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.

Chunking Content

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).

Let’s demonstrate!

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:

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.

Using Whitespace

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:

“Plastic Coffee Cup on Book” by Anna Shvets from Pexels

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!

Avoiding Wordiness

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.

Use Visuals

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.

Try this!

Labeled animal cell
Image by brgfx on Freepik

Color

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.

Color choice example - difficult to read.

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.

Color showing higher contrast

Conclusion

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!

References

Babich, N. (2017, June 30). The power of whitespace. UX Planet. Retrieved November 28, 2022, from https://uxplanet.org/the-power-of-whitespace-a1a95e45f82b

Calonia, J. (2020, September 2). What is readability? Grammarly Blog. Retrieved November 28, 2022, from https://www.grammarly.com/blog/readability/

Eliminating wordiness. (2022). Hamilton College. Retrieved November 28, 2022, from https://www.hamilton.edu/academics/centers/writing/writing-resources/eliminating-wordiness

Moran, K. (2016, March 20). How chunking helps content processing. Nielsen Norman Group. Retrieved November 28, 2022, from https://www.nngroup.com/articles/chunking/

Sabo, C. (2018, June 19). Getting started guide: using infographics for teaching and learning. Learning Technologies. Retrieved November 28, 2022, from http://www.codlearningtech.org/2018/06/19/getting-started-guide-using-infographics-for-teaching-and-learning/

Wordiness. (2022). Las Positas College Reading & Writing Center. Retrieved November 28, 2022, from http://www.laspositascollege.edu/raw/wordiness.php#:~:text=Wordiness%20means%20using%20more%20words,main%20focus%20of%20the%20sentence

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.

word cloud containing high- frequency words from post
Word cloud created via WordItOut.com

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-initiated 

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: 

Set expectations

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. 

Resources

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 and Substantive Interaction. SUNY Online. Retrieved from https://oscqr.suny.edu/rsi/

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/

In my last post, I wrote about how designing an ‘open course‘ empowers others to make desired edits more easily. One major component of an open course is providing adequate and accurate documentation for your intended audience. If you were handed a course to teach or redesign, what aspects about the course would you like to know? Probably as much as possible, which would require a strong set of documentation detailing design processes and decisions, learning outcomes, tutorials for using novel course elements, and so on. If you care about having a solid set of documentation for your courses, then you may be a ‘Documentarian‘. In this post, I look into some components of good documentation design from the software field, and apply them to instructional design.

Informing the recommendations of this post are the Documentation Principles of Write the Docs, a “global community of people who care about documentation”. As described by the Write the Docs authors, their set of principles:

“seeks to define similar standards for software documentation that, when practiced, will foster clean and intuitive content”

https://www.writethedocs.org/guide/writing/docs-principles/#documentation-principles

While software is the stated primary purpose of these principles, much of it is applicable across a wider range of subjects, with aspects of instructional design (such as design and code choices) falling into similar categories.

Why is documentation important?

Every Instructional Designer will work with many different people, known as stakeholders, across every project. The stakeholders of a project fulfill different roles and have distinct requirements. Fellow Instructional Designers, eLearning Developers, Middle and Senior Managers, Subject Matter Experts, and the learners themselves are all examples of stakeholders with different needs and roles. Each of the stakeholders on any particular project will require a certain level of documentation matching their needs. Use of an external tool, for example warrants instructions for how to incorporate the tool into an LMS and its functions for designers, but also instructions on how to use the tool as a user for the learners on the course.

Perhaps some of the most important people to consider when designing a course are the ones who will inherit it later on when the original designers have moved onto other projects. Because of this inevitability, proper documentation is key to understanding how a course was designed, the original intended audience or needs analysis (in case any prerequisite courses are changed in a way that breaks the flow of this one – example: switching from one programming language to another in the classes leading up to this, resulting in it not being fit for purpose), decisions made and why they were taken, how certain features work, just to name a few.

With these reasons for well-structured documentation in mind, what should designers include in documentation? For that, Write the Docs has some advice.

Write the Docs breaks down “good documentation” into multiple components. The full explanation of each can be found on their Documentation Principles page. Here, I will just use the summary of each one from the page.

The components state:

Documentation should be:

Precursory
Begin documenting before you begin developing.
Participatory
In the documentation process, include everyone from developers to end users.

The content (meaning how documentation is written) should be:

Arid
Accept (some) Repetition In Documentation.
Skimmable
Structure content to help readers identify and skip over concepts which they already understand or see are not relevant to their immediate questions.
Exemplary
Include (some) examples and tutorials in content.
Consistent
Use consistent language and formatting in content.
Current
Consider incorrect documentation to be worse than missing documentation.

Sources (meaning where content creators store documentation) should be:

Nearby
Store sources as close as possible to the code which they document.
Unique
Eliminate content overlap between separate sources.

Each publication (meaning the end product that users see) should be:

Discoverable
Funnel users intuitively towards publications through all likely pathways.
Addressable
Provide addresses to readers which link directly to content at a granular level.
Cumulative
Content should be ordered to cover prerequisite concepts first.
Complete
Within each publication, cover concepts in-full, or not at all.
Beautiful
Visual style should be intentional and aesthetically pleasing.

A documentation body should be:

Comprehensive
Ensure that together, all the publications in the body of documentation can answer all questions the user is likely to have.

Documenting course designs

Taking the above principles, which were initially designed for software, as a guide, we can see how they would fit into the field of instructional design.

General ideas

The principles of documentation being precursory and participatory are simple to follow, especially if one takes on a project management role in course design. Intake meetings and early plans are the first steps to crafting course design documentation. It is at this stage that the initial course design plans are mapped out by the stakeholders on the project. This includes Designers, Faculty, Project Managers and Product Owners (if these are separate people), to name a few. The initial plans for learning outcomes, assessments, and general ideas for activities on a more granular scale can all be converted into documentation on the structure of the course. These would usually fit into a ‘Design Solution’ document that gives an overview of how higher level course decisions are put into practice, or at least intended to be, once the course is running. An ID and the rest of the course design team could revisit this documentation during an evaluative stage to see if things were still going to plan, or modify it based on feedback.

