My family and I were preparing for a move. We packed up some of our things, removing extraneous items from our walls and surfaces and preparing our house to list and show. Not willing to part with these things, we rented a small storage unit to temporarily warehouse all this extra “stuff.” Well, as it turned out, we ended up not moving at all, and after a few months went to clear out the storage unit and retrieve our extra things. The funny thing was, we could hardly remember what had gone in there, and as it turns out, we did not miss most of the items we had packed away. We ended up selling most of what was in that storage unit, and shortly thereafter, we did even more “spring cleaning.” One of the bedrooms, which also doubles an office, needed particular attention. The space was dysfunctional, in that multiple doors and drawers were blocked from fully opening. After a little purging and reorganization this room now functions beautifully, with enough space to open every door and drawer. I have been calling this process “moving back into our own house,” and it’s been a joy to rethink, reorganize, and reclaim our living spaces.
Course Design Connection
As I have been working with more instructors who are redeveloping existing courses, I have been trying to bring this mindset into my instructional design work. How can we reclaim our online learning spaces and make them more inviting and functional? How can we help learners open all the proverbial doors and operate fully within the learning environment? You guessed it: While our first instinct might be to add more to the course, the answer might lie in the other direction. With a little editing and a keen eye on alignment, we can very intentionally remove things from our courses that might be needless or even distracting. We can also rearrange our pages and modules to maximize our learner’s attention.
Memory and Course Design
Our working memories, according to Cowan (2010), can only store 3-5 meaningful items at a time. Thus, it becomes essential to consider what is genuinely necessary on any given LMS page. If we focus on helping learners to achieve the learning outcomes when choosing the content to keep in each module, we can intentionally remove distractors. There can be a place for tangential or supplemental information, but those items should not live in the limelight. To help get us started on this “cleaning process,” we can ask ourselves a few simple questions. Are there big-ticket items (assignments, discussions, readings) that are not directly helping learners reach the outcomes? Are we formatting pages and arranging content in beneficial and progressive ways? Might we express longer bodies of text in ways that are more concisely or clearly? Can we break text up with related visuals? Below are some tips to help guide your process as you “clean” up your course and direct your learners where to focus.
Cut out the Bigger Extraneous Content
It is simple to assume that for your learners to meet the course outcomes, they must read and comprehend many things and complete a wide variety of assignments. When planning your learning activities, it’s crucial to keep in mind the limits of the brain and also that giving learners opportunities to practice applying content will be more successful than asking them to memorize and restate it. For courses with dense content, lean into your course outcomes to guide your editing process. Focusing on the objectives can help you remove extraneous readings and activities. This will allow your learners to concentrate on the key points. (Cowden & Sze, 2012)
For the items you choose to keep in your course, reviewing assignment instructions, and discussion prompts is helpful. Consider inviting a non-expert to read these items. An outside eye might help you to simplify what you are asking your learners to accomplish by calling to your attention any points of confusion. You may be tempted to add more detail, but try to figure out where you can remove text when possible. Why use a paragraph to explain something that only needs a few sentences? Simplifying your language can enable learners to get to the point faster. (For more on this, see the post by intern Aimee L. Lomeli Garcia about Improving Readability). When reviewing your instructions and prompts, think about what learners want to know:
· What should they pay attention to?
· Where do they start?
· What do they do next?
· What is expected?
· How are they being assessed/graded?
Utilize Best Practices for Formatting
Use native formatting tools like styles, headers, and lists to help visually break up content and make it more approachable. Here are some examples:
If I were to list my favorite animals here without a list, it would look like this: dogs, turtles, hummingbirds, frogs, elephants, and cheetahs.
Suppose I give you that same list using a header and number list format. In that case, it becomes much easier to digest mentally, and it looks nicer on the page:
Julie’s Favorite Animals
Provide High-Level Overviews
If an assignment does need a more thorough explanation, and your instructions are running long, you can always create a high-level overview, calling out the main points of the page. You could place this in a call-out box or its own section (preferably at the top). This is where learners can quickly look for reminders about what to do next and how to do it. Providing a high-level overview alongside detailed instructions will cater to a variety of learning preferences and help set up your learners for success.
Scaling up beyond single pages and assignments to module organization, consider the order you want learners to encounter ideas and accomplish tasks. Don’t be afraid to move pages around within your modules to help learners find the most efficient and helpful pathway through your material (Shift Elearning, n.d.).
Wrapping It Up
The culture of “more is better” is pervasive, and it’s almost always easier to add rather than to remove information. In online learning, when we buy into the “culture of more” we can impede the success of our learners. But more isn’t always better; sometimes more is just more. Instead, don’t be afraid to dust off that delete button and start reclaiming and reorganizing your course for ultimate learner success. Sometimes less is best. For more on the art of subtraction, see Elisabeth McBrien’s blog post from February of 2022.
Cowan, N. (2010). The magical mystery four. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 19(1), 51–57. https://doi.org/10.1177/0963721409359277
Cowden, P., & Sze, S. (2012). ONLINE LEARNING: THE CONCEPT OF LESS IS MORE. Allied Academies International Conference.Academy of Information and Management Sciences.Proceedings, 16(2), 1-6. https://oregonstate.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://www.proquest.com/scholarly-journals/online-learning-concept-less-is-more/docview/1272095325/se-2
Lomeli Garcia, A. L. (2023, January 17). Five Tips on Improving Readability in Your Courses. Ecampus Course Development and training. Retrieved April 4, 2023, from https://blogs.oregonstate.edu/inspire/2023/01/17/five-tips-on-improving-readability-in-your-courses/
McBrien, E. (2022, February 24). Course design challenge: Try subtraction. Ecampus Course Development and training. Retrieved April 4, 2023, from https://blogs.oregonstate.edu/inspire/2022/02/24/course-design-challenge-try-subtraction/
Parker, R. (2022, June 30). Why less is more for e-learning course materials. Synergy Learning. Retrieved April 4, 2023, from https://synergy-learning.com/blog/why-less-is-sometimes-more-when-it-comes-to-your-e-learning-course-materials/
Shift Elearning. (n.d.). The art of simplification in Elearning Design. The Art of Simplification in eLearning Design. Retrieved April 4, 2023, from https://www.shiftelearning.com/blog/the-art-of-simplification-in-elearning-design
In the 1980s, The Walt Disney Company rebranded its Disney Parks engineers as “imagineers,” and I think “instructional imagineering” would be a great rebranding of instructional design (if not for the copyright issue) because I often feel that the work I do is closer to engineering than design. Instructional designers are problem-solvers, but the work we do is not just problem-solving. It’s creative problem-solving, with each new project having new and specific challenges that often need a little imagination to solve–and a little improvisation.
The history of the pedagogy of improvisation is traced back to the work of two women, Neva Boyd and Viola Spolin, working in Chicago in the 20s and 30s. Boyd was a sociologist doing social work with poor immigrant communities at Hull House. She published a theory of play based on her work, which highlighted the positive socialization skills learned by children during games, and theatre or storytelling games in particular. Spolin was a student of Boyd’s, and developed a full drama pedagogy inspired by Boyd’s theories for her own teaching practice. Spolin’s son, Paul Sills, grew up in this environment and was one of the founders of The Second City in 1959.
In 2015, Kelly Leonard and Tom Yorton from The Second City published Yes, And: How Improvisation Reverses “No, But” Thinking and Improves Creativity and Collaboration–Lessons from The Second City, which was when I first learned about the workplace applications of improvisational comedy. There are a lot of videos and articles out there that also demonstrate improvisational comedy gamers as teambuilding exercises, but what I liked about The Second City’s approach is that it’s not just about the games. In 2018, Kelly Leonard and Anne Libera gave a presentation at Recode’s Code Conference on how the principles of improv can help foster better communication in the workplace. The presentation is just under twenty minutes, but it’s filled with insights from the very start, one of my favorites being, “Improvisation is practice in being unpracticed, which is how we all walk through the world.”
