About halfway through earning a master’s in education, I took a summer session class on digital storytelling. It ran over the course of three half-day sessions during which we were required to complete two digital stories. I had no great academic ambitions in my approach to these assignments. I was trying to satisfy a degree requirement in a way that worked with my schedule as a single mother of two teenagers working full time while earning a graduate degree.

My first story was a self-introduction. I loved this assignment. Even though I had one evening to complete it, I spent hours tweaking it. I enjoyed learning the tools. I enjoyed sharing my story with my classmates. Even after it was graded, I kept finding ways to improve it.

After completing the course, I began to study the use of digital stories in education. My personal experience had shown me that in completing my assignment I had to become comfortable with technology as well as practice my writing, speaking and presentation skills. I also felt a stronger connection to my classmates after sharing my video and watching their videos.

Literature

The research on digital storytelling echoes my own experience. Dr. Bernard Robin, an Associate Professor of Learning, Design, & Technology at the University of Houston, discussed the pedagogical benefits of digital storytelling assignments in a 2016 article,  The Power of Digital Storytelling to Support Teaching and Learning. His research found that both student engagement and creativity increased in higher education courses when students were given the opportunity to use multimedia tools to communicate their ideas. Students “develop enhanced communication skills by learning to organize their ideas, ask questions, express opinions, and construct narratives” (Robin, 2016). Bernard’s experience also finds that by sharing their work with peers, students learn to give and accept critique, fostering social learning and emotional intelligence.

Digital Storytelling as Educators

Digital Storytelling in online education shouldn’t be thought of as only a means of creating an engaging student assignment. Educators who are adept at telling stories have a tremendous advantage in capturing their student’s attention. In the following short video, Sir Ian McKellen shares why stories have so much power. Illustrated in the form of a story, he shares that stories are powerful for four reasons. They are a vessel for information, create an emotional connection, display cultural identity, and gives us happiness.

The Power of Storytelling, with Sir Ian McKellen

McKellen is a compelling narrator with a great voice. This story is beautifully illustrated. It reminds me of how I want my learners to feel when they are consuming the content I create. Even if for a moment, so engrossed, that they forget that they are learning. Learning becomes effortless. As he points out, a good storyteller can make the listener feel as if they are also living the story.

Digital Storytelling Assignments

There are lots of ways to integrate digital stories across a broad set of academic subjects. Creating personal narratives, historical documentaries, informational and instructional videos or a combination of these styles all have educational benefits. One of the simplest ways to introduce this form of assessment to your course is to start with a single image digital story assignment.

Here’s an example I created using a trial version of one of many digital story making tools available online:

Single Image Digital Story Example

 

Digital Story Making Process

The process of creating a digital story lends itself well for staged student projects. Here’s an example of some story making stages:

  1. Select a topic
  2. Conduct research
  3. Find resources and content
  4. Create a storyboard
  5. Script the video
  6. Narrate the video
  7. Edit the final project

I created an animated digital story to illustrate the process of creating a digital story using another freely available tool online.

Digital Storytelling Process Movie link

Recommended Resources & Tools

You will find hundreds of tools available for recording media with a simple search. Any recommended tool should be considered for privacy policies, accessibility and cost to students.

Adobe Spark

Adobe offers a free online video editor which provides easy ways to add text, embed videos, add background music and narration. The resulting videos can be easily shared online via a link or by downloading and reposting somewhere else. While the tool doesn’t offer tremendous flexibility in design, the user interface is very friendly.

Canvas

Canvas has built-in tools to allow students to record and share media within a Canvas course. Instructions are documented in the OSU Ecampus student-facing quick reference guide.

Audacity

Audacity is a free, open-source cross-platform software for recording and editing audio. It has a steeper learning curve than some of the other tools used for multimedia content creation. It will allow you to export your audio file in a format that you can easily add to a digital story.

Padlet

Padlet allows you to create collaborative web pages. It supports lots of content types. It is a great place to have students submit their video stories. You have a lot of control during setup. You can keep a board private, you can enable comments, and you can choose to moderate content prior to posting. Padlet allows for embedding in other sites – and the free version at the time of writing allows users to create three padlets the site will retain.

Storyboarding Tools

A note first about storyboarding. Storyboarding is an essential step in creating a digital story. It is a visual blueprint of how a video will look and feel. It is time to think about mood, flow and gather feedback.
Students and teachers alike benefit from visualizing how they want a final project to look. It doesn’t have to be fancy. It is much easier to think about how you want a shot to look at this stage than while you are shooting and producing your video. A storyboard is also a good step in a staged, longer-term project in a course to gauge if students are on the right track.

Storyboard That

This is a storyboard creation tool. The free account allows for three and six frame stories. In each frame, you can choose from a wide selection of scenes, characters, and props. Each element allows you to customize color, position, and size. Here’s a sample I created:

The Boords

This site has several free to use templates in multiple formats to support this process. Here is one that I have used before:

A4-landscape-6-storyboard-template

Looking for Inspiration?

Start with Matthew Dicks. Dicks is the author of Storyworthy: Engage, Teach, Persuade and Change Your Life through the Power of Storytelling. He is a teacher. He is a five-time winner of the Moth GrandSlam championship.
His book is wonderful, but to just get a taste, start with the podcast he cohosts with his wife. Each week they include a well-vetted and rehearsed story told during a competition. They then highlight the strengths and areas for improvement. You will walk away with ideas and the motivation to become a better storyteller. Here’s the first episode, and one of my favorites.

Conclusion

When pressed for time to develop course content, we tend to over-rely on text-based assignments such as essays and written discussion posts. Students, when working on Digital Storytelling assignments, get the opportunity to experiment, think creatively and practice communication and presentation skills.

For educators, moving away from presenting learning materials in narrated bulleted slides is likely to make classes more engaging and exciting for their students leading to better learning outcomes. Teachers work every day to connect with students and capture their attention. A good story can inspire your students and help them engage with the content.

I was uncomfortable when I received my first digital storytelling assignment. I didn’t really know how to use the tools, wasn’t confident I knew how or what to capture. I was sure it would feel awkward to narrate a video. But These assignments turned out to be engaging, meaningful, and the process is pretty straight forward. Introduce digital storytelling into your courses, even by starting small, and you are sure to feel the same way.

The use of PowerPoint and other similar presentation software, as a visual foundation for recorded narrated lectures for use in online courses is pretty common. These slide-based presentations typically present a series of individual slides that contain titles, visuals, and descriptive text or lists of bullet points with an accompanying voice-over recording. Using this approach to online content presentation seems familiar as it is a technology enabled extension of the traditional slide-based presentations instructors have used in a live classroom lecture. But narrated lecture for online presentation has some structural differences.

Whether transitioning a classroom lecture, or creating a new narrated lecture for online use, instructors at Ecampus are also encouraged to rethink their slide-based presentations. The recommendation is to create highly focused content and keep the duration of an individual narrated lecture presentation to about 10 minutes. This means a typical 50 minute classroom lecture may transition to several online narrated slide presentations as it is distilled down to 2-3 highly focused segments. 

Including voice-over with a slide-based presentation builds instructor in an online course. Narrated lectures also incorporate best practices in accessibility, copyright, and visual formatting. In essence, this process takes a PowerPoint presentation, incorporates best practice elements, and adds narration. This new instructor narrated presentation becomes a multimedia learning element for their course that is delivered as in video format.

Multimedia Learning Theory Redux

On the surface, all the previous work in creating a narrated lecture seems sufficient. However if we incorporate research on multimedia learning we may choose to do more with this staple of the online course; the narrated lecture.

In my previous article on the value of images in online learning I explained how online presentations that combine text, images, and titles are considered multimedia-based learning objects. Using written words with images on a PowerPoint slide with voiceover is also a form of multimedia learning. Given this it may be useful to revisit theory related to multimedia learning to see how it related to narrated lecture design. The model below illustrates how the Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning (Clark & Mayer , 2016) informs our understanding of multimedia-based learning.

