A trigger warning in a college course alerts students to the presence of material that may provoke a traumatic response. It might sound something like this:
As a reminder, this week’s reading contains an account of suicide. Please prepare accordingly and employ self‐care throughout the in‐class discussion. One self‐care option is to make use of the Monsour Counseling Center (Sample Syllabus Language, Claremont Colleges CTL).
The usage of trigger warnings has been debated by faculty, administration, students, and researchers, and after spending time reading the arguments and research, I am uncertain whether I would recommend them to an instructor who asked for my advice on the matter. So, rather than advocating for or against trigger warnings, this guide presents several resources for instructors exploring their usage.
Among my instructional design colleagues, trigger warnings have some obvious appeal, perhaps because they dovetail well with the UDL checkpoints that direct us to “facilitate personal coping skills and strategies” and “minimize threats and distractions” in our courses, but their utility is contested. The American Association of University Professors (AAUP), in their report “On Trigger Warnings” outlines some of the issues. Trigger warnings might stifle free and open discussion of difficult topics, prejudice students against engaging with instructional materials critically or encourage avoidance, and interfere with academic freedom. However, in “Teaching with Trauma: Trigger Warnings, Feminism, and Disability Pedagogy,” Carter (2019) asserts that the AAUP misunderstands the goal of trigger warnings and who they’re for – they aren’t intended to protect students in general from adverse learning experiences but rather to provide students who experience trauma and anxiety with the means to engage – in other words, trigger warnings are a question of access and accommodation. Indeed, students themselves are requesting trigger warnings or complaining when they’re not used, as found by the National Coalition Against Censorship in its survey of 800 faculty.
What do we know from experimental research about the effects of trigger warnings? Jones et al. (2020) in their article “Helping or Harming? The Effect of Trigger Warnings on Individuals With Trauma Histories” describe how they presented reading passages that either did or did not contain trigger warnings to over 400 non-students who self-reported trauma. The trigger warnings did not reduce anxiety and instead seemed to cause participants to view traumatic life experiences as even more central to their life stories. Because trauma survivors who ascribe more importance to their trauma are at greater risk for PTSD, this research would suggest that trigger warnings are harming the students we most want to help.
Bentley (2017) in her article “Trigger warnings and the student experience” investigates the reactions of about 60 undergraduates taking 2nd and 3rd year courses that included trigger warnings related to the topics of war and terrorism. Notably, students who didn’t self-report a mental health condition actually experienced more anxiety. The 3rd year students, perhaps because they were further along in their degree, were more likely to perceive trigger warnings as an affront to their self-competence as learners. On the other hand, some students found the warnings helped them explore difficult topics more freely, because they were given time to frame their thoughts and feelings within an academic, rather than a reactionary or personal, context. Other students found the warnings useful because, without them, the triggering nature of course topics would not have been immediately obvious.
For instructors looking for practical tips on how, when, and where to employ a trigger warning, the University of Michigan has prepared a comprehensive “Introduction to Content Warnings and Trigger Warnings”. While content featuring sexual assault may be an obvious trigger, this guide lists 20 other potential triggers that instructors might not have considered, such as classism or fat phobia, and for which students might appreciate a warning. The guide also suggests that, since what triggers others can be hard to predict, instructors should consider inviting students to request which specific types of content they’d like to be flagged. Rather than infantilizing students, the guide argues, trigger warnings empower students to prepare to engage with difficult topics, because with the knowledge of potential triggers, students can work with a therapist or schedule more time to engage with materials, thereby making them more responsible for their learning, not less. The guide also details options for implementation, like flagging individual learning materials in the course schedule by triggering topic, or by issuing blanket warnings in the course description for a course that is largely composed of potentially triggering material. This is a must-read for anyone who has decided to implement trigger warnings.
Many Oregon State colleagues have had transformative experiences in this program. A Fellows study funded in 2020 highlights the ways in which these projects have advanced research in online/hybrid education, as well as Fellows’ programs of research.
Fellows program highlight
Funding recipients expand the inclusivity mindset of computer science students
Lara Letaw, an experienced online instructor and lead researcher from Oregon State’s School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, partnered with Heather Garcia, an OSU Ecampus inclusive instructional designer on a research study called “Impacting the Inclusivity Mindset of Online Computer Science Students.”
Together with their team, Letaw and Garcia implemented an intervention that was designed to improve feelings of gender inclusivity among online computer science students and to train these students to develop more gender-inclusive software applications.
In this intervention, online computer science students experienced new curriculum developed by Letaw and Garcia’s team. The curriculum was based on GenderMag, a software inspection method for identifying and correcting gender biases in software. Curriculum for teaching GenderMag concepts can be found on the GenderMag Teach website. Students completed a set of assignments and, if they chose to participate in the research study, questionnaires about inclusivity climate, both in the course and in the computer science major. Students’ software design work was also evaluated for the use of gender-inclusive principles.
The image below shows examples of the cognitive facet values people (e.g., Letaw and Garcia) bring to their use of software, shown across the spectra of GenderMag facets (information processing style, learning style, motivations, attitude toward risk, and computer self-efficacy).
Computer science students in the Ecampus courses Letaw and Garcia modified learned about their own cognitive styles and those of their teammates. They also built software that supports the cognitive diversity of software users. One student reflected, “Identifying my facet values was tremendously helpful [for articulating what had] been abstract… I feel much more confident.”
The results of their study showed that, overall, students felt included by the GenderMag curriculum (nobody felt excluded by it), it increased their interest in computer science, and it had positive effects on their team dynamics and self-acceptance. Students who completed the GenderMag intervention were also more effective in developing gender-inclusive software designs, and they reported greater recognition and respect for the diversity of software users.
The image below highlights what students considered when designing a software user interface before (left) and after (right) learning GenderMag concepts. As one student put it, “Now when I think of users using a piece of software I don’t picture them … just jumping in and tinkering … I am more aware that there are [people whose] interests in using a software … might not align with mine.”
This Fellows project has also provided research opportunities for two female Ecampus computer science students (Rosalinda Garcia and Aishwarya Vellanki), a group that is typically underrepresented in STEM fields. Rosalinda Garcia successfully defended her honors thesis with these data in the spring of 2021, and Vellanki is currently working on her own.
Join the Ecampus Research Fellows Program
Learn more about the Fellows Program and what materials are needed to prepare your proposal.
At a recent faculty professional development workshop series, I became aware of faculty’s concerns about addressing the learning needs of students from different cultural and linguistic backgrounds. Students with multilingual and multicultural identities are oftentimes perceived as deficient (Almon, 2014; Flores & Rosa, 2015) and might feel they hold an outsider status (Merryfield, 2000). In my personal experience navigating multiple identities that intersect culture and language, and in my work supporting faculty in their learning design and instructional decisions, I began examining ways in which blended and online learning spaces can offer more welcoming opportunities for students. One of these ways is using a cultural lens and mindset towards inclusive learning design.