Intended learner journey

I use the phrase “learner journey” a lot, but I am not entirely sure how well known it is, nor if I am using it in a standard way. So for this instance, my meaning of “learner journey” is the following: How the course developer is expecting the learner(s) to interact with the course site. This includes things such as: what learners are expected to click on when reaching the course landing page, the order in which they are expected to complete modules, how assignments are completed, etc. There is room here for interpretation, but it does not hurt to note the intended learner interactions and progression through a course. That way, other faculty members who may be teaching the course in the future can quickly understand learner progression too. This could take the form of a more technical document for fellow instructors, and a quick video for students (or more, depending on how in-depth you wish to go in the learner-facing side of things).

As an Instructional Designer, I often take on the role of the learner sometime during a course development. I will set out a specific meeting time with a faculty member to go through how I would approach this content as a learner, and ask them if this was an intended way for the learners to interact with the content. I usually start by following the order of the module, which is usually set up in the order a learner should complete tasks. What happens, though, if a learner decides that they are just not going to bother reading the Overview page for that week (or any week) and skips right to the Assessments? Is there anything preventing the learner from completing an assignment before they know important background information? Maybe some sort of purpose statement would help (e.g. “This assignment will test your knowledge of learning materials for Week 3. You should complete this week’s background reading tasks before submitting your work.”)?

Content, or how documentation is written

Most Instructional Designers will know about how to make a page more readable by including headings, descriptive hyperlinks, and other stylized formatting like ample paragraph breaks and correctly set up list items (ordered and unordered, for example). If you can create documentation in this way, it meets the skimmable principle and helps readers quickly identify the section they are looking for. I would also recommend adding a unique ID to each distinct section of each page so readers can quickly jump to it using a navigation menu. To find out more about this, see the W3Schools HTML id Attribute page. Once these are set up, you can link anyone to a specific part of the page.

In the previous article on designing the open course, I included a section on the “Side by Side Code Block Tutorials” I use to demonstrate new and complex course elements. This aims to hit the exemplary principle, as it gives readers a quick example of how certain elements work and how to manipulate them in the future.

Video tutorials

Video tutorials are another way to give examples using a step by step process, and provide an additional level of personalization that is often missing from text-only tutorials. There are some downsides to video tutorials, however, which may influence the decision to create them.

Each of the following involve the time commitment required to create videos in the first place, and the principle of staying current.

  1. Scripting and editing
    • Usually a video tutorial, or series of videos, involves scripting what the person giving the tutorial is going to say. With written documentation, this would usually be the end of the process – but with videos, it is only step one. The written form then needs to be spoken, correctly, and edited to make sure any mistakes are removed or audio synched up with what is happening on the screen.
  2. Editing mistakes or changes
    • It advisable before creating a video tutorial to check if the procedure, process, or system is going to remain in place for long enough to make the time investment making a decent tutorial video worth it. It is a lot easier to change text-based tutorials when something changes than record another video. Additionally, videos are a more personalized version of a tutorial, and if the initial video creator moves on to another position or institution, it would no longer be possible to keep the consistency of any other videos in the documentation.

Those who write documentation with others will know about the importance of an agreed upon style guide. Using the same style of writing, formatting, and terminology across pages and writers ensures that no one section or page stands out or looks jarring in comparison to another, thus fulfilling the consistency principle.

Sources, or where content creators store documentation

For an Instructional Designer, it is not always possible to include documentation directly next to the thing it is explaining. For example, certain Learning Management Systems will remove code comments from all pages, leaving just the content. This is contrary to software development in general, where comments can be left inside code without issue. Therefore I recommend expanding the definition of ‘nearby’ when it comes to documentation for online courses to get around this potential problem.

How you, or your institution, store documentation will have a large effect on how people interact with it. Some institutions use specialized software such as the well-known Confluence by Atlassian, which allows collaboration between users. Other platforms such as Google Workspace are easier to start using for universities and colleges, which often already have Google accounts ready to go, and can be used without extra costs. A similar outcome is offered by other platforms such as a WordPress installation with multiple users creating and contributing to existing articles. Depending on the Learning Management System, it is possible to include documentation closer to the course files (such as attaching files to pages), which is recommended under the nearby principle. Using a single repository for documentation is important so that similar and identical information (such as tutorials on the same topic) are not unnecessarily duplicated (i.e. kept unique) in multiple places such as on an LMS, blog, shared docs. For example, a user of Canvas duplicating tutorial pages across courses leads to problems if part of the tutorial needs to change. This means numerous edits across multiple courses as opposed to pointing to one central location that requires edits only once.

Publications, or how someone can find what they are looking for

Continuing from the previous paragraph on Sources (where the writers store documents), the discoverability of the documentation is key. Where are faculty, designers, and support staff likely to look for help on various topics? Consider linking to the established repository where possible – rather than duplicating it across multiple sites. This will make it easier for others to find the help they require. In a previous section, I included a link to the W3Schools HTML id Attribute page. Specifically here, we are interested in the “HTML Bookmarks with ID and Links” section which tells us about how to jump to different “bookmarks” of a very long page. This is handy when you want to point someone directly to a smaller part of a more complicated and longer page. Doing this manually, however, can take a lot of time, but there are shortcuts for creating these IDs.

When writing documentation, I often use Markdown and then export to HTML. During this conversion process, the headings are automatically given a unique ID in HTML. When pointing people to this part of the documentation, I just need to append a # and the ID name of the heading to the end of the URL. This is known as making the documentation addressable, and links the reader directly to where they would be helped the most. For example, I might want you to go directly to the General recommended documentation principles section of this page, and you can do so with that previous link.

The Write the Docs authors ask the following question:

Can a reader follow your entire body of documentation, linearly, from start to finish without getting confused?

Answering “yes” to this would fulfill the requirements of being cumulative, and this is important when writing something like a tutorial for faculty from start to finish. I try to structure HTML tutorial documentation with the absolute basics first, using headings to structure the page, so that if an instructor already knows basic HTML/CSS principles, they can just skip to the sections that are important to them. If they know nothing about it, however, they should be able to start at the beginning and go through the steps in order.