Model of cognitive model of multimedia learning.
Figure 1. Model of the Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning

The model indicates that people (i.e., learners) have two channels of cognitive processing: 1) for processing visual/pictorial material and 2) one for auditory/verbal material. Additionally, humans can only process a few bits of pieces of information in each channel at the same time. Learner engagement with pictorial and verbal information is linked to an individual’s ability to parse information from the multimedia and ultimately integrate it with prior knowledge…creating new learning. That parsing is linked to two things: 

  1. How we structure and deliver information during the design of multimedia and 
  2. The learner’s ability to engage the information in a way that compliments learning.

Let’s stop here for a moment.

Now think about what you just did in reading the text above and looking at the illustration provided. In this instance you called upon a single information channel, the visual channel of cognitive processing, to interpret the meaning of the text description of the visual model. Was that an easy process of you?

How hard would it be for students to process similar information acquisition through one channel….vision only? With the cognitive theory of multimedia learning in mind ask yourself this…How would adding audio narration impact cognitive processing? How would that impact learning? Let’s explore these ideas in the context of narrated lecture design.

Five Guiding Multimedia Principles

In an article titled Information Design with Teaching and Learning in Mind, Rune Petterson and Maria Avgerinou (2016) identify 12 important principles teachers should take into account when designing multimedia-based learning experiences. I have organized these multimedia-based learning principles into three sections in the table below. As you read through these 12 principles it becomes clear that not all of these apply to narrated lecture design.

Listing of the 12 principles of multimedia-based learning.
Figure 2. Twelve Principles of Multimedia – Based Learning Design

Principles 1-4 address more general, or global, understandings about multimedia design and learning. Principles 5-7 address design factors directly related to combining text and images without narration in multimedia-base learning. The last five principles (i.e., 8-12) address how the spoken word is best integrated into multimedia design to be consistent with the cognitive theory of multimedia learning. Although all the principles are important to multimedia design for learning, the last five guiding multimedia principles are the most salient for narrated lecture design.

From Theory To Practice

Remember, the goal for instructors is to develop narrated lectures that enhance the multimedia-based learning experience. It is not simply to create a replication of the in-class lecture. Let’s look at the five guiding multimedia principles and how the ideas in the principles might shape how you can prepare your narrated lectures as online multimedia learning elements.

Temporal Contiguity Principle

This principle suggests that the most effective designs using narration and graphics place those two elements in temporal proximity. They are seen and heard at the same time. Seems obvious. But you must think through this principle and plan the sequencing and duration of  slides and narration accordingly. You must know what you want to say and when to say it in the context of the visual elements you have on your slides.

Modality Principle

This principle affirms that presenting words as audio narration is more impactful than written text in describing graphics on a slide. They are particularly impactful when paired with animations.

In essence this principle helps guide design that takes advantage of both channels of information processing. This also helps manage cognitive load by freeing learners from trying to interpret written text and images via the visual channel only. If you absolutely have to use text with graphics on your PowerPoint slides keep text in short phrase form to avoid extensive reading and any potential cognitive overload.

Redundancy Principle

This principle proposes addresses presenting narration and written text that says the same thing combined with images. The redundancy principles guides designers to select either narration or written text with the image on a slide for the best learning experience. Choose one method of delivering the word-based description of the image. Don’t use both. 

Once again this principle is about managing, through design, the cognitive load of the media element. There are some complex scenarios where text only is a best option…see the Control of Processing definition.

Coherence Principle

This principle simply states that adding interesting, but non-essential, visual or word content can hurt learning. Narrated lecture design should avoid placing funny phrases, decorative images, excess lines, colors and sound effects and music that does not directly relate to the learning at hand of any particular slide. 

Instructors should know what they want to say and design to maintain keep cognitive focus on that learning. We sometimes think these extra element keep attention but actually the opposite is true…they clutter and create distracting cognitive load.

Sometimes this principle is not fulfilled through good intentions. It often occurs when instructors wish to have multiple images of something on the same slide. Then talk about each image individually in narration. It is much better design to put those extra images on a new slide and talk about it when it is the focus of the learning. This avoids visual overload and helps keep the pace of your presentation moving.

Personalization Principle

Creating a social conversation with learners softens the experience of learning via devices. It also helps build instructor presence in a lesson and the course. One of the best ways of achieving this via narration is to use a conversational tone.

Conversational tone in everyday life comes from an interaction that is authentic and casual. That is difficult to achieve in narration. Professional actors train to do this. Faculty at Ecampus are often provided with narration tips to help in this regard. Narrators are encouraged to have notes that guide their presentation but not encouraged to read a script verbatim. Not surprisingly, reading a narration is easily detected by the listener’s ear. Instructors can personalize narrated lectures by knowing what you want to say, practice it so you know when to say it, then just be yourself and let your personality come through.

Applying the personalization principle in design means thinking through and planning your conversation with the remote audience. Then practicing the delivery so it feels conversational. Learners will benefit from this narration design strategy.

Final Thoughts

Earlier in this article we posited that new learning is predicated upon the structure and delivery method of information to learners as well as the learner being able to engage with the provided information in a way that supports learning. In a very simple way we are saying that good design for learning presents content clearly and does not create barriers to information engagement by leaners.

Although instructors are correct to focus initial narrated lecture design on the slide presentation preparation that reflect best practices in accessibility, visual formatting, copyright, and more. It is also valuable to think through the narrated lecture design in terms of cognitive load, potential barriers to learning, and how to positively impact the learner’s information processing.

The five guiding principles for narrated lectures help instructors identify ways in which they can design and intentionally use audio narration with text and images that compliments an understanding of cognitive learning theory. In doing so they create online narrated lectures that are more effective as multimedia-based learning experiences.

References

Clark, R. C., & Mayer, R. E. (2016). E-learning and the science of instruction : Proven guidelines for consumers and designers of multimedia learning. Retrieved from http://ebookcentral.proquest.com

Rune Pettersson & Maria D. Avgerinou (2016) Information design with teaching and learning in mind, Journal of Visual Literacy, 35:4, 253-267, DOI: 10.1080/1051144X.2016.1278341

As online educators, we strive for a balance of learning activities that incorporate three types of engagement: learner-to-content, learner-to-instructor, and learner-to-learner.  The learner-to-learner component is often filled through discussion boards or group projects, but an underutilized and undervalued option is peer review.

The Rationale

There are many ways peer review benefits students, among them Cornell University Center for Teaching Innovation lists:

  • Empower students to take responsibility for and manage their own learning.
  • Enable students to learn to assess and give others constructive feedback to develop lifelong assessment skills.
  • Enhance students’ learning through knowledge diffusion and exchange of ideas.
  • Motivate students to engage with course material more deeply.

More broadly, the authors of The Knowledge Illusion argue that our individual capacity for knowledge is often much more limited than we realize and that our true depth of knowledge is held collectively.  They remind us that, “when you put it all together, human thought is incredibly impressive.  But it is a product of a community, not of any individual alone” (page 5).  In our increasingly complex world, some evidence of a shift towards building knowledge collectively can be seen in research. For example, in the MEDLINE database, “the average number of authors per article has nearly quadrupled from about 1.5 in 1950 to 5.5 in 2014” (page 226).  This is just one of many examples the authors use to illustrate how essential collaboration and relationship skills have become.  In nearly every field, students need to be prepared to be more than individual achievers, but rather to contribute effectively to a group.  Peer review provides students an opportunity to give and receive feedback with the goal of creating a better end product, but it is also an opportunity for students to practice and build their teamwork skills.

