Flexibility is an inclusive practice. Structure is an inclusive practice. Both of these statements are true–yet, many people might wonder how to reconcile these seemingly opposite approaches in their course designs. How does one build a course that is both flexible enough to accommodate the diverse needs of their students, yet structured in a way that is clear and unambiguous? In a practical sense, what do these words really mean?

First, let’s define these terms and consider why each of these approaches are critical to student success. What do we mean by flexibility and structure and why are they both important features of course design and facilitation?

Flexibility

Flexibility is getting a lot of press right now, due to our global pandemic. We are all encouraged to be flexible and understanding of one another and to recognize that most of us, especially right now, are dealing with increased responsibilities. As a student myself, I recall how much relief it gave me to read in a note from my professor that this term is “all about flexibility” along with detail around what this means in the context of our course. 

For those of us familiar with online learning, accommodating students with full-time jobs and child or eldercare responsibilities, for example, is not new. However, even for our online students, these responsibilities are compounded by school closures and other distancing measures. Everyone needs additional flexibility, understanding, and support right now. Even you, reader! Let’s be explicit and honest about this in our communications with students and each other.

In the context of our online or remotely taught courses, how do we communicate this to students? Here are a few ideas and suggestions to get you started:

  1. Flexible policies: Saying you will be flexible is not enough. Build flexibility into your policies. For example, if students are required to do field observations for a report or lab, are the guidelines for these observations too restrictive? Might students with mobility challenges or high-risk health considerations be unable to spend extended periods of time outdoors? What alternatives can you provide to these students?
  2. Student choice: Providing your students options will increase their autonomy and engagement. Choice is especially important now because it will allow students to make decisions based, not only on their personal and professional interests, but also based on their individual circumstances, which may have drastically changed in recent months.
  3. Communication: Keeping the lines of communication open is essential. Frequent communication builds feelings of connection so that student needs are more likely to be articulated.

Structure

Building structure into your course means removing ambiguity and avoiding assumptions about your students. Structure does not mean being inflexible. You can be explicit and unambiguous without being rigid.

Two helpful tools for adding structure to your course are rubrics and models, or examples. Rubrics will help you to communicate with your students and will allow you to identify your expectations along with how each criterion will be evaluated. Model assignments will help students to interpret your expectations.

When you don’t have enough structure built into your course, when your expectations are ambiguous, your underrepresented students are disproportionately impacted. This level of ambiguity often results from assumptions about your students’ prior experiences. Assuming they know how to use an LMS or that they have reliable WiFi at home, for example, puts students who don’t have these resources at a disadvantage. 

When you don’t have enough structure built into your course, your students will be forced to make assumptions, correctly or incorrectly, about your expectations. Some students may ask questions, but others will do their work and hope for the best. This results in a clearly unequal playing field, exacerbating existing inequalities. 

Balance

Given that both flexibility and structure are needed in course design and teaching, whether online, remote, on-ground, or hybrid, how does one balance these competing elements?

Too much structure, and your students will lose agency and motivation. Too much flexibility, and your students may feel ungrounded and directionless.

Here are some tips for finding balance:

  • Give choice, but include clear parameters for evaluating student work.
  • Provide multiple lower stakes assessments and stage your course projects, so that students have multiple opportunities to get feedback, correct misconceptions, and earn course points.
  • Welcome student questions and concerns and share your feedback with the whole class. If one student is asking a question, many others are thinking about asking it and would benefit from the same communication. 
  • Don’t wait for students to request alternatives: odds are high that only your most privileged students will feel comfortable asking for accommodations such as more time or additional feedback. If one student requests an accommodation, others who need similar considerations, may not be asking for them. Why not proactively offer these options to all students?

As a final thought, both structure and flexibility are essential ingredients in the recipe for exemplary teaching. When you find the perfect blend of these elements, all your learners will benefit!

References

Parker, F., Novak, J, & Bartell, T. (2017). To engage students, give them meaningful choices in the classroom. Phi Delta Kappan 99 (2), 37-41.