Completeness of a document increases in complexity depending on what you are writing about. Rather than overpromising what will be in the documentation, state to the reader which parts are covered and stick to those. For example, if there are five assessment criteria for an essay titled Essay 1, only covering three of those in a document titled “Assessment Criteria for Essay 1, Explained” would be misleading.

The beauty of a page is subjective, but proper document structure can help enormously. Things like logical reading order of headings, use of whitespace, properly sized images with captions/alt-text go a long way to making documents more readable.

Documentation Body

The time required to make your institution’s documentation comprehensive also depends on the complexity of the systems in use. Write The Docs defines comprehensive documentation as being able to answer all the questions a user is likely to have. Instructional Designers are often connected to all aspects of the course, and can work with the various teams involved to provide the informative questions and answers required to be as comprehensive as possible for all stakeholders.

Conclusion

Creating successful documentation in the Instructional Design field starts from the inception of a project. It begins with the very first needs analysis and ends with a fully comprehensive set of publications that are easy to access by both writers and readers. It is a collaborative process and involves promotion and discoverability. but once created, it provides opportunities for learning, understanding, and importantly, modification and revisions to existing projects. For those thinking of designing an open course, or if you simply like learning more about how things work, perhaps you too are a Documentarian.

References

  1. Chambers, P. (2022, May 23). Designing the open course: Why Instructional Designers should follow a “right to repair” plan. Ecampus Course Development & Training Inspire Blog. https://blogs.oregonstate.edu/inspire/2022/05/23/designing-the-open-course-why-instructional-designers-should-follow-a-right-to-repair-plan/.
  2. HTML id Attribute. Retrieved from https://www.w3schools.com/htmL/html_id.asp.
  3. Mundorff, M. (2022, April 18). An Introduction to Markdown. Ecampus Course Development & Training Inspire Blog. https://blogs.oregonstate.edu/inspire/2022/04/18/an-introduction-to-markdown/.
  4. Write the Docs, CC BY-NC-SA 4.0.

In Dr. Freeman Hrabowski’s TED Talk “4 Pillars of College Success in Science”, he told the story of Nobel laureate Isidor Isaac Rabi’s mother’s famous question: Did you ask a good question today? Let’s pause for a minute and reflect: What is a good question? What questions do you ask most frequently? What questions do your students or children ask most?

Question
Question

Types of Questions

Teachers usually encourage students to ask questions. Dr. Peter Liljedahl, author of “Building Thinking Classrooms in Mathematics” and professor of Mathematics Education at Simon Fraser University in Canada, however, points out that not all questions need and should be answered directly. According to Liljedahl, there are three types of questions and only one type of questions requires direct answers. Liljedahl categorizes questions in K-12 mathematics classrooms into the following three types:

  1. Proximity Questions
  2. Stop Thinking Questions
  3. Keep Thinking Questions (Liljedahl, 2020)
Building Thinking Classrooms Book Cover

Proximity questions refer to questions students ask when the teacher is close by, as the name suggests. Liljedahl’s research showed that the information gained from such proximity questions was not being used at all. Stop-Thinking Questions are questions students ask just to get the teacher to do the thinking for them, with the hope that the teacher will answer it and they can stop thinking, such as “Is this right?”, “Do we have to learn this?”, or “Is this going to be on the test?” Unlike the first two types of questions, keep-thinking questions are often clarification questions or about extensions the students want to pursue. According to to Liljedahl, if you have an authentic and level-appropriate task for students to work on, 90% of the questions being asked are proximity questions or stop-thinking questions and only 10% of questions students ask are keep-thinking questions. Liljedahl pointed out that answering proximity questions and stop-thinking questions are harmful to learning because it stops students from thinking.

Next, how could teachers differentiate the types of questions being asked? Liljedahl offers a simple solution to separate keep-thinking questions from the other two types of questions: Are they asking for more activity or less, more work or less, more thinking or less?

After differentiating the types of questions, what should teachers do with these proximity questions and stop-thinking question? Ignore them? No, not at all! Liljedahl emphasizes that there is a big difference between having students’ questions heard and not answered, and having their questions not heard. How should teachers answers these proximity questions and stop-thinking questions then?

Ten Things to Say to Proximity And Stop-Thinking Questions

Liljedahl provides the following list of ten responses to a proximity or stop-thinking question so that you are not giving away the answer and taking the thinking opportunity away from students. Basically, you turn the questions back to your students!

  1. Isn’t that interesting?
  2. Can you find something else?
  3. Can you show me how you did that?
  4. Is that always true?
  5. Why do you think that is?
  6. Are you sure?
  7. Does that make sense?
  8. Why don’t you try something else?
  9. Why don’t you try another one?
  10. Are you asking me or telling me? (Liljedahl, 2021, p. 90)

Cross-Discipline Nature of Good Questions

“Building Thinking Classrooms“  is recommended to me by some college biology  teachers in the US. Biology teachers recommending math teaching book, isn’t that interesting? The reasoning behind this recommendation is that the techniques being taught in this book could be easily applied to any other teaching context to get your students engaged in thinking, whether it is K12 education or college education, math teaching or teaching of another subject.

If this brief introduction got you interested in reading the rest of the book and find out the rest of what the author has to share, it is available at Oregon State University library as an ebook or you can purchase it online.

Asking Good Questions for Management and Education Administration

If you are not directly involved in teaching and learning, but in administrative or management role in an organization, Dr. Amy Edmondson has some practical suggestions for asking good questions to keep organization growing healthily. Dr. Amy Edmondson, author of  “The Fearless Organization”, Novartis professor of Leadership and Management at the Harvard Business School, states that good questions focus on what matters, invite careful thought, and give people room to respond. Edmondson also suggests three strategies for framing good questions:

  1. To broaden the discussion. For example: What do others think?
  2. What are we missing? For example: What other options could we consider?
  3. How would XXX (such as our role model, our mentor, or our competitor) approach this? For example: Who has a different perspective?