Moreover, International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Standard 3b emphasizes the need for students to, “evaluate the accuracy, perspective, credibility and relevance of information, media, data or other resources.”  Peer review is a great way for us to meet this standard and to combat against misinformation, by teaching students to evaluate and challenge claims.  In Weaponized Lies: How to Think Critically in the Post-Truth Era author Daniel J. Levitin shares strategies for how we can think more critically and evaluate the trustworthiness of what we are being told.  He notes that, “sometimes the people giving you the facts are hoping you’ll draw the wrong conclusion; sometimes they don’t know the difference themselves” (page xx).  If your students are in either of these groups, it benefits them to have an attentive reader review their work and provide respectful suggestions for improvement prior to a final assignment submission.  This may help you as the instructor to avoid catching errors too late in the process when students cannot revise their work.

The Explanation

However, students may not see the value of peer review on their own.  The Teaching Center at Washington University in St. Louis describes many reasons students may express uncertainty around peer review as, “Many students do not perceive feedback from peers as relevant to the process… students are likely to assume that it is only the instructor’s feedback that ‘counts.’”  Therefore, it is important that we explain to students why we are asking them to engage in peer review explicitly.

It can be helpful to explain specifically how this will relate to industry or field of study requirements as a student advances as a professional and scholar – it looks different for a researcher than it does for a project manager, so motivate students by sharing with them how they will engage in similar activities in the future as this gives them an opportunity to practice what Starting Point: Teaching Entry Level Geoscience describes as, “key skills such as abstracting, developing arguments, describing, assessing, criticizing, analyzing, and reviewing.”  As Faculty Focus advises, we can’t assume that students will implicitly understand the purpose of peer review.  When we craft a peer review assignment, we need to think carefully about how we will articulate the benefits of the process to students.  It can be helpful to answer questions like, “Why am I having students do this?” and “Why should students be excited about this process?”  Or, to take it a step further, we can anticipate the questions from our students’ perspective and proactively address the purpose and logistics in the assignment description, by answering questions like, “Why am I doing peer review?” and “How am I supposed to review my peer’s work?”  Make sure the technology needed and processes are clear and that resources are provided for students that need more guidance.

The Process

Remember, knowing why students are peer reviewing and being able to peer review are two totally different skills.  If you are an Ecampus instructor, talk with your instructional designer about strategies that can help your peer review process be more successful.  Some of the best practices suggested by Center for Instructional Technology & Training at the University of Florida include:

  • Clarify expectations in advance
  • Check your students have all the tools they will need
  • Provide enough time in the peer review process so that students can meaningfully engage – this may span more than one module
  • Model the type of feedback you want your students to use
  • Create a quality rubric as a guide

Your instructional designer can also talk to you about digital tools or strategies that can be used to introduce students to peer review. For example, you can discuss whether it makes more sense to use Canvas Peer Review or another tool, like Peerceptiv, which is research-validated peer assessment technology available for Ecampus courses.

Remember, students need opportunities to practice peer review, as they may never have done it before.  That means they have to get familiar with both the tools and the process.  It’s best if they can practice with the technology on a low stakes assignment before using it for a high stakes assignment, so that they can familiarize themselves with a peer review process without the added anxiety of a major grade on the line.  It will also take time for you as the instructor to get familiar with the process, but it is a completely worthwhile investment!

I invite you to consider some concluding thoughts from Levitin, “Information gathering and research that used to take anywhere from hours to weeks now takes just seconds… The implicit bargain that we all need to make explicit is that we will use just some of that time we saved in information acquisition to perform proper information verification” (page 253).  Let’s reinvest some of the time our students saved researching to engage them in verifying claims, evaluating evidence, offering commentary, and incorporating feedback – all of which support the development of a stronger student work and the building of a collective knowledge.

(Estimated 6-minute reading )

Every college student registers for classes, hoping for academic success. However, college study can be challenging, even for those students who often get As and Bs in elementary and secondary schools (Macalester University, n.d.). Research tells us that lack of time management skills, life challenges that are out of students’ control, content challenges, and not knowing how to learn are among top factors contributing to academic failure in college. (Fetzner, 2013; Texas A&M Today, 2017, Perez, 2019) In this blog, we will examine the importance of teaching college students time management skills, and how we should teach them those skills.

Why should we teach college students time management skills? 

Fetzner (2013) reported top 10 ranked reasons students drop courses in college, after surveying over 400 students who dropped at least one online course:

  1. 19.7% – I got behind and it was too hard to catch up.
  2. 14.2% – I had personal problems (health, job, child care).
  3. 13.7% – I couldn’t handle combined study plus work or family responsibilities.
  4. 7.3% – I didn’t like the online format.
  5. 7.3% – I didn’t like the instructor’s teaching style.
  6. 6.8% – I experienced too many technical difficulties.
  7. 6.2% – The course was taking too much time.
  8. 5.0% – I lacked motivation.
  9. 4.3% – I signed up for too many courses and had to cut down on my course load.
  10. 3.0% – The course was too difficult.

Student services staff at Oregon State University Ecampus also confirm, based on their daily interactions with online students, that many college students lack time management skills (Perez, 2019). Now that we have realized that many college students lack sufficient time management skills, do we leave it for students to struggle and learn it on their own? Or is there anything we can do to help students develop time management skills so they thrive throughout their college courses? And who can help?

Who can help?

Many higher education professionals, including instructors, instructional designers, advisors, student success coaches, and administrators can help students develop time management skills. For example, at New Student Orientation, there could be a module on time management. Perez (2019) raised a good point that usually New Student Orientation already has too much information to cover, there will be very little room for thorough/sufficient time management training, even though we know it is an area that many of our students need improvement. Advisors can help students with time management skills. Unfortunately, with the current advisor/college students ratio and 15 minutes per student consultation time, that is very unlikely to happen either. Last but not least, instructors can help students with time management skills in every course they teach. If instructors are busy, instructional designers can help with templates or pre-made assignments to give students opportunity to practice time management skills.

How can instructors teach students time management skills?

How could instructors and instructional designers help students from falling behind? A couple crucial solutions are teaching students time management skills and giving students opportunities to plan time for readings, quizzes, writing original discussion posts, responding in discussion forums, working on assignments, homework problems, papers, and projects. Regarding self-hep materials for time-management skill, there are abundant resources on how students could improve time-management skills on their own. Apps and computer programs can help us manage time better. Sabrina Collier (2018) recommended over ten time management apps, including myHomework Student Planner, Trello, Evernote, Pomodoro apps, StayFocused, Remember the Milk, and more.

I personally use outlook calendar, google calendar, and word document to create my personalized study at the beginning of a new term. Rice University’s Center for Teaching Excellence provides an online tool for course workload estimation that is worth checking out. Read-O-Meter by Niram.org will estimate reading time for you if you copy and paste the text into text input window.  In Canvas Learning Management System, to help students plan their total study time needed, instructors could help students visually and visibly notice time needed for study, by stating estimated time for each and all learning activities, such as estimated reading time, video length, estimated homework time, etc. The following is an example Dr. Meta Landys used in her BI 319 online course.

Task list for students with the estimated time to complete each item

Image 1: Task Time Estimate and Visual Calendar of the Week in BI 319 “Critical Thinking and Communication In the Life Sciences” online with Instructor Dr. Meta Landys.

At program and institutional levels, keeping important dates visible to students will also help students stay on top of their schedule and not miss important timeline. At Oregon State University, a user-friendly calendar is created for parent and family of our student population, which includes important dates regarding academic success and fun campus events. For example, on the page for October 2019, the calendar shows October 6th as the last day to drop a fall term course with a 100% tuition refund, and the last day to add a fall term course online without departmental approval. These important dates could also be added to Canvas course modules or announcements, just as friendly reminders to students to make relevant decisions in time.

Parent & Family Calendar 2019-2020

Image 2: Oregon State University Parent & Family Calendar with important dates such as last drop to drop a course with 100% tuition refund; first date to register for a course for the coming term, etc.

