Published: July 2, 2020

Stephen SommerStephen Sommer, PhD Candidate, Learning Sciences / Human Development, School of Education and Institute of Cognitive Science

During Maymester, 2020, Stephen Sommer taught Adolescent Development & Educational Psychology (EDUC 4112/PSYC 4114), a cross-listed course between the School of Education and the Department of Psychology.

At the outset of the course, students co-designed class structure including content, daily activities and interactions in the course, and overall curriculum. Thereafter, students engaged in daily randomly assigned break out groups to start class for 15 minutes based off semi-structured check-in questions and course-related material. 

To work towards the learning outcomes for the course, students established affinity groups of four to five students based on topical interest. These groups endured for all three weeks of Maymester and typically met at least times times per week. Through these common discussions and groups, students self-designed their final assignment, an "un-essay." They were free to choose any topic related to adolescent development and any modality of presentation, such as a podcast, interview series, Instagram pages, traditional paper, grant proposals, and curriculum design. 

This course is explicitly about the design of learning environments and ways to empower and cultivate positive youth development. To authentically enact this theory into action, Stephen wanted to maximize student ownership over the classroom experience and material he covered in class. Additionally, as many students experienced remote learning in higher education for the first time during this course, this felt like a prudent time to re-imagine what learning looks like in a highly collaborative fashion. Traditionally, this course includes a classroom observation component. With it being a Maymester course held remotely, the alternative was to incorporate more case studies and current educational news (e.g., pandemic response) that student groups and the whole class could discuss.

Stephen built in self-assessment to the course by asking students to offer a daily synthesis of material via discussion posts, surveys, research on current events and other means that offered a personal connection to the course material. Additionally, there were weekly reflection/synthesis questions to connect their personal experience to the content. To ensure students were meeting the course goals, mid-course feedback was collected. Finally, the last class discussion and reflection prompt that students shared out invited students to express how this classroom experience informed their broader conception of learning. 

Stephen’s inclusion of all learners in the design and implementation of the course created an environment where all students had a voice, engaged in the course material, and had a rich learning experience. In such a short class, this was of utmost importance. Adding in many opportunities for storytelling and reflection and using breakout rooms to discuss content and build social connections made this course an enriching learning experience as well as a place of community. These practices built a collaborative course environment, created connections between the instructor and students, and fostered a truly inclusive course.