Are you looking for something to “spice up” your online course? Connect with students? Show them what your lab looks like? Take a look at what Oregon State University Ecampus is including in courses in our Course Demo.
Media elements in courses help students to visualize sometimes difficult concepts, connect with their instructors, and hear from professionals in the field. The Ecampus media team along with the talented instructors and instructional designers, work together to create custom media ranging from videos to augmented sandbox experiences. Do you have something in your class that could benefit from adding in media?
Adding elements doesn’t have to be hard. Start with something small – interesting images with alt-text, something you can do on your own, or collaborate with someone who’s done media you saw and liked and ask for their guidance and benefit from their experience.
The other day, my six-year-old asked me what the word “industrious” means, and I was overcome with pride and, moments later, mild panic as I tried to answer his question and couldn’t clearly articulate the meaning of the word.
This experience ended well (thanks, Alexa), but prompted me to think about how often we use words without fully understanding what they mean. We don’t question the meaning of these words when they are used in our work or daily interactions. We may use these words ourselves on occasion–or with regularity–but when we stop and try to define these words, the proper associations and descriptions don’t come immediately to mind.
In my work as an instructional designer, it’s common to talk about universal design or inclusive design, and in many cases, to use these descriptors interchangeably, when talking about design that is usable by a wide range of people. To a lesser extent, accessibility is used in a similar way, but, I think, our shared understanding of this term is more reliable.
For this blog post, I would like to spend some time defining and distinguishing these terms and grounding them in a historical context to more fully convey the nuances and layers of meaning ascribed to each term. I’ll wrap up with some strategies for designing courses to better meet the needs of all learners.
According to the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI), “Web accessibility means that websites, tools, and technologies are designed and developed so that people with disabilities can use them.” It’s clear from this definition that accessibility is intended to address the needs of users with disabilities, so let’s consider disability.
Prior to 2001, the World Health Organization (WHO) defined disability as a personal health condition. This definition placed emphasis on the individual. However, in 2001, the WHO redefined disability as a mismatched interaction between a person and their environment. This new definition places emphasis on the environment, rather than the individual. As a result, the onus is no longer only on the disabled individual to manage their health condition; rather, those who have influence over the environment need to make changes to the environment to better accommodate everyone who is interacting with it. In our case, the learning environment is the web, or more specifically, online courses.
Unlike the other two design approaches we’ll consider, accessibility is intended to address the needs of users with disabilities. Another distinguishing feature of accessibility is that it describes an end goal. Our web content should be presented in such a way that the end result is an accessible website or technology. While this post will not go into the how of making web content accessible, here are some elements you may be familiar with: alternative text (alt tags), headings (H1, H2, H3, etc.), color contrast, captions and/or transcripts, reading order, keyboard navigation, and descriptive URLs are all examples of accessibility elements. All of these elements define what our design should look like, not how to get there.
Another distinguishing feature is that accessibility is required by law. We won’t delve into the specifics here, but it’s important to recognize that accessibility is a legal compliance issue.
Universal Design for Learning (UDL)
While accessibility addresses specific features of a website or online learning environment, Universal Design for Learning (UDL) takes a broader approach. UDL guidelines still emphasize accessibility, but the emphasis is not solely on making disability accommodations or complying with the law. The goal of UDL is to provide the greatest degree of access and usability for the widest range of individuals.
UDL includes a framework with three general principles, each of which includes multiple guidelines and checkpoints for actual practice. A UDL approach is structured and practical and, similar to accessibility, UDL defines an end goal: a product that is usable by the widest range of individuals possible. The framework, however, emphasizes the design, which is only one aspect of creating an online course.
To broaden our understanding of UDL, it’s important to understand that UDL emerged from universal design, which is an architectural concept. Architecture, unlike the web, is physically fixed, and as such, the emphasis is on a single design that works for everyone.
While UDL emerged from architecture, inclusive design was “born out of digital environments,” and, while architecture is fixed, the web is flexible and ever-changing. As such, inclusive design emphasizes flexibility and process. Inclusive design is iterative. With an emphasis on iteration and process, inclusive design cannot be separated from the lived experience of actual users. In other words, if the users (in our case, students) are contributing to and evaluating the design, then we can no longer separate the design and delivery–the creation and facilitation activities.
With a focus on process, inclusive design emphasizes co-creation and frequent feedback from multiple developers as well as end users. In particular, seeking contributions from excluded communities during the entire design and evaluation process is critical to an inclusive process.