It is true that there are plenty of resources on time management for students to learn by themselves. However, not all students know how to manage their time, even with the aid of digital tools. The problem is that when students are not required to make a detailed schedule for themselves, most of them will choose not to do it.  The other side of the problem is that there is very few activities which students are required to show instructors that they have planned/scheduled time for readings and all other study activities for the courses they are taking.  In Canvas, to train students in time management skills, instructors could give an assignment in week 1 to have students plan their weekly learning tasks for each of the 11 weeks. Students can use a word document, excel spreadsheet, apps, or google calendar to plan their time. Charlotte Kent (2018) suggests asking students to include sleep time, eat time, commute time, worry time, and free time and four to eight hours of study time per week per course. Yes, scheduling worry time and free time is part of the time management success trick!

Image 3: A color-coded google calendar example of scheduling study time for a student taking two courses online while working full time and raising children.

To sum it up, there are many ways instructors can help students to develop time management skills, instead of assuming it is individual students’ responsibility to learn how to manage time. Instructors could make estimated study time for each learning activity in a module/week. Instructors could require students to plan study time for the entire term at the beginning of the course. And instructors could recommend students to use apps and tools to help them manage time as well! If you have other ways to help students manage time well, feel free to contact me and share them with us: Tianhong.shi@oregonstate.edu.

 

References

Collier, Sabrina. (2018). Best Time-Management Apps for Students. Top Universities Blog.

https://www.topuniversities.com/blog/best-time-management-apps-students

Fetzner, Marie. (2013). What Do Unsuccessful Online Students Want Us to

Know? Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 17(1), 13-27.

Kent, Charlotte. (2018). Teaching students to manage their time. Inside Higher Ed. September

18, 2018. Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/advice/2018/09/18/how-teach-students-time-management-skills-opinion

Perez, M. (2019). September 2019 Oregon State University Ecampus Un-All-Staff meeting.

Oregon State University. (2019). Parent & Family Calendar 2019-2020. Retrieved from

https://families.oregonstate.edu/sites/families.oregonstate.edu/files/web_2019_nspfo_calendar.pdf

 

image of several birds sitting and one is moved to fly Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash.

My interest in learning about motivation in education began many years ago when I started learning about motivation in game design. In order to better understand motivation, in a classroom, while playing a game, and in an online learning environment, I am turning to the body of research that has grown from Edward Deci and Richard Ryan’s Self-Determination Theory (SDT). This blogpost will be a continuation of my previous SDT Primer and an excellent companion to Chris Lindberg’s Games as a Model for Motivation and Engagement series of posts.

While I had intended to use this entry for discussing grades and assessment, an important piece of SDT and its application is understanding the different types of motivation explored by the SDT community of researchers. This post will define and expand on the numerous types of motivation in preparation for a discussion on grades and assessment.

Before we begin, take a brief minute to explore and reflect about what moves you to do something? As an example, what moved you to open this blog post and begin reading it?

The Autonomy-Control Continuum

The types of motivation you might be most familiar with are intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation refers to doing something because it is inherently interesting or enjoyable, while extrinsic motivation refers to doing something because it leads to a separable outcome. I might be moved to read a chapter of a novel over lunch because it is inherently enjoyable (intrinsic), or I might be moved to run errands over lunch because of external factors, like visiting the bank or post office due to their limited open hours (extrinsic). While these opposites are often displayed and discussed as an either-or, they are really just two ends of a spectrum that contains more nuanced gradations.

(Gagné & Deci, 2005, p. 336)

The autonomy-control continuum (Ryan & Deci, 2017) is an outgrowth of the intrinsic-extrinsic spectrum, representing the spectrum between autonomous regulation, or a feeling of complete volition and controlled regulation, or a feeling of being externally or internally compelled to act. While intrinsic motivation would fall under the category of autonomous regulation, extrinsic motivation can sometimes come close to the autonomy end of the spectrum for personally important or valued tasks, or can swing all the way to the controlling side with external rewards or punishments for tasks. And on the extreme opposite end of the spectrum from intrinsic motivation is amotivation, or the complete absence of intentional regulation. Ideally, we hope that students will feel autonomous motivation, which has also been shown as optimal for learning.

Internalized Motivations: External vs. Internal

Now let’s explore some of the murky gradations between feeling autonomous and controlled. The first step is to compare two degrees of controlled regulations: external vs. internal regulations. External regulation is motivation that is controlled by external factors—a student might experience external regulation when they have to complete a group project in a course. External factors, the instructor in this case, dictates that students collaborate in groups for this project. Internal regulation (or introjection), occurs when internally controlling factors are at play, e.g. shame, guilt, or fear. Continuing with the group work as an example, a student might feel moved to complete a task for the group project by placing internal pressure on themselves, resulting in feeling guilty if they don’t perceive that they’re pulling their weight, or shame in being the last group member to respond to a discussion assignment, or fear that their lack of activity will punish everyone in the group with a lower grade. In both cases, the student feels controlled, either by an external factor or internal pressure.

Identified & Integrated Regulations

As we move closer to the autonomy end of the spectrum, we run into identified regulation, or the acceptance of extrinsic value. Our student from the example above might feel extrinsically motivated to complete the group project, but through the use of a rationale statement from the instructor, might accept the value of this group work, thus feeling more of a sense of autonomy than with external or internal regulation. Lastly, and moving even closer to autonomy, is integrated regulation, or adding the value of a task to one’s own beliefs or sense of self. Perhaps through reflection or a particularly well designed group project, a student comes around and now believes that group work is an essential part of their desired educational experience. While integrated regulation is not the same as feeling autonomous, you might be able to imagine a situation where an identified or integrated regulation would feel more motivating than an external or internal regulation.

How to Begin Thinking About Grades

In a recent Q&A with Richard Ryan, one of the authors and lead researchers of SDT, responded that “there has been no empirical justification for why we have grades in schools at all.” My next blog post will dive deeper into the role that grades and assessment play in SDT and motivation. In the meantime, I would like to pose some questions to get you started thinking about how you use grades in relation to motivation in your courses:

  • Do you use grades to create external regulation of behavior in your course?
    • Are you grading a behavior or the demonstration of a skill?
  • Do you want to emphasize performance goals or mastery goals?
  • Are there ways to help students identify and integrate the activities and assessments in your course?
  • Do you need to grade this activity/assessment/task?

These are big, difficult questions! And thinking about motivation in terms of a spectrum is complicated! If you find yourself wanting to continue the discussion of motivation in course design, check out the companion blog series mentioned in the introduction above, contact your instructional designer, or keep an eye out for other opportunities to continue the discussion at various upcoming Ecampus events!

References & Resources

Center for Self-Determination Theory (CSDT). (2019).

  • This website is a treasure-trove of resources on SDT and its application in numerous fields, including education.

Gagné, M., & Deci, E. (2005). Self-determination theory and work motivation. Journal Of Organizational Behavior, 26(4), 331–362.

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2017). Self-Determination Theory: Basic psychological needs in motivation, development, and wellness. New York: Guilford Press.

A new Ecampus project has underscored the potential of graduate teaching assistants (GTAs) to add immense value to the process of reviewing and improving courses by thinking both as an instructor and as a student. Ecampus analyzed data and collaborated with partners in academic departments to identify five courses in which students were experiencing barriers to success that were not being addressed in Ecampus’ rigorous course development and support process. The academic departments also identified five pedagogically-minded and innovative GTAs to analyze and begin addressing the barriers to student success. The result is a pilot that we believe will be beneficial for the students, the GTA Fellows, and the faculty, while also providing learning opportunities for all stakeholders about how to tackle the most challenging course design problems. While we’re still in the first term of the pilot, our collaborative investigation process and emerging creative solutions have already made us very excited about the findings to come. 

Determining first steps 

At Oregon State Ecampus, we have a strong framework to help support and maintain course quality.  Courses are carefully and thoughtfully designed through a collaborative effort between a faculty course developer who has received training in online course design best practices and an Ecampus instructional designer. The development process spans from the two term initial design and build period, where we ensure courses meet our set of Ecampus Essentials, to iterative first term adjustments, to support for continued lifetime maintenance, to formal course “refreshes” every 3-5 years.  Finally, many of our courses are also submitted for and earn Quality Matters certification, which is an important indicator of quality based on research-based standards. This rigorous and supportive development process aims to make sure the course continues to stay relevant, accessible, and effective for learners.