Sathy, V. & 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

Do you ever get the sense that students posting in their online discussions haven’t really engaged with the reading materials for that week? One way to encourage active engagement with course readings is to have students annotate directly in the article or textbook chapter that they are assigned. While it is common to see students annotating in their paper copies of their textbooks or readings, these aren’t easily shared with their peers or instructor. Of course, students could snap a photo of their handwritten annotations and upload that as a reading assignment task, though that does require additional steps on the part of both the student and instructor, and there is no interaction with others in the course during that process. However, it is possible to have students annotate their readings completely online, directly in any article on the web or in their ebook textbook. With this process, the annotations can also be seen by others in the course, if desired, so that students can discuss the reading all together or in small groups as they are reading an article or book chapter online. The benefit to this type of annotation online includes components of active learning, increased student interaction, and accountability for students in engaging with the course materials.

Active Learning

The shift to active learning is a bit like going from watching a soccer game on TV to playing a soccer game. Likewise, reading passively and reading to learn are two different activities. One way to get students actively reading to learn is to ask them to make connections from the course materials to their own lives or society, for example, which they then make into annotations in their readings. Annotation tasks require students to take actions and articulate these connections, all without the pressure of a formal assessment. Furthermore, many students arrive at college not knowing how to annotate, so teaching basic annotation practices helps students become more active and effective learners (Wesley, 2012). 

Interaction

“Individuals are likely to learn more when they learn with others than when they learn alone” (Weimer, 2012). Discussion board activities are often where interaction with others in an online course takes place. However, rather than having students refer to a particular reading passage in their discussion board activity, they can simply highlight a passage and type their comments about it right there in the article, no discussion board assignment needed. Others in the course can also read participants’ annotations and reply. With some creative assignment design in Canvas, this can also be set up for small groups. Students may find this type of annotation discussion more authentic and efficient than using a discussion board tool to discuss a reading.

News article embedded in the assignment shows annotations made by specific students with a box to reply
Above, the online news article is embedded in the Canvas assignment. Students simply go to the assignment and can begin annotating. In the image above, a student highlights a passage to show what the annotation refers to. For a collaborative activity, students can reply to any peer’s comment. Alternatively, the instructor can set the annotations to be private, for more independent tasks.

Accountability

A popular way to ensure that students have done the reading is to give them a quiz. However, this is a solitary activity and is higher-stakes than asking students to make targeted annotations throughout a reading. It may make more sense to guide them through a reading with specific annotation tasks. Being explicit about what pieces of the reading students should focus on can help them understand what they need to retain from the reading assignment.

Possible Activities

  • Student-student interaction: Replace a discussion board activity with a collaborative annotation activity where students can annotate the article as they read. Then they can go back later in the week and reply to each other. 
  • Activate prior knowledge: Ask students to include one annotation related to what they already know about this topic.
  • Evaluate sources: Find a pop-science article in your discipline that includes weak support for arguments or claims, for example. Ask students to identify the sources of support in the arguments and challenge the validity of the support. Perhaps they could even be tasked with adding links to reliable sources of support for your discipline in their annotation comments. 

Nuts and Bolts

Two popular annotation tools are Hypothesis and Perusall. I would encourage you to test these out or ask your instructional designer about your needs and whether an annotation tool would be a good fit for your course learning outcomes. 

Resources:

Hypothesis

Perusall

Wesley, C. (2012). Mark It Up. Retrieved from The Chronicle of Higher Education: https://www.chronicle.com/article/Mark-It-Up/135166

Weimer, M. (2012, March 27). Five Key Principles of Active Learning. Retrieved from Faculty Focus: https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-and-learning/five-key-principles-of-active-learning/

Open Pedagogy Part 1 – What is the value of going ‘open’?

By Ashlee M. C. Foster, Instructional Design Specialist Oregon State University Ecampus

Designing the "right" assignments
Figure 1: A list of challenges and strategies associated with designing the “right” assignments. This list is a result of a collaborative activity generated by the Critical Open Pedagogy cohort at the Digital Pedagogy Lab 2019. Photo courtesy of Ashlee Foster

Are you committed to broadening access to education and knowledge, acknowledging and mitigating barriers, fostering social justice, and designing authentic and renewable learning experiences that contribute to the greater good? Do you employ pedagogical approaches that focus on student agency, collaboration, community, and connection to the public and world at large? If so, you may be an open educator at heart!

