boardwalk2“Universal design is the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design” –Ron Mace, NCSU Center for Universal Design

A fundamental of online instructional design is that learning materials should be accessible to all students. Ecampus works closely with faculty to ensure accessibility of course content for everyone. For example, since some students cannot hear an audio track on a lecture video, it’s essential that a transcript of the narration or closed captioning is provided.

Martha Smith and Gabe Merrell are OSU campus leaders in universal design and accessibility, and frequently discuss universal design for instruction with OSU faculty and staff. Martha is Director of Disability Access Services, and Gabe is Senior Accessibility Associate and Deputy ADA Coordinator in the Office of Equity and Inclusion. They note that the principles of universal design offer guidance for the design of every element of an instructor’s “toolkit,” from syllabi to presentation of content, course activities and assessments.  They point out that universal design benefits all learners. For instance, some students who can hear the audio track on a lecture video find that they learn more if they take a few extra minutes to read the companion transcript.

Gabe and Martha emphasize the importance of considering universal design up front in the development of teaching materials, instructional methods and means of assessing student learning. This is the approach the Ecampus Course Development and Training team takes with online and hybrid course development. As Ecampus serves an increasingly diverse student population, universal design enhances learning in the online classroom.

Ecampus instructional designer Melanie Kroening has created a great guide called 5 Accessibility Tips for “DIY” Course Designers that provides practical techniques for instructors to enhance the accessibility of course content.

To find out more about universal design, speak to any Ecampus instructional designer, contact Martha Smith or Gabe Merrell or visit the Center for Universal Design in Education.

How can we encourage online students to engage with the world? A few Ecampus instructors have found a great way to get their students to go out in their communities, observe, and report back information to the class. How? Field notes. 

What is a field note?  Field notes can contain a variety of information but typically field notes are written out in the field or immediately after stopping the experience.  They contain detailed observations including the dates, times, sights, sounds, smells, weather conditions, who was with you, feelings, drawings, questions that have risen from the experience as well as any other observations.

How did they do it? Lets dive into two different class examples.

Bruce Shindler, a forestry professor here at Oregon State University teaches a course about Managing at the Wildlife-Urban Interface.  Students watch videos from the field and take notes on what they see/hear and begin to answer questions about what they would do, what they think should be done, and what is currently done to manage the Wildlife-Urban Interface.  These experiences are done online, but the field notes from the videos are a great way to have students pay a great deal of attention to the video rather than only listening.

Stephanie Jenkins, a philosophy professor here at Oregon State University teaches a course that requires students to experience a Phish concert either in person or via a live webcast.  Students are required to take field notes for the concerts either while watching online or immediately after a live, in person concert.  Data can include any of the above mentioned items and students are then asked to identify a theme, idea, event, or improvisation that they saw in the concert and found interesting and use that in a written response.  In that response, they are to incorporate the readings from the class and the field notes from their experience.

As you can see, these are two different classes in two different fields that both used the concept of field notes in their courses.  You too can choose the idea of field notes and bring it into your course.  A little bit of innovation and the willingness to try something new is all it takes.

Enjoy and have fun!

When developing course material for online learning environments—especially narrated presentations—it is important to consider not only the content, but also the design of the material. If material is designed in a way that minimizes visual and cognitive distractions it will be easier for your students to engage with the content.

A particularly effective paradigm in understanding the relationship between content and design can be found in cognitive load theory articulated by John Sweller (1988, 1999). When students are processing learning materials, their total cognitive load is made up of intrinsic cognitive load and extraneous cognitive load. The intrinsic cognitive load is the amount of mental energy required to process the content of the learning at hand. The extraneous cognitive load is the amount of additional mental energy required by the form (design) of the material. Our goal in designing materials should be to minimize the extraneous cognitive load.

Heavy Extraneous Cognitive Load Learning Materials: Picture2

  Minimal Extraneous Cognitive Load Learning Materials:Picture3

Here are a few easy-to-follow principles for designing narrated online presentations (as well as other learning materials) which minimize extraneous cognitive load…

Font

Select fonts that are easy to read. Sometimes we have the tendency to use ornamental or “fun” fonts because we think they will increase engagement. Unfortunately, these fonts increase extraneous cognitive load greatly. The simplest example would be the use of an inappropriate font. Compare the following identical bits of text from Michelle Cook’s article:

Picture1

Use no more than two fonts in one piece of learning material, and if you do use two fonts, make sure those fonts are quite different, such as a sans serif and a serif font.

Color

Fonts and graphics should both make use of contrast in color. For example, you wouldn’t want to have yellow text on a white background. In addition to causing an increase in extraneous cognitive load, this also causes accessibility issues, especially for your colorblind students.