Culturally Responsive Approaches
There have been several culturally responsive approaches to teaching and learning. By and large these approaches advocate for the recognition of students’ cultural backgrounds as critical to their learning success (Gay, 2013; Ladson-Bilings, 1994). In fact, a culturally responsive pedagogy (CRP) aims to promote the integration of students’ culture to support their learning experiences. In blended and online learning, this pedagogy can create an environment that “acknowledges, celebrates, and builds upon the cultural capital that learners and teachers bring to the online classroom” (Woodley, Hernandez, Parra, & Nagash, 2017, p.1).
For students whose first language is not English, we first should focus on their strengths and not their deficiencies. These students bring their cultural backgrounds, values, experiences, and language diversity with them to the online learning environment. It is important to recognize that culture is central to teaching and learning; therefore, advancing online and blended learning design should be grounded on dimensions for cultural sensitivity where students’ diverse identities, cultures, languages, and backgrounds are seen through an asset-based lens. This means, recognizing the value in the cultural backgrounds, experiences, and languages of students; and embracing these students’ traits as assets. This asset-base approach can be the first step in developing a mindset for designing and teaching in ways that promote social, academic, and emotional learning for these and ALL students.
Culturally responsive approaches have been mapped out to the three principles of Universal Design for Learning to offer (1) multiple means of engagement, (2) multiple means of representation, and (3) multiple means of action and expression (UDL, n.d.). UDL and CRP can help instructors amplify the opportunities for students from different cultural backgrounds to demonstrate their knowledge when given strategies that incorporate multiple perspectives, experiences, connections to the real world, and choices (Bass & Lawrence-Riddell, 2020; Kieran & Anderson, 2018)
The connection of UDL and CRP offers consideration to inform instructional design choices. Yet, these considerations appear to be adds-on to the design of the learning experience. How can we expand the UDL and CRP connection to embrace a mindset to move towards an inclusive learning design where the cultural and linguistic traits of students are seen from an asset-based perspective? A few dimensions from research and praxis would get us started to help achieve this goal.
Dimensions for Learning Design
The following dimensions for learning design, that expand the connections between UDL and CRP, should be considered whenever possible in the design of blended or online learning experiences. Following are the six dimensions.
Identity and Experience
Instructor identity and experience relates to the practice reflection –inner analysis to reveal assumptions about teaching and learning (Jaramillo Cherrez & Jin, 2020). Through these reflections, instructors can identify ways to humanize the learning experience. Instructional designers (IDs) can help instructors engage in a (self) dialogue to explore how the instructor’s identity informs or impacts their teaching and instructional decisions, how they respond to students’ cultural differences and embrace them as strengths, and how instructors could also learn from students.
The visual design of the course and learning materials can have a profound impact on students’ learning experience (Hedberg & Brown, 2002). For students whose first language is other than English in particular, it is important to be aware that these students may come from different cultures and social groups, and thus, visual representations may have positive or negative consequences to their success in the course. Visuals should be carefully chosen because the variety of images, colors, and symbols may affect the message students receive in the class. When using images from pop culture, it is helpful to add context to give more clarity to the instructional purpose. The visual design also relates to the readability of the content and how it is presented and structured. Asking a colleague or friend to read the instructions and descriptions of assignments can help clarify expectations and requirements for students. Bear in mind that what is clear to one is not always clear to others, especially when using complex sentences and terminology of a discipline.
Many students might have a first language different from English. Also, keep in mind that different cultures may have different ways of writing, usually influenced by rhetorical and social contexts (Almuhailib, 2019). There may also be linguistic and cognitive differences in the way that students interpret the information given to them. For some cultures, direct descriptions are fine, whereas for others the context is important before addressing a specific perspective. Some cultures may characterize themselves for being more individualistic and others more holistic, and students, including those whose first language is other than English, can find themselves moving along that continuum. In designing culturally responsive blended or online courses, language matters because of the transactional distance characteristic of asynchronous spaces. Many students may already be pressured to demonstrate “good”, “academic”, “professional” English. One way to be aware of linguistic diversity is to be more explicit with instructions. For example, indicate clearly the use of naming conventions, abbreviations, acronyms, and descriptors in activities and assignments.
The fourth consideration is content. The main suggestion is to try to diversify the curriculum with resources from around the world (e.g., content from scholars from diverse cultures and linguistic backgrounds). Allow students to see themselves represented in the materials. Create activities and assignments that help students explore the concepts in connection to their own backgrounds and communities(e.g., linguistic, cultural) and experiences, and that allow students to move from low to high cognitive tasks (e.g., staged projects). Yet, diversifying the curriculum goes far from bringing into the course content perspectives that are commonly ignored. It involves explicit acknowledgement of the value of the different perspectives and modes of knowledge.
Interaction also can benefit from a culturally responsive mindset in that instructors can vary the modes of interaction by using audio/video communication(e.g., assignment feedback, DB, announcements). It is also important to guide and scaffold group activities with resources such as guidelines, group contracts, teamwork guidelines, group rapport activities, conflict resolution resources). Particularly for teamwork, instructors can build group activities early in the course to promote collaborative learning. For online discussions, instructors could allow students to select the tools that they feel more comfortable with using, bearing in mind that many students from different cultural backgrounds might not be familiar or have experience participating in discussion activities. Another suggestion is to promote student-led discussions to help students move from the individual task to the group task. This will allow to vary the cognitive demands that can foster meaningful knowledge construction and organization while also addressing different audiences, styles of writing and analysis, and communication modes.
These dimensions underscore the need to approach learning design with a mindset that not only acknowledges student multilingual and multicultural identities, but also catalyzes these identities to help students be valued and successful. I consider these dimensions in my instructional design work, and I would like to invite you to consider them next time you design an online or blended learning experience.
Almon, C. (2015). College persistence and engagement in light of a mature English language learner (ELL) student’s voice. Community College Journal of Research and Practice, 39(5), 461-472.
Almuhailib, B. (2019). Analyzing Cross-Cultural Writing Differences using Contrastive Rhetoric: A Critical Review. Advances in Language and Literary Studies, 10(2), 102-106.
Bass, G., & Lawrence-Riddell, M. (2020). Culturally Responsive Teaching and UDL. Faculty Focus. https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/equality-inclusion-and-diversity/culturally-responsive-teaching-and-udl/
Dougherty, E. (2012). Assignments matter: Making the connections that help students meet standards. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
Kieran, L., & Anderson, C. (2019). Connecting universal design for learning with culturally responsive teaching. Education and Urban Society, 51(9), 1202-1216.
Gay, G. (2013). Teaching to and through cultural diversity. Curriculum Inquiry, 43(1), 48-70.