This is a three-part blog which will introduce the potential value of open pedagogy (part 1), critically examine considerations and strategies for implementation (part 2), and explore current practitioner examples and design approaches (part 3), which I hope will help you envision open assessments for your courses.

You may be thinking those two little words encapsulate a great deal, and you would be right! I have learned that this is a complex question with various evolving answers among practitioners. Recent literature indicates that there is a shift occurring from Open Educational Resources (OER) centered pedagogy to pedagogy that is focused on the potential impact, collaboration, connection, democratization of education, and the critical inquiry of systems and technology. Both leaders in the field, Robin DeRosa and Rajiv Jhangiani define open pedagogy as, “access-oriented commitment to learner-driven education AND as a process of designing architectures and using tools for learning that enable students to shape the public knowledge commons of which they are a part.” It may help to contextualize this pedagogy by examining your perceived value of the approaches, consider what excites you most, and identify how you personally connect with the pedagogy. Let’s begin by exploring this together!

What values underpin open pedagogy?

What is open pedagogy?
Figure 2: A whiteboard with questions posed. The questions include “What is open pedagogy?”, “What is Open Educational Practices?”, and “What is Open Education?” Cohort members co-generated answers to these questions and posted them to the board. Photo courtesy of Ashlee Foster

I had an invaluable opportunity to attend the Digital Pedagogy Lab Critical Open Pedagogy track, facilitated by Rajiv Jhangiani. Throughout the intense week, our cohort engaged in meaningful discussions centered on what is it that makes someone an educator, open pedagogical approaches, public scholarship, educational technology, the democratization of education, and how open pedagogy can foster social justice. Rajiv asked participants to review his 5Rs for Open Pedagogy and then write a personal interpretation of the values. Specifically, he asked, “What brings you (or others) to this work?” In the spirit of openness, I have shared my initial perception of the values which continue to evolve as I learn more about the field.

Recent literature surveyed educators and asked them to describe how going open impacts their pedagogical approaches. Educators indicated that the open approaches prompted them to find innovative ways for students to obtain and share knowledge, use of new methods and platforms, diversify learning materials to include multi-perspectives, actively teach open literacies, move to a participatory model of teaching and learning from one that was top-down, and to engage in critical inquiry around entrenched knowledge structures.

Additionally, educators shared their perceived value for creating learning assessments that:

  • go beyond a single course (renewable),
  • are broadly relevant (inclusive),
  • allow for student choice when demonstrating learning (agency),
  • connect to the real world and the learner’s personal interests (relevancy),
  • amplify multi-perspectives from broad global voices (liberate),
  • empower students with the knowledge and skills to participate openly (freedom), and for educators and learners to collaborate (participate)!

What are students saying?

These are valuable insights from practicing educators, but what are students saying about open approaches in their classes? In a recent study, 173 students were asked to compare the educational value of open pedagogy to traditional approaches, to identify the types of learning outcomes associated with this approach, and if they preferred open pedagogical approaches to traditional. Out of 169 respondents, 53% of students preferred open pedagogical approaches to traditional classroom teaching practices. Students shared that the open approaches led to increased knowledge of the material, synthesis of information, consideration for the relevance of information, how to bring information together in a meaningful way for diverse audiences, application to real-world issues which they personally connect with, and they found the approaches to be more engaging. However, 20% of students preferred traditional pedagogy. This highlights that the integration of varied approaches may be optimal. I have learned that open pedagogy is not necessarily a silver bullet that can remedy all barriers and challenges associated with closed systems. Rather, it seems to be a tool that can be leveraged to foster social justice, engagement, participation, collaboration, co-construction of knowledge, the democratization of education, and to increase global access to education.

With all that said, let us circle back around to the question posed in the Critical Open Pedagogy workshop, what brings you to this work? I encourage you to reflect on this question. You may even find it helpful to write out your interpretation of the values of open pedagogy and share those with the community. If you feel comfortable to do so, please feel free to share in the comments of this blog. Do you find yourself inspired by this pedagogical approach? If so, I invite you to revisit this blog for Open Pedagogy Part 2 – Critical Considerations for Implementation and explore the resources below.

References

Resources

 

As described in an earlier post, Use a Mix Map for Blended Learning, the blended learning mix map is a widely used tool to visualize and design hybrid (or “blended”) courses that integrate scheduled face-to-face meetings with online elements. The two overlapping circles in this planning template provide space to list online learning activities, face-to-face learning activities and possibly activities that occur in both learning environments.