With the above tips for asking questions, are you ready to ask a good question today?

References

Edmondson, A. (2018). The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation and Growth. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Hrabowski, F. (2013). 4 Pillars of College Success in Science. TED Talk. https://www.ted.com/talks/freeman_hrabowski_4_pillars_of_college_success_in_science?language=en

Liljedahl, P. (2020). Building Thinking Classrooms in Mathematics, Grades K-12 : 14 Teaching Practices for Enhancing Learning. Thousand Oaks: Corwin, 2020

Bringing Critical Language Awareness to Instructional Texts and to How You Evaluate Student Writing

Instructional designers spend a lot of time working with words – they’re the raw materials that instructors share with us in the development of their online courses – but it’s often unclear what liberties we should take with instructors’ writing, and, on a related note, how we should coach instructors to assess their students’ writing. If inclusivity and equity are central values in course design, how might that be reflected in the seemingly mundane act of copyediting instructional texts or in setting up an instructor’s rubric to include “standard” grammar as a criterion? When the instructional designer copy edits the instructor’s words, or the instructor assesses a student’s writing proficiency, what raciolinguistic dynamics does that enact? Critical Language Awareness gives us the insight that our “language conventions and language practices are invested with power relations and ideological processes” (Wendt and Apugo), so the work we do with instructors’ and students’ words should be understood in the context of those power relations. What follows is a letter addressed to instructors that I hope will spark conversation on these issues, in the hopes that all the participants in the course – those who design, facilitate, and inhabit the spaces created by these texts – can reach their goals while using their own voices.

How would you like me to approach copy edits and other confusions?

Dear instructor,

Let’s start first with the practical and (seemingly) neutral question of how I handle your instructional texts, as I will read all the course materials you share with me. A common agreement I reach with instructors is to let me correct any obvious typos, misspellings, and punctuation issues, but to require I check with you in all other cases. Sometimes, as a colleague of mine has shared, instructors will ask the instructional designer to leave typos untouched, because they want to model authenticity, vulnerability, and a focus on meaning over surface perfection. This can serve as an invitation to students to let go of the fear and shame associated with making mistakes – so I’d be glad to help you towards this goal, as well, provided your intended meaning is still clear. Keep in mind that Ecampus students have expressed concerns when they notice a pattern of spelling or grammatical errors in a course, citing the typos as evidence of lower-quality, less credible course materials or a lack of instructor presence (McAlvage and Racek). But if you consider the imperfections in your writing to be a feature rather than a bug, you should make that explicit to students; let them know in what ways it’s intended to serve as a model for their own writing or for their overall approach to your course. Typos aside, I will also ask about instructions that you find obvious (and that may be pretty clear to me, too), because I am trying to anticipate all the ways your instructions could be misunderstood by others. So if it seems that I am being a bit obtuse about what something you wrote means, that’s the reason! A related question is on tone – are you open to receiving my feedback in this area? Our instructional design team encourages you to use a welcoming tone; students turn away from instructors when a “punitive” or commanding tone is used in a syllabus by, for example, seeking their support less often (Ishiyama et al. qtd. in Roberts 47). If you agree, I can help you spot those areas that feel less welcoming. For my part, I will strive in my communications with you to adopt a collegial tone, but should you find that is not the case, please let me know.

Now that we’ve thought through some of the practical questions on how I’ll work with your words, I’d like to ask you to reflect more broadly on your relationship to your writing and language use. How did you learn to write in your field, and what experience would you like your students to have with your use of language in your course? What do you expect of your students’ writing, and is it something that your outcomes assess? As you think over your responses to these questions, let me share a bit about my relationship to language and writing and how it affects my work.

Who are you to correct me?

My father used to tell a joke about a guy touring a college campus who stops to ask a student, “Where’s the library at?” and is told in response, “You should never end a sentence with a preposition.” He then rephrases his question, “Where’s the library at, [ jerk ] ?” My father taught writing, after earning his PhD in English literature, and later wrote books, so I grew up believing a command of “good” written English was my genetic inheritance. But now I can see that my mastery of a particular language standard has mostly to do with my immersion in a socioeconomic group whose language practices are privileged through white supremacy. So while the joke shows that correcting other’s language can open you up to counterattack – Who are you to correct me? What makes you right and me wrong? – many will not be empowered to answer back. Nor does this language privilege typically operate on the level of overt interpersonal confrontation, as in the joke – it’s usually invisible – “a product or effect of assessment systems and structures, our [standard operating procedures] in classrooms and other places where language is judged, despite anyone’s intentions, that produce political, cultural, linguistic, and economic dominance for White people” (Inoue 7). Enforcing language standards is an oppressive practice, a way to gatekeep who can succeed and who cannot, and in the case of the joke, who is subject to judgment for the simple act of asking directions to the library.

The joke also gives us the insight that language standards are a self-replicating system of oppression, as each student who is coached to evaluate language in this way internalizes the standards and is then given license to impose them on others. As a result of my own immersion in and sense of “ownership” over standard English (Whiteness as Property), I brought into my instructional design practice a certain unexamined confidence about my ability to critique and correct others’ writing. I wanted to help instructors present instructional texts that were clearer, more succinct, error-free – more like the way I wanted the writing to sound than the way the instructor had written it. I had to stop and ask myself whether that was doing instructors a service or not. For example, in the case that a course shell was designated for a single instructor (and should rightfully showcase their voice), a colleague felt the edited text misrepresented the instructor to their students – there would be a disconnect between the “corrected” writing in the static course shell versus the writing that would appear once the term got underway. My corrections were also potentially an erasure of the instructor’s identity and the imposition of a certain language standard that wasn’t desired.

Where do you see yourself, if at all, in my approaches to correcting others’ writing? And what role would you play in the linguistic power struggle set up by my father’s joke? Are you the guy who asks for directions, the college student who corrects him, a bystander, or perhaps a mediator of some sort? I hope these anecdotes have helped you to reflect on your own positionality and how that shapes your approach to your students’ writing, and, specifically, to its evaluation.