But, in spite of all this careful planning, development, review, and maintenance, what is the appropriate response when courses have recently come through this rigorous and comprehensive design process, faculty have been trained in best practices for teaching online, and students are still encountering barriers to success in the course?

We recently launched a new pilot project to tackle this question head-on.  As a starting point, and using a few basic indicators of student persistence, retention, and success in our courses — such as the DFWU rate, or a rate at which students receive grades of D, F, W (withdrawal), or U (unsatisfactory)  — we created an initial list of courses across our online offerings where students were least successful in passing or completing. From this list, we identified which courses had been redesigned within the last five years (to rule out our standard redevelopment process as a solution to increasing student success).  The latter group of courses underwent some additional review by our team to identify if there were any stand-out issues that could be easily resolved.

What we arrived at was a short-list of courses that had higher than usual DFWU rates and were redesigned recently.  In these courses, we knew that something else was going on beneath the surface; the underlying problem was neither an obvious issue with design or facilitation techniques.  Many of the courses on this short-list are problematic not for a high rate of D/F/U grades at the end of the term, but rather for a high rate of W (withdrawal) grades. Our Ecampus student population is largely comprised of non-traditional students who have a different set of needs than our more traditional on-campus students, namely in that they need flexibility to balance their busy out-of-school lives while also meeting their educational goals; so, through this pilot, we wanted to find an effective way to determine what could be changed to better support Ecampus students in staying in (and succeeding in) these courses that were particularly challenging for reasons we could not easily identify.

Designing the pilot

With these course profiles compiled, we reached out to five department partners to assess their interest in collaborating on a project to further review and revise a course (or, in some cases, a sequence of courses).  We proposed to fund a Graduate Teaching Assistant (GTA) for three consecutive quarters to evaluate and then to propose and implement innovative interventions in these targeted courses with an eye toward increasing online student success.  In general, pilots are following the below schedule:

  • Quarter 1: the GTA is an active observer of the course(s), and reviews previous sections’ data to look for patterns in obstacles that students might face; in collaboration with the faculty course lead and Ecampus staff, the GTA then proposes a first set of interventions for quarter 2; IRB approval of research is confirmed if necessary for design of interventions and/or for desire for possible future publication.
  • Quarter 2: the GTA continues to be an active observer in the course(s) and helps to implement the first set of interventions; in collaboration with the faculty course lead and Ecampus staff, the GTA then proposes new or refined interventions for quarter 3.
  • Quarter 3: the GTA continues to be an active observer in the course(s) and helps the instructor to implement the new or refined interventions; data reporting is wrapped up and a campus presentation is arranged.

Note that, across the three quarters, the GTA does not undertake the traditional tasks associated with a teaching assistant in an online course, such as grading assignments, responding to student questions, holding virtual office hours, etc., modeling our pilot on fellowship programs such as Duke University’s Bass Digital Education Fellowships.  Rather, all stakeholders agreed to allow the GTA to not be constrained by these time-consuming tasks and focus their efforts instead on observational work and then planning and implementing interventions.  The instructors assigned to these courses continue to take on their regular duties of interacting with and assessing students.

The unique advantage of GTAs

With our five unique pilots underway as of this summer, it has already become clear that the key to this pilot is the unique positioning of the GTA to tackle these student success problems from both the faculty and student perspectives.  At Oregon State, GTAs regularly serve as teaching assistants or instructors of record in on-campus, hybrid, and online courses, so our GTAs have come to these pilot projects with prior teaching experience (and, often, with some training in pedagogy and course design).  Yet, our pilot program GTAs are also still students themselves, so they are particularly attuned to the student experience as they follow and track current and upcoming groups of students working through these courses.

Our pilot will also benefit from the fact that these GTAs have a strong interest in pedagogy and in their own professional development as instructors.  With that in mind, we have worked to structure some of the individualized goals of each pilot to reflect how we can help the GTA get the most value out of this opportunity (such as through a campus presentation, a published paper when we have results, or connecting with Ecampus leaders as possible references for job applications).  The final name for our pilot – GTA Innovations for Student Success Fellowship – is crafted both to reflect the central goals of the pilot (student success) and to call out the important and unique work that GTAs are doing as fellows.

Looking forward (to sharing innovative interventions and results)

We are still in the very early stages of each of these pilots, so while we don’t yet have any results to share, the deep engagement of our stakeholders in this process has been heartening, and wonderful plans are in the works for the first sets of interventions to be implemented this fall.  We are also so pleased to see the support behind allowing this group of GTAs inspire innovative online teaching within their home departments, and the willingness of the faculty who teach the courses under review to think collaboratively and differently about the creative ways we can support their online students.

As part of their pilot work, we will encourage these GTAs to contribute to the blog and share their insights and takeaways along the way.  What they learn about how to support student needs in these particularly challenging courses and course sequences, learning design, teaching methods that better motivate disengaged learners, etc. will no doubt be useful to Ecampus stakeholders across the university and beyond.  Stay tuned for more!

This is the final segment in a three-part series summarizing conclusions and insights from research of active, blended, and adaptive learning strategies. Part one covered active learning, part two focused on blended learning, and today’s article discusses research assessing the value of adaptive learning.

Diverse Definitions

Five young people studying with laptop and tablet computers on white desk.

The University of Maryland writes that “Adaptive learning is an educational method which uses computers as interactive teaching devices” that allocate resources according to the needs of each learner. Educause Learning Initiative describes adaptive learning as systems that “use a data-driven…approach to instruction.” Wikipedia’s definition focuses on technology as the distinguishing characteristic.  Smart Sparrow, an adaptive learning platform vendor, emphasizes the learning experience, noting that adaptive learning “address the unique needs of an individual through just-in-time feedback, pathways, and resources (rather than providing a one-size-fits-all learning experience).” And though each of these is accurate and helpful, they fail to inspire a vision for the true value and benefits of adaptive learning.

What’s special about adaptive learning? Why should you consider using it? One answer is succinctly summarized by Dale Johnson, manager of the Adaptive General Education Program for EdPlus at Arizona State University, who said, “The traditional approach of presenting the same lesson to all students at the same time is being replaced by the adaptive model of delivering the right lesson to the right student at the right time.” Johnson cuts to the heart of the matter; focusing on the value and benefits of adaptive learning rather than describing the technologies that make it work. For today’s blog post, that’s the more relevant framework for our discussion.

Game Changer

Although adaptive learning can be successfully implemented in any discipline, this article cites research from STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) disciplines. The classic, one-size-fits-all lecture model is commonly used in STEM courses. Historically, those classes tend to have the highest rates of attrition and failure. As a result, educators are looking for ways to increase student success and reduce failure and withdraw rates. Many have turned to adaptive learning as that solution.

Adaptive learning uses specialized computer programs to create a customized, student-centered learning path (Kerr, 2016). These systems establish a baseline of knowledge that estimates the student’s degree of mastery for a topic. As the student progresses and gives new information to the adaptive learning platform, it re-evaluates the student’s proficiency and knowledge (Scalise, Bernbaum, & Timms, 2007) and comes to “know” the student, customizing and adjusting the feedback, practice questions, and support materials to match that student’s skills. Although all students ultimately arrive at the same learning destination, the path traveled by an individual might differ from that of classmates, depending on prior knowledge, learning style, and other factors (Canfield, 2001).

Course Design and Instructor Approach

Effective use of adaptive learning requires a well-designed, pedagogically-sound course structure. Adaptive learning may fail if technology is simply added as an extra element or after-thought. To fulfill the promise of adaptive learning, it must be aligned with the learning outcomes, topics, activities, and organization of the course (Scalise, Bernbaum, & Timms, 2007).