Unlike accessibility and UDL, inclusive design is focused on process and iteration. To help illustrate how we see these three design approaches working together, my colleague, Elisabeth McBrien and I created the figure below (figure 1).
We see accessibility compliance as core to any design. UDL goes beyond the requirements of accessibility to meet the needs of all users. In an inclusive design process, UDL and accessibility are always the end goal, but inclusive design emphasizes the importance of feedback and iteration. We can always improve and we always have more work to do.
Now that we have a better understanding how accessibility, UDL, and inclusive design work together to contribute to a learning environment that meets the needs of all learners, how do we apply them and improve? Ecampus has many guidelines and templates that help us to meet the goals of accessibility and UDL, but how can we be more inclusive throughout this process?
Here are some inclusive approaches that you might consider integrating into your course facilitation and teaching:
Build rapport with students. This is accomplished by infusing instructor presence whenever possible. Respond to Q&A questions and emails within 24-48 hours. Share resources. Deliver feedback promptly. An important element of rapport and presence is showing your personality, so consider using video to welcome students and to encourage them throughout the course.
Solicit feedback. One of the easiest ways to solicit feedback from your students is to use a survey. Keep surveys short and consider asking students to share in a few words how the course is going or what they find most challenging.
Establish clear criteria and structure. Rubrics, templates, examples, and consistent naming and organization of course materials are just a few ways to provide clarity and structure.
Acknowledge student contributions. Praise is an instant confidence booster. Do you have a student–particularly, an underrepresented student–who did an exceptional job on one of your assignments? Let them know. Consider sharing their work as an example–with their permission, of course.
Feature counter-stereotypical examples of people in your field. One common barrier to success for underrepresented students is that they don’t see themselves reflected in a particular discipline. Make sure your readings, examples, and other course materials represent a variety of identities. If there’s a lack of diversity in your field, find a way to acknowledge this to your students.
Promote student agency and autonomy by giving them choice, whenever possible. Providing choice and promoting agency allow students to connect your course to their own experiences and values.
Emphasize real world applications of course work. Often, we assume that our students understand the purpose of course activities, but this is not always the case. Sharing real world applications will help students to see the value and greater purpose of their studies.
We’ve covered a lot in this post, and I hope that we’ve come away with a better understanding of disability, accessibility, Universal Design for Learning (UDL), and inclusive design. One of the most important takeaways is that inclusive design is an ongoing process of feedback and iteration. As our student body changes, so do their needs. In an upcoming blog post, Elisabeth McBrien will share more details about student needs and how you might use student personas to design more inclusively.
As we continue the challenging–yet meaningful–work of creating welcoming online learning environments, it’s important that we have a shared understanding of what that work entails, what work we have done, and what work we have yet to do.
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 practiced my writing, speaking and presentation skills. I also felt a stronger connection to my classmates after sharing my video and watching their videos.
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.
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:
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:
Select a topic
Find resources and content
Create a storyboard
Script the video
Narrate the video
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.
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 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.
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 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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
19.7% – I got behind and it was too hard to catch up.
14.2% – I had personal problems (health, job, child care).
13.7% – I couldn’t handle combined study plus work or family responsibilities.
7.3% – I didn’t like the online format.
7.3% – I didn’t like the instructor’s teaching style.
6.8% – I experienced too many technical difficulties.
6.2% – The course was taking too much time.
5.0% – I lacked motivation.
4.3% – I signed up for too many courses and had to cut down on my course load.
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.
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.
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.firstname.lastname@example.org.
Collier, Sabrina. (2018). Best Time-Management Apps for Students. Top Universities Blog.
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’sGames 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!
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!
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.
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.
“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?
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.
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.
We look to human models. We often heed advice and follow the examples our more experienced peers.
We look to our own past experiences and solutions that have worked in similar situations, and we apply what we learned to future situations.
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.
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/
Have you ever taken a trip with a tour group? Or looked at an itinerary of places and activities to see if it meets your expectations and/or fits into your schedule? Most guided tours include an itinerary with a list of destinations, activities, and time allotted. This helps travelers manage their expectations and time.
have you ever thought of an online course as a guided trip? The instructor is similar
to a tour guide, leading student travelers to their destination. And, like
travelers, students naturally want to know what to expect and how much time to
commit to their learning. They could benefit from a detailed itinerary, or schedule
of activities, that includes estimated time commitment for each week.