How will you evaluate and respond to your students’ writing?

Before you answer, tell me, does your course devote time to teaching students to write according to a particular standard? Are there specific lectures, learning materials, or learning activities that scaffold how to write in this way? No? Putting aside the issue of how you’ll assess students’ writing given the raciolinguistic considerations, we generally don’t assess students’ skills in areas that aren’t part of the course itself, and we are compelled to align our assessments to show mastery of the stated outcomes of the course (What is alignment within a Quality Matters framework?). If written expression doesn’t appear in your outcomes, should you penalize students when surface features of their writing don’t match your understanding of what is standard?

Another consideration when you assess students’ writing is your own mastery of academic and dominant language standards. Respectfully, I have observed quite a few assignments in which the very instructions exhorting students to polish their writing and produce grammatical, error-free texts themselves contain spelling and grammar errors. I have even seen a grading rubric that spelled grammar as “grammer”! So, I would invite you to think about your own writing and whether you feel comfortable determining your students’ mastery of these language standards. If you do find your approach reflects a perfect or nearly perfect achievement of standard writing, how did you come about that position, and is it legitimate to wield your knowledge of dominant language practices in the way you are planning?

Who is served by your attention to students’ writing, and who is disadvantaged?

You might very well respond that college students and professionals need to write using the dominant standard as a practical necessity, since they will be judged if they do not, and their life prospects will be impacted (in much the way you and your course may be judged if students find a pattern of typos or grammatical idiosyncrasies). This may be true, but we must acknowledge how it puts “the onus on language-minoritized students to mimic the white speaking subject.” Where would you like to focus your attention? On compelling your students to meet a standard, when achievement of that standard will not wholly shield them from discrimination, or on compelling yourself to “imagine and enact alternative, more inclusive realities” (Flores and Rosa 155, 168)?

Rather than positioning yourself as the students’ judge, you might instead be their supporter, connecting them to resources like a writing center that will help them produce more polished writing. You can promote these services in your syllabus, announcements, or, for example, directly alongside an assignment’s grading criteria:

Your final draft should show evidence of having been edited and revised for clarity and organization. Reach out to the Writing Center for an appointment if you would like their feedback on global aspects of your writing or would like coaching on specific areas of grammar and punctuation. If you are a multilingual writer, the center offers Multilingual Support.

Keep in mind that, depending on the approach of the writing center, your students may end up being coached to conform their writing to the dominant standard. If you’ve decided to forgo judging students’ writing on the basis of its surface conformity to these standards, you might make it clear through a rubric which outcome-related knowledge and skills you will instead evaluate for evidence of learning. I acknowledge this is hard work to do, hard work to let go of language standards you may have invested a great deal of time in mastering, and which feel important to your discipline. But it is possible, as I’ve seen in the approach taken by OSU’s gateway English Composition course, WR 121, in which students achieve outcomes related very specifically to writing, while the focus of evaluation is primarily on the time and labor invested in their writing process, rather than on the perfection of their final product.

Turning back towards the work I do with your course, I am challenged by the same raciolinguistic considerations, so, to conclude, I would like to remind both you and me that writing and proofing services are something I can provide – but it’s not required that you make use of them in your course development. In the same way that you probably shouldn’t assess students’ writing if it’s not a part of the stated course learning outcomes, I also shouldn’t attempt to shape the writing and language in your course without your express permission, because this is not a part of my unit’s guiding standards for course design, the Ecampus Essentials and Exemplaries. And, because more broadly, when we focus on the ideal of a standard English, we perpetuate racial hierarchies. You are entitled to your own voice, form of expression, and approaches toward writing (and you might consider how your students have this right, as well).

Thanks for reading this! I hope this has given you an opportunity to reflect critically on some of the language practices that so many of us in higher ed engage in. I look forward to hearing your reactions and coming up with an approach that meets your pedagogical goals while also being concordant with your values.

Finding alternatives

I have raised considerations in this post about how, and if at all, you should assess your students’ writing, without doing much to ideate alternatives, so I’d like to share a few resources. To learn more about how you can create an equitable environment for culturally and linguistically diverse students, read my colleague Nadia Jaramillo’s post, Dimensions for Culturally Responsive Learning Design. For a compelling take on alternatives to grading writing based on a white supremacist standard, which informs the approach of WR 121, read Asao Inoue’s book Labor-Based Grading Contracts. For a quicker read, I also recommend you review the three main approaches to grading the writing of multilingual writers  – each with unique benefits and drawbacks  – which might help you to clarify your current practice and to be more intentional in the future. Finally, if you, like me, are working to undo many of the lessons you’ve learned and absorbed about dominant writing practices, you might also be interested to read about a related concept – how perfectionism, seemingly a race-neutral value that drives the pursuit of excellence, is instead a feature of white supremacy.

Works Cited

Flores, Nelson, and Jonathan Rosa. “Undoing Appropriateness: Raciolinguistic Ideologies and Language Diversity in Education.” Harvard Educational Review, vol. 85, no. 2, Harvard Graduate School Education, 2015, pp. 149–71.

Inoue, Asao B. Labor-Based Grading Contracts : Building Equity and Inclusion in the Compassionate Writing Classroom. The WAC Clearinghouse, 2019.

McAlvage, Katherine, and Brittni Racek. “How do you approach (if at all) grammar corrections with your instructors?.” Received by Ecampus ID team, 18 May 2022. Slack channel exchange.

Roberts, Maxine. T. (n.d.). CUE Syllabi Review Guide Appendix, Center for Urban Education.

Wendt, Jillian L., Ed, and Apugo, Danielle L., Ed. K-12 STEM Education in Urban Learning Environments. IGI Global, IGI Global, 2019.

This blog post is an Instructor Spotlight authored by Xiaohui Chang. Xiaohui is a Toomey Faculty Fellow and Associate Professor of Business Analytics in the College of Business. This post is a follow up to Improving Student Engagement and Connection in Online Learning: Part I, Proactive Support.