Innovative business leaders desiring to tap into creativity have adopted the phrase “yes, and” mindset approach to teamwork and collaboration, but still face the challenge of how to implement and leverage improvisational thinking into everyday practice. Carrie Freeman, Co-CEO of SecondMuse, Forbes Councils Member, and the author of The Power Of A ‘Yes, And’ Mindset To Solve Complex Problems, puts it in these terms: “The ‘yes, and’ approach lets us tap into potential far beyond meeting the immediate needs of a problem.” She concludes that, “It is likely that in broadening our search for ‘yes, and’ solutions, we will discover synergies heretofore undiscovered.”
The course design process is a problem-solving process, and it is a process dependent upon conversations and dialogue between multiple parties. These conversations all offer opportunities to practice the improvisational mindset. The first conversation, between the instructional designer and course developer, is an opportunity to set the tone of the development process. It’s when I ask the most “yes, and” questions. Each successive response from either myself or the course developer offers an opportunity to either follow up or change direction. That conversation can also lead to conversations with the media teams, which are also opportunities to set the tone using “yes, and” mentality to further creativity and collaboration. Kelly Leonard, in the 2018 Recode presentation, states that “Improvisation is yoga for your social skills,” and like any yoga practice, it must be practiced. It’s a kind of mindfulness; a way of being in the moment, listening to the ideas of others, and creating a space for imagination and collaboration.
One final note is that, like improv, you never know who you will be working with on a given project. Some improv games are more fun than others. But leveraging the “yes, and” mindset depends upon not going into a situation with expectations, assumptions, or predictions, even when it might involve people you’ve worked with before. I’ve been watching Ryan Stiles and Colin Mochrie on “Whose Line Is It, Anyway?” for twenty years, and while they are consistently funny, there are some scenes that are more memorable than others (see: 15 Times Ryan AND Colin Owned “Whose Line Is It, Anyway?”). But what keeps me watching is that you never know what scene will end up as part of the next greatest clips compilation, because they never know what’s going to happen next either.
ChatGPT has been featured everywhere recently, with some educators being particularly worried because of its ability to craft essays, provide answers to quiz questions, and bypass plagiarism detection software. Teachers are trying to find ways to detect AI generated content, but are we being too hasty to associate AI in education with academic misconduct? Could the tool being used to cheat on courses actually help build them? I put this to the test by asking ChatGPT some questions.
Note: The purpose of this was to see how much of the course development process could be generated by the chatbot.
How to begin?
Let’s start at the beginning: how do we design a course? Well, keeping the process brief for this post, we want to start with some course learning outcomes, align them with some assessments, and generate some activities to help practice for those assessments. I have a background in linguistics and language education, so I wanted to see how this chatbot would respond to some prompts to create a generic English language course.
The following is the chat transcript from ChatGPT verbatim. Screenshots of the conversation are available below. Anything under the “ChatGPT” was written by the AI, with my comments in the “Comments” subsection under that.
Gathering the learning outcomes
Could you generate 4-5 course learning outcomes for an intermediate English as a second language course?
Students will be able to understand and use complex grammatical structures in spoken and written English, including verb tenses, modals, and conditional sentences.
Students will be able to participate in discussions and debates on a variety of topics, using appropriate vocabulary and idiomatic expressions.
Students will be able to read and comprehend authentic English texts, such as news articles, short stories, and literary works, and be able to analyze and interpret them.
Students will be able to write clear, well-organized, and grammatically correct essays, using appropriate transitional words and phrases to develop their ideas.
Students will be able to give presentations in English, using appropriate pronunciation, intonation, and stress to convey their message effectively.
These are standard course learning outcomes for an ESL course. As I simply asked for learning outcomes with no context, the chatbot has no idea how detailed they should be, or how long it will take to achieve these outcomes. Though that was tested in the next question.
Basic weekly topics
Using those outcomes, what would the topics for a 10-week course look like?
Week 1-2: Review of basic grammatical structures, introduction to verb tenses, including present perfect and past continuous.
Week 3-4: Introduction to modals, including can, could, may, might, must, should, and will. Practice using them in context.
Week 5-6: Conditional sentences, including zero, first, second, and third conditionals. Practice using them in context.
Week 7-8: Vocabulary building and idiomatic expressions. Practice using them in discussion and debates.
Week 9-10: Reading comprehension and analysis. Practice with a variety of texts and interpreting them.
Week 11-12: Writing skills, including clear organization, development of ideas and use of transitional words and phrases.
Week 13-14: Presentation skills, including pronunciation, intonation and stress.
Note: These topics might vary depending on the level of proficiency of the students in the class and the specific course design.
Interestingly here, the chatbot gave me 14 weeks of topics rather than the 10 I asked for. I believe this is because of the structure of my question, because this is fixed in a later question. This was the only glaring mistake during our entire “conversation”.
What kinds of assessments could be used for these outcomes and topics?
Grammar and vocabulary quizzes or tests to assess students’ understanding and mastery of grammatical structures, verb tenses, modals, and idiomatic expressions.
Oral presentations, debates, or discussions to assess students’ ability to participate in spoken interactions using appropriate vocabulary and idiomatic expressions.
Written assessments such as essays, short answer questions or summary writing to assess students’ ability to understand, analyze and interpret texts and convey their ideas in writing.
Reading comprehension quizzes or tests to assess students’ ability to understand and interpret authentic English texts.
Writing assessments such as essays, reports, or research papers to evaluate students’ ability to organize their thoughts, develop their ideas and use appropriate transitional words and phrases.
Oral presentations or speeches to assess students’ ability to convey information effectively using appropriate pronunciation, intonation, and stress.
Self-reflection or peer-evaluation could be used as well to evaluate students’ progress and areas of improvement.
A fairly wide range of skills being tested here – which is also down to my extremely generic requirement of ‘intermediate english language”. I thought the assessments here contained enough that someone designing a course could pick a few of them from each set provided.
Can you map the above assessments to the previously mentioned course learning outcomes? How would they align?
Sure, here’s how the assessments could align with the previously mentioned course learning outcomes:
1. Grammar and vocabulary quizzes or tests align with the outcome of being able to understand and use complex grammatical structures in spoken and written English, including verb tenses, modals, and conditional sentences.
2. Oral presentations, debates, or discussions align with the outcome of being able to participate in discussions and debates on a variety of topics, using appropriate vocabulary and idiomatic expressions.
3. Written assessments such as essays, short answer questions or summary writing align with the outcome of being able to read and comprehend authentic English texts, such as news articles, short stories, and literary works, and be able to analyze and interpret them, and also the outcome of being able to write clear, well-organized, and grammatically correct essays, using appropriate transitional words and phrases to develop their ideas.
4. Reading comprehension quizzes or tests align with the outcome of being able to read and comprehend authentic English texts, such as news articles, short stories, and literary works, and be able to analyze and interpret them.
5. Writing assessments such as essays, reports, or research papers align with the outcome of being able to write clear, well-organized, and grammatically correct essays, using appropriate transitional words and phrases to develop their ideas.
6. Oral presentations or speeches align with the outcome of being able to give presentations in English, using appropriate pronunciation, intonation, and stress to convey their message effectively.
7. Self-reflection or peer-evaluation align with the outcome of evaluating students’ progress and areas of improvement.
It’s important to note that the assessments should be designed to be both formative and summative, in order to provide ongoing feedback to the student and help them to track their progress and identify areas for improvement.
Alignment of assessments to outcomes is one of the most important parts of designing an online course. I was impressed with the combination of outcome to assessment as explaining why an assessment is being given to students is quite common.