Blended Learning Mix Map

Where Does Learning Actually Occur?

Oregon State University faculty have found utility in drafting mix maps while in the early phases of hybrid course development. Many of those faculty suggested that the traditional two-circle mix map needed one improvement, namely a third circle! In response, the Center for Teaching and Learning and Ecampus created the Three-Disc Hybrid Design Mix Map.

Three-Disc Hybrid Design Mix Map

Does your blended course have learning activities that extend beyond the online and classroom environments (for example, service-learning, field or clinical experiences)? If so, this three-disc mix map is an ideal course planning tool. The “Other” circle is the place to list learning activities that principally take place somewhere other than the classroom and the online course site.

Sketch a Three-Disc Mix Map in Three Steps

You could create one mix map for your entire course, but many instructors prefer to focus on a single representative week of the course. There are three steps to sketching out your blended course vision on the three-disc mix map:

1 – List each learning activity in the appropriate circle. Consider these activities from the student perspective. For instance, collaborating on a group poster project, taking a quiz or making a presentation. Be sure to include “other” learning that occurs beyond the online and in-class environments. Consider the balance between learning activities in the three circles.

As to which learning activities fit where, that’s a topic to carefully consider and to converse about with your teaching colleagues as well as an instructional designer. For instance, think about the positioning of weekly discussions in your course. In terms of student learning outcomes, do discussions work best for you and your students in the classroom, online or possibly in both places? Can discussions be structured to bridge the gap between learning environments? Remember to consider how the timing of discussions will be woven into the broader, ongoing flow of blended learning in your course. And remember that classroom meeting time is finite and measured to the nearest minute in a hybrid course, so be judicious in using that time strategically!

2 – Use arrows to draw functional connections between the learning activities. For example, a weekly quiz is based on narrated online lectures, or an in-class discussion applies information from online readings. Aim to link every activity to at least one other activity. Be especially attentive to linkages between the online and face-to-face activities.

3 – List the average amount of time per week that you expect students will spend on each learning activity. For instance, two hours of reading or 90 minutes of problem solving. Check to see if the weekly total make sense in light of the Oregon State University credit hour policy, which states, “One credit is generally given for three hours per week of work in and out of class.”

Speaking of time expectations, 15 minutes is a reasonable amount of time for you to create a first draft of a mix map.

Mixing and Remixing

I recommend that you periodically revisit—and possibly redraw—your mix map, perhaps a week later, then a month later, to see how your blended course vision has evolved. A mix map is a malleable vision of a blended course at a given moment in the course design and development process; it’s not an end point. As the design and development process moves forward, remixing the map comes naturally.

In working with mix maps and more broadly with blended course design and teaching, focus on deeply interweaving the various course elements. Hybrid courses can truly be “the best of both worlds” of online and on-the-ground teaching and learning, by building on the strengths of each of these educational modalities, but only with intentional design that explicitly, and seamlessly, meshes the online, in-class and “other” elements of the course!

Resources

The OSU Hybrid Learning website provides downloadable mix map templates and sample mix maps. For more about blended learning, refer to these earlier blog posts: Blended Learning: What Do the Faculty Say? – Part 1 and Part 2, and Susan Fein’s excellent Blended Learning: What Does the Research Show?

If you’d like to take a deeper dive into blended learning, see the Blended Learning Toolkit and Kathryn Linder’s superb guide, The Blended Course Design Workbook.

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.

Accessibility

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. 

Inclusive Design

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).

Three circles. The outer circle represents inclusive design. The middle circle represents UDL. And the smallest circle represents accessibility.
Figure 1. An inclusive design process will always include UDL and accessibility as end goals.

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.

In Practice

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.

Final Thoughts

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.

Resources

  1. Appert, L. et al. (2018) Guide for Inclusive Teaching at Columbia. Columbia University: Center for Teaching and Learning.
  2. Gannon, Kevin. (2018) The case for inclusive teaching. Chronicle of Higher Education.
  3. Hogan, Kelly A. and Sathy, Viji. (2019, July 22) “Want to Reach All of Your Students? Here’s How to Make Your Teaching More Inclusive: Advice Guide.” Chronicle of Higher Education.
  4. The inclusive design guide. Inclusive Design Research Centre at OCAD University. CC-BY 3.0.
  5. Inclusive Teaching: Supporting All Students in the College Classroom. EdX course from Columbia University.