When adaptive learning is used as part of a well-structured course design (or redesign), it harmonizes with the benefits of active and blended learning, to deliver powerful, personalized guidance and support.

Instructors will want to re-evaluate course design and activities from the ground up to ensure successful adoption of adaptive learning. This includes discipline-specific choices as well as non-academic influences such as motivation, time management, psychological and social aspects, emotions, learning abilities, and fostering an inclusive environment. These added elements play a key role in the successful implementation of adaptive learning (Martinez, 2001).

Does Adaptive Learning Work?

Yes! There is substantial evidence to conclude that adaptive learning improves student success.

A study in an introductory chemistry class compared post-test results of two student groups. The group using adaptive learning out-performed the control group by an average of nearly 21% (Scalise, Bernbaum, and Timms, 2007). Research from a basic algebra class noted higher final grade averages with adaptive technologies (Stillson & Alsup, 2003). And another study from college algebra showed that students using adaptive learning scored higher than the control group on pre- and post-test assessments (Hagerty and Smith, 2005).

Here at OSU, several undergraduate courses, including college algebra and introduction to statistics, have reported improved results after redesigning courses to include adaptive learning software.

Benefits to Students and Instructors

Students

Research indicates that under-achieving students gain the most from adaptive learning. But this customized approach improves study habits and attitudes for all learners (Walkington, 2013). Students report feeling like they could succeed in the topic, many for the first time, because of the added support provided through adaptive learning (Canfield, 2001). A research study reported that 61% of students said they learned more mathematics than in previous traditional math classes (Stillson and Alsup, 2003).

Students report benefits in exit surveys from courses using adaptive learning:

  • Able to work at their own pace, using adaptive content as an extension of course materials, concepts, and activities (Stillson & Alsup, 2003).
  • Learned more with adaptive learning (Canfield, 2001).
  • Liked the support of step-by-step explanations, immediate feedback, and customized practice problems (Canfield, 2001; Stillson & Alsup, 2003).
  • Motivated to strive for completion when viewing graphical charts showing progress (Canfield, 2001).
  • Developed better study skills and were willing to devote time to learn, recognizing that these investments brought the rewards of a deeper understanding of course content and, ultimately, a passing grade (Stillson & Alsup, 2003).
  • Less stress and worry because of the self-paced, just-in-time nature of adaptive learning, where new topics or practice problems are only presented when the student is ready for them (Canfield, 2001).

Most students said they would take another class using adaptive learning and would recommend the adaptive format to others (Canfield, 2001).

Instructors

Since adaptive learning uses sophisticated technology, most platforms generate reports and data that inform instructors about individual student performance, including details about the skills achieved, remaining progress to achieve mastery, problem areas, and other critical information. At a glance, instructors can use these vital metrics to monitor student performance and, as needed, intervene and provide additional guidance (Scalise, Bernbaum, & Timms, 2007).

If Adaptive Learning is so Great, Why Isn’t Everyone Using It?

As with any technology, adaptive learning is not a panacea. It has drawbacks and may not be well-suited for every student or every situation.

Those lacking adequate internet speed or easy access may be frustrated. Learners who do not own computers may have difficulty finding systems in campus labs or libraries. Students with minimal prior knowledge may spend more time reaching baseline skill levels than classmates. Those who are employed, have extensive family obligations, or juggle other responsibilities may have challenges effectively managing their time to complete the adaptive learning segments (Canfield, 2001; Stillson & Alsup, 2003).

Administrators and teachers uncertain about how to incorporate adaptive learning may have challenges. When not well-integrated into course design, adaptive learning can create confusion. Course instruction and activities must align with the learning materials delivered by the adaptive system. Since adaptive learning is personalized, students may be working in different sections or topics from peers. When lectures or topics don’t match the adaptive content, students perceive this as two classes, with double the work. When course structure lacks cohesion, students might ignore the adaptive support or conclude that it hinders, rather than helps, their ability to study (Stillson & Alsup, 2003).

Finally, adaptive learning is most often used in classes already known to be difficult. The introduction of a new technology could add a layer of confusion and frustration, especially if its been inserted as an add-on component. Courses that haphazardly integrate adaptive learning might even experience an increase in drops or failures due to poor design. Students less confident using technology might be worried about learning this way (Stillson & Alsup, 2003).

In Summary

Adaptive learning has the potential to increase learning, especially in STEM disciplines. The ability to customize material and content to fit the needs of individual learners is a powerful shift from the more common one-size-fits-all lectures. Although more research is needed to realize the full scope of benefits of adaptive learning, results indicate that adaptive learning may better support universal and inclusive learning goals (Scalise, Bernbaum, & Timms, 2007). Adaptive learning gives instructors valuable information about student performance, and these technologies help students more easily grasp complex concepts and content. The ability to closely match topics to a student’s readiness and knowledge may increase their willingness and motivation to learn (Canfield, 2001).

What’s Next?

If you are interested in learning more about adaptive learning and whether it might benefit your teaching and success of your students, check out these OSU Ecampus resources:

Susan Fein, Oregon State University Ecampus Instructional Designer

susan.fein@oregonstate.edu | 541-747-3364

References

  • Canfield, W. (2001). ALEKS: A Web-based intelligent tutoring system. Mathematics and Computer Education, 35(2), 152-158.
  • Hagerty, G., & Smith , S. (2005). Using the web-based interactive software ALEKS to enhance college algebra. Mathematics and Computer Education, 39(3), 183.
  • Kerr, P. (2016, January). Adaptive learning. ELT Journal, 70, 88-93.
  • Martinez, M. (2001). Key design considerations for personalized learning on the web. Educational Technology & Society, 4(1), 21.
  • Scalise, K., Bernbaum, D. J., & Timms, M. (2007). Adaptive technology for e-learning: Principles and case studies of an emerging field. Journal of the American Society for Informaton Science and Technology, 58(14), 2295–2309.
  • Stillson, H., & Alsup, J. (2003). Smart ALEKS… or not? Teaching basic algebra using an online interactive learning system. Mathematics and Computer Education, 37(3).
  • Walkington, C. A. (2013). Using adaptive learning technologies to personalize instruction to student interests: The impact of relevant contexts on performance and learning outcomes. Journal of Educational Psychology, 105(4), 932–945.

The Ecampus multimedia team creates animations to bring your thoughts and words to life. In virtual reality, creating these 3D objects and animations has become incredibly easy and fast.

The old ways … of power tool juggling

Developing “multimedia” often means using small aspects of many different tools. “Media” being a means of communication and the plural of medium: a means of doing something. To create an animation for your class, we quickly run through a long list of media.

Here’s an exhaustive run through of how the process works at the moment (feel free to skip to the next section! This is detailed): You would typically type up and email over a script that I take into Google Drive to edit and comment upon. You’d record audio in one of our sound booths, and I’d take the resulting sound files into Adobe Audition to equalize levels and remove background noise(s). Then I’d grab a pencil and sketch out a quick storyboard for each sentence to suggest visuals that could emphasize your point(s). Photographs of these sketches are edited in Photoshop and injected into another file on Google Drive.

And that is just the easy preparation portion. Depending on the animation style we’re going after, I’d dive deep into obscure programs I’ve learned to use over the past few decades – like Autodesk Maya / Mudbox / MotionBuilder / Meshmixer, Adobe Illustrator / Animate / Character Animator / Fuse / Dimension, Unity3D, the Procreate iPad app, Agisoft Photoscan, MeshLab, Instant Meshes, Mixamo, etc. … Simply trying to list the most commonly used apps is exhausting (much less all the other emerging apps we investigate, or the ones we mastered that went away. I still love you HyperCard, Director, and Flash!). Phew.

However the pieces of animation are generated, we still end up spitting out thousands of images or video files that have to be lined up in Adobe After Effects / Premiere / Media Encoder to assemble the final video that we can upload to YouTube or Kaltura and send to you.