How could multimedia help students?
Can you think of how multimedia could be used in this course to promote effective language learning?
There are several ways that multimedia could be used in an intermediate English as a second language course to promote effective language learning:
Video and audio recordings of native English speakers can be used to expose students to authentic English, including different accents and dialects. This will help students to improve their listening comprehension and pronunciation skills.
Interactive online exercises and activities, such as quizzes, games, and simulations can be used to provide students with opportunities to practice and reinforce their grammar, vocabulary, and idiomatic expressions in a fun and engaging way.
Online discussion boards, chat rooms, and virtual meetings can be used to provide students with opportunities to interact with their classmates and teachers in real-time, thus promoting their speaking and writing skills.
Online videos, documentaries, and TED talks can be used to expose students to a variety of interesting and engaging topics, and to provide students with opportunities to practice their listening comprehension and critical thinking skills.
Online flashcards, quizzes, and other tools can be used to help students to memorize and retain new vocabulary words, and to improve their spelling and word recognition skills.
Online or offline multimedia-based learning materials, such as interactive e-books, mobile apps, and podcasts, can be used as additional resources for students to explore and practice their language skills on their own time.
Online resources such as subtitles for films, TV shows or podcasts can be used to improve students’ listening comprehension, vocabulary and grammar skills.
Overall, multimedia can be a great tool to make language learning more interactive, engaging, and personalized, and can be used to support the traditional teaching methods and assessments.
The multimedia selection here is fairly common in ESL classrooms. Selecting a combination of these would enhance the learning experience. It is also helpful that an explanation of purpose is given for each item on the list.
Diversity and inclusion
Students on this course will be from diverse backgrounds and cultures. Can you anticipate any topics that would best be avoided?
When teaching students from diverse backgrounds and cultures, it’s important to be sensitive to cultural differences and to avoid topics that may be offensive or controversial. Some potential topics that might be best avoided in an intermediate English as a second language course include:
Religion: It’s best to avoid discussing religious beliefs, practices, or controversies, as they can be deeply personal and may offend some students or create unnecessary tension among the class.
Politics: Avoid discussing or debating controversial political issues, as they may be divisive and could create tension among the class.
Cultural stereotypes: Avoid making generalizations or negative comments about any particular culture or group of people, as this can be offensive and perpetuate stereotypes.
Racism and discrimination: Avoid discussing these topics in a way that might make any student feel targeted, uncomfortable or offended.
History: Some historical events can be sensitive and can cause discomfort to some students. It is important to be aware of different perspectives and be sensitive.
It is important to remember that every student is unique and has their own personal experiences and perspectives, and topics that may be acceptable for one student may not be for another. It’s best to use common sense, and if you are unsure, it’s always good to ask your students if they are comfortable discussing a particular topic.
It’s also important to create a safe and inclusive environment, where all students feel respected and valued, and where they can express themselves freely without fear of judgement or discrimination.
I included this question because of the importance of diversity and inclusion in the classroom, and with an ESL course in particular, students will be from diverse backgrounds. It was good to see that the chatbot could provide not only a list of topics to answer my question but also to give additional advice on the learning environment.
Converting this into an online course
How could everything mentioned so far be developed as an online, asynchronous course? Student interaction might be limited to discussion boards as they are likely to be in other countries with different time zones.
An intermediate English as a second language course can be developed as an online, asynchronous course by using a variety of tools and resources to create a self-paced and interactive learning experience. Some potential strategies include:
Use a Learning Management System (LMS) such as Canvas, Blackboard, or Moodle to create a centralized location for all course materials, assignments, and communication. This will provide students with easy access to all the resources they need to complete the course. Use video and audio recordings, as well as interactive online exercises and activities to provide students with opportunities to practice and reinforce their grammar, vocabulary, and idiomatic expressions in a fun and engaging way.
Use discussion boards, chat rooms, and virtual meetings to provide students with opportunities to interact with their classmates and teachers in real-time, thus promoting their speaking and writing skills. These tools can also be used to create a sense of community among the students, despite their geographic distance and time zones.
Create and provide online multimedia-based learning materials, such as interactive e-books, mobile apps, and podcasts, as additional resources for students to explore and practice their language skills on their own time.
Use online quizzes, tests and assessments to evaluate student’s understanding, and use the results to provide them with feedback and guidance on areas where they need to improve.
Use Self-reflection or peer-evaluation to evaluate students’ progress, and areas of improvement.
Provide detailed and clear instructions for all assignments, activities, and assessments, and make sure that the deadlines are flexible enough to accommodate students in different time zones.
Encourage students to take an active role in their own learning by regularly checking in with them, providing them with feedback, and giving them opportunities to reflect on their progress and set goals for themselves.
Overall, an online, asynchronous course can be designed to be flexible, interactive, and engaging, and can provide students with opportunities to learn and practice their language skills at their own pace and on their own schedule.
I work in the field of online and hybrid learning, and often adapt existing in-person courses to online versions. I wanted to see if the chatbot could also do this, given that all of the previous answers were based on the assumption of an in-person class. This was not the fault of the ChatGPT – I never specified whether I wanted it to be an online-specific course. An important lesson here is that imprecise input will not result in precise output (see: GIGO for more information, or this article on tailoring your prompts for ChatGPT).
Still, given the updated prompt, it was able to provide both synchronous and asynchronous activities to accommodate for differences in time zones and locations.
Asking directly for an opinion
Can you think of anything else that might be important to consider when building this course?
Here are a few additional things that might be important to consider when building an intermediate English as a second language course:
Assessing students’ prior knowledge and language proficiency: It’s important to assess students’ prior knowledge and language proficiency before the course begins, in order to tailor the course content to their needs and to ensure that they are placed in the appropriate level.
Differentiating instruction: Since students in an intermediate English as a second language course will have varying levels of proficiency, it’s important to differentiate instruction and provide multiple means of representation, expression, and engagement to meet the needs of all students.
Scaffolding and modeling: Provide students with the necessary support, guidance and modeling to complete the activities and assignments.
Provide opportunities for students to practice and apply their language skills in authentic and meaningful contexts.
Encourage students to use English as much as possible: Encourage students to use English as much as possible, both inside and outside of class, by providing them with opportunities to interact with native speakers, read authentic English texts, and listen to English-language music and podcasts.
Use technology to enhance language learning: Use technology to enhance language learning by providing students with access to online resources, such as grammar exercises, vocabulary lists, and pronunciation guides.
Provide regular and constructive feedback: Provide regular and constructive feedback on students’ progress and areas for improvement. This can be done through formative assessments, individual conferences, or through online tools such as rubrics and self-reflection.
Be flexible and responsive: Be flexible and responsive to students’ needs and be open to suggestions and feedback to improve the course.
Cultural sensitivity: Be culturally sensitive, and be aware of the cultural backgrounds of the students and make sure that the course content is inclusive and respectful of different cultures.
Keep in mind that the course is not just about language, but also about culture. Provide students with opportunities to learn about the cultures of English-speaking countries in order to help them to understand and appreciate the language and its context better.
For this question, I wanted to see if the chatbot could provide additional considerations for teaching and learning. These are all great suggestions, which is probably why the AI selected them – they likely appear in many examples of educational content that it had been trained on.
Rewriting course learning outcomes to be more measurable
Can you take the aforementioned course learning outcomes and rewrite them with strong, measurable verbs? For example, “understand” is not easy to measure.
Sure, here are the course learning outcomes rephrased with strong, measurable verbs:
Students will be able to identify and use complex grammatical structures in spoken and written English, including verb tenses, modals, and conditional sentences with 80% accuracy on grammar quizzes and tests.
Students will be able to initiate and participate in discussions and debates on a variety of topics, using appropriate vocabulary and idiomatic expressions with 70% accuracy on oral presentations, debates, or discussions.