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/

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:

  1. 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.
  2. Some portion of the student’s learning occurs in a supervised physical location away from home, such as in a traditional on-campus classroom.
  3. 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?

Blended Learning Icon

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?

Five young people studying with laptop and tablet computers on white desk. Beautiful girls and guys working together wearing casual clothes. Multi-ethnic group smiling.

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

References

  • 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.

Image Credits

  • 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
One of the most common questions I get as an Instructional Designer is, “How do I prevent cheating in my online course?” Instructors are looking for detection strategies and often punitive measures to catch, report, and punish academic cheaters. Their concerns are understandable—searching Google for the phrase “take my test for me,” returns pages and pages of results from services with names like “Online Class Hero” and “Noneedtostudy.com” that promise to use “American Experts” to help pass your course with “flying grades.” 1 But by focusing only on what detection measures we can implement and the means and methods by which students are cheating, we are asking the wrong questions. Instead let’s consider what we can do to understand why students cheat, and how careful course and assessment design might reduce their motivation to do so.

A new study published in Computers & Education identified five specified themes in analyzing the reasons students provided when seeking help from contract cheating services (Amigud & Lancaster, 2019):

  • Academic Aptitude – “Please teach me how to write an essay.”
  • Perseverance – “I can’t look at it anymore.”
  • Personal Issues – “I have such a bad migraine.”
  • Competing Objectives – “I work so I don’t have time.”
  • Self-Discipline – “I procrastinated until today.”

Their results showed that students don’t begin a course with the intention of academic misconduct. Rather, they reach a point, often after initially attempting the work, when the perception of pressures, lack of skills, or lack of resources removes their will to complete the course themselves. Online students may be more likely to have external obligations and involvement in non-academic activities. According to a 2016 study, a significant majority of online students are often juggling other obligations, including raising children and working while earning their degrees (Clinefelter & Aslanian, 2016).

While issues with cheating are never going to be completely eliminated, several strategies have emerged in recent research that focuses on reducing cheating from a lens of design rather than one of punishment. Here are ten of my favorite approaches that speak to the justifications identified by students that led to cheating:

  1. Make sure that students are aware of academic support services (Yu, Glanzer, Johnson, Sriram, & Moore, 2018). Oregon State, like many universities, offers writing help, subject-area tutors and for Ecampus students, a Student Success team that can help identify resources and provide coaching on academic skills. Encourage students, leading up to exams or big assessment projects, to reach out during online office hours or via email if they feel they need assistance.
  2. Have students create study guides as a precursor assignment to an exam—perhaps using online tools to create mindmaps or flashcards. Students who are better prepared for assessments have a reduced incentive to cheat. Study guides can be a nongraded activity, like a game or practice quiz, or provided as a learning resource.
  3. Ensure that students understand the benefits of producing their own work and that the assessment is designed to help them develop and demonstrate subject knowledge (Lancaster & Clarke, 2015). Clarify for students the relevance of a particular assessment and how it relates to the weekly and larger course learning outcomes.
  4. Provide examples of work that meets your expectations along with specific evaluation criteria. Students need to understand how they are being graded and be able to judge the quality of their own work. A student feeling in the dark about what is expected from them may be more likely to turn to outside help.
  5. Provide students with opportunities throughout the course to participate in activities, such as discussions and assignments, that will prepare them for summative assessments (Morris, 2018).
  6. Allow students to use external sources of information while taking tests. Assessments in which students are allowed to leverage the materials they have learned to construct a response do a better job of assessing higher order learning. Memorizing and repeating information is rarely what we hope students to achieve at the end of instruction.
  7. Introduce alternative forms of assessment. Creative instructors can design learning activities that require students to develop a deeper understanding and take on more challenging assignments. Examples of these include recorded presentations, debates, case studies, portfolios, and research projects.
  8. Rather than a large summative exam at the end of a course, focus on more frequent smaller, formative assessments (Lancaster & Clarke, 2015). Provide students with an ongoing opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge without the pressure introduced by a final exam that accounts for a substantial portion of their grade.
  9. Create a course environment that is safe to make and learn from mistakes. Build into a course non-graded activities in which students can practice the skills they will need to demonstrate during an exam.
  10. Build a relationship with students. When instructors are responsive to student questions, provide substantive feedback throughout a course and find other ways to interact with students — they are less likely to cheat. It matters if students believe an instructor cares about them (Bluestein, 2015).

