific structures in place to do that. Our workaround is too hack-y. It doesn't give our participants the explicit permission they need to feel comfortable. We might also consider requiring everyone to do a test run, rather than leave it optional. If people truly think it would be useful, then giving them a little more of a push to get that done may be a good thing.

I'm also keen on exploring more theoretical options (discussions, readings, lectures) on how to facilitate. But I'm not sure what that looks like. If you have any ideas or things I should read, let me know!

More People

This Meta Course had waaaay more people than previous ones did. And it was good! There was more discussion, more diversity in viewpoints and ideas, less onus on a few people to keep a conversation chugging along. There was more energy in the room. Surprisingly I thought I saw deeper connections emerging. Maybe because it was more likely people found others in the group that they naturally vibed with?

It also meant, however, that there were more courses to give feedback on. And more people to give that feedback. (See the feedback section above for more on this). Breakout groups helped manage the time, but also meant that I couldn't watch every person grow from idea to course. I also couldn't get to know everyone the way I had in previous Meta Courses.

I think that the larger cohort was ultimately better, but the issues of time management need to be solved... somehow. As for not being able to connect with everyone in the same way, perhaps I need to reel in my friendship-is-magic heart a little 😢

I have a significant bit of trouble finding things sometimes and navigating from forum to dashboard to courses. I recently received a message from a potential student and I wasn’t even aware that was possible?

Angelica

Admittedly the Meta Course does focus on the abstract of course creation and not so much on how to actually use the platform. The product designer in me says, "MAKE IT MOAR USABLEEEE, AND NO ONE SHALL WANT FOR ANYTHING". The rational course facilitator in me will spend 30 minutes pointing out our various features, promising that they will be easier to find as soon as I have to time to redesign everything.

Conclusions

7 cohorts of the meta course in and there's still so much to improve! That's the fun in it though. I wrap things up with this final little quote from Stephen because it made me 🥺.

Whatever magic happened here I consider it all a success because I’ve found myself missing our regular chats now that its over. I hope to see everyone around in the future and I wish you all so much success in your courses!

Stephen


The Course Creators

Find below a list of the people who completed the Meta Course with their very own courses underway! Some of them launched thier courses earlier this month, and others will be launching soon so watch out! They are all amazing, smart, and accomplished and you should follow them on social media and take their courses.

Cohabiting with Your Inner Critic

On giving form to and conversing with your greatest inner demons via the magic of comics making.

Lucy (Twitter: @LuBellWoo)

Websites for Creatives

On building websites as a a process of invention, a labor of love, and a part of the creative practice.

Stephen (Twitter: @stephencreates)

Existential Wellness

On examining and coming to terms with the stories we tell about ourselves, who we are and how we got here.

Shreeda (Twitter: @freeshreeda)

Neostalgic Computing

On restrospecting, reinventing, and healing our relationships with with computing technologies through the lens of speculative design.

Jackie (Twitter: @jackieis_online)

Experimental Divination

On inventing our own systems of divination, spell casting, and fortune telling.

Danielle (Twitter: @djbaskin)

The Home Collection

On how to care for our most prized possessions, framed as a game featuring secret agents, dastardly ploys, and you (the master of conservation)

Angelica (Website: https://aiconservation.weebly.com/)

Lustrous Points

On the art of photogrammetry, and the implications of this technology on our perceptions of 2D and 3D

Philo (Twitter: @phivk)