Hedberg, J. G., & Brown, I. (2002). Understanding cross-cultural meaning through visual media. Educational Media International, 39(1), 23-30.
Ladson-Billings, G. (1994). What we can learn from multicultural education research. Educational Leadership, 51(8), 22-26.
Merryfield, M. M. (2000). Why aren’t teachers being prepared to teach for diversity, equity, and global interconnectedness? A study of lived experiences in the making of multicultural and global educators. Teaching and Teacher Education, 16(4), 429-443.
Flores, N., & Rosa, J. (2015). Undoing appropriateness: Raciolinguistic ideologies and language diversity in education. Harvard Educational Review, 85(2), 149-171.
Last fall, my colleague featured the Ecampus Research Fellows (ECRF) program in her blog post. The ECRF program, which began in 2016, funds OSU faculty-led research on online and hybrid education. Each year, approximately five projects are selected to receive funding. One unique aspect of the program is that, in the past few years, 1-2 members of the Ecampus Course Development and Training (CDT) team are paired with the faculty on funded research projects. The CDT team includes instructional designers and media developers. These professionals have expressed interest in conducting research, but in most cases, have had few opportunities to engage in formal research projects. Similar to faculty, CDT fellows have to apply to the ECRF program.
For this blog post, I’d like to share some takeaways from my experience as a CDT research fellow, as well as some takeaways my CDT colleagues have shared with me. I will also share some feedback from faculty fellows who have had CDT colleagues join their research teams. But before I dig into these valuable takeaways from past participants, let me first address the importance of this program for instructional designers and related disciplines.
In 2017, the Ecampus Research Unit published a report titled “Research Preparation and Engagement of Instructional Designers in U.S. Higher Education.” This report was the result of a national study of instructional designers working in higher education environments. Among the many findings of this study, one compelling finding was that more than half (55%) of respondents indicated that instructional designers need more training in research methods to fulfill their role. Instructional designers also indicated why they think it is important to gain more experience in research. Among the reasons, respondents indicated that research skill development would allow them to grow professionally, further their discipline, better understand the needs of students and faculty, and collaborate with faculty.
The Ecampus Research Unit (ECRU) answers this call through their CDT research fellows program.
In the summer of 2020 at the NWeLearn conference, three CDT fellows reflected upon their participation in the program, sharing valuable insights and experience. I, Heather Garcia, was one of them. The other participants were Susan Fein and Tianhong Shi. The full recording can be viewed on YouTube at this link, but I’ll summarize some highlights from the session in the following paragraphs.
The projects undertaken by CDT research fellows in partnership with faculty spanned disciplines from computer science to field-based courses.
When asked why they were interested in being research fellows, all three participants indicated that they were pursuing additional graduate education at the time they applied. One participant also indicated that acquiring more knowledge and experience with research would allow faculty to see course design suggestions as “more convincing and easily accepted,” giving her additional credibility when recommending new design approaches to faculty.
The fellows also shared details about their contributions to the research projects they were working on. All of the instructional designers spoke to ways their existing expertise was valued by the researchers. They gave examples of the expertise they offered, which ranged from reviewing course design and educational technologies to designing surveys to offering a fresh perspective and a critical eye. In addition to contributing their design expertise to the research projects, CDT research fellows contributed to the research processes as well, through data analysis and research paper writing and reviewing.
All of the CDT research fellows indicated that they learned a lot from their experiences partnering with faculty on research. One particular highlight in this area is that fellows learned that they contribute diverse perspectives to the research process; they have different backgrounds, experiences, and areas of expertise, and everyone on the team contributes something valuable. CDT fellows also indicated that they learned about the IRB process and the importance of asking questions. Perhaps most importantly, they learned that their expertise is valuable to research teams.
Faculty fellows were also given the opportunity to share how having a CDT fellow on their research team enhanced the research experience, and their feedback was shared in the conference session. They expressed many positive sentiments about the experience including the following:
“Our research team started as a group of inspired but like-minded computer scientists wanting to make better online classrooms for diverse students. After she joined the team as an instructional design fellow, the work became credentialed, interdisciplinary, and stronger. She brings expertise and sees what we miss—she not only makes us better able to serve the students we hope to, she makes our team better by adding diversity of thought.”
“The combined knowledge and experience of teaching faculty and an instructional designer is incredibly powerful.”
“She viewed the scope of the research and content of the courses involved through a different lens than I did.”
“The instructional designer provided valuable input on areas of my project merging the instructional design with the research.”
“My work with the instructional designer let me explore very practical logistic issues that are often not included in the literature.”
Altogether, it becomes clear that many instructional designers are eager to participate on research projects and they are valuable contributors to the research process. The questions I have now are: How can we continue these partnerships into the future? And, how can we create more research partnership opportunities for other instructional designers and teaching and learning professionals, who aren’t traditionally involved in research?
Dello Stritto, M.E., Fein, S., Garcia, H., Shi, T. (2020). Instructional Designers and Faculty Partnerships in Online Teaching Research. NWeLearn 2020 Conference.
Linder, K. & Dello Stritto, M.E. (2017). Research Preparation and Engagement of Instructional Designers in U.S. Higher Education. Corvallis, OR: Oregon State University Ecampus Research Unit.
Loftin, D. (2020). Ecampus Research Fellows Program. Ecampus CDT Blog.
Reflection assignments as an active learning strategy are commonly seen in humanities courses. The purpose of this writing is to share an example of how simple reflection activities can make a huge impact in two math courses.
MTH 251 Differential Calculus covers five units, with one exam for each unit, counting 14% of the final grade. Before students attempt to take the unit exam, they are assigned to read textbook readings, watch instructor-created lecture videos, work on Canvas-based homework assignment and Adaptive Learning based practice assignments in Knewton Lab online platform. After assignment due date expires, students are assigned to complete a weekly written homework reflection. The weekly homework and the weekly homework reflection together count for 14% of final grade in this course, weighing the same as each of the unit exams.
MTH 341 Linear Algebra I has ten weekly modules. Each week, students read textbook assigned readings, watch lecture videos created by the instructor (Dr. ), complete post-reading questions in quiz format, work on graded group discussion questions to solve math problems in small groups, complete written homework individually, and in the following week, complete a written homework response activity individually in discussion format.
The written homework reflection in MATH 251 and the written homework response in MATH 341 are both reflection activities designed to optimize student learning success, through comparing their own homework solutions with answer keys and evaluate whether they did it correctly or incorrectly and analyze where they did it wrong and how to get it right. The purpose of such weekly reflection is to help students develop meta-cognitive skills related to their learning. By looking back at students’ own work and learning from their mistakes, they develop an understanding of what is the proper way to solve a problem and what is not the proper way for solving a particular math problem. It also prompts students to plan for proper action in the future and exercises students’ executive functioning skills (CAST, 2018).