Students will be able to read and comprehend authentic English texts, such as news articles, short stories, and literary works, and analyze and interpret them with 80% accuracy on reading comprehension quizzes or tests.
Students will be able to write clear, well-organized, and grammatically correct essays, using appropriate transitional words and phrases to develop their ideas with 80% accuracy on writing assessments such as essays, reports, or research papers.
Students will be able to give presentations in English, using appropriate pronunciation, intonation, and stress to convey their message effectively with 80% accuracy on oral presentations or speeches.
These objectives are now specific, measurable and have a clear criteria of success. They are also aligned with the assessments and activities that you have previously mentioned.
I conducted an experiment which mimics the process that instructional designers routinely encounter when designing online courses. There are often a set of learning outcomes given at the start of the development process which regularly use verbs that are heard to measure such as “understand” or “know”. This makes it difficult to align assessments to outcomes because what does it really mean to “understand” something? How can we apply a rubric or grade to it?
Note that, in a real development beginning from scratch, we would want to design the course learning outcomes to be measurable from the start before anything else. In practice, however, I usually work with faculty on courses with predetermined outcomes that are either modified to more measurable ones, or linked to more measurable weekly learning outcomes.
ChatGPT modified the one verb I called out – “understand” – but left “comprehend”. Perhaps this also required a specific mention in the initial question, and is another example of how your initial prompt influences the results.
Creating a weekly schedule
Can you make a weekly schedule, from week 1 to week 10, with an overview of activities for that particular week, incorporating the aforementioned assessments where appropriate and aligning all of it with the course learning outcomes?
Sure, here’s a possible weekly schedule for an intermediate English as a second language course:
Overview of the course and introduction to the course learning outcomes
Assessment of students’ prior knowledge and language proficiency
Introduction to verb tenses, including present perfect and past continuous
Interactive online exercises and activities to practice verb tenses
Vocabulary building and idiomatic expressions
Review and reinforcement of verb tenses
Quiz or test on verb tenses
Introduction to modals, including can, could, may, might, must, should, and will
Practice using modals in context
Review and reinforcement of modals
Quiz or test on modals
Introduction to conditional sentences, including zero, first, second, and third conditionals
Practice using conditional sentences in context
Review and reinforcement of conditional sentences
Quiz or test on conditional sentences
Vocabulary building and idiomatic expressions
Practice using vocabulary and idiomatic expressions in discussions and debates
Reading comprehension and analysis
Practice with a variety of texts and interpreting them
Writing skills, including clear organization, development of ideas and use of transitional words and phrases
Review and reinforcement of writing skills
Writing assessment such as essays, reports, or research papers
Presentation skills, including pronunciation, intonation and stress
Review and reinforcement of presentation skills
Practice oral presentations or speeches
Self-reflection or peer-evaluation
Vocabulary building and idiomatic expressions
Reading comprehension and analysis
Practice with a variety of texts and interpreting them
Writing skills, including clear organization, development of ideas and use of transitional words and phrases
Review and reinforcement of all language skills
Final assessment, which can include a combination of quizzes, tests, essays, oral presentations, or other forms of assessment.
Feedback on final assessment
Review of key concepts and skills
Feedback on the course, and suggestions for improvement
Final self-reflection or peer-evaluation
Note: This is just a sample schedule, and it can be adjusted depending on the specific needs of the students and the course design. Also, it’s important to remember that the assessments should be designed to be both formative and summative, in order to provide ongoing feedback to the student and help them to track their progress and identify areas for improvement.
The language I used in this question yielded the correct number of weeks from the AI. Each week is structured to include a review of the previous week’s content, which is a common teaching technique. This is asking a lot from the chatbot! It managed to incorporate most of my requests though, which again is impressive.
What measures could be taken to ensure academic integrity in the online version of this course?
Academic integrity is a critical aspect of any course, and it’s important to take measures to ensure that students are completing their work independently and honestly. Here are a few measures that could be taken to ensure academic integrity in an online version of an intermediate English as a second language course:
Use plagiarism detection software: Use plagiarism detection software, such as Turnitin, to check students’ work for originality. This will help to detect instances of plagiarism and ensure that students are completing their own work.
Provide clear guidelines on academic integrity: Provide students with clear guidelines on academic integrity, including definitions of plagiarism, cheating, and academic dishonesty.
Monitor online activities: Monitor online activities, such as discussion board posts, chat room conversations, and virtual meetings, to ensure that students are participating in the course honestly and independently.
Use proctoring software: Use proctoring software, such as ProctorU or Respondus Monitor, to monitor students while they take online quizzes, tests, or exams.
Use randomized questions: Use randomized questions, or different versions of the same test to prevent students from sharing answers with each other.
Encourage self-regulation: Encourage self-regulation, and make it clear that the students are responsible for maintaining academic integrity in their work.
Create a culture of integrity: Create a culture of integrity in the class, by emphasizing the importance of honesty, trust, and responsibility.
Have clear consequences: Have clear consequences for academic dishonesty, and communicate them to the students.
Overall, it’s important to establish clear expectations for academic integrity and
ChatGPT froze here, the servers were experiencing high volumes of traffic.
Again, these are solid solutions which are used in both in-person and online courses. A quick web search would yield similar results as these are shared across most educational institutions.
Thoughts on further usage
It is clear that AI is set to change the way we interact with technology in education (or already has depending on how much you are using it). For this test, I simply provided the most generic input to see what the chatbot would generate. For an intermediate (however that was interpreted by the chatbot) ESL course, the learning outcomes were solid, once measurable outcomes were requested, and I was impressed by the generated weekly schedule including high level overviews of activities and assessments.
With more precise input requirements for course content and outcomes, one would expect an even more accurate output.
There are many ways that this kind of technology can be used to enhance courses – and I can see it being a very useful tool for quick questions such as potential assignments for certain learning outcomes, or figuring out if an assignment prompt might result in unintended consequences. For example, see the following:
What could go wrong?
Can you think of any potential negative consequences of using the following prompt in a classroom?
“Make a presentation on current events in your country.”
There are several potential negative consequences of using the prompt “Make a presentation on current events in your country” in a classroom setting:
Bias: Students may only focus on certain events or perspectives, leading to a biased understanding of current events.
Limited perspective: Students may only present events happening in their immediate community, leading to a limited perspective on current events in the country as a whole.
Inappropriate content: Students may present on sensitive or controversial topics that may be inappropriate for a classroom setting.
Lack of critical thinking: By only presenting current events, students may not develop the critical thinking skills needed to analyze and understand the underlying causes and consequences of the events.
Limited access to information: Some students may not have access to current events information, especially if they come from low-income or marginalized communities.
It’s important to consider these potential negative consequences and take steps to mitigate them, such as providing guidance on how to present information in a balanced and fair manner and encouraging critical thinking and analysis of current events.
Watching for potential bias
During my “conversation” with the bot, I was impressed with the response to the diversity and inclusion question I posed. The points it presented were, like most answers in this experiment, fairly common and expected responses for such a course (‘don’t talk about politics, religion, etc. etc.’). A phrase that kept cropping up is ‘it is important to…’ followed by a value statement. Those presented in this conversation were benign, and actually good advice from an educational standpoint (e.g. every student is unique, you should create a safe learning environment, and so on). It seems a lot of work has been done to minimize bias – responses from the bot on many issues have disclaimers and things that are ‘important to remember’. It is also, however, important to remember that biases can creep in and to keep an eye out for it, especially when taking advice from AI.
Obviously the chatbot is pulling this information from somewhere (more info on this is contained on the Wikipedia page for ChatGPT), and even though it is generative AI, one has to wonder how much this will be an issue in the future if content is too similar to an existing program or course – not to mention all other subjects it is capable of generating.