No single strategy is guaranteed to immunize your course against the possibility that a student will use some form of cheating. Almost any type of assignment can be purchased quickly online. The goal of any assessment should be to ensure that students have met the learning outcomes—not to see if we can catch them cheating. Instead, focus on understanding pressures a student might face to succeed in a course, and the obstacles they could encounter in doing so. Work hard to connect with your students during course delivery and humanize the experience of learning online. Thoughtful design strategies, those that prioritize supporting student academic progress, can alleviate the conditions that lead to academic integrity issues.


1 This search was suggested by an article published in the New England Board of Higher Education on cheating in online programs. (Berkey & Halfond, 2015)

References

Amigud, A., & Lancaster, T. (2019). 246 reasons to cheat: An analysis of students’ reasons for seeking to outsource academic work. Computers & Education, 134, 98–107. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.compedu.2019.01.017

Berkey, D., & Halfond, J. (2015). Cheating, student authentication and proctoring in online programs.

Bluestein, S. A. (2015). Connecting Student-Faculty Interaction to Academic Dishonesty. Community College Journal of Research and Practice, 39(2), 179–191. https://doi.org/10.1080/10668926.2013.848176

Clinefelter, D. D. L., & Aslanian, C. B. (2016). Comprehensive Data on Demands and Preferences. 60.

Lancaster, T., & Clarke, R. (2015). Contract Cheating: The Outsourcing of Assessed Student Work. In T. A. Bretag (Ed.), Handbook of Academic Integrity (pp. 1–14). https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-287-079-7_17-1

Morris, E. J. (2018). Academic integrity matters: five considerations for addressing contract cheating. International Journal for Educational Integrity, 14(1), 15. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40979-018-0038-5

Yu, H., Glanzer, P. L., Johnson, B. R., Sriram, R., & Moore, B. (2018). Why College Students Cheat: A Conceptual Model of Five Factors. The Review of Higher Education, 41(4), 549–576. https://doi.org/10.1353/rhe.2018.0025

game controller on work desk

What can instructional designers learn from video game design? This might seem like a silly question—what do video games have to do with learning? Why might we use video games as an inspiration in pedagogy? As instructional designers, faculty often come to us with a variety of problems to address in their course designs—a lack of student interaction, how to improve student application of a given topic, and many more. While there are many tools at our disposal, I’d like to propose an extra tool belt for our kit: what if we thought more like game designers?

Video games excel at creating engaging and motivating learning environments. Hold on a minute, I hear you saying, video games don’t teach anything! In order for games to onboard players, games teach players how to navigate the “physical” game world, use the game’s controls, identify the rules of what is and is not allowed, interpret the feedback the game communicates about those rules, identify the current outcome, form and execute strategies, and a large variety of other things depending on the game, and that’s usually just the tutorial level!

What is the experience like in a learning environment when students begin an online course? They learn how to navigate the course site, use the tools necessary for the course, identify the assessment directions and feedback, identify the short-term and long-term course outcomes, learn material at a variety of different learning levels, and large variety of other things depending on the class, and that’s usually just the first week or two! Sound familiar? What are some things that video games do well during this on-boarding/tutorial to setup players for success? And how might instructional designers and faculty use these elements as inspiration in their classes?