Here is what the instructions for the weekly reflection look like: 1. First answer the weekly prompt: Reflecting on the Unit 1 module, which topics did you struggle with the most? 2. Download the written homework solutions PDF: (Solution for each written homework in pdf format is attached here.) 3. Look over the solutions and compare to your submitted homework. Look for any problems where your solution differs from the posted solution.
If your solutions had one or more incorrect problems then in the discussion board please discuss the following:
why you struggled with certain problems
why each solution makes sense now
what your misunderstanding was
what will you do in the future when solving problems similar to these?
what strategies will help you?
what did you learn by making a mistake?
what did you learn from looking at the solutions?
If you are still confused about a problem, ask a question. DO NOT simply list which problems you got wrong.
If your solutions are all correct then in the discussion board please discuss the problem that you found the most challenging. Describe what specific tasks helped you to complete that problem. Be as detailed as you can about your solution process.
Students not only posted their own reflections, but they also comment on or answer other students’ reflections as well. Additionally, the instructor and the four TAs in the course responded actively to students’ reflections, which makes the reflection more valuable since students get encouragement, praises, or corrections from the instructor and teaching assistants. Again, feedback from experts is critical in the success of a reflection activity (Vandenbussche, 2018)
Image 1: How reflection usually looks like and How reflection should look like (Image Source)
Many students were reflecting on what they did wrong and asked for help. Some were reflecting on their time management in completing the homework assignments. And we were glad to see students completing homework, evaluating their own work, analyzing where they did wrong, and planning for future improvement. Overall, the purpose of this assignment is accomplished!
A great benefit that comes from these weekly reflection activities is increased or sustained homework completion rate. For MTH 251 winter 2021 week 1 to week 7, over 85% of students completed the weekly homework and the reflection activity on average. For MTH 341 Fall 20 week 1 to week 7, over 90% of students on average completed the weekly homework and the reflection assignments. All math teachers love to see their students practice with homework assignments before they attempt to take the quizzes or exams! And evidence-based research tells us that deliberate practice with targeted feedback promotes mastery learning (Ambrose et al., 2010).
So, if it works in math courses, it will work in Chemistry, Biology, Physics, Engineering and other STEM courses too! If you’re interested in implementing this technique in your teaching and have questions about setting it up, feel free to contact us. We’d love to help you figure out the easiest way to set it up in your course.
Ambrose, S.A., Bridges, M.W., DiPietro, M., Lovettt, M.C. , Norman, M.K., & The Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence at Carnegie Mellon University. (2010). How learning works: Seven research-based principles for smart teaching. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass
Instructors and course designers often use quizzes or forms for assessment, retrieval practice, self-checks, or collecting information from students. Did you know that Qualtrics surveys can take your interaction game to an even higher level of sophistication?
Qualtrics surveys can easily be linked to or embedded in a page in your Learning Management System. They can also be added as an assignment through the LTI integration.
The LTI integration has recently become an available feature for Oregon State University Canvas users. The integration links the survey to the student’s LMS account and is useful for awarding points automatically for completing the survey. In addition, several types of questions can be scored; thus, a survey can be used as a quiz and the integration tool will send the points to the gradebook.
If your LMS doesn’t have a Qualtrics LTI integration, or you don’t want to go through all the steps of setting it up, you can still use Qualtrics activities, but you will have to add any points manually in your gradebook.
Ideas for Qualtrics activities
Here are a few ways to use a Qualtrics survey:
Self-check activity / formative assessment / quiz: design a survey to increase active learning or assess content. Qualtrics can be your tool of choice because:
It’s more versatile than a quiz or Google form (e.g. more types of questions, complex branching possible based on answer).
It can be customized with different colors, fonts, and backgrounds.
The instructor can access student answers and use this information to provide individualized support or improve course materials.
Class pulse: Send a survey during the term to ask students how they are doing.
Suggestion box: Have a permanent page in your course where students can submit suggestions.
Voting ballot / poll: Create a survey to allow students to vote on a topic, favorite presentation, meeting time, etc. or to answer a poll.
Topic selection tool: Provide an easy way for students to claim their topic through a survey that eliminates an option once it’s chosen.
Muddiest point survey: Gather students’ input on the week’s materials: which concepts were unclear? Which information was particularly compelling?
Team member evaluation: In group work, it can be a good idea to have students evaluate their team members, to increase accountability and make sure that everyone is pulling their weight. You can create a survey asking students to rate their peers on specific criteria and provide comments on performance.
How to create a survey
Creating a survey in Qualtrics is very straightforward. Log into your account and create a new project. You can choose from a variety of question types, including multiple choice, ranking, slider, matrix, etc. Make sure to check which questions are accessible to screen-reading programs. If you’d like to track or manage the time a student spends on a page, you can use a timing question.
For Oregon State University users, the default look is the OSU theme. Through the Look and Feel menu section, you can choose a different theme or customize the layout, style, background, colors and text size to fit your needs and your course aesthetic.
How to link a survey
Linking to a survey is the easiest way to include it in your course. In your survey, go to Distributions and choose the Anonymous link. If you need the student’s identification information, make sure to add a question asking for their name or email.
How to embed a survey
Embedding a survey instead of linking it can make for a smoother learning experience by integrating the questions with other learning material on that page. To embed a survey on a page, use a simple iframe like this: <iframe src=”insert survey link here” width=”1000px” height=”500px”></iframe> and adjust the dimensions or style it as desired.
How to integrate a survey via LTI
Integrating via LTI is a bit more complex and will depend on your LMS and your organization’s settings. For Oregon State University users, instructions are provided in this article: Use Qualtrics in Canvas.
Note: embedding a survey (with or without LTI) may not work well in older versions of Firefox. You may want to add a link or check “Load this tool in a new tab”.
Qualtrics is a useful tool for adding more interactivity into your course. Setting up the surveys can be very simple or more involved depending on the task. Watch out for future posts in which we will give examples and details on how to design and create some of the more complex types of Qualtrics activities.
This post was written in collaboration by Deborah Mundorff and Dana Simionescu.
This post is Part I of a two-part series on video selection and use in online courses. Part I provides the reasoning behind understanding course videos selection by course developers as a curatorial process. Part II will explore video curation in practice in course development and provide a course design perspective on video presentation and management issues.
Recent Video Use Trends
In September of 2020 the enterprise video company Kaltura Inc. conducted its seventh annual State of Video in Education 2020 report. The report included responses from across the education system spectrum with higher education institutions making up 53% of all respondents (Figure 1.).
This report described how remote teaching-driven course changes impacted video adoption and use in education. Remote teaching and learning was the most common use of video (83% of respondents). Lecture captured as video was used by 69% of the responding institutions.
The executive summary identified a number of key insights and trends related to changes in video use in education. A select few can be seen below:
Use of video for remote teaching and learning grew by 28% over 2019.
