Real Online Course Design Part II: Brainstorming

In Part I of my current process of redesigning my online courses for this upcoming semester, I listed two main goals that I had: The course would have to provide lots of structure, and the course would have to employ as many autonomy supportive teaching strategies as possible. I quickly found myself at the same roadblock that I always face, which was whether or not to provide students with an academic learning objective, or to let them determine their own.

In a counseling theories course, students might expect to explore the theories of counseling. But an academic learning objective would be something such as, "You will learn how to give an oral presentation," which, on its face, has nothing to do with counseling theories, per se. "Learning how to listen actively" is a bit closer to the heart of counseling, but only a handful of counseling theories really emphasize active listening. And perhaps students aren't interested in becoming facilitators of well-being for others, but wish to apply the principles to themselves. 

Things get even more troubling with health psychology, which students enter with almost no knowledge.

But I brainstormed highly structured versions of each, then I went back and revised them. I will add in comments in red as to my thought process during the brainstorming sessions. [Note: I shudder to think of how blogger will format the outlined notes that I am about to paste below. I ask that the reader forgive me.]

Readings in Health Psychology (Personal Approaches)

Learning Objective 1: Reading Comprehension (Value Rubric) Revise the rubric for course by choosing 3 competencies. Students will respond to an author.

Learning Objective 2: Writing Competency. Students will communicate their understanding of a topic.
Learning Objective 3: Research Report. 
Students will conduct original research and write a formal research report.

 I chose three learning objectives based on my own values as an instructor. I also felt like they fit nicely with the application possibilities with health psychology. Our university is also very worried about student reading comprehension, so this would give me an opportunity to use reading as an objective and practice using a reading rubric, etc. 

Selfishly, I liked how I could type up my favorite essays in health psychology to use as primary readings. Students would encounter these essays, which are mostly critical of the biomedical model of health, and write responses to the authors. 

I actually grabbed a stack of about 20 books from my personal library and found chapters and excerpts to use, and created a spreadsheet with page numbers, etc.

How to read a book

How to write a response

·      Write 500-1000 word responses answering the main questions

o   What is Health?

§  Gadamer ch2

§  Canguilhem

o   What is Pain?

§  Aho

§  Leder

§  Kleinman, Ch4

§  Kusch and Ratcliffe

§  Illich, Ch3 “Killing pain”

§  Szasz, Pain and Pleasure, ch 1.1

o   What is Illness?

§  Illness Narratives

o   What is Disease?

§  Canguilhem

§  Leder

§  Kleinman ch12

§  Goldstein, Ch10 (Norm, Health, and Disease)

§  Szasz Medicalization ch5

o   What is Stress?

§  Boss

o   What is a Cure?

§  Canguilhem

§  Gadamer

o   What is a Symptom?

§  Goldstein

§  Kleinman (ch1)

§  Szasz, Medicalization, Phlogiston

o   What is Treatment?

§  Kleinman ch7

§  Do antidepressants work? (Cosgrove et al., 2019)

§  Goldstein, “Disease, Health, and Therapy” article

§  Medicalized psychiatry and the talking cure

o   What is Medicine?

§  Aho

o   What is Quality of Life?

§  Ventgodt: Quality of life as medicine

§  QOL papers

o   What is Medicalization?

§  Szasz

§  Illich Ch 2 (Iatrogenesis)

o   What/who is a patient?

§  Aho book, 

§  Boss (251)

o   Neurasthenia

§  MUPS and neurasthenia (Aho article)

§  Kleinman narratives

Excerpts from famous books:

·      What is health? 

o   Gadamer Enigma of Health (Ch. 2: “Apologia for the Art of Healing”). The technological process of modern science has objectified the body and invented health as a positive concept.

o   Whitehead 

·      What is Pain? Summary of what pain is and examples?

o   Excerpts from Illness Narratives on Chronic Pain

·      What is Illness?

o   Excerpts from Whitehead, Freud & Breuer, 

·      What is Stress?

o   Medard Boss on Stress being necessary


Last year I wrote a book, which I was tentatively calling a health psychology workbook. In it I take students through 9 exercises: 3 health inventories, 3 health interventions, and 3 health research projects. This next part is structured, in part, by that book.

·      Health Inventories

o   Salutogenesis (SOC Scale)

o   Student Stress Scale

o   Quality of Life Questionnaire

·      Research reports: Include “how to write a research report”

o   Case Study

o   Narrative Analysis

o   Single Participant Experiment


Independent Learning

Drugs and the body

o   Cannabis:

o   Alcohol:

o   Nicotine and the body:

o   Psychopharmaceuticals: Antidepressants, Antipsychotics, Ritalin, etc.


Human Development: The Joys of Growing Up: A Personal Guide to Human Development

Like health psychology, I have also written a book about human development, which sits in a document on my computer. I only use it every so often. It is the meaning and significance of human development to me. I wonder if this will be the year that I put it into its final form and publish it.


0.     Introduction

1.     Method and approach (qualitative)

a.     Existential-phenomenological hermeneutics

b.    Interpretive phenomenological inquiry

c.     Descriptive phenomenology

d.    Nonlinear approach 

2.     The Joy of Growing Pains

3.     The Joys of Individuation

4.     The Joys of Belonging

5.     The Joys of Autonomy

6.     The Joys of Competence 

7.     The Joys of Imagination and Creativity

8.     The Joys of Intimacy and Love

9.     The Joys of Becoming an Adult

10.  The Joys of Old Age 

11.  The Joys of Death and Dying (Aho)

 I decided to discuss the major life stages as "Joys of" rather than "the pain of," which was how I had originally written the book (Growing Pains: An existential guide to human development). Each chapter would have real-life application questions, which would allow students to make the material helpful for understanding themselves.

