online learning


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MicroDeadlines are just what they sound like: small deadlines. These are particularly relevant in online and hybrid learning models where teachers need to provide extra structure to facilitate planning and ultimately learning. In traditional face-to-face learning models many informal structures exist that naturally create “microdeadlines” without intentionality; in an online setting (without physical teacher presence) we need to explicitly design for this.

Many advocates for online learning, myself included, advocate for student agency in online spaces. Choice and voice are common features to give students ownership over their learning process. This is not the space to flush out those ideas, but this is the space to think about how we support students. I provide three real examples that begin with the best of intentions, but lead to a lack of student engagement and buy-in. Then I provide a MicroDeadline solution to each.

First, a definition:

A MicroDeadline is a time cutoff for a small component of an assignment that holds students accountable for the components of a large assignment. Rather than just a due date for an entire assignment or task, a set of MicroDeadlines can provide multiple check-in points within a larger assignment.

Scenario 1:

An English teacher wants to provide opportunities for time ownership in their class. They introduce a persuasive argument writing assignment in their synchronous class on Monday. Students have the entire week to write their paper. Throughout the week, synchronous classes are broken into smaller groups to discuss and debate their arguments in draft form.

The breakdown: Students procrastinate. OK, not every student, but we all procrastinate (hey if you wait until the last minute to write a blog post, then it only takes one minute to write). So in the minutes before a synchronous class a student (maybe) jots down a few notes for their argument in order to share their thoughts and earn a few participation points. Then, Thursday evening rolls around and at midnight the student is throwing their paper together.


Before the first class meeting, the teacher records a 5-minute video for students to watch during the first five minutes of class (watching this video is the first MicroDeadline- referred to as MD from here on out). The video ends with the first ask for students: Choose your topic and write the first draft of your thesis or position by 30 minutes into class; teacher is available for office hours during class and checks for MD deadline. Then teachers checks with students “in the moment” and has confirmation that the student is making progress. Then throughout the week, multiple MDs are enacted (likely depending on learning objectives) for an outline, first draft, introduction, etc. Emphasis on feedback will likely come in many formats with the MDs, but can focus on the process, not just the final product.

Scenario 2:

A science teacher asks students to read two articles debating the ethics of genetic engineering. Students are to use an online discussion board to post their thoughts and then to comment on a classmate’s response.

The breakdown: This is why online learning gets a bad rap. “Read and post a response to Blackboard” is a quote I heard 20 years ago in college. At that same time, my innovative teacher dumped all the PDFs into Blackboard and asked us to write notes or questions to check whether we completed the reading. This is the exposure that many teachers had during college and initiation to online learning. It was not engaging then, and it is not engaging now. It serves merely as a check for completion. Unless…


The first step is to step back and understand the goal here (and make that goal public). Does a teacher want to check that students read? Then ask for notes to be posted. Does a teacher want to create an asynchronous mode for students to explore their ideas and interact with classmates? Try asking students to simplify their perspective into a 45-second FlipGrid. Or give students specific prompts to reply to and create subgroups.

So, where do MicroDeadlines come in? Have you ever been the first (or last) person to post on a discussion board? A few years ago an eager student (not just in this case, but on all assignments) wrote a post to a discussion post the day that the reading was assigned. They completed the reading and shared their response before anyone else even turned the first page. Then they never completed the assignment by commenting on their classmates’s work 

Scenario 3

A Math class assigns a problem set of eight challenge problems to be done collaboratively, due by the end of the week. Students continue traditional coursework through the week.

The breakdown: Procrastination combined with complexity equals one student completing their work, sending the solutions to the group text and classmates frantically copying. Then when there is an issue with number 3, there is an issue on everyone’s number 3.


Again, this is a time to be intentional. Do you want students just to try challenge problems to see how far they can go? Or do you want to work through them, receive feedback and nudges, then make more progress and finally end up with a proper solution? Whichever your choice: Design for that. If the latter (my personal preference), then ask for a rough draft. Maybe partner students for peer-to-peer feedback, then provide resources. Make each part its own assignment, with its own MicroDeadline.


There you go, MicroDeadlines provide all solutions. Clearly tongue and cheek, but when designing for learning in an online setting, provide the structure that comes naturally in face-to-face setting. Teachers could casually walk around a classroom and check in on students’ writing progress and help lagging students to move forward or pick up the pace, or allow a back-and-forth between students in an in person discussion, or nudge students in the right direction when working on a difficult problem set in class. The transition to asynchronous learning necessitates instructional designers to replicate those informal check-ins. MicroDeadlines is the solution to designing structure that helps students hold themselves accountable.

Hybrid Microeconomics Part 2 of 3: Early Reflections

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Five week into my hybrid AP Microeconomics course, we had our first major test. Having only met in person four times, I was anxious to see the results. The test was marginally more difficult than the same one given to my “face-to-face” AP Microeconomics course this fall. The results were better than my students from the fall!

My first major realization is that the students are very much actively engaged with the material; there are readings, workbook activities, videos, and online quizzes. In a traditional class, students may have been able to not thoroughly complete their reading or problems, then coast through a 40-minute class. During our in-person sessions, the students have more thoughtful questions because they have confronted the material on their own; they make connections, ask insightful questions, and anticipate concepts.

I used a LMS (Canvas) in the fall with my face-to-face course, but students rarely used the resources- Canvas tracks student hours logged on and it was minimal in the fall. This spring, the online resources have been more robust and students need to take online quizzes, so inevitably the usage will be more, but its not that I notice increased usage, I notice increased engagement. An example is an discussion board thread that was complete (students were asked to define some vocab words and did), then a week later I noticed that it was highlighted as “unread.” When I looked, a handful of students continued the conversation. They were asking about subtleties from the text and how some definitions seeming contradicted each other. Granted this was a subset of the class, but these five students were going beyondFeatured image
their required engagement with the concepts and really wrestling with ideas that can be difficult and deepening their understanding by explaining examples and different ways of thinking about a problem or idea.

So the quantifiable results are at minimum on par (probably better, but small sample size), but the student engagement with Microeconomics is clearly through the roof. These students are becoming active learners; a skill as useful as the economics they are learning.

Hybrid Microeconomics Part 1 of 3: About the Course

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I am teaching a hybrid AP Microeconomics course this spring.  This is the first of three posts describing my experience teaching this course.  The first is the basics about the course.  Attached is a FAQ that I sent to students before the class began.

About the Course: AP Microeconomics

  • This is a one-semester course.
  • It is a hybrid course where students meet once every six school days and complete online readings, activities, and assessments.
  • The goal was to add the opportunity for students to fit the course into their schedule and to add the flexibility to students’ workload.
  • Students are expected to complete about an hour’s worth of work each day (equivalent of 40 minute class plus 20 minute homework).


  • Students use the Learning Management System Canvas.
  • Students read from Mankiw’s Principles of Economics textbook.
  • Students complete workbook activities from Stone’s AP Microeconomics Resource Manual.

Course Meetings

  • Students meet in small groups in occasionally non-traditional locations (ie. library or breakout room)
  • The schedule was challenging to coordinate everyone’s availability, given that we did not have a dedicated meeting time.


  • There are five major resources that we use:
    • Videos (short bursts of information)
    • Textbook (longer and more theoretical)
    • Workbook & Handouts (focusing on mechanics)
    • Class (connecting dots and filling in the blanks)
    • Discussion Board (with threaded answers to questions, both conceptual and vocabulary)


  • Students take online quizzes to test for basic comprehension and completion
  • Students take in-person quizzes and tests by scheduling a convenient time.