Avoid the use of more than two colors of text. Sometimes we get the urge to make our slides “pretty” by decorating them with lots of colors. Although this may be a wonderful idea for a work of art, it is counterproductive for narrated slides.

Text

When creating materials such as PowerPoint slides with audio narration, remember that all authority comes from what you are saying. Also, remember the Cook quote above: use the slides to present the visual information while your voice presents the textual (verbal) information. In other words, the slides should have the absolute minimum in terms of text.

Here’s an example of information students learn in MB 480—General Parasitology, created by Sascha Hallett. Note that the text which appears in the first slide becomes narrated content in the second slide:

 Non-Narrated Version

 Narrated Version

Parasitic Control of Host Behavior2 Parasitic Control of Host Behavior

Bullets

Bulleted material is good for documents, but not for narrated presentations. Avoid bullets like the plague. Let’s say you have a slide with five bullet points. What could you do? One possibility would be to create five slides—one for each point. One benefit to this method is that often the text can be eliminated completely and replaced with a visualization (graphic) of the idea you are discussing. Another method would be to use the “SmartArt” function in PowerPoint.

Pictures and Graphics

A picture is worth a thousand words. Therefore, selection of the appropriate picture or graphic is essential. If we use a picture that decorates a slide, the extraneous cognitive load will increase. If we use a picture that illustrates the message of the slide, the extraneous cognitive load will decrease. The ideal, however, is to use pictures that embody the message.

For more ideas on reducing extraneous cognitive load in your narrated presentations, I highly recommend Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds.

Please share your own tips for effective presentations in the “Leave a Reply” area below! Your insight would be greatly appreciated.

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Ecampus launched the Quality Matters (QM) initiative in 2013. QM is a continuous improvement model for assuring the quality of online courses through a collegial faculty review process. QM focuses on the design of online and hybrid classes, as opposed to the delivery or content of the courses. The QM rubric and trainings are

  • Based upon national standards of best practice, research, and instructional design principles;
  • Designed to promote student learning;
  • Integral to continuous quality improvement; and
  • Part of a faculty-driven, collegial peer review process.

The QM rubric is comprised of research-based standards, all about course design (as distinct from course content and facilitation). The rubric consists of eight general categories, with 41 specific standards. To achieve QM certification, a course must meet all 17 of the 3-point essential standards and must meet a minimum threshold of 81/95 points overall.

To improve the learning experience for Ecampus students and to help OSU faculty who wish to pursue QM course certification, the Ecampus Course Development and Training unit has developed a QM-based course template used as the foundation for the design of new and newly updated online courses. This template meets about half of the QM standards, all before any specific course content is added, and is already being used in approximately 100 courses.

To explore the Ecampus QM-based course template, log in to Blackboard using the username dce_qm and the password ecampus. If you would like to use the QM template in your online course, please contact Shannon Riggs, Ecampus Director of Course Development and Training, at shannon.riggs@oregonstate.edu.

One of the trends of 2014 is the explosion of infographics. Although they have been around for centuries, the creation of infographics has been limited to specialists such as cartographers, graphic designers, and others who specialize in data visualization.

The popularity of data visualization experienced a surge in 2006 when Hans Rosling created the free Gapminder tool and presented The Best Stats You’ve Ever Seen on the TED stage. He demonstrated the need for easily accessible tools regular people could use to transform complex information into easy-to-comprehend visual format.

The word infographic has undergone a shift in popular usage over the last three years. In the past, it meant anything that conveyed data or complex information in visual format, including charts and graphs. It now refers to digital posters in which graphics are used to present any type of information. This shift is due in large part to the proliferation of many online tools which make the creation of infographics incredibly easy.

Leading the pack among the vast number of online infographics creation tools are Infogr.am, Pictochart, and InfoActive.

The ease of use makes infographic tools ideal for student use. Instructors can create assignments in which students are asked to create infographics which they then share with their classmates. These can be highly engaging when used as discussion starters.

Here is an example of an infographic we created for the course GRAD 550–Introduction to Online Course Development and Facilitation.

Three_Types_of_Student_Interaction

P1090191 - Version 3The 2013 Survey of Online Learning Report was released last week on the Sloan Consortium website.  This annual series tracks trends in online higher ed in the U.S. through use of institutional data and responses from chief academic officers at colleges and universities nationally.  Among key findings of the 2013 survey, three-fourths of chief academic officers think the learning outcomes in online education are the same or better than with face-to-face instruction, but more than 40% of them say that retaining students in online courses is more difficult than in face-to-face courses.

