Course Redesign, eLearning, Instructional Design

Creating Measurable & Motivational Learning Objectives

graphic by Stefano Bertolo

graphic by Stefano Bertolo

From a student perspective, clear learning objectives help to set expectations. From an instructor perspective, learning objectives help guide course activity to a measureable outcome. So, it is important that educator’s take the time to develop clear and meaningful learning objectives for course modules.

As a general rule, learning objectives should be specific and observable; there should be a few objectives per module – no less than three, no more than six.

There is a lot available about the art of developing well thought-out learning objectives, including:

However, I found Cathy Moore’s piece, “Makeover: Turn objectives into motivators” to add a different and interesting perspective on the task. Although her piece is geared toward training, rather than higher education, she shares specific examples about how to write learning objectives that are powerful and relevant to the learner.

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eLearning

Stop Blaming Technology for a Lack of Personal Connection

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graphic by zen Sutherland

When I came across Matt Miller’s blog “What Online Learning Can’t Do: Why Face-to-Face Reigns” I was expecting the usual sentiments about elearning failing to measure up to traditional classrooms when it comes to interaction and engagement, or maybe even the age-old “quality of education” argument. Instead, I was surprised to read the heart of Matt’s sentiment was based upon personal connection, noticing a new haircut, high-fiving student after an achievement, etc.

It is true that these connections can be lost in the online environment. But, if we’re honest, we would have to admit that these connections could also be absent from face-to-face learning environments as well. The idea that there is no possible way that human connections – personal, meaningful, and valuable connections – can be established, fostered, and grown online is shortsighted.

If this were an impossibility TV shows like MTV’s Catfish wouldn’t exist and online dating sites wouldn’t be cropping up everywhere. It is possible to make very personal connections online; it just takes a different kind of effort.

The challenge of online learning is that too many instructors believe that their face-to-face instructional approaches are sufficient for the online environment. To be an effective online instructor – to foster student-student, student-content, and student-instructor relationships – one must toss out old instructional approaches.

Technology is simply a tool, not the replacement for the instructor. Every instructor is a subject matter expert – online or on-campus. If you expect technology to replace the facilitation, sharing, exchange that takes place in a learning environment, then you’re mistaken. If a car crashes, do you blame the car if the driver falls asleep at the wheel?

Technology is a tool and, when used by a skilled instructor, it can help to facilitate effective learning outcomes and personal relationships.

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Course Redesign, eLearning, Instructional Design

Discussion Boards: A Place Where Open-ended Questions Go to Die

graphic by Giulia Forsythe

graphic by Giulia Forsythe

Discussion boards are a critical tool for online learning environments. Often times, they are the only tool that faculty use to facilitate student-student interaction, and even faculty-student interactions. In asynchronous courses especially, this tools plays a significant role in building a sense of community.

Unfortunately, more often than not, discussion boards, or blogs, fall short of engaging students in the kind of interaction they would experience in a face-to-face setting. Not because it’s not possible, but because the discussion prompts are boring or poorly designed.

In order for online course discussion boards to be successful, a few factors come into play:  1) the question prompt is ho-hum (a regurgitation of the readings), 2) the willingness of the student to participate and connect with others through the discussion board 3) the discussion timeline. If any of these factors are amiss, student participation may seem rather drab.

So, this back to school season, revise your plan for discussion prompts. Think well beyond open-ended questions.  Purposefully design discussion assignments with the learner experience at the center and as a result you, and your students, will experience the benefits of a growing course community.

Here are some ways to do that:

  • Challenge your students to do something new, as Jill Rooney suggests: require students to respond to a prompt about the material from a different point of view – a character in the story, the author, an onlooker, etc.
  • Ask them to argue the opposite side, as is done in debate courses. You may even consider dividing the students into groups (or teams) representing either side of the debated topic.
  • Could you incorporate a game into the discussion board assignment? For example, Rooney also suggests designing a “telephone” style discussion board prompt that enables students to add-on the storyboard of another student.
  • Use a real life scenario from the news and ask students to apply course concepts to the real life scenario.
  • For courses that involved projects, require peer critiques. This will force student-student interaction that both engages critical thinking skills and fosters personal relationships among students.
  • For a more advanced course, consider making students a part of the discussion board prompt. On a rotating basis, designate a student facilitator who is charged with leading the discussion that week. Dr. Sarah Eaton has shared a very helpful 1-page document on tips for facilitating online discussions.

Finally, to help build community further, consider designing social presence activities as well as curriculum/learning focused activities. Give students an opportunity to interact with each other without the formal framework of an assignment. Allow them to get to know each other and you. FacultyFocus’ article, “Tips for Building Social Presence in Your Online Class” is a good place to start.

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eLearning, Instructional Design, student perspective

Why I Hated THIS Online Class and Not THAT One.