For the course: 

·      Students will choose 8 “Joys of…” topics, and answer the application/reflection questions. 

·      Students will choose ___ “Joys of…” topics, and write an essay for each. Students will be evaluated based on the Area E Outcome, “Students will analyze… psychological processes and how they effect” their own experience.

I will evaluate them by choosing 1 reflection question at random and assessing it using the rubric.

Here I am desperately trying to blend students' freedom of choice and self direction with some formal and objective feedback. But it always strikes me as rigor for the sake of rigor--something that I and students put up with, but which benefits nobody.

Introduction to Counseling

Learning Objective 1: Students will understand counseling theories.

Learning Objective 2: Writing Competency. 

Learning Objective 3: Original Application to a unique case.

Choose 8 theories. For each theory, students will…

·      Read an article or book chapter?

·      Using guided questions to apply the theory to their own lives or the lives of someone else?

·      Write a personal response to the author/theoretician?

 It is very difficult to anticipate the needs and interests of students in advance of their showing up. BUt waiting for them to join a class, get settled, and then design the course sets me up for a very busy February.

Counseling Theories (provide a reading, and a summary/lecture of how it works)

1.     Psychoanalysis (Talk therapy, Freud)

2.     Individual Psychology (Psychotherapy, Adler)

3.     Depth Psychology (Jungian analysis) 

4.     Behavioral therapy (Skinner or Watson) 

5.     Cognitive Therapy (REBT, Ellis)

6.     Person-centered therapy (Rogers)

7.     Gestalt Therapy (Perls) Verbatim

8.     Transactional Analysis (Berne or Steiner)

9.     Focusing (Gendlin)

10.  Daseinsanalysis (Frankl)

11.  Logotherapy

12.  Existential Therapy of Yalom

13.  Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

14.  Antipsychiatry (Szasz, myth of mental illness:

15.  Which psychotherapy is best?

16.  Where is the evidence for evidence-based therapy? (Shedler) 

 This list was fun to design, but it represents the theories of counseling as they strike me--namely, ways of understanding myself and others. Each of the topics represent something that has been personally transformative and therefore impactful. The last three represent my critical perspective in psychiatry and the mental health professions.

I did all of the above in about an hour of quiet brainstorming.

In what follows, I opened a new document on a new day and started anew. This time with a better idea of my goals and their satisfaction. In it you will find fewer questions, and more statements about how I feel about this or that. In some cases, it is clear that I am settled. In others, it is clear that I am unhappy with where I have landed.


Online Health Psychology


Reading primary sources

·      Students read 8/16 primary source topics in health psychology, writing 500-word responses to the author following the reading comprehension rubric

·      Cons

o   Difficult to read the texts (students will be confused)

o   Limited to reading/writing/academic engagement

o   I have to score essays with a rubric (8x35=280)

·      Pros

o   Simple to set up/prepare

o   Gives students choice of readings/topics

Applying Health Psychology workbook

·      Students complete 9 activities:

o   3 health assessments (3xreflections)

§  SOC

§  QOL

§  Life Change – College

§  other

o   3 interventions (3x summaries)

§  Meditation

§  Exercise

§  Positive psychology 

§  Affirmations

§  Therapist

§  Other

o   3 research reports (Choose 1)

§  Single Participant experiment

§  Medical Case Study

§  Ethnography? Narrative?

·      Cons

o   Lots of different instructions

o   Have to finish about half of the activity introductions/descriptions

o   Lots of review work that I have to do

·      Pros

o   Highly academic

o   Practical/applicable

Online Intro to Counseling


8 x Topic (Reading, Lecture, Application, Reflection)

·      I choose a book chapter and record a lecture for each topic (13 therapies, 3 critiques)

·      I create a series of guiding/reflection questions to help students apply it to their lives

·      Weekly sessions on specific topics?

·      Students write me a personal letter where they describe their honest thoughts about the counseling method, what they learned, and ask any outstanding questions they have about it.


Online Human Development

I am convinced that students in this class have zero interest in the topic, and zero interest in any self-application. I cannot imagine a meaningful course design. 

So I will make it about them.

Choose any 8 of the following topics in development. Use the resources (assorted readings and lectures) to learn about the topic, and write an honest and personal essay describing where you are with respect to it.

Read each Chapter and answer the reflection questions at the end. 

12.  The Joys of Individuation

13.  The Joys of Belonging

14.  The Joys of Autonomy

15.  The Joys of Competence 

16.  The Joys of Imagination and Creativity

17.  The Joys of Intimacy and Love

18.  The Joys of Becoming an Adult

19.  The Joys of Old Age

20.  The Joys of Finitude and Infinitude 


These will be evaluated using the Analysis Rubric


I have to prepare:

1.     Analysis rubric and instructions

2.     Chs 1-8

3.     Reflection questions (4-6 for each chapter)

 Although it still seems all over the place, I am feeling much more like the courses are coming together. Significantly, I have decided to read again Malcolm Knowles' On Becoming an Adult Educator. Specifically his talk of using Learning Contracts. I wonder if these might be useful in an online course.

Continue On To Part III


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