As an instructional designer for hybrid and online courses, I like to include a detailed schedule for each week to help students organize their time and stay on task. In order to determine what is on that schedule, I begin the design process with a draft of the course syllabus that outlines where the students are headed (learning outcomes) and how the instructor knows they arrived (assessments). This draft helps me understand the instructor’s plans for the course. Together, we look at the learning outcomes and assessments, as well as course requirements like credit hours to determine appropriate learning activities along the way. The course credit hours inform the workload requirements for students. For example, Oregon State University is on the quarter system and their policy states that one credit hour is equivalent to 3-4 hours of course work each week. If a course is worth 3 credit hours, then students should expect to dedicate 9-12 hours each week to their course. I use a workload estimator created by The Center for Teaching Excellence at Rice University to help with the estimates. This tool provides a reasonable estimation of the workload expectations for students and can be used to verify whether the course meets the university’s guidelines for the assigned credit hours. (For more information on how the estimates are made, see the Rice University CTE blog post.)
While all of this information is useful to instructors, I also encourage them to share a weekly list of activities along with the calculations with students. Tour guides provide detailed schedules informing travelers where they are going, the order of the activities, and the time allotted to each activity, why not do that for students? Below, I’ve included a sample for how I do this in my courses. I create a weekly table on an introduction page at the beginning of each module within our LMS. This table includes a suggested order of the activities, the estimated time commitment to complete the activities, along with the official due dates. Anecdotally, students appreciate the schedule and use it to manage their time. I encourage you to consider using a detailed schedule with your future courses.
This post is the second in a three-part series that summarizes conclusions and insights from research of active, blended, and adaptive learning practices. Part one covered active learning, and today’s article focuses on the value of blended learning.
First Things First
What, exactly, is “blended” learning? Dictionary.com defines it as a “style of education in which students learn via electronic and online media as well as traditional face-to-face learning.” This is a fairly simplistic view, so Clifford Maxwell (2016), on the Blended Learning Universe website, offers a more detailed definition that clarifies three distinct parts:
Any formal education program in which at least part of the learning is delivered online, wherein the student controls some element of time, place, path or pace.
Some portion of the student’s learning occurs in a supervised physical location away from home, such as in a traditional on-campus classroom.
The learning design is structured to ensure that both the online and in-person modalities are connected to provide a cohesive and integrated learning experience.
It’s important to note that a face-to-face class that simply uses an online component as a repository for course materials is not true blended learning. The first element in Maxwell’s definition, where the student independently controls some aspect of learning in the online environment, is key to distinguishing blended learning from the mere addition of technology.
You may also be familiar with other popular terms for blended learning, including hybrid or flipped classroom. Again, the common denominator is that the course design intentionally, and seamlessly, integrates both modalities to achieve the learning outcomes.
Let’s examine what the research says about the benefits of combining asynchronous, student-controlled learning with instructor-driven, face-to-face teaching.
Does Blended Learning Offer Benefits?
The short answer is yes.
The online component of blended learning can help “level the playing field.” In many face-to-face classes, students may be too shy or reluctant to speak up, ask questions, or offer an alternate idea. A blended environment combines the benefit of giving students time to compose thoughtful comments for an online discussion without the pressure and think-on-your-feet demand of live discourse, while maintaining direct peer engagement and social connections during in-classroom sessions (Hoxie, Stillman, & Chesal, 2014). Blended learning, through its asynchronous component, allows students to engage with materials at their own pace and reflect on their learning when applying new concepts and principles (Margulieux, McCracken, & Catrambone, 2015).
Since well-designed online learning produces equivalent outcomes to in-person classes, lecture and other passive information can be shifted to the online format, freeing up face-to-face class time for active learning, such as peer discussions, team projects, problem-based learning, supporting hands-on labs or walking through simulations (Bowen, Chingos, Lack, & Nygren, 2014). One research study found that combining online activities with in-person sessions also increased students’ motivation to succeed (Sithole, Chiyaka, & McCarthy, 2017).
What Makes Blended Learning So Effective?
Nearly all the research reviewed concluded that blended learning affords measurable advantages over exclusively face-to-face or fully online learning (U.S. Department of Education, Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development, 2009). The combination of technology with well-designed in-person interaction provides fertile ground for student learning. Important behaviors and interactions such as instructor feedback, assignment scaffolding, hands-on activities, reflection, repetition and practice were enhanced, and students also gained advantages in terms of flexibility, time management, and convenience (Margulieux, McCracken, & Catrambone, 2015).
Blended learning tends to benefit disadvantaged or academically underprepared students, groups that typically struggle in fully online courses (Chingosa, Griffiths, Mulhern, and Spies, 2017). Combining technology with in-person teaching helped to mitigate some challenges faced by many students in scientific disciplines, improving persistence and graduation rates. And since blended learning can be supportive for a broader range of students, it may increase retention and persistence for underrepresented groups, such as students of color (Bax, Campbell, Eabron, & Thomson, 2014–15).