What I’m saying here is: this whole process usually takes weeks or months. Or… we can just do it all in VR in an afternoon.

 

The new reality… of easy bake dreams

Tvori is an amazing tool to easily puppet objects and characters around in VR. You can record audio in directly, and export 4K videos, 360 videos, or animation data for all those old programs i mentioned above. The main reason I set out to write this blog post: was to promote Tvori. It offers an all-in-one easy pathway to making your own animatons in mere minutes. This amazing program runs about 20 bucks, and unlike the other (free) VR tools I’ll mention below – Tvori isn’t backed by a major corporation (*yet). I expect to be generating much more animation work for instructors with it, and hope to be advising you all on how to use it yourselves as you step into VR through your own office computers.

I’d say Tvori offers a level of animation comparable to an “animatic” – a movie industry term for quick and dirty approximations of what the final multi-million dollar film could look like. There’s a good chance animatics will be good enough for the bulk of concepts we wish to impart to students at the university level, with the added bonus that we can generate many of them in a single term. That said, maybe you’re curious what other creative tools are emerging in VR these days?

1) Whiteboard animations are a common request at Ecampus. Oculus Quill lets us draw and animate in this cartoon style in 3D (so it’s like our current 2D drawing tools, but we can move the camera around freely at any time, zoom-in endlessly,). This free tool for Oculus Rift users was updated last month to add a ton of new useful tricks.

We’ve already made fly-bys of 3D drawings in Google Tiltbrush, but we couldn’t actually animate the drawings directly (we just started recording, and moved our head through space). But both these programs are free and worth looking into.

2) In Oculus Medium, anyone can sculpt objects in the air at high resolution with weightless clay. If you own the Oculus Rift, this is an free and amazing tool for creating 3D objects. Now we can make things extremely fast and bring them into those old programs we’ve used for years.

Google Blocks is a similar free tool to quickly make solid low-resolution objects (it’s like Google Sketchup with VR ease and benefits). Upload them to Google Poly to share with the world (a service very similar to SketchFab or Microsoft’s Remix 3D). With these sculpting tools, and repositories of free creations, it’s a snap to gather the building blocks needed to start complicated animation projects. For example, we can bring any of these sculpted objects right into Tvori…

3) Final thought: you can use Google Earth VR to walk around any location on earth, while scaling up to Godzilla height or even zooming in and out from space. The multimedia team can record what you’re seeing and pointing at, along with your narration. While this isn’t a feature of the software (yet), we have the magic means to do it for you. (And we can also go back into Google Earth Studio to make a more polished and precise version of the path you traveled).

I hope this inspires you to go get a VR headset, come by our offices and try it out, or let us don the gear for you. We look forward to making your imagination a reality for students worldwide!

Narrative and World-Building

For this post, I will focus on two simple strategies you can use to improve motivation and engagement in your online course, narrative and world building. These terms are used frequently in games, as well as in literature, film and other domains. They are a powerful tool, easily applied to your existing course material or as you develop new content.puzzle world

If you want some background about where my thinking is coming from, check out my last blog post, Games as a Model for Motivation and Engagement, Part 1, where I take a deeper dive into gaming and Self-Determination Theory. I would also recommend a post by Dr. Meghan Naxer, Self-Determination Theory and Online Education: A Primer.

There are two kinds of world building I’d like to talk about; instructor-created narrative and student-created narrative. To set the tone for our thinking about this, I’ll start with a quote from Designing for Motivation.

“… if you increase autonomy then engagement will improve, if you increase competence then motivation will increase, and if you increase relatedness then wellbeing will be enhanced–these needs become the controllers we tweak and adjust to iterate on and improve experience.”
(Peters, D., Calvo, R. A., & Ryan, R. M. (2018) Designing for Motivation, Engagement and Wellbeing in Digital Experience. Frontiers in Psychology, 28 May 2018. DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00797)

So how can we use world building to ‘tweak’ these three controllers?

Instructor-Created Narrative

role-playing game diceInstructor-created narrative refers to the world or environment created by the course builder and determined by the story they are telling about that world. This world building can be for a particular course activity, but also keep in mind that your entire online course is a learning environment and you, as the course builder, have significant influence over how that world is curated. A colleague recently described how an instructor begins their course with the phrase, “Welcome scholars”. This sets a tone that is a competence-supportive environment with just two words. Tone is a commonly used tool for world building across many domains.

As a simple entry point for world building, I’ll start with a classic type of game, role-playing.

Brainstorm Exercise

Consider setting up a role-playing scenario for one of your existing activities or assignments. What is the outcome you expect students to achieve from this activity? Imagine a situation (or world) where that outcome exists or can be applied. What does that situation look like? Now, imagine you are a student in that situation, what does this world look like? (See what I did there? Role playing!) How will your student interact with that world to achieve your outcome? Take a minute or two to note your answers to these questions. This is a good way to begin sketching out your narrative. Once your sketch is complete, you can begin moving the parameters and rubrics of your existing activity into this world.

The world you create for your scenario can be the ‘real world’ in a particular time period, a hypothetical political situation, a business/client relationship regarding a product, or a hypothetical world to resolve a physics problem. Here are some ways you can frame your thinking as you practice the above exercise:

  • Take the tools you have provided in the course content (competence) and use them to analyze the following situation (world building). “How would you apply what you learned this week to the following situation?”
  • Even better, “How will the situation change as a result of your decisions?”

A small change in wording can provide big changes in thinking. In the second bullet point, we have moved from applying the week’s content to a given situation to a personalized critical analysis.

Student-Created Narrative

The other side of the coin is allowing students to build on your narrative, or create their own. This is where you significantly impact autonomy. This is your world, you create the rules. You set the parameters that will focus student thinking toward the outcomes you hope for them to reach. The rules you set will determine the level of autonomy the student experiences.

Brainstorm Exercise

For this exercise, you can continue with the role-playing scenario you built in the previous Brainstorm Exercise or choose another existing activity from a course. Let’s brainstorm some ways you can add autonomy to this activity.

A simple addition to the role-playing scenario we built previously would be to allow students to choose the role they will play. You have built a narrative, now let the student choose the character they will play to build on that narrative. If you need to keep things more focused, it is totally acceptable to restrict the roles to a list of options. Even with restrictions, is it possible for students to choose the gender, race or economic background of their character? What other characteristics can you think of that will help a student take ownership of the role?

For other kinds of activities, consider giving students the creative freedom to choose and build their own narrative. The instructor still defines the rules of the world and sets the outcome and rubrics for the activity. Can you open up the choices a student has to meet these outcomes? Allow students the autonomy to take ownership of how they get to your outcome, using your rubric as a guide.

For example, select a concept that was covered in the course. In your activity, allow students to choose where and how that concept can be applied. Let them build the narrative around the concept. Conversely, select a setting in the world, much like you would for the role-playing scenario. Allow students to choose the course concepts they want to apply in that setting and build a narrative around that. This strategy lends itself well to case studies. Rather than taking on a specific role, students become story creators, while still working with instructional concepts and within the rules defined by the instructor.

Group World Building

As I mentioned in my previous post, group work and community building (as modeled by gaming communities) are great ways to increase relatedness in a course. Community members are able to share their competence and, in turn, feel valued by that community. This is another great support of motivation.

All of the strategies discussed above can be applied to group work. You can set up the same role-playing scenarios, but this time multiple students will take on different roles and interact in those roles within their group community. Relatedness is impacted as decisions and actions taken by one student will affect the world that is being collaboratively built. Here are two examples from a media course I recently helped develop. They both reflect the range of complexity group world building can undertake.

Pitch Game (Group Discussion)

For your Initial Post in this discussion, pitch a new television show. Follow the parameters presented in class; including X+Y claims, audience description, sketch of the show’s audience and the ideal network for the show. For your Peer Response, you will take on the role of media buyer. Choose which network or streaming service you work for. Review all available show pitches. Decide which show you will purchase. Reply to the show you wish to purchase; identify the network you represent and write your reasoning why you want to make the purchase. Use course material to support your decision.