Video use is viewed as positive. Respondents (84%) saw video as having a positive impact on student satisfaction, 73% seeing video increase student achievements and 76% believe it increased instructor satisfaction.
Students as creators of video increased by 13% from 2019 to 2020.
In higher education there was rising video use for remote teaching, lecture capture, and flipping the classroom.
Actual growth in the use of video for remote teaching and learning grew by 28%.
A majority of respondents (68%) want to continue to blend traditional teaching with today’s virtual innovations; such as video.
In some ways this is not surprising. This past year forced many instructors in higher education to convert face-to-face courses to remote instruction. Much of that transition was accomplished with synchronous sessions via ZOOM or some other video conferencing program. Live video conference sessions, if recorded, also served as a support resource for students. In response to the challenges of the past year both live and recorded video were adopted to make remote learning doable. Fully online courses do not have this live element as they are asynchronous and did not have to adapt in this way.
In asynchronous courses at Oregon State University our Ecampus course developers utilize video differently. Video is as a key media element in delivering course content to learners, promoting faculty presence, and to build depth into projects and assignments. Video content may be produced internally by course developers (e.g., instructors) and used in courses via an enterprise video system (e.g., Kaltura). Video content may also be sourced from external video-based social media sites (e.g., YouTube and Vimeo) or educational and commercial collections (e.g., Kanopy or Amazon) and via syndicated video sources (e.g., podcasts and Twitter).
Given the plethora of video available and a trend toward increased video integration into instruction the challenge to course developers is the selecting, managing, and presenting video content to support and compliment course learning outcomes. Ultimately this also becomes a course design challenge for instructional designers who must adapt to manage the integration of increasing levels of video in the course in a way that makes sense from a pedagogical perspective as well as visual design aesthetic.
Course Developers as Media Curators
What is a Curator?
The growing value of video in the experience of a course suggests that course developers (e.g., instructors) consider a new way of thinking about how video is selected, managed and presented. In essence, I am suggesting that for a given course the course developer serves as a curator of video content.
But what is curator? Should a course developer really think like a curator? How might curated media shape course development and instructional design?
In order to explore this notion of course developers as media curators a bit more I would like to share the definition of what a curator is from the American Alliance of Museum (AAM) Curators Committee (2009). The preamble to the curator core competencies of a curator defined the term curator as:
Curators are highly knowledgeable, experienced, or educated
in a disciplinerelevant to the museum’s purpose or mission.
Curators are further described as having nine core competencies and related applied skills. The competencies are:
Collection planning Scholary Research Exhibition Development
Collecting Object Research Education
Collection Care Applied Research Outreach & Advocacy
In Figure 2. we see these same foundational roles expressed by the AAM coupled with a definition of curator and description of the work of a curator.Also included is the domain of the work. Those domains are preservation, research, and communication. The global context of curation is, in this definition, a museum. The more discrete context is the exhibition, or exhibit application. Yet it is all part of a curator’s work.
What we see in this definition in Figure 2. is the premise that curators select, gather, care for, and prepare presentations of single items that in aggregate make up a curated collection. That collection becomes a resource and object of education, outreach, advocacy and presentation.
This makes the act of curatorship a scholarly and creative practice that is deeply intentional and based upon the definitional parameters of the organization doing the work.
Course Developers – Curators of Video Collections
Now let us think about what an online course developer is and what they do. At Ecampus course developers collaborate with instructional designers to plan an online course. Instructional designers advise and take content selected by the course developer and build that content into Canvas, our learning management system. The created courses are then shared with students. Course developers are considered content experts much like museum curators are. Let’s look at that a bit more closely.
In Figure 3. below we can see a comparison between the definitional role and duties of a museum curator and course developer. There are striking parallels between these roles. So much so that it would seem reasonable to think about what a course developer does as also a curatorial practice. A practice focused on the learning content, including video, for a given course.
Perhaps the greatest difference between these to two curatorial practices is the context of each. In asynchronous course development it is not uncommon for instructors to perform many of these same functions as museum curators but on a more discrete scale. The scope and context of their focus is obviously different.
In essence a course developer actively gathers and in may cases, creates unique course elements that form the curated media collection for a course. That collection of texts (readings), images, web resources and video is then used for education, research, and perhaps outreach with a constant eye on student access to media. Ultimately a course media collection is intended to permit the course developer to fulfill the purpose of the course and guide students in achieving the course learning outcomes.
The physical design of the course, with its media collection, is the domain of the instructional designer. The collaboration between the course developer and instructional designer are key in preparing the course as an “education exhibition” of sorts that has clear learning outcomes.
Course Video Selection: The Art of Curatorship
We began this discussion with the importance of video in online course development and design. With that in mind it is logical that video curation is an important element of course-wide media collection identification.
Video collection, cataloging, arranging and assembling for display in a course fits quite well within the parameters of curating. Any curation is also about a level of storying, opportunities for engagement, information sharing and perspective sharing (Potter, 2017). In course development these processes as applied to course media, and in particular video, have the potential to create and shape the nature, experience, and associated learning in an online course.
In making decisions about video use in online courses, a course developer would apply their knowledge and expertise to curate the selections. Clear learning outcomes provide a pedagogical and content structure to the video curation process. Once a video collection is established other decisions may come into play that reference an aesthetic for the collection. This is the art of curatorship.
The art of curatorship has been viewed as closely aligned to a design process (Shuey, 2014) and may be guided by an interpretation of the universal visual design principles as conceptual guides to the education exhibition that is the online course. In this sense the curator is not thinking as much about the collection items per se but more about how the collection fits together to provide and support a narrative, flow, or education scaffolding for the course.
Thinking Like A Curator
As an exercise in curatorial thinking let’s take some re-interpreted concepts of visual design and see if they help us think through how we curate not only individual videos but also a video collection. This brief list includes accompanying questions that are informed by the identified principle and may shape the curation of video. In these examples found videos are outside video sources where created videos are those made by the course developer.
Balance: What is the intended balance between: Created and found curated videos? Permanent video and temporary (single-use) video content?
Emphasis: How does found video reinforce or extend created video? Is there a particular focus or intention of video use?
Movement: Is there a scaffolding of curated video that matches the scaffolding of the course progression? How does the video curation contribute to that progression?
Pattern: Is curated content focused, more general in nature, or quite diverse in source, topic or message?
Rhythm: Does video use and viewing support or promote a rhythm of engagement for the course that compliments course objectives?
Repetition: Are curated videos reinforcing similar ideas or concepts? Are videos used consistently for certain aspects of the course (i.e., narrated lectures)?
Proportion: Does the video collection time commitment fit within the time expectations for the course? What is the ideal proportion of video to text, image, and other course media?
Variety: Are curated videos from different content sources and types? What is the ideal balance for the course?
Unity: Does the video collection promote a sense of wholeness to the course? Could the video collection, on its own, communicate identifiable ideas, patterns of ideas, or a range of perspectives on a topic?