Blended learning benefits instructors, too. When asked about blended learning, most university faculty and instructors believe it to be more effective (Bernard, Borokhovski, Schmid, Tamim, & Abrami, 2014). The technologies used often capture and provide important data analytics, which help instructors more quickly identify under-performing students so they can provide extra support or guidance (McDonald, 2014). Many online tools are interactive, fun and engaging, which encourages student interaction and enhances collaboration (Hoxie, Stillman, & Chesal, 2014). Blended learning is growing in acceptance and often seen as a favorable approach because it synthesizes the advantages of traditional instruction with the flexibility and convenience of online learning (Liu, et al., 2016).
A Leap of Faith
Is blended learning right for your discipline or area of expertise? If you want to give it a try, there are many excellent internet resources available to support your transition.
Though faculty can choose to develop a blended class on their own, Oregon State instructors who develop a hybrid course through Ecampus receive full support and resources, including collaboration with an instructional designer, video creation and media development assistance. The OSU Center for Teaching and Learning offers workshops and guidance for blended, flipped, and hybrid classes. The Blended Learning Universe website, referenced earlier, also provides many resources, including a design guide, to support the transformation of a face-to-face class into a cohesive blended learning experience.
If you are ready to reap the benefits of both online and face-to-face teaching, I urge you to go for it! After all, the research shows that it’s a pretty safe leap.
For those of you already on board with blended learning, let us hear from you! Share your stories of success, lessons learned, do’s and don’ts, and anything else that would contribute to instructors still thinking about giving blended learning a try.
Susan Fein, Oregon State University Ecampus Instructional Designer
email@example.com | 541-747-3364
Bax, P., Campbell, M., Eabron, T., & Thomson, D. (2014–15). Factors that Impede the Progress, Success, and Persistence to Pursue STEM Education for Henderson State University Students Who Are Enrolled in Honors College and in the McNair Scholars Program. Henderson State University. Arkadelphia: Academic Forum.
Bernard, R. M., Borokhovski, E., Schmid, R. F., Tamim, R. M., & Abrami, P. C. (2014). A meta-analysis of blended learning and technology use in higher education: From the general to the applied. J Comput High Educ, 26, 87–122.
Bowen, W. G., Chingos, M. M., Lack, K. A., & Nygren, T. I. (2014). Interactive learning online at public universities: Evidence from a six-campus randomized trial. Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, 33(1), 94–111.
Chingosa, M. M., Griffiths, R. J., Mulhern, C., & Spies, R. R. (2017). Interactive online learning on campus: Comparing students’ outcomes in hybrid and traditional courses in the university system of Maryland. The Journal of Higher Education, 88(2), 210-233.
Hoxie, A.-M., Stillman, J., & Chesal, K. (2014). Blended learning in New York City. In A. G. Picciano, & C. R. Graham (Eds.), Blended Learning Research Perspectives (Vol. 2, pp. 327-347). New York: Routledge.
Liu, Q., Peng, W., Zhang, F., Hu, R., Li, Y., & Yan, W. (2016). The effectiveness of blended learning in health professions: Systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 18(1). doi:10.2196/jmir.4807
Maxwell, C. (2016, March 4). What blended learning is – and isn’t. Blog post. Retrieved from Blended Learning Universe.
Margulieux, L. E., McCracken, W. M., & Catrambone, R. (2015). Mixing in-class and online learning: Content meta-analysis of outcomes for hybrid, blended, and flipped courses. In O. Lindwall, P. Hakkinen, T. Koschmann, & P. Tchoun (Ed.), Exploring the Material Conditions of Learning: Computer Supported Collaborative Learning (CSCL) Conference (pp. 220-227). Gothenburg, Sweden: The International Society of the Learning Sciences.
McDonald, P. L. (2014). Variation in adult learners’ experience of blended learning in higher education. In Blended Learning Research Perspectives (Vol. 2, pp. 238-257). Routledge.
Sithole, A., Chiyaka, E. T., & McCarthy, P. (2017). Student attraction, persistence and retention in STEM programs: Successes and continuing challenges. Higher Education Studies, 7(1).
U.S. Department of Education, Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development. (2009). Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning: A Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies. Washington, D.C.
Blended Learning Icon: Innovation Co-Lab Duke Innovation Co-Lab [CC0]
Leap of Faith: Photo by Denny Luan on Unsplash
School photo created by javi_indy – www.freepik.com