Learning outcomes (LOs) are used in instructional design to describe the skills and knowledge that students should have at the end of a course or learning unit, and to design assessments and activities that support these goals. It is widely agreed that specific, measurable outcomes are essential for planning instruction; however, some educators question the benefits of explicitly presenting them to students. I have been asked (and wondered myself): “What is the point of listing learning outcomes in the course?” “How do they help learning? “Do students even read them?”
So, I went on a quest for research that attempted to answer such questions. I was particularly interested in unit/module-level outcomes, as those are the ones that directly steer the content, and students see them throughout the course. Here’s a brief summary of what I found.
Note: the studies use the terms “learning outcome”, “learning objective”, or “learning goal” – they all refer to the same concept: a specific and measurable description of the skills and knowledge that students are expected to have at the end of a learning unit/period of study. At OSU we use the term “outcomes”.
What Does the Research Say?
Armbruster et al. (2009) redesigned an Introductory Biology course at Georgetown University, Washington, DC, using active learning and student-centered pedagogies, leading to increased student performance and satisfaction. One of the strategies used was to include explicit learning goals in the lecture slides, and labeling exam and quiz questions with the related goals. Students’ attitudes towards the course were assessed via a questionnaire and comparison of university-administered student evaluations. Students were asked to rank lecture components in terms of helpfulness to learning, and the authors found that one of the highest-ranking elements was the inclusion of explicit learning goals.
Simon and Taylor (2009) surveyed 597 students from computer science and microbiology and immunology courses at the University of British Columbia, where instructors presented learning goals at the beginning of each lecture or topic area. The questions were open and the answers coded into a number of categories, which helped them identify several values of goals. The main value was “knowing what I need to know”: students reported that the goals showed them how to focus their efforts and felt that the goals “allowed them to organize the information more effectively and be more expertlike in their approach to the class” (Simon & Taylor, 2009, p.55). The authors did not find any difference between presenting the goals before each lecture versus at the beginning of the unit/topic area.
Brooks et al. (2014) examined students’ views of learning outcomes at the University of Leicester, UK. First, they surveyed 918 students taking Biological Sciences, English and Medicine courses. They found that 81% of participants agreed or strongly agreed that learning outcomes are useful learning aids. Additionally, 46% found LOs more useful as their courses progressed, and 49% reported that they engaged more with the LOs as the course progressed. The authors also investigated when LOs are most useful, and found that the most common answer (46%) was when reviewing the material. Moreover, 49% of students reported that LOs can only be fully understood at the end of a module. The researchers followed up on these results with a focus group, which confirmed that students use LOs in various ways and at various points during the course.
Osueke et al. (2018) looked into students’ use and perceptions of learning objectives at University of Georgia. 185 students in an undergraduate Introduction to Biochemistry and Molecular Biology course took part in the study. The instructors included instructions in the syllabus, which they also stated on the first day of class: “Focus on the learning objectives. The exams will assess your accomplishment of the learning objectives. Use the learning objectives as a guide for what to focus on when you are completing assignments and studying for exams.” Students completed two assignments requiring them to explain their use of the LOs. The researchers found that many students (33.8%) reported they had been instructed on how to use LOs to study – these instructions ranged from passively “look over” to using them as a study guide. The ways students used the LOs were: as questions to answer (47.4%), as a resource for studying (24.1%), as a self-assessment tool (14.3%), and passive use (13.5%). When asked why they find the LOs helpful, students said that they help them: narrow down the information (57.1%); organize their studying (23.3%); communicate information (5.3%); monitor their understanding (4.5%); forced them to study (1.5%).
Sana et al. (2020) conducted three experiments aiming to find to what extent presenting the LOs improve retention of information. Participants were asked to read five passages on a neuroscience topic, and then they were tested on comprehension and retention. The experiments took place at McMaster University, Ontario and employed different participants, methods, materials, and procedures. They found that: interpolating LOs throughout the lesson (as opposed to all LOs presented at the beginning) improved learning compared to not including LOs, especially when students’ attention was explicitly directed to them; converting LOs into pretest questions (that students attempted to answer) further enhanced performance; multiple-choice and short answer questions were equally effective; and withholding feedback on pretests was more effective than providing feedback – the explanation proposed by the authors for this last finding was that students may be more motivated to seek the correct answers themselves, which causes further processing of the material.
Barnard et al. (2021) investigated students’ and academics’ perspectives on the purpose of learning objectives and approaches to assessment preparation. They conducted focus groups with participants from an undergraduate Psychology course at the University of Nottingham, UK. The students reported that LOs are useful for guidance, as they “use them to create direction for some of the learning and revision strategies” (Barnard et al., 2021, p. 679).
Conclusions and Recommendations
Good news! The findings of these studies suggest that many students do appreciate clear LOs and use them to guide their learning. The LOs help them understand what they are expected to know – thus, students use them to focus their study, to review for an exam, and to self-check their knowledge.
As instructors and instructional designers, what can we do to help students take full advantage of LOs? Apart from having specific and measurable LOs, make sure that the LOs are well aligned with the activities, and make this alignment explicit. It may also be helpful to offer some guidance on how to use the LOs, for instance by prompting students to recap their learning at the end of a unit based on the LOs. Finally, we could turn the LOs into questions and use them as a pretest.
For more on creating and using LOs, check out the CBE—Life Sciences Education website, which has an informative guide, including a section on student use.
Do you have any other ideas or resources on how to use learning outcomes to improve students’ experience and study habits? If so, we’d love to hear from you!
Armbruster, P., Patel, M., Johnson, E., & Weiss, M. (2009). Active learning and student-centered pedagogy improve student attitudes and performance in Introductory Biology. CBE Life Sciences Education, 8(3), 203–213. https://doi.org/10.1187/cbe.09-03-0025
Barnard, M., Whitt, E., & McDonald, S. (2021). Learning objectives and their effects on learning and assessment preparation: Insights from an undergraduate psychology course. Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, 46(5), 673–684. https://doi.org/10.1080/02602938.2020.1822281
Brooks, S., Dobbins, K., Scott, J. J. A., Rawlinson, M., & Norman, R. I. (2014). Learning about learning outcomes: The student perspective. Teaching in Higher Education, 19(6), 721–733. https://doi.org/10.1080/13562517.2014.901964
Osueke, B., Mekonnen, B., & Stanton, J. D. (2018). How undergraduate science students use learning objectives to study. Journal of Microbiology & Biology Education, 19(2). https://doi.org/10.1128/jmbe.v19i2.1510
Sana, F., Forrin, N. D., Sharma, M., Dubljevic, T., Ho, P., Jalil, E., & Kim, J. A. (2020). Optimizing the efficacy of learning objectives through pretests. CBE Life Sciences Education, 19(3), ar43–ar43. https://doi.org/10.1187/cbe.19-11-0257
The following is a guest blog post from Aimee L. Lomeli Garcia, MLA. Aimee completed an Instructional Design internship with OSU Ecampus during the Fall of 2022.
Have you ever found yourself reading the same paragraph over and over again only to not retain any information? Or been so overwhelmed with the content you’re trying to read that you’re unable to absorb any of it? Odds are that it may not just be the content you’re trying to read; it may be the way the information is laid out. One way to help read and retain information is to make the text more readable.
Making information readable in your online course can seem overwhelming, but there are a few steps that you can take to make the content more digestible for students.
What is Readability?
First off – what is readability? Readability is defined as “the ease in which a reader can comprehend text” (Calonia, 2020). Readability is a vital aspect to keep in mind as you design online courses. It not only makes the content of the class easier to read but increases the likelihood that students will understand the faculty’s content through lectures and discussions. Better readability also decreases the risk of students misunderstanding the content, experiencing frustration, and increases the risk of students becoming disinterested in interacting with the course. Though there are multiple options to make content more readable, there are five ways that you can adapt the content in your course: chunking content, using whitespace, avoiding wordiness, creating infographics, and utilizing color.