Does video accessibility contribute to the overall course accessibility?
In working through this exercise, we begin to move beyond video collecting by subject toward a more complete analysis of video collection selection and use that includes intertwined pedagogic and aesthetic considerations. This helps create a video collection that is intentional in its item selection, organization and use.
Recent research by Kaltura Inc. indicates that video use in education is on the rise in the past year. A continued growth of access to video and ability to create video coupled with an interest in integrating video in education efforts suggests course developers have a challenging task regarding media selection and use.
This article presents the idea that course developers, whether obvious or not, are actively engaged in a curatorial process regarding media selection and use. In addition, because of the importance and prevalence of video, its curation is presented as a key element of the larger course media curation effort. Lastly, we have explored how video collections contribute to academic and aesthetic value of a course and provided some key considerations based upon extending classic visual design principles to a curatorial practice.
It is interesting that the term curation has Latin roots in the verb curare; which means to take care of. Course developers conducting intentional video curation contribute to meaningful media curation for a course. This engagement in the practice of a curator is truly a professional act of caring about the quality of course development and the impact on student learning.
In Part II of this series we will address the practice of video curation in the context of an online course and explore instructional design considerations for video use that balance and complement a sample course video collection.
American Alliance of Museums. (2009). Curators Committee (CurCom): Curator’s core competencies. https://www.aam-us.org/professional-networks/curators-committee/
Kaltura Inc. (2020) The state of video in education 2020: Insights and trends [seventh edition].
Potter, J. (2017). Curation. In K. Peppler (Ed.), The SAGE encyclopedia of out of school learning (pp. 4-6). SAGE Publications Inc., Thousand Oaks, CA.
Shuey, G. (2014, October 21). The art of content curation. RELEVANCE.
Wikipedia (n.d.). Definition of term collection.
Wikipedia (n.d.). Definition of term curator.
People spend more time in virtual worlds than ever before. And educators are leveraging these popular forms of recorded and interactive escapism to increase student engagement. Recently academic departments have begun to experiment with the use of virtual reality (VR) headsets, which have become much easier to use and far less expensive. Headsets can make people feel like they have traveled to a new place, so they are an intriguing new tool for learning. They can create an experience that differs significantly from using a computer to work or play in an online environment.
When using a computer to visit an online world, your sense of immersion is affected by many factors, including the quality of video and audio, the number of distractions from real life, and your virtual representation on the screen. It is like a tug-of-war. Your avatar may be traveling in a helicopter through a fantasy landscape, but your brain also knows that you are sitting in front of your desk. You can see and feel the cat in your lap for example, but it is not in the helicopter with your avatar, so you are managing two worlds at once. In a continuum of this sense of immersion, at what point is there presence, where you lose connection with your environment and truly feel that you are somewhere else?
Using a VR headset instead of a computer may move you along this pathway, because you don’t see your desktop or clearly hear the sounds of your household. The sense of being connected with the everyday world changes. “I usually say the way to tell if it is working is if you take off the goggles and are surprised by which direction you are now facing,” says Warren Blyth, Multimedia Developer at Course Development and Training Department (CDT) at Oregon State University’s Ecampus. And whether you are a student who may find themselves in a class with VR components, or an instructor curious about adding this kind of experience to your teaching, VR, like most new adventures, will be shaped by your readiness for it.
You could think of the act of putting on a headset as departing on a voyage, because for many it feels like traveling somewhere and being present in another place. When you take off the headset at the end of the trip you may have moved physically, mentally and/or emotionally. Or not. Just like a trip to Paris, everyone’s experience will be different. To help you get ready, this article is a checklist about the very beginning of your journey, before you put on the goggles. It is about the pre-departure phase in which, as for any other trip, you might prepare by researching, planning, packing your bag, and saying goodbye to the cat.
Technology lift may be a part of your pre-departure phase. This is a term floating around the CDT Department, thanks to the adventurous lexicon of Assistant Director of Course Development & Training Laurie Kirkner, who says that “technology lift takes place over a longer period of time than cognitive load, which is specific to working memory. It includes activities like reading manuals, investigating safety protocols and coping with expectations. And it will vary with the difficulty of the task and your skill level, just like cognitive load.”
Technology lift in anticipation of a VR journey may be analogous to researching luggage before taking a trip to a foreign city. You may ask: how much weight can I lift and for how long? Many of us have witnessed the oversupplied backpacker on a trip overseas. She struggles with a heavy load while shouldering her way through the crowds. One wonders if more thoughtful preparation could have saved her from being on the brink of pitching over during her first day in Paris. And although she probably had a great time anyway, planning ahead may have been worthwhile.
Before entering a new VR space you can find out what controls exist for dealing with inappropriate or annoying behavior. For example, some platforms allow you to mute the audio of other avatars or create a personal space bubble. If you plan to meet others or visit a popular platform it can be helpful to do a test run by yourself beforehand, taking the time to get used to the location without any social awkwardness concerns. Owners, builders and organizers of platforms may have additional controls like banishing certain users – instantly and/or permanently. In addition there may be codes of conduct governing acceptable behavior. It is great to learn something about the culture before arriving.
Pre-departure planning can increase positive experiences and keep you safe. For example, people have experienced sexual harassment, lack of respect for personal boundaries, and socially undesirable behaviors in real life (IRL) as well as in VR. “Social VR creates a life-like, immersive and public experience. Given this immersive nature and the overwhelmingly unequal gender dynamic with more men than women in this space, respondents talked about these spaces as seeming similar to public settings where they have been harassed.” (Outlaw & Duckles, 2017) You can take off the headset for a quick exit and also research other strategies to keep your trip free of pests.
If you took a trip to Paris, how would you get from the Charles de Gaulle airport to your hotel? After getting through customs you may feel jet lagged and confused, which is not a good time to learn new things. So your cognitive load would be less heavy if, for example, you already knew how to buy a ticket and get on the right train. In VR, navigation systems vary widely, so you may want to learn something about them before departure. A good example is learning how to move, fly, or teleport. And especially if you plan to meet others, it is helpful to know how to open the menu system and search for locations/meetings.
When you go places, you occupy new spaces. Once you put on a VR headset, you will set up a play area that can be stationary or quite a bit bigger. For the Oculus Quest 2, a popular newer headset, at least 6.5 feet by 6.5 feet is recommended for natural body movement. Once you get out the measuring tape, your house may suddenly feel claustrophobic as you figure out the distance between the couch and the cat box. So consider how much movement you would like to have on your trip and whether it is worth moving the furniture.
Packing your bag
For a voyage to Paris, you might think about which beret (and matching scarf) to bring along for a feeling of style and comfort. For your VR trip, the headset will eliminate any possibility of style, but you can still plan for comfort. In the last couple of years, headsets have become much less onerous; for example, they are now untethered from computers, and lighter. But there are still personal adjustments that can make you feel more at ease. And in regards to style, you could always try a beret over the headset.