Before I started working in instructional design, I was an online student. In my work now, I often draw upon my online learning experiences when working with instructors to build and design their courses.

Over the span of my academic career, I have taken nearly a dozen courses online. As an adult, I chose online courses over face-to-face courses because of the demands for my time – professional and personal. Online learning provided me the ability to “do it all” and I was grateful for it. I still take courses online – and for the same reasons.

However, there are stark differences between the online classes I enjoy and the classes I can’t wait to end. Here are the reasons why:

      1. Rules of the Road. As a student, I want to be told what is expected of me right away. Give me an overview of the expectations for the course and, if you want, establish weekly benchmarks, but please establish the ‘rules of the road’ immediately. Although I am a working adult and manage a busy schedule, I also expect to be able to be successful in class. Confusion and lack of communication makes it impossible to succeed. If I do not know the ‘rules of road,’ I cannot follow them. For example, I had a professor who was “trying out” a new grading system. By mid-semester, he hadn’t yet informed us about the grading system or shared with us any feedback about our work. When I inquired about my performance, I was told: “Don’t worry. If you were in jeopardy, I would have reached out to you by now.” As hard as it is to believe, this is a true story. In fact, this was my first online class ever. Lucky, I tried another online class after that mess.
      2. Too little too late. Feedback is a critical element in the learning process. Only then can a student attempt to do better on assignments in the future. For example, I received feedback from a video professor two weeks after a project was turned in. However, in the time it took to receive feedback in those two weeks, I had turned in two completed video assignments and had completed shooting a third. The feedback I received indicated that I should shoot from a different angle. This meant that the two assignments I had already turned in were going to be downgraded because I didn’t receive the professors critique soon enough to be able to incorporate it into my work and the third project would have to be reshot.
      3. Me, Myself, and I. Online coursework and independent study are not the same. The most engaging, interesting and enjoyable courses have carefully constructed interactions between students as a part of curriculum activities. For me, isolation isn’t an effective learning tool. Students learn from other students online too! Courses should require student-student interaction and student-faculty interaction – frequently.
      4. Give me something to talk about. On the other hand, I’ve been in courses where there are a lot of “discussion board” assignments that don’t require peer interaction and the discussion questions are ho-hum. This doesn’t count as student engagement. Interaction should be thoughtfully designed by the professor and thought provoking for the student. Unfortunately, I have had several professors who use the discussion assignments to check to see if we did the reading. This is called busy work, even online. The discussion questions should incorporate the reading, but challenge students to think critically too.
      5. I don’t own a crystal ball. One of my biggest pet peeves as an online student is when a professor doesn’t use the correct terminology for course tools or activities. It is confusing and frustrating to have to try to decipher what the professor means, rather than taking his/her word. For example, I had a professor who used the term “blog” and “wiki” interchangeably. However, these are different tools – not the same thing.

It takes a great deal of energy and effort to build an online course that is interesting and engaging. So, pay careful attention to these types of elements that greatly impact the learner experience as you ready online courses for the fall semester.

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eLearning, Instructional Design, Uncategorized

Don’t “Kill” the Lecture – Shorten It!

Photo by Stewart Black

photo by Stewart Black

Last week, I mentioned that the “grand lecture” should not exist in its traditional form in an online learning environment, which is true. This doesn’t mean that using video and audio to share ideas or explain difficult content should be abandoned. Using multimedia to convey information to students online is an important tool that can positively impact learning outcomes as well as student satisfaction, as being able to see the face of the professor adds a personal feel to the course.

My recommendation is to limit videos, lectures or otherwise, to 15-20 minutes max. Anything longer and you’ll lose your audience, make viewing the content a chore, and sidelined the most essential element to engaging online students – interactivity.  Designed interactivity, online or in a traditional classroom setting, makes students feel like they are a part of a community of learners and it motivates students to stay engaged. Lengthy lectures stifle interactive learning.

So, before you set out to record your “in-class” lecture and post it to your online class, think about what the lecture will accomplish. Is the content already available in the book or other required readings/resources? What will your lecture offer that is different from the course materials?

The most successful video lectures/recordings focus on:

  • content that is difficult to understand or confusing
  • introducing or explaining an assignment or activity; sets expectations for student success
  • supplemental information that further illustrates and idea or concept from course materials
  • content that is not already available to students
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eLearning, Instructional Design

Not Quite Flipped

We are hearing a lot about “flipped classrooms” these days. Often times, when I begin working with instructors to create or develop their first online course, they very quickly assimilate the two: flipped classroom teaching and teaching online.

There are similarities for certain: technology is used as a tool to disseminate information, multimedia and simulations are viewed “at home” to help to develop conceptual understanding, etc. However, the instructor invariably feels “stuck” when the next part of flipped teaching arrives: engaging students in classroom discussions and activities.