What does “chunking content” mean? Chunking means breaking content into smaller chunks to make it easier to understand. This strategy originates from the field of cognitive psychology, which has proven that the human brain can “process, understand, and remember information better when broken into smaller pieces” (Moran, 2016).
Below are the first two paragraphs of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling:
Chapter One The Boy Who Lived Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. They were the last people you’d expect to be involved in anything strange or mysterious because they just didn’t hold with such nonsense.
When reading through this excerpt, it’s easy for your eyes to scan through the information without comprehending it. There are a few common methods that will help with chunking your material: make your paragraphs shorter, add space between your paragraphs, and develop clear hierarchies of text.
Utilizing these methods, let’s make this paragraph more readable:
The Boy Who Lived
Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. They were the last people you’d expect to be involved in anything strange or mysterious, because they just didn’t hold with such nonsense.
Whitespace is defined as “empty space between and around elements of a page” (Babich, 2017). Whitespace creates a backdrop or frame to make your content easier to read. Like chunking information, whitespace allows the eye to find information easily. Take these slides for example:
Do you notice how much easier it is to read the different types of coffee drinks on the slide that has more white space? In a study done by Wichita State University, research confirmed that increasing the amount of whitespace actually improves reading comprehension!
We’ve all experienced reading material that has excessive wordiness. In a manner of speaking, “wordiness means using more words than necessary within a sentence, especially short, vague words that do not add much meaning” (Eliminating Wordiness, 2022). Unfortunately, the overuse of unnecessary words can muddle ideas and cause confusion for students.
To decrease wordiness, focus on the key points you want to convey and use an active voice instead of a passive voice. Consider the following example:
“All of the students who are new to this university are required ot attend an orientatin that has been scheduled for December 1st.”
When reading this sentence, it’s difficult to decipher what the necessary information is for the reader to understand. Instead, let’s focus on the key points and use an active voice in this sentence:
“New students are required to attend orientation on December 1st.”
Here, we eliminated the unnecessary wording, allowing readers to understand the message the sentence is trying to convey.
Pictures speak louder than words! Using visual media, such as infographics, pictures, videos, animations, and films, make content easier for students to understand and could decrease the amount of writing you have to do for the class! You can obtain visual media through free online resources such as Pexels, Pixabay, or Openverse or created on your own (Canva is a favorite for me).
So, instead of using this:
Cells are the building blocks of life. A cell is composed of cytoplasm, a nucleus, ribosomes, and mitochondria. Cytoplasm is made up of a jell-like structure that contains the contents of the cell. The nucleus serves as the command center and is typically the largest part of the inside of the cell. Ribosomes are tiny parts of the cell that make proteins and mitochondria are jelly-bean shaped and create energy from the food we eat.
Color makes a significant impact on the readability of your page. This can be easy to overlook, as we typically use the standard black font/white background combination. However, adding color to words or backgrounds can bring attention to a message you’re trying to convey. There are ways to do this successfully and ways to add color poorly.
Looking at the red text on the first example can be challenging for someone with no vision issues. Imagine the difficulty students who have a visual impairment can have – in particular, red/green color blindness.
On the second example, having a text color that is nearly the same shade as the background can make reading the text nearly impossible. It takes effort to read the quote in the example – can you imagine reading a scholarly journal with the same formatting?
Don’t let these examples dissuade you from trying text colors and backgrounds! To verify if a color combination is readable, visit the Contrast Checker page, enter the RGB or RYB codes and the website will notify you if the color combinations are reader-friendly.
Drafting your site can be overwhelming when considering readability, but there are several steps you can take to make the course content easier to understand.
Chunking content helps break text into smaller pieces so content is easier for students to digest.
Whitespace provides empty space for your content to pop
Avoiding wordiness can make your content and message clearer
Using visuals allows you to utilize pictures, videos, infographics, and other media to convey content
Strategic use of color on your page can make reading the material more comfortable and less straining for all students, including those with vision impairments.
Below are links to resources and tools if you’d like to dive into more information about readability and the impact it has on the success of students of online students. Thanks for reading!
One of the major advantages of digital learning is that we can ensure our materials are accessible to all students. As such, at Ecampus, we are striving – and encouraging others to strive – for universal design, that is, design that anyone can use comfortably regardless of any impairments. In past posts, we have covered various ways of improving accessibility in a course, including how to fix PowerPoint or Word files. Today I’d like to focus on making Canvas pages accessible and making use of the on-page Accessibility Checker available in the Canvas Rich Content Editor.
Here are the main things you can do to ensure your Canvas pages (including assignments, discussions etc.) are accessible:
Use proper hierarchy of headings and do not skip heading levels. You want to start with Heading 2 (Heading 1 is the title), then subordinate to that will be Heading 3 and so on. This is especially useful for screen reader users because it helps with logical page navigation. Some people choose their headings by the font size – not a good idea! If you want to adjust the size of your text, use the “Font sizes” option in the editor, after designating the correct heading level.
Add an alt text description to any image or mark it as decorative. This is helpful for screen reader users and people for whom the images are not loading.
Make the link names descriptive, rather than just pasting the url. For example, you would write Student Resources instead of https://experience.oregonstate.edu/resources. Also, avoid linking “click here” type of text. This helps screen reader users (which would read a url letter by letter), and it also makes it easier for everyone to scan the page and find the needed information.
Ensure good color contrast. I often see instructors making their text colorful – in particular, red seems to be very popular. Indeed, a touch of color can make the page more visually pleasing and help bring out headings or important information! The danger lies in using colors that don’t have enough contrast with the background. This is especially problematic for people with less-than-optimal eyesight, but good contrast really just makes it easier for all of us to read. Also, a word of caution: Canvas has recently rolled out dark mode for mobile platforms and many people like to use it. Some colored or highlighted text may not look clear in dark mode.
Add caption and header row to tables. These are extremely helpful for screen reader users, and the caption helps everyone to quickly see what the table is about. To add these things, you actually have to rely on the on-page accessibility checker – it will flag the issues and walk you through fixing them. While we’re on the subject of tables, you also want to avoid complex tables with merged cells because they are hard to navigate for a screen reader.
Avoid underlining text. Underlining is normally reserved for links. Try using other means of highlighting information, such as bold, italics or caps.
Find and Fix
Canvas has a very useful tool that can help you find some accessibility issues as you edit your page. At the bottom of the editor, the icon representing a human in a circle will show notification when something is amiss.
When you click on that icon, the checker will open on the right-hand side, explaining each issue and allowing you to fix it right there.
This tool can find:
Skipped heading levels/starting with the wrong heading
Missing alt text
Insufficient color contrast – you can find a suitable color right here
Missing table caption and header row
It will NOT flag poorly formatted links or underlined text. So, for these issues, you’ll have to watch out yourself!
When you’ve finished building your course, you can also use UDOIT, the global accessibility checker, or Ally, if your institution has installed it. These tools can help you find additional problems, including embedded materials with accessibility issues.
To conclude, following these simple rules can greatly enhance the usability of your Canvas course. The built-in accessibility checker will help you spot and fix some common issues. Once you start paying attention, building instructional content with accessibility in mind will become second nature!
Ashlee M. C. Foster, MSEd | Instructional Design Specialist | Oregon State University Ecampus
This is the final installment of a three-part series on project-based learning. The first two articles, Architecture for Authenticity and Mindful Design, explore the foundational elements of project-based learning. This article shifts our attention to generating practical application ideas for your unique course. This series will conclude with a showcase of an exemplary Ecampus course project.