Introduction

Since the first post in the series appeared a few months ago, we have received plenty of feedback from other instructors who are actively engaged in online education. Some of the stories shared by them reiterate the points we discussed, and others included tips and techniques that have worked particularly well for them. Almost all of them agreed that teaching well online remains a challenging task.

“I love the notes on proactive student support … especially the notes on checking in with those who are behind. Sometimes all they need is a little empathy!”

Vic Matta, Associate Professor, College of Business, Ohio University 

“I regularly incorporate each of these in my relationships with my students, to include weekly zoom “what’s up” meetings with my students. I check in on them if they’re behind on assignments…Yes, it takes effort; but my mission is to help these students find the greatness within themselves to succeed.”

To quickly recap what we have discussed in Part 1, we touched on how to employ empathy statements in communications with students, restructure and promote the office hours, provide personal feedback for students, and periodically check in with students who are behind. You may also refer to the first article here: Improving Student Engagement and Connection in Online Learning: Part I, Proactive Support.

Continuing from the first post, Part II will revolve around six specific practices that I have found particularly helpful for online teaching and learning.

Practice 1: Adopt a variety of communication methods

I provide assignment instructions and guidance using a variety of communication methods including texts, diagrams, images, and short video clips. I have learned that instructions with screenshots and videos tend to be better in explaining complicated procedures than text alone.

Video Tutorial Example: Creating a random sample using XLSTAT

Practice 2: Create a Q&A Discussion Board

I have a separate discussion on Canvas for students to address issues with the class in general (content questions, technical issues, deadlines). Instead of emailing the instructor regarding issues other students may also have questions about, students are encouraged to use this forum so that all can benefit from the questions and answers. I usually wait for a few hours for students to answer each other’s questions first before I provide mine.

When students email me questions that are a good fit for the Q&A Discussion Board, I’d respond through email first and then recommend the students submit the questions to the discussion board so that other students can learn from the questions and answers. This discussion board also creates an inviting and engaging learning environment for the students who don’t get to meet their classmates in a face-to-face setting.

Practice 3: Estimate the amount of time taken for each assignment

I was skeptical of this at first as the time taken would vary drastically for each individual. However, student feedback indicates that estimated times helped them plan for the week and set aside an appropriate amount of time. We don’t need to worry too much about making the estimates accurate for everyone as students will automatically adjust given their own work styles. A workload calculator that I have found helpful is developed by the Center for Advancement of Teaching at Wake Forest University, called the Workload Estimator 2.0.

For more information about estimation rates, see the explanation here – Workload Estimator: How We Calculated.

Practice 4: Ensure timely replies

This practice is obvious, but difficult to do when one is teaching multiple sessions with hundreds of students. For online classes, timely replies make students feel as though they are taking an in-person class with all of the built-in support and resources. I understand that we all have different teaching priorities and schedules, however, it all comes down to figuring out how to most efficiently organize our days so that we can be available to students.

Setting aside a couple of times a day for handling emails has worked quite well for me, e.g., the first thing in the morning, after noon, and before the end of the day. I try my best to respond to students’ emails within 24 hours and check my mailbox at least once every day on the weekends.

The timely replies in discussions were super helpful. It really felt as though I took this in person with all of the built-in help and support.

Student quote

Practice 5: Synchronize assignments with Canvas calendar

I have also synced all assignments and my office hours (renamed as Ask Me Anything Hours) on Canvas so that there are office hours available around when assignments are due. This proves to be incredibly convenient and useful for both students and instructors.

Practice 6: Reorganize course content

Here are several Canvas LMS tips that have helped in organizing the course content and saved my time. I try to organize everything in modules. Under each module, all items are split into two main components: resources and to-do lists, so students know exactly what assignments they would need to complete for each module. I also adopt a fixed set of systems for titling Canvas items. Items within modules are indented to help with organization.

Weekly agenda and announcements are also hyperlinked to guide students with the course navigation. I could not emphasize enough how much I value the internal messaging in the Canvas grade book that was briefly discussed in my previous post. This feature allows instructors to message students who haven’t submitted yet or who scored less than a certain point. Definitely a slick way to send quick emails to a target group.

Recently, I have been experimenting with a range of visual cues (e.g., emojis) to categorize course content. An example is provided below.

Screenshot of the module view of the course, demonstrating using of emojis as visual cues next to assignments. A written assignment has a pencil and paper emoji, a quiz has a question mark emoji, etc.

There was also a recent post on using emojis for visual way finding and fostering a friendly tone in online classes here: My Experience with Emojis in Online Courses: Affordances and Considerations.

Conclusion

It’s always best to keep an open mind when trying out new teaching practices and adapt them to your individual style and subject matter.

If you have any online teaching practices that you’re fond of, please feel free to contact me at Xiaohui.Chang@oregonstate.edu as I will be very excited to hear them and test them out. 

team collaboration

According to the 2020 Brandon Hall Group Team Development Pulse Survey findings (Werder, 2021), at least half of work is currently done in teams in over seventy percent of companies. Global Human Capital Trends (2016) confirmed that this trend is continuing, with over 7000 organizations moving towards more team-based designs. However, the success of team collaboration is not a guarantee and requires diligent planning and hard work. Tannenbaum and Salas (2020) suggest that there are seven “Cs” (or drivers) of teamwork, namely: capability, cooperation, coordination, communication, cognition, coaching, and conditions.

To contextualize and apply each of these 7 “Cs”, I’ll use a recent team collaboration I participated in as an example. A team of four staff from Oregon State University Ecampus gave a virtual presentation on the role of instructional designers in research. Speaking of the first C – capacity, thanks to the selection of team members, this team had the perfect mix: the facilitator was in charge of setting up the stage and engaging the audience with an opening poll and scenario. A second team member was assigned to cover the institutional level, a third team member was assigned to cover the team level and the last team member was assigned to cover at the individual level. Capability: checked ✅!