The good news is that for those who have never taught online, the flipped classroom is a very comfortable “jumping off point.” The instructor as facilitator is something online and flipped have in common. The shift in approach and the types of activities are different. In fact, way you design these activities should be framed or structured differently, taking into account your audience (adult learning, working professionals, high school students, etc.), synchronous or asynchronous course environments as well as other limitations and opportunities.

When designing online discussion board assignments consider the prompt carefully. You will not have the opportunity to revise it, if students “don’t get it.” In an online classroom blank stares are to computer screens. You will never see them.

Also, don’t rule out group work – papers, projects or presentations require student collaboration and engagement with the material. There is no doubt that many students, online or in a traditional classroom, will dread working in groups, but it is an effective tool.

You may combine the group concept with a discussion board assignment too. Perhaps require that the students suggest that week’s discussion topic – requiring their engagement upfront – then designate a host for the discussion, requiring the students to intimately interact with the material and lead their fellow classmates in a discussion. All the while, you can facilitate the conversation and the pathway for engagement.

Today, An Ethical Island posted an interesting infographic about the flipped teaching for the online environment, check it out!

Infographic from An Ethical Island blog post, “Flipping Online- Maintaining the In-Class Feel” (http://anethicalisland.wordpress.com/2013/07/19/flipping-online-maintaining-the-in-class-feel/)

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eLearning, Instructional Design

5 Things to Consider When Taking a Class Online

Teaching online is not the same as teaching “on-campus.” Not only are the teaching experiences going to be different, but the student experiences will be as well. Online instructors who are tasked with “taking” a face-to-face course online shouldn’t be fooled into believing that because they are subject matter experts that they are also online learning experts. Years of successful face-to-face classroom experience don’t necessarily translate to a successful online course. The move to online is challenging and it requires a dramatic shift in thinking and planning.

There are people who feel online classroom settings are better because they require student participation; an online student cannot sit in the back of the classroom and listen without contributing to the conversation. They also allow students to revisit curriculum material as they complete assignments, often leading to an active learning process on the part of the student. However, this type of student engagement is not organic. It requires thoughtful, strategic, and dedicated planning.

Although new-to-online instructors will likely be working closely with an instructional designer, here are a few things to consider when creating your first online course:

1. The Grand Lecture
For seasoned face-to-face instructors, changing the framework of a lecture that they’ve been delivering for years is very difficult and often feels like an unnatural change. However, in the online learning environment, traditional lecturing is a rather ineffective way of teaching. In fact, what may have been a 45- or 50-minute lecture should be only 15-20 minutes long, at the most, in an online environment. Attention spans are short; but, more importantly, online students need to be actively engaged. Generally, lectures for online should facilitate an activity by either covering the most difficult concepts of that curriculum segment or providing instruction, setting expectations or sharing examples of the learning activity at hand.

2. Reading, Writing, and Multimedia
Not surprisingly, the incorporation of video and audio as well as interactive multimedia tools in online learning are an effective way to share curriculum concepts and engage students in the material. Interactive learning tools that either requires students to answer questions, drag and drop elements, or somehow interact with the information improves student involvement and can increase understanding.

3. Plan to Plan
Planning for both the instructor and the student is critical in online learning. Often time’s students who choose to study online have complicated schedules; knowing what is next and when it is due is a contributing factor to student satisfaction and success in an online environment. This means that instructors need to have planned out the entire course well in advance of the start date. For an instructor that has taught a subject for many years, he or she may feel comfortable starting a weekly class without much preparation. This “loose” planning is not an option for online courses.

To begin, develop a detailed syllabus, which includes a weekly course schedule. For the instructor, this will serve as an outline for building the course modules; for students, it will help provide general guidance about what to expect and when to schedule time to accomplish assignments.

4. Rhythm and routine
Online learners respond well to consistency, particularly regarding activity deadlines. For example, each Monday at 11:59pm short essay paper is due; each Friday at 11:59pm blog posts are due. This kind of rhythm is critically important for student success, and even more so in an accelerated course online.

5. Lone Ranger
One of the most common concerns for students new to online is feeling isolated. Students crave interaction with other students and generally feel more satisfied with the learning experience when they can share ideas and learn from their peers. To address this student need, the design of an online course should include required collaborative work, structured discussion interactions, and/or peer review/critique of assignments. These activities should occur within the course regularly, if not frequently. Unlike impromptu face-to-face discussions, online interactions must be intentionally facilitated and designed: instructions for these activities should be clear, concise, and direct. They should outline expectations and articulate any limitations. Essentially, the activity prompt is critically important, as an instructor cannot change or revise the question to garner a different response without causing confusion and disruption.

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