Fortunately, Blackboard has built-in tools to help you monitor student progress.  In addition to the Grade Center, check out the Performance Dashboard and Retention Center in the Evaluation section of your Blackboard course Control Panel.  These tools can be used with no set up, though you do have the option to customize the Retention Center.  The Performance Dashboard gives you a quick overview of each student’s online course activity (for example, days since last Blackboard course access, and level of discussion board participation).  The Retention Center provides a more detailed picture of which students may be struggling or at risk in your course.  A glance at the Performance Dashboard and Retention Center can give you a heads-up at any point in the term about student engagement and success, so that you can take steps to communicate with students about your concerns and offer strategies for improvement.

Beyond this, make sure your students know about the Ecampus Student Success links, which direct students to Ecampus Success Counselors, online tutoring support, Academic Success (ALS) courses, personalized coaching services from InsideTrack, and other services available to OSU online students.

What strategies do you find most successful in retaining online students in your courses?

Occasionally in my work with faculty I find them wanting to reproduce a brainstorming session activity from the brick and mortar classroom. They want students to ‘shout out’ ideas, arguments, or topics and create a list so that everyone can participate and the best ideas can ‘float’ to the surface. There is value in pooling ideas to generate all possibilities given the varying background knowledge of students.

In OSU’s learning system, Blackboard, there are tools such as wikis and discussions that can allow students to generate ideas but these tools don’t always have the options needed to take the ideas and vote on them and have the class decide which are the best.

Tricider

So one alternative option is the free digital tool Tricider.  Tricider is an efficient online brainstorming and polling tool.

Screen Shot 2013-12-04 at 2.27.11 PM

I stumbled across Tricider as I do many tools by reading popular educational technology blogs and bookmarking my favorites, examine any limitations it may have, and then I use it in my own online classroom.  After the first term of using it, I found that Tricider required few instructions, did not require a login by my students, and was simple and intuitive to use.  Those faculty that use this tool find that it is the only tool that really does what it does.

When would you want to use Tricider:

  • In an icebreaker activity
  • To brainstorm and collect ideas (class or small group)
  • To brainstorm solutions and list pros/cons of each
  • To brainstorm ideas and vote on them so the favorites rise to the top
  • Have small groups brainstorm and share or compare/contrast their ideas with others

How to get started?

  • Go to http://tricider.com, create an account if you want to be able to revisit your “questions”
  • Type in a question and click on Go
  • Change the deadline if you wish it to be open more than 14 days
  • Click on Share and Invite
  • Copy and paste the URL anywhere that your audience can access the link
  • Brainstorm and/or Vote!

Try it out:  http://tricider.com/brainstorming/1GEq1

Melanie Kroening
(Instructional Designer, Ecampus)

You can create an easy study tool that students can take with them on their smartphones, use on the computer, and easily engage with as they study for your class.

Cram is a free flash card creation tool that allows instructors and students to develop a study tool for their students.  You can create study aids without an account .  Cards can be shared publicly or be made available only to those who have a link.  Instructors and students can create these study aids.  Imagine creating a short tool for students and then creating an assignment in which they create flashcards for the entire class to use!

Cool features:cram logo

  • Import information from Google Docs
  • Copy and paste from Microsoft Word
  • Create study aids in a vast number of different languages
  • Create 3-sided cards
  • Add images

As students study with the cards, they have three options to work with:

  1. Study like a regular set of cards
  2. Self-test, telling the program if they got it right or not to keep score and to allow them to review in the next round only the cards they got wrong
  3. Test themselves using a one of 4 testing options. (Matching, Written, Multiple Choice, and True/False)

See a six-card sample to try it for yourself!

outcomeswordleOSU’s Curricular Policies and Procedures specify that every course syllabus should include measurable student learning outcomes.  The outcomes are defined as “learner-focused statements reflecting what a student will be able to do as a result of an instructional activity. Each outcome statement should start with a measurable action verb that indicates the level of learning, followed by a precise description of the learned behavior, knowledge, or attitude.”

For guidance in developing learning outcomes, educators have long turned to Bloom’s Taxonomy, with its pyramid of cognitive levels.  Two much newer tools can help you refine learning outcomes for a course or find learning activities and associated tech tools that will align with your course outcomes.

1 – On the Ecampus website, the interactive Objectives Builder, created by James Basore, is a wonderful tool to assist in writing learning outcomes.  It’s easy to use and can do wonders if you’re grappling with learning-outcome-writer’s block!

2 – Allen Carrington’s Padagogy Wheel has hot links to 63 iPad apps, many of which exist in forms for other mobile platforms as well.  Each app is arranged on a wheel to align with learning activities that could be done with the particular app, related action verbs, and the corresponding cognitive domains from Bloom’s Taxonomy.  Brilliant . . . give it a try!