Over the last couple of years, as an instructional designer, I have observed my faculty developers shifting how they assess student learning. Frequent and varied low-stakes assessments are replacing high-stakes exams, in their courses. Therefore, students increasingly have more opportunities to actively engage in meaningful ways. What an exciting time!
Instructors commonly express that adopting a new, emerging, or unfamiliar pedagogical approach can be challenging for two reasons: 1) identifying an appropriate activity and 2) thoughtfully designing the activity into a course. Sometimes a brainstorming session is just the ticket. Here are a few activity ideas to get you started.
Students pose a problem steeped with historical significance (e.g., racism). Students conduct research using primary sources which corroborate and contextualize the issue. Experts and/or those with direct/indirect experience are interviewed. Interviews are documented with multimedia.
Students select a problem that affects the local, regional, state, national, or global community and conduct research. Students collaboratively create scenarios that authentically contextualize the problem. Students develop solutions that utilize the main course concepts while engaging with the problem within a real-world context.
GenderMagis a process that guides individuals/groups through any form of technology (e.g., websites, software, systems) to find gender inclusivity “bugs.” After going through the GenderMag process, the investigators can then provide recommendations and fix the bugs.
While exploring project-based activities and/or assessments, it may also be helpful to consider the following questions:
Does this activity align with the course learning outcomes?
What type of prerequisite knowledge and skills do students need?
What types of knowledge and skills will students need after completing the project?
Can the activity be modified/customized to fit the needs of the course?
What strategies will be employed to foster authentic learning?
What strategies can be used to guide and/or coach teams through the activity?
How will the activity foster equitable engagement and active participation?
What strategies can be utilized to nurture and build a strong learning community?
Becky is an Associate Professor of Practice in the Adult and Higher Education (AHE) program at Oregon State University. We had the pleasure of collaborating on the Ecampus course development for AHE 623, Contemporary Issues in Higher Education. With two decades of experience in postsecondary settings, Becky came to the table with a wealth of knowledge, expertise, and strong perspectives grounded in social justice, all of which situated her to create a high-quality, engaging, and inclusive Ecampus course. When interviewing her for this article, she shared her pedagogical approach to teaching online and hybrid courses, which provides a meaningful context for the project design
“At the start of every term, I take time to explain the idea that shapes the approach I take as an educator and the expectations that I have of the class: ‘we are a community.’ Inspired by educational heroes like Paulo Freire, bell hooks, and Marcia Baxter Magolda, as well as the excellent teachers who shaped me as a student, I take a constructivist approach to teaching. I also center the ‘so what’ and ‘now what’ of the material we cover through active learning exercises that create space for students to reflect on their learning and its applicability to the real world. Admittedly, such active learning exercises are engaging. Research also highlights their effectiveness as a pedagogical strategy. More importantly, however, they provide a means of disrupting power structures within the classroom (i.e., the students are positioned as experts too), and they serve as mechanisms through which the students and I can bring our full selves to the course.” ~Becky Crandall
In AHE 623, students complete a term-long project entitled the “Mini-Conference.” The project situates students as the experts, “by disrupting traditional classroom power structures” and provides an opportunity to “simulate the kind of proposal writing and presenting they would do at a professional conference.” The project’s intended goal is to foster deep learning through the exploration of contemporary real-world higher education issues.
The project is a staged design with incremental milestones throughout the 11-week academic term. The project design mimics the process of a professional conference, from proposal to presentation. The project consists of“two elements: (1) a conference proposal that included an abstract, learning outcomes, a literature review, policy and/or practice implications, and a presentation outline and (2) a 20-minute presentation.” As the term concludes, students deliver the presentation (i.e., conference workshop) that actively engages the audience with the self-selected topic. Students have varied opportunities to receive peer and instructor feedback. The information gleaned from the feedback helps to refine student proposals for submission to a professional organization.
Becky shared how she conceptualized and designed the project using backward design principles. “Specifically, I began by considering the goals of the course and the project. I then researched professional associations’ conference proposal calls to determine what elements to include in the project.When developing learning exercises, I often ask, ‘How might the students use this in the real world?’” By using an intentional design process, the result is a project which is strongly aligned, structures learning, and has authentic application.
The first delivery of AHE 623 was successfully launched in the Spring of 2022 with minimal challenges other than the limited time. “The students engaged fully in the mini-conference. As reflected in the outcomes, they not only learned but were left hungry for more.” Requests flew in for additional opportunities to apply what they had learned! “The students raved about this project such that they even asked if they could host a virtual conference using their presentations.” The project proved to be a transformational experience for students. “Multiple students noted that this opportunity helped them refine their dissertation ideas and related skills.”As Becky looks forward, she hopes to consider restructuring the design into a rotating roundtable format. Doing so will ensure that students are exposed to their peers’ perspectives in the course.
Remember that course design and development is an iterative process. Please know you do not have to get it right the first time or even the tenth. Your students do value your enthusiasm for the subject and appreciate the effort you have put into crafting valuable learning experiences for them. You have got this!
Visit the Ecampus Course Development and Training team blog for application tips, course development and design resources, online learning best practices and standards, and emerging trends in Higher Education. We look forward to seeing you there.
Dr. Becky Crandall, thank you for candidly sharing your core pedagogical approaches, philosophy of teaching, and the course project with the Oregon State community. Your commitment to social justice continues to shine in your course designs and instructional delivery.
Are you passionate for what you do? I do. I enjoy, treasure, relish what I do as an instructional designer. But I also realize that not everyone is able to work on something they are passionate about. As an educator, I believe we ought to stir up passion and values in the learners we serve. So, I started searching for ways to motivate, to stir up and help people find their passion. And I found these resources: books and podcast by Todd Henry on passion, and book and podcast by Liz Forkin Bohannon.
Todd Henry shared his recipe for finding the power to keep your passion firing for a lifetime by starting with a few simple questions.
What is something that you are willing to suffer on behalf of it?
What makes you angry?
What moves you emotionally?
What gives you hope?
Quotes from Todd Henry, author and experts on creativity, productivity, and passion for work. Goal of life is not comfort, but conquest! The love of comfort is often the enemy of greatness. The seeds of tomorrow’s greatness is planted in today’s activities. If you are intentional, and if you live by design, not by default, someday, in the distant future, when you lay your head down for the last time you can point to a delta, a body of work and you can say “yes, that represents me.”
Beginner’s Pluck is a 2019 book by Liz Forkin Bohannon (Podcast host, and co-founder of Sseko Designs). In this book, Liz teaches us that passion is not discovered, as we were told for so long, but rather passion is built step by step! And the first step is to find an interesting problem. And to have a posture of curiosity over criticism. The good news is the world is full of interesting problems!
This is a totally new perspective to me: passion is built and the first step to build passion is to find interesting problems. And this new perspective leads me to think how I could and should plan my instructional design work to provide room and opportunities in any course for asking questions that guide learners to build their passion. It could be in the syllabus, in each module’s content page, before or after learners work on the readings and lecture videos, or at the end of the module as a self-assessment. There are many different ways and places we can incorporate the building of passion into course design!
Conclusion: Build your Passion starting with questions and interesting problems. My questions for you, dear educator, “is there room in your teaching to ask an inspiring question that points your learners towards building their passion for life?” Or if you are reading this for your own benefit, consider what problems are interesting to you and start working on solving the problems, little by little. If you need to someone to brainstorm design ideas for infusing questions into your teaching, feel free to contact me at email@example.com
Bohannon, L.F. (2019). Beginner’s Pluck. Baker books.