Cooperation: During the preparation for the presentation, each of the four team members worked individually on our own parts. When we met again, we reviewed each other’s parts, felt comfortable voicing any concern or areas that could use improvement. We each revised our individual parts and met again to review. At this point, we felt we had the content nailed down. Laurie, Tianhong and Heather already know each other very well since we all work in the same instructional design team at Ecampus. Naomi opened herself up and welcomed us to give her feedback and ideas for improvement up front, which is very helpful for Laurie, Tianhong and Heather to connect with her, and built trust for working together on this project. Viola, Cooperation: checked ✅!

Coordination: During the two rounds of peer review sessions, we made many changes, based on feedback from team members. Naomi opened up with a poll of attendee roles and a scenario to illustrate why instructional designers need to be involved in research. Laurie demonstrated diligence and surveyed the entire instructional design team at Ecampus and was able to present some solid data on our team composition in terms of degree/education, and years of career in instructional design. Laurie also provided Tianhong with two prepared slides on areas to be covered as a suggestion. Tianhong conducted comprehensive research and her findings demonstrated that over 50% of instructional designers at Ecampus have participated in research activities with support from Ecampus. Heather’s storytelling of her research involvement was rich and fascinating. So she had the pleasant struggle of cutting down her content to fit within a nine minutes time frame. And we all put scripts of what we plan to say in the notes area of the google slide we were collaborating on, which help us to stay within the limited time and allow us to have discussion time with all participants. Since each of us diligently completed our individual work as planned, the whole presentation is full of data and stories. Coordination: accomplished✅!

Communication within the team of four presenters was relatively easy since we use slack as a communication tool internally and we used calendar invites and emails for scheduling purposes. Our slack messages were quite active throughout the preparation and on the day of the presentation and after the presentation with many suggestions, encouragement, and compliments! Communication: accomplished✅!

Cognition or shared understanding among the team members is vital. In my opinion, this should be the first C on the list! For our team project, Naomi hand-picked the three panelists to join her on this collaboration because she sensed that all three of us share a common understanding on the value of instructional designers being involved with educational research. This common understanding and vision is visible the entire time while we worked on this project. Cognition: checked✅!

Coaching: Does leader and/or team members demonstrate leadership behaviors? Yes, Naomi is a great leader in this project. It was a pleasure to work under her leadership since the role of each panelist is very clear, and we started the collaboration early enough so that we have plenty of time to review, revise, practice and practice again before the actual presentation. Laurie also demonstrated leadership by offering help to cohesively formatting and beautifying each of our slide decks into one presentation file. Coaching: accomplished✅!

Conditions: Does the team have favorable conditions such as resources and culture? Yes, each team member brought with them expertise in their own roles, we were also able to use existing tools such as slack and google slides, and ecampus presentation template for this collaborative presentation. Naomi could have done it all by herself. But she invited a panel of three instructional designers to collaborate with her on this presentation. Our combined effort makes our story stronger, richer and more impressive because we work as instructional designers and we have experience doing research as instructional designers. Conditions: checked✅!

On the day of the virtual presentation, Laurie and Tianhong were presenting from campus offices housed inside the campus library while Heather and Naomi were presenting from their remote offices. In the middle of the presentation, there was a 🔥fire alarm in the library which required everyone to evacuate from the library. Laurie and Tianhong moved to a nearby building and logged back online and re-joined the presentation within 10 minutes. We are so thankful that the four of us are presenting from different locations so that the fire alarm did not stop us from presenting. This is how virtual team collaboration saved our work during a fire alarm emergency. And this is how the 7 Cs led us to a great team collaboration. The next time you sit down to plan a team project or initiative, you might benefit from reflecting on these following questions:

  1. Does the team have the right people with the right mix? (Capability)
  2. Does each team member have constructive attitudes about their team? (Cooperation)
  3. Does each team member demonstrate necessary teamwork behaviors? (Coordination)
  4. Does each team member exchange information effectively with each other and outside? (Communication)
  5. Does each team member possess a shared understanding? (Cognition)
  6. Does leader and/or team members demonstrate leadership behaviors? (Coaching)
  7. Does the team have favorable conditions such as resources and culture? (Conditions)

I hope I have encouraged and convinced you a tiny bit in your next decision for teamwork and have fun collaborating and doing effective teamwork!😊

References:
Werder, C. (2021). How to develop a winning team. Brandon Hall Group. Retrieved from https://www.brandonhall.com/blogs/how-to-develop-a-winning-team/

Global Human Capital Trends. (2016). The new organization: Different by design. Deloitte University Press. Retrieved from https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/global/Documents/HumanCapital/gx-dup-global-human-capital-trends-2016.pdf

Tannenbaum,S.I. & Salas, E. (2020). Teams that work : the seven drivers of team effectiveness. Oxford University Press.

Introduction

Co-Authored by Benita Blessing

Relationships matter for successful collaborative work. Yet, when it comes to online/ blended/hybrid course design, development often begins with a focus on course content, assuming that the collaborative relationship between faculty and instructional designers is secondary to the design process (Tate, 2017). If we care about student success, we must turn our attention to the ways in which effective collaborative relationships among design partners contribute to the course feel — that is, the online learning environment as perceived by students. In our recent OLC presentation, we proposed an interactive strategy for developing collaborative relationships between faculty and instructional designers based on curiosity, enthusiasm, and mutual respect. 

Faculty and instructional designers often find themselves at cross-purposes. The design process expects two groups of experts to bring their unique perspectives and skill sets together in course creation, without providing instruction or support for the kinds of intentional shared knowledge transmission and production necessary for collaboration (Richardson, J. C., et al., 2018). In fact, faculty buy-in to a collaborative working relationship ranks as the number one obstacle to instructional designers’ success (Intentional Futures, 2016, pp. 3, 15). Institutional frameworks must be in place that set up faculty-instructional design teams for success, so that together they in turn can set up students for success. 

We suggest that fostering curiosity in each other’s disciplinary norms and approaches serves as  an igniting spark for establishing effective instructional designer-faculty autonomy supports. In this way, relationships begin with trust, mutual respect for professionals’ expertise, and socioemotional growth. 