“Did you know? The world’s first VR headset was created in 1968, and weighed so much it had to be mounted from a ceiling. Due to its appearance, it was nicknamed “The Sword of Damocles.”” (Best Reviews, 2020)
When shopping for the right backpack for your trip to the City of Light, the size and shape of your body comes into consideration. For VR, it turns out that the distance between your eyes is important. This is because you want the lens spacing in the headset and your interpupillary distance (IPD) to line up in order to decrease the possibility of motion sickness. This may be especially important for people with smaller bodies, such as women. According to the 2012 Anthropometric Survey of U.S. Army Personnel, the mean interpupillary distance is 61.7mm for women and 64.0mm for men. The Oculus Quest 2, for example, has three IPD settings: 61mm or smaller, 61 to 66mm, and 66 mm or larger. You can check with your optometrist to find your own IPD and then make sure that your headset is on the right setting.
Straps and Comfort
Even though headsets have become much more comfortable, it is always a good idea to make sure that things fit properly. A trial run with the headset powered off but resting on your face can give you some time to dial in the best strap tension and see how it feels on your head. “I often tell people before a demo that they want it just snug enough that it isn’t falling off their face – but not so tight that it’s cutting off circulation,” says Blyth. Some people report discomfort with the way their headset feels on their face, which can be distracting. Because you may need to spend less time using it than anticipated if it bothers you, taking the time to adjust your headset properly will help you feel more immersed on your trip.
Before you put your headset on and can’t see anything, you may want to try out your hand controllers, which can include features such as buttons, thumb-sticks and triggers. You could view support materials from the manufacturer or other users to investigate all of the functions in order to create a tactile memory of the controllers.
Saying goodbye to the cat
As you get to the final stages of pre-departure, you may want to check in with your expectations. “Virtual reality – even the name is hype,” says Nick Harper, CDT Multimedia Developer. “VR only addresses the senses of sight and sound, and even those may not work well for some users. Touch, smell and taste are underdeveloped at this point. So trying to immerse yourself in VR through a headset can feel like a struggle because your body wants to keep you safe and your brain is getting so many mixed signals.” One thing we know for sure is that your virtual trip will not be like anyone else’s experience. It may disappoint, or possibly blow your mind. And your memories will be affected by any problems you run into along the way. For example, if you walked right into a sewer during your first trip to Paris, it might be hard for you to believe other people had an amazing time in the Louvre or atop the Eiffel Tower.
Right before you leave, there is a point where you say some goodbyes. After all, you are leaving to meet new people and experience groovy new things in virtual reality. And the cat can’t come along. So saying goodbye may mean removing pets and humans from your play area, shutting the door, and putting the phone on mute. With the headset on, immersed in video and audio, it won’t be fun to step on your pet or hear snarky comments from your roommate (even if you are wearing a beret). Finding a way not to have an audience on the ground can help you relax and feel immersed.
It may be said that reading about VR is like dancing about architecture. So if you do get the chance, try it for yourself, (and also maybe think about that trip to Paris). No matter how many descriptions you read, the final destination will surprise (and hopefully delight) you in ways you may never have imagined. Especially if you have researched, planned, packed your bag and said goodbye to the cat, you will be ready for a great trip. Bon voyage!
VR Readiness Checklist
Take some time to plan/create your play area.
Research the platform codes of conduct.
Find out what controls exist to minimize unwanted interactions.
Learn how to navigate, access the menu system and search for locations/meetings.
Check with your optometrist to find your IPD and then make sure your headset is on the right setting.
Experiment with controller functions and create a tactile memory.
Adjust the straps so that they are snug but not cutting off circulation.
Explore your expectations.
Create a distraction free space.
Take a test run before meeting others.
Best Reviews. (2020, December). Best VR Headsets. https://bestreviews.com/best-vr-headsets
Kei Studios. (2017, November 23). A Complete Virtual Reality Glossary.
Outlaw, J., Duckles, B. (2017, October). Why Women Don’t Like Social Virtual Reality: A Study of Safety, Usability, and Self-Expression in Social VR. The Extended Mind. https://static1.squarespace.com/static/56e315ede321404618e90757/t/5afca0716d2a73e7b3c77f28/1526505624385/The+Extended+Mind_Why+Women+Don%27t+Like+Social+VR_Oct+16+2017.pdf
The Economist. (2019, November 21). Virtual reality continues to make people sick. https://www.economist.com/science-and-technology/2019/11/23/virtual-reality-continues-to-make-people-sick
The LMS Canvas by Instructure comes with a decent set of styled elements to start with, but diving into the HTML editor is where you can really modify content, giving it a specific look and feel. Recently I have found that I am going to these customized elements more often to help achieve learning outcomes and provide a different look and feel for accessible course pages.
It is not limitless, however, or even as open as regular web development would be. Canvas has an HTML Editor Allowlist for elements, styles and classes (though some absent from this list will work if you give it a go!). Many of these are activated by using in-line class or style, but other attributes are also available.
Without further ado, here are three of the more popular elements I have been drawn to when creating courses over the past few terms.
Accessible Rich Internet Applications (ARIA)
a set of attributes that define ways to make web content and web applications more accessible to people with disabilities Source
These attributes are some of the most popular because they help with accessibility (particularly, screen readers) on the course site. Where native HTML5 elements are not available, these ARIA attributes help to explain what a particular piece of content does and how a learner should interact with it. By using these, we help to make courses open to a wider set of learners.
You want to include an element on your course site that expands to reveal more content. You will need to make a screen reader aware that the content is there, and what it does. Using the following should get you off to a good start:
<spanclass="element_toggler" role="button" aria-controls="something"
aria-label="longer description of the element" aria-expanded="false">
Click here to see the explanation</span>
<divid="something" style="display: none;">
combines with id="something" later on in the code. The value must match the id value for it to work correctly. This is used to interact with the element.
aria-label="longer description of the element"
used to describe the functionality of the element if it is not explained prior to the interaction.
used to tell the screen reader the button is initially closed.
Example 2: Descriptions
You have a particularly visual element on the page, and you want to write a larger piece of text for a screen reader to explain this. You can use aria-describedby and then link it to the id of an element (in the <span> below):
<spanid="close_up">A close-up view of the rock target named "Máaz" from the SuperCam
instrument on NASA's Perseverance Mars rover.</span>
Analysis of SuperCam data shows that Máaz has a basaltic composition.
It is either an igneous rock or consists of fine grains of igneous material
that were cemented together in a watery environment.<br>
Full image and caption from
NASA Jet Propulsion Labratory.</a> NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL/CNES/CNRS
Device specific content
Next up, is hidden content. So you added the element_toggler above, but your learners with the Canvas Mobile App let you know they cannot click it!