Henry, T. (2013). Die Empty. Penguin Publishing Group
If you design or teach online courses, and the term Regular and Substantive Interaction (RSI) is unfamiliar to you, not to worry. It’s likely that you’ve already implemented some degree of RSI in your online courses. RSI is the US Department of Education (DoE) requirement for institutions receiving federal funds to “ensure that there is regular and substantive interaction between students and instructors” in their online courses. It was intended as a quality assurance and consumer protection measure, but it is also a key component of high-quality online learning. Simply put, student-teacher interactions must be consistent and meaningful throughout the delivery of an online course. There is a mountain of research supporting this idea by now, and we have long known that this type of interaction is an essential component of learning and has a deep impact on student experience and satisfaction with online learning.
Characteristics of RSI
You may be thinking that you already have plenty of quality interaction in your course. If you’re familiar with the Ecampus Essentials standards for course development (based on the Quality Matters course design rubric) or the Ecampus Online Teaching Principles, you know that teacher-student interaction is a basic component of effective online course design and delivery. You may also be thinking that “interaction” is a vague term. After all, interactions can occur synchronously or asynchronously via many different platforms. They can occur in response to student progress in a particular course or be an intentional aspect of the instructor’s course delivery plan. So, what exactly does quality interaction in the context of RSI entail? The DOE guidelines outline the main characteristics of regular and substantive interaction as follows:
Instructor-student interaction should be an intentional component of the course design and delivery. While students should also be encouraged to reach out to the instructor as needed, interactions should be required and initiated by the instructor to be considered RSI. For example, ad hoc office hours and auto-graded objective quizzes would not be considered RSI, but requested office visits, individualized feedback on assignments or open-ended quizzes, and instructor-facilitated online discussion forums would qualify as regular and sustained interactions. Likewise, announcements tailored to the course content during the term of the delivery would also meet the guidelines for RSI.
Frequent and consistent
Simply put, frequent and consistent interaction means that you are present in your course in an intentional manner regularly throughout the term. Instructor presence in online courses deeply impacts student learning, satisfaction, and motivation, so this is probably not a new idea for those who have taught online. Many online instructors maintain instructor presence through regular announcements or videos providing updates on student progress or feedback, adding to ideas presented in student discussions or other submissions, offering clarifications to questions regarding content or assignments, etc. There are many ways for instructors to be present in a course so that students feel that they are part of a community of learners. To meet the standards for RSI, the instructor presence should also be planned and occur regularly throughout the term.
Focused on the course subject
Interactions should be related to the academic content and help students to achieve the course outcomes. Assignments should provide a space for instructors to assess student learning through substantive feedback. Non-specific feedback (Good job!) or a grade entered without comments related to work on the assignment at hand would not count as RSI. However, communications providing reading guidance, posting examples with explanations, sending an announcement clarifying concepts students may have missed in a discussion are all good examples of interactions focused on the course subject. That’s not to say that sending a message of encouragement or celebration to students (Go Beavs!) would not be an important component of social presence in a course.
Faculty member meets accreditation standards
This requirement presents a little bit of a murky area, and each institution will need to decide who would be considered a qualified subject matter expert based on their accrediting body standards. For example, Teaching Assistants (TAs) may or may not be considered qualified subject matter experts depending on where they are in their postgraduate journey. However, regardless of the level of expertise, the role of any TA or other course mentor can never be in lieu of the instructor interaction in a course.
Increasing RSI in your course
Meaningful interaction may already be an integral part of your course design and delivery, or you may have some work to do in that area. Whatever your current level of RSI, there are many ways to increase or vary the interaction in your course. Some practitioners note that what constitutes “meaningful interaction” for the purposes of RSI compliance can be difficult to measure. In response, the DoE updated their definition of Regular and Substantive Interaction (RSI) in 2021 to further clarify the issue for practitioners. To be considered regular and substantive, interaction, “…must engage students in teaching, learning, and assessment, as well as two of these five actions:
providing direct instruction;
assessing or providing feedback on a student’s course work;
providing information or responding to questions about the content of a course or competency;
facilitating a group discussion regarding the content of a course or competency;
or other instructional activities approved by the institution’s or program’s accrediting agency.”
The good news is that the DoE definition is broad enough to include a huge range of activities giving course developers and instructors many options for choosing how and when interaction occurs in a course. While not an exhaustive list, a few recommendations to boost RSI in your course include:
Make your plan for interaction clear to students, and include them in setting expectations for both the instructor and the students. Your communication policy stating the response time students can expect from you on emails and assignment feedback should be stated in the syllabus and posted in the course. You should also tell learners how to communicate with you. Make participation expectations clear through discussion guidelines and rubrics for participation. You might also create an introductory activity in which students and the instructor make their expectations explicit through a negotiated process.
Provide timely and individualized feedback
There are many methods for delivering feedback (written, video, audio, conferences, etc). In fact, using a combination of methods is good practice for incorporating elements of Universal Design for Learning (UDL). Regardless of how you deliver feedback, it should add to or extend students’ understanding, make concrete suggestions for improvement, highlight what they are doing well, or provide models.
Send regular announcements
Announcements are handy for sending reminders about due dates and other housekeeping items. As an RSI strategy, announcements present a useful vehicle for digging into course content and helping students to synthesize important information. You might use announcements to extend concepts from the previous week’s activities, contextualize content students will see in the coming week, or to identify sticky points or patterns seen in student work. While announcements can be used for on the fly reminders or clarifications, it is a good idea to establish a pattern for sending substantive announcements whether that be on Sunday evenings or at other intervals so that students know when to expect them.
Incorporate tools for meaningful interaction
VoiceThread, Padlet, and Perusall are just a few examples of platforms that instructors can use to facilitate interaction. While it may be tempting to incorporate several tools to boost engagement, a more effective approach would be to avoid using technology for the sake of using technology. Instead, try incorporating one or two tools and create meaningful tasks around them. Use each two or more times during the term so that students spend their time engaging with each other and the content via the tool rather than learning how to use it.
Conduct surveys and evaluations
Midterm surveys on students’ experience in the course are helpful for second-half tweaks to stay on track toward the goals you set out to accomplish. They can also be useful for making adjustments for the next time you deliver the course. Ask students how they feel about the interactions with other students and the instructor. Ask how they could be improved, and encourage them to reflect on their own contributions. If there is group work involved, solicit opinions about how it is going and how you can support their collaborations. In doing so, you give learners the opportunity to ask for help where they need it, and you gain information to give you ideas for how to structure interactions for the next iteration of the course. A trusted colleague or an instructor designer can also be helpful in evaluating the level of RSI in your course. When you feel you have reached your goals around interaction and other markers of high-quality course design, consider asking for a formal review of your course to become Quality Matters certified.
Hold regular office hours
In order to qualify as RSI, office hours must be predictable, scheduled, and required rather than an optional feature of the course. While synchronous sessions should be kept to a minimum to allow for student flexibility, you can also facilitate meaningful interaction via a virtual meetings. If you give mini-lectures or provide models for specific lessons, for example, you might consider recording your explanations so all students, including those who cannot attend a particular session, benefit from the extra guidance.
Poulin, R. (2016) Interpreting what is Required for “Regular and Substantive Interaction”. WCET Frontiers. Retrieved from https://wcet.wiche.edu/frontiers/2016/09/30/interpreting-regular-and-substantive-interaction/
Regular & Substantive Interaction (RSI) in Online Learning. Chemeketa Center for Academic Innovation. Retrieved from https://facultyhub.chemeketa.edu/instruction/rsi/
How to Increase Regular and Substantive Interaction (RSI) in Online and Distance Learning. OLC Webinar 2021. Retrieved from https://onlinelearningconsortium.org/webinar/how-to-increase-regular-and-substantive-interaction-rsi-in-online-and-distance-learning/
Quality Online Practices: Regular and Substantive Interaction (RSI). University of Tennessee Knoxville. Retrieved from https://onlinelearning.utk.edu/online-teaching-learning-resources/quality-online-practices/rsi/