Trial Simulation (Group Project)

To better understand the ways in which civil law shapes the media ecosystem, we will enact a short trial simulation. The court of the Honorable Judge is an appeals court: this means that the FACTS of the case were decided by the TRIAL court. The question that will be litigated in class regards the law and the interpretation of those facts.

One student will take on the role of Plaintiff, another will be Defense and a third member of the group will be the Judge. Over the next two weeks, you will follow the posted schedule to present your arguments and answer questions from the Judge. Before proceeding, review the Debate Rules and Trial Facts documents. You will be expected to cite actual Supreme Courts cases to support your claims.

Hopefully, this blog has provided some simple entry points for using world building to increase autonomy, build competence, and improve relatedness in a course to improve motivation and engagement. I would love to hear what you come up with in the Brainstorm Exercises.

Dice Image: “DSCF5108” by joelogon is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
World Building Image: puzzle-ball-1728990_1920 from Pixabay

Introduction

For those who work in higher education, it may not come as a surprise that the field of instructional design has grown in tandem with the expansion of online programs and courses. Evidence of this growth abounds. While the discipline of instructional design has expanded rapidly in recent years, the history of instructional design is not well known by those outside of the field.

This post will cover a brief history of instructional design with a particular emphasis on design: What influences design? How are design decisions made? How has the way we approached design changed over time? We’ll also consider how instructional designers actually design courses and the importance of course structure as an inclusive practice.

Instructional Design: Theory and History

Every instructional design curriculum teaches three general theories or theoretical frameworks for learning: behaviorism, cognitivism, and constructivism. While an instructional designer (ID) probably wouldn’t call herself a cognitivist or a behaviorist, for example, these theories influence instructional design and the way IDs approach the design process.

The field of instructional design is widely believed to have originated during World War II, when training videos like this one were created to prepare soldiers with the knowledge and skills they would need in battle. This form of audio-visual instruction, although embraced by the military, was not initially embraced by schools.

B.F. Skinner
“B.F. Skinner” Portrait Art Print
by Xiquid

In the 1950s, behaviorists, such as B.F. Skinner, dominated popular thought on how to teach and design instruction. For behaviorists, learning results in an observable change in behavior. The optimal design of a learning environment from a behaviorist perspective would be an environment that increases student motivation for learning, provides reinforcement for demonstrating learning, and removes distractions. Behaviorists are always designing for a specific response, and instruction is intended to teach discrete knowledge and skills. For behaviorists, motivation is critical, but only important to the extent that it elicits the desired behavior. 

Cognitivism was largely a response to behaviorism. Cognitivists emphasized the role of cognition and the mind; they acknowledged that, when designing learning environments, there is more to consider than the content to be learned. More than environmental factors and instructional components, the learners’ own readiness, or prior knowledge, along with their beliefs and attitudes, require consideration. Design, from a cognitivist approach, often emphasizes preparedness and self-awareness. Scaffolding learning and teaching study skills and time-management (metacognitive skills) are practices grounded in a cognitivist framework.

While cognitivists emphasize the learner experience, and in particular, acknowledge that learners’ existing knowledge and past histories influence their experience, the learner is still receiving information and acting on it–responding to carefully designed learning environments.

Constructivism, the most current of the three frameworks, on the other hand, emphasizes that the learner is constructing their own understanding of the world, not just responding to it. Learners are activity creating knowledge as they engage with the learning environment.

All–or nearly all–modern pedagogical approaches are influenced by these theoretical frameworks for learning.

Design Approaches

A single course can be seen as a microcosm of theoretical frameworks, historical models, and value-laden judgements of pedagogical approaches

Learning theories are important because they influence our design models, but by no means are learning theories the only factor guiding design decisions. In our daily work, IDs rely on many different tools and resources. Often, IDs will use multiple tools to make decisions and overcome design challenges. So, how do we accomplish this work in practice?

  1. We look to established learning outcomes. We talk about learning goals and activities with faculty. We ask questions to guide decision making about how to meet course learning outcomes through our course design.
  2. We look to research-based frameworks and pedagogical approaches such as universal design for learning (UDL), inclusive design, active learning, student-centered design, and many other models. These models may be influenced by learning theory, but they are more practical in nature.
  3. We look to human models. We often heed advice and follow the examples our more experienced peers.
  4. We look to our own past experiences and solutions that have worked in similar situations, and we apply what we learned to future situations.
  5. We make professional judgements; judgements rooted in our tacit knowledge of what we believe “good design” looks like. For better or for worse, we follow our intuition. Our gut.

Over time, one can see that instructional design has evolved from an emphasis on teaching discrete knowledge and skills that can be easily measured (behaviorism) to an emphasis on guiding unique learners to actively create their own understanding (constructivism). Design approaches, however, are not as straightforward as simply taking a theory and applying it to a learning situation or some course material. Instructional design is nuanced. It is art and science. A single course can be seen as a microcosm of theoretical frameworks, historical models, and value-laden judgements of pedagogical approaches–as well as value-laden judgements of disciplinary knowledge and its importance. But. That’s another blog post.

Design Structure to Meet Diverse Needs

Meeting diverse needs, however, does not necessitate complexity in course design

If learners are unique, if learning can’t be programmed, if learning environments must be adaptable, if learners are constructing their own knowledge, how is all of this accommodated in a course design?

Designing from a modern constructivist perspective, from the viewpoint that students have vastly different backgrounds, past experiences, and world-views, requires that many diverse needs be accommodated in a single course. Meeting diverse needs, however, does not necessitate complexity in course design. Meeting diverse needs means that we need to provide support, so that it is there for those who need it, but not distracting to those who don’t need it. Design needs to be intuitive and seamless for the user.

Recent research on inclusive practices in design and teaching identify structure as an inclusive practice. Design can be viewed as a way of applying, or ensuring, a course structure is present. In that way, working with an instructional designer will make your course more inclusive. But, I digress. Or, do I?

Sathy and Hogan contend, in their guide, that structure benefits all students, but some, particularly those from underrepresented groups, benefit disproportionately. Conversely, not enough structure, leaves too many students behind. Since many of the same students who benefit from additional course structure also succeed a lower rates, providing course structure may also help to close the achievement gap.

How are We Doing This?

The good news is that Ecampus is invested in creating courses that are designed–or structured–in a way that meets the needs of many different learners. Working with an Ecampus instructional designer will ensure that your course materials are clearly presented to your students. In fact, many of the resources we provide–course planning templates, rubrics, module outlines, consistent navigation in Canvas, course banners and other icons and visual cues–are intended to ensure that your students navigate your course materials and find what they need, when they need it.

References

Icons made by phatplus and Freepik from www.flaticon.com are licensed by CC 3.0 BY

Boling, E., Alangari, H., Hajdu, I. M., Guo, M., Gyabak, K., Khlaif, Z., . . . Techawitthayachinda, R. (2017). Core Judgments of Instructional Designers in Practice. Performance Improvement Quarterly, 30(3), 199-219. doi:10.1002/piq.21250

Eddy, S.L. and Hogan, K. A. (2017) “Getting Under the Hood: How and for Whom Does Increasing Course Structure Work?” CBE—Life Sciences Education. Retrieved from https://www.lifescied.org/doi/10.1187/cbe.14-03-0050

Sathy, V. and Hogan, K.A. (2019). “Want to Reach All of Your Students? Here’s How to Make Your Teaching More Inclusive: Advice Guide. Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from https://www.chronicle.com/interactives/20190719_inclusive_teaching

Tanner, K.D. (2013) “Structure Matters: Twenty-One Teaching Strategies to Promote Student Engagement and Cultivate Classroom Equity,” CBE—Life Sciences Education. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3762997/