The following list includes nine tips on how game design tackles tutorial levels and how these designs could be implemented in a course design:

  1. Early tasks are very simple, have low stakes, and feedback for these tasks is often very limited—either “you got it” or “try again”. Consider having some low-stakes assignments early in the course that are pass/fail.
  2. If negative feedback is received (dying, losing a life, failing a level, etc.), it is often accompanied by a hint, never an answer. If you have a MCQ, do not allow students to see the correct answer, but consider adding comments to appear if a student selects an incorrect answer that offers hints.
  3. If negative feedback is received, the game does not move on until the current outcome is achieved. Allow multiple attempts on quizzes or assignments and/or setup prerequisite activities or modules.
  4. Game levels allow for flexible time—different players complete levels at different rates. Design tasks with flexible due dates. Many courses already allow some flexibility for students to complete activities and assessments within weekly modules—can that flexibility be extended beyond a weekly time frame?
  5. Tutorial quests usually have predetermined and clearly communicated outcomes. All objectives are observable by both the game and the player. Create outcomes and rubric conditions/language that are self-assessable, even if the instructor will complete the grading.
  6. Tasks and game levels are usually cumulative in nature and progress using scaffolded levels/activities. Consider breaking up large assignments or activities into smaller, more cumulative parts.
    • For example, the first quest in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is a great example for Nos. 5 and 6 above. It consists of four required objectives and two optional objectives:
      • Make your way to the keep.
      • Enter the Keep with Hadvar or Ralof.
      • Escape Helgen.
      • Find some equipment (Hadvar) / Loot Gunjar’s body (Ralof).
        • Optional: Search a barrel for potions.
        • Optional: Pick the lock of a cage.
  7. There are varying degrees of assumed prior knowledge, but no matter what, everyone participates in the tutorial levels. They are not optional. Consider saving optional “side quests” for later in a course or having an introductory module for everyone, regardless of skill level.
  8. The “tutorial” process usually ends when all skills have been introduced, but some games continue to add new skills throughout, inserting mid-game tutorials when necessary. Return to some of the design ideas on this list if a course introduces new topics throughout.
  9. After a requisite number of skills are mastered and players are able to fully play the game, the only major changes in design are increases in difficulty. These changes in difficulty are usually inline with maintaining a flow state by balancing the amount of challenge to the skill level of the player. As course material and activities increase in difficulty, make sure there are ample opportunities for students to develop their abilities in tandem.

Games are a great model for designing engaging learning experiences, with significant research in psychology and education to back it up. By understanding how games are designed, we can apply this knowledge in our course designs to help make our courses more motivating and engaging for our students.

Additional Resources

Want to know more about the psychology of why these designs work? Start with these resources:

PowerPoint Template Use In Developing Course Content

In online course development the production of narrated lectures that serve as course content if common. Often faculty turn to presentation software, such as PowerPoint, as the foundation of their presentation.  Using PowerPoint for narrated lectures means faculty must consider developing presentation slides that are accessible, attractive, and visually focused. This is not an easy task without some guidance in these areas of presentation design. This is where PowerPoint template use comes in handy.

The Ecampus design team at Oregon State University has produced a series of PowerPoint templates to assist faculty produce effective, accessible, and visually attractive presentations. The templates are available via the PowerPoint Guidelines and Templates website that provide not just the templates but also best practices in template use.

 

How Does This Work?

On the site Ecampus faculty can find templates developed with seven different designs. Each has an application for a given area of the university or function. To illustrate this point I have placed an image of a template title slide for the College of Forestry design.

College of Forestry PowerPoint template title slide.

Using this template faculty can edit the text and background image to create their own custom PowerPoint design. Below is the entire College of Forestry design series. In it you can see that there is good variety of slide types and design layouts.

The slide series from the College of Forestry PowerPoint template. Produced by Ecampus.
The slide series from the College of Forestry PowerPoint template. Produced by Ecampus.

Adapting Templates

Adapting the template for other course uses if fairly straight forward. Simply collect the images you wish to insert into the template and add the pertinent text. Below is an example of an adapted series of slides turning what looks like a forestry presentation into an organic agriculture presentations.

Image of six slide showing an organic agriculture theme to a PowerPoint presentation.
New organic agriculture slides created from College of Foresty template. Images provided by Unsplash.

With seven different templates to choose from faculty have a wide range of design options for narrated lectures using PowerPoint. These designs are also accessible and are visually consistent. Slide types vary to allow faculty to focus presentation attention on the subject at hand. This can save faculty time and effort in narrated lecture production. If you are an Ecampus faculty and you would like to learn how to edit and utilize this templates resource, ask your instructional designer.

The Ecampus PowerPoint Guidelines and Templates website is another example of how faculty and students benefit from the dedicated team of designers and multimedia producers at the Oregon State University Ecampus.