Some of the projects I work on with these elements require an entirely different way of accessing the content on a mobile device.
A potential fix
Create different versions of the content by hiding each one depending on the device.
To do this, you will need to divide the content using two containers. Using the same element_toggler code from above, we can easily add a separate, but hidden part underneath for Canvas app users.
<spanclass="element_toggler" role="button" aria-controls="something"
aria-label="longer description of the element" aria-expanded="false">
View the explanation</span>
<divid="something" style="display: none;">
<divclass="hidden-desktop hidden-tablet hidden-phone">
The addition of the class="hidden-desktop hidden-tablet hidden-phone" attributes will hide this container for most users. As it is sitting outside of the element toggler, however, mobile app users do not need to click the element toggler to see the explanation! This provides a more accessible option for users of those devices.
Note: if you have access to the stylesheet for your institution, it would be more beneficial to add these changes there than on a per-page basis.
Anchoring to part of a page
If you have ever seen text content that says something similar to this…
As we discussed before…
As I mentioned previously…
Back in Module 3, we talked about…
…then you need to use this simple feature of the anchor element!
I use this a lot on course content that requires students to refer to previous material. Everyone will have heard of a hyperlink using the <a> tag, but you can also use this anchor to link to a certain part of the page. I regularly use it to send learners to particular headings or content that they would find relevant for assignments. If you set up your course from the start with this in mind, it can be a fast way to group revision material from certain parts of a page, or create more accessible navigation menus.
Give an element an id, like this:
<h3 id="section_2">Section 2</h3>
Then, when you want to send a learner back to that part of the page, just reference it by adding the id to the end of the page link with a `#`. For example:
This will take the learner directly to the heading with the id of ‘section_2’, which you set up before.
You can even do this within the same page to jump to that part of the page. Just link it like this without the rest of the URL.
<a href="#section_2”>Section 2</a>
These are a sample of the elements, classes, and styles I have used to enhance content over the last few terms. With each, accessibility has been a must, which requires a bit of reflection on how learners would interact with the content. There are a lot more available, and you have a list in the Canvas HTML Editor Allowlist to start experimenting. By thinking of accessibility from the early stages of course design, more users can appreciate these page elements and content.
Love it or hate it, group work is an important part of education. Learning to work cooperatively with diverse people is a core 21st century skill, one which employers increasingly value and expect new workers to have mastered. Experience gathered from group work in educational settings directly transfers to and prepares students for successful collaboration in work teams. By collaborating in teams, students learn a wide range of discrete as well as soft skills that make group work worth the effort, including those below.
Coping with stress
Creating work plans and schedules
Forecasting needs and hurdles
Time management & meeting deadlines
Working with difficult personalities
Managing & navigating unmet expectations
Following up & messaging
Development of academic/professional voice
Pedagogically, group work supports a constructivist approach to learning, in which students contribute to the learning environment, build knowledge both individually and collectively, and co-create the classroom environment. Constructivist theory posits that learning is a social process and values student interaction with and contributions to collective knowledge. Group work and student collaboration are foundational methods in constructivist classrooms that help students develop the knowledge and skills that allow them to meet learning objectives. Additionally, group work is seen as a key element of student-student interaction.
Considerations for Successful Groups
The first thing instructors should consider when planning to incorporate group work is to reflect on WHY they are assigning it- as an objective of learning or as a means of learning. Group work for the purpose of learning collectively, producing collaboratively, or for gaining experience working cooperatively are all valid reasons to include group work.
Additionally, instructors must consider the limits of the asynchronous modality when creating group assignments. We all know how difficult it can be if the group you end up working in is not harmonious; For students in asynchronous online courses, group work can be even more difficult, with challenges like different time zones, different daily schedules, and lack of face to face collaboration opportunities. Even the most thoughtfully designed group activities can run into problems. What happens when one student fails to contribute? Do the other group members take up the slack and cover for their absent partner? How should a group handle an overbearing group member who takes on more than their fair share of the project? Anticipating the potential hurdles that may arise when planning the group project and incorporating support and resources for struggling groups can alleviate these barriers to a large degree.
An important consideration when creating group assignments is Conrad & Donaldson’s Phases of Engagement model, which advises instructors to structure group work so that students can build up group cohesion through low-stakes activities like icebreakers, introductions, and discussion forum posting towards the beginning of the term before ramping up to more complicated collaborative projects. This scaffolding of tasks helps groups bond and build community among members, facilitating better working relationships and the trust necessary to work through the intricacies of a complex group project. The theory can be helpful when approaching a series of courses within a specific degree program as well, moving from simple group projects in lower division courses to co-facilitating and transformative ongoing engagement at the upper levels.
Another model that can help instructors understand how to structure group work is Peter Lencioni’s Five Dysfunctions of a Team, which describes a pyramid of features that are required for groups to function effectively. Lencioni claims that trust is the foundation of any functioning group, followed in ascending order by managing conflict through healthy discourse, ensuring commitment and buy-in, providing a method of accountability for team members, and a focus on collective results over personal prestige. Avoiding dysfunction by clearly structuring group work to anticipate and provide tools for dealing with these problems can ensure teams get off on the right footing and can work together smoothly.
Additionally, instructors should consider the type of collaboration that is common within their own discipline, whether it be performing distinct roles within a team or more general projects requiring cooperation. Designers often work together creatively to develop and improve products; medical teams must work collectively but in distinct roles to serve patients; computer software developers must be able to distribute work and manage tight deadlines; public-facing personnel must be able to amicably respond to a range of customer behaviors. Connecting group work explicitly to real-world work scenarios helps students see the value and relevance of their learning, which helps increase engagement and dedication. Structuring group projects to mimic the type of work tasks they can anticipate also provides the added value of preparing students for scenarios they will actually be faced with on the job.
Finally, since asynchronous group work relies heavily on technology, ensure that the technology to be used by the group is familiar or can be mastered quickly. Provide detailed instructions or tutorials for how to use the technology, plan for how to handle issues students might face with technology, and share resources they can tap should they run into problems. University instructional technology support can be linked to, and websites and apps often offer training videos.
Types of group work
Informal cooperative active learning
Group essays or projects
Setting groups up for success
Set up groups of the right size, preferably with an odd number of participants
Make groups heterogenous to encourage peer-to-peer learning
Provide opportunities for students to activate their unique background knowledge and perspectives
Provide detailed instructions for group interaction expectations
Provide guidance on strategies for dividing the workload, such as setting up roles (ie: organizer, recorder, liaison, etc.)
Provide detailed instructions and rubrics for expected process and product
Split the grade for group work between collective and individual grades
Build in check-ins with instructor early on and midway
Plan for interventions if groups are not functioning well
Allow team members to evaluate each other’s and their own performance for contribution, cooperation, & timeliness