ID-Instructor Cooperative Instrument

To aid in this process, we developed an ID-Instructor Cooperative Instrument for individual, flexible needs of both parties. Through a series of definitions and short prompts, users can see similarities and differences between their viewpoints on topics like student success, well-designed courses, and course feel. Feel free to use the spreadsheet linked above or this list of questions:

  1. Course feel: Name up to 5 keywords that describe how you want the course to feel.
  2. Student interactions: List the kinds of interactions your students will encounter in your course. Feel free to list them in order of importance, or to modify the categories. 
    1. Teacher ⟷ Student
    2. Content ⟷ Student
    3. Student ⟷ Student
  3. Definitions:
    1. How do you want students to define success in this course?
    2. How do you define success in this course (for yourself and/or students)?
  4. Working Together:
    1. Name your best course — one you have designed, taught, taken, etc.
    2. Name a course activity you are proud of, or one you would like to be proud(er) of.
    3. Identify 3-5 keywords or phrases that describe your working style.
  5. Anything else you would like to note?

Initial Feedback

In our OLC presentation, some session attendees were purely instructional faculty, while others worked full-time in instructional design. Many people served in joint roles, including some administrative responsibilities for facilitating course design, or had started their careers in one area and then switched roles. Despite these different backgrounds, almost everyone agreed with our assertion that lack of mutual respect between faculty and instructional designers negatively impacted their ability to create and deliver high-quality courses. 

During the presentation, we enjoyed seeing the enthusiasm and excitement from participants wanting to share their own stories and experiences. Working through the instrument questions as a group for this session was engaging for both participants and for us as presenters. Participants were able to quickly and clearly pick up the instrument and begin to share their ideas right away. Feedback both during the interactive presentation and during the Q&A suggests that our instrument serves the purpose we created it for: to get faculty and IDs excited about talking with one another about teaching and course design. 

Conclusion & Getting Started

We advise other faculty and ID teams to rethink their working relationships, starting with curiosity about each other’s experiences and hopes for the course and their future students. Administrators — who often need to increase faculty buy-in to course development programs, and help instructional designers meet faculty where they are in their pedagogical experience and comfort levels in online instruction and design — can play an important role in encouraging design teams to take the time to work through the kinds of questions and conversations outlined in this tool. The road to pedagogical expertise is often varied, windy, and complex, for everyone involved. When the course design process focuses on growth and learning for the faculty and ID, it leaves a positive mark on a course that reverberates for the students experiencing that online space.

We invite faculty and IDs to get curious about their counterparts. If there is not currently an intake meeting for faculty and IDs at your institution, you could share this instrument either for a one-on-one meeting, or with a dedicated pedagogy session through your Center for Teaching and Learning and discuss how it could be a starting point for a collaborative working relationship. If there is already an intake meeting that is part of the course design process, think about bringing in aspects of this instrument that might be missing from that session. 

If you are an administrator, suggest that your faculty or IDs spend some time at the beginning of a project getting to know one another. You might even help spark some curiosity by including a professional introduction — what excites you about having a particular instructional designer or faculty member working on a specific course or program? What can you share about the unique experiences of your faculty or IDs that would help start that initial conversation?

We hope that this instrument will be a tool you can use as new course developments begin, whether you are working with a new collaborator or wish to get to know someone better that you have worked with previously. We would also be interested in continuing to learn about faculty and instructional designer relationships. If you have feedback, comments, or experiences you would like to share, we invite you to leave a comment on this blog post or reach out to us via email.

References

Intentional Futures. (2016). Instructional Design in Higher Education: A report on the role, workflow, and experience of instructional designers.

Richardson, J. C., Ashby, I., Alshammari, A. N., Cheng, Z., Johnson, B. S., Krause, T. S., Lee, D., Randolph, A. E., & Wang, H. (2018). Faculty and instructional designers on building successful collaborative relationships. Education Tech Research Dev 67: 855–880.

Tate, E. (2017). Easing Instructional Designer-Faculty Conflicts. Inside Higher Ed.

Lately I’ve heard from a number of faculty whose students have expressed stress or overwhelm at the workload in a course. Further, students as well as faculty have had to adjust to a new routine or pace in their lives in recent months. All of this change gives us a chance to examine the workload and pace of a course so that it is manageable for both students and instructors. To that end, I offer three simple things that faculty can do to make their workload more manageable:

  • Manage expectations
  • Post time estimates for each activity
  • Consider your own availability

Manage expectations

One of the most effective ways to help students understand how much they should plan to do each week in the course is to be explicit and specific about the workload, early in the course. Refer to the credit hour policy to help students understand expectations. At OSU, it is expected that students engage with course materials and activities for 3 hours per week for every credit hour. So for a 3-credit course, students should expect to work about 9 hours each week on reading, studying, assignments, discussion boards, and other activities. This information is generally listed in the syllabus, but it’s nice to highlight this in an announcement early in the course, or perhaps even in an intro video or weekly overview video. Being explicit early in the course sets expectations for everyone, builds trust, and cuts down on negative emotions from students who feel there is too much (or not enough) in a course.

Post time estimates for each activity

One complaint that students occasionally have is that there is an uneven workload from week to week. One way to address this is to post estimated times for each activity for the week. This could appear in a task list on a weekly overview page, for example. This helps in several ways. First, it helps students who struggle to manage their time effectively. If they know that the assignment takes about 2 hours to complete, they can plan for that chunk of time in their week. Moreover, perhaps there are six readings posted in one week, but each reading is only about 5-10 minutes long. Posting this helps students understand that there are a number of short readings this week. That way students don’t assume each reading takes too long and decide to skip some of them. Moreover, being explicit about time estimates helps students know that you are sticking with the credit hour policy as well, which is another way to build trust.
If you find that the tasks you’ve outlined exceed the credit hour policy, let your learning objectives for the course guide your decisions for what to keep and what to cut.

Consider your own availability

Lastly, consider your own availability. Be explicit with students about when you are available so that you can be sure to carve out time to recharge your batteries. For example, if you like to have a bit of time to relax on the weekends, you might have your weekly assignments due on Monday of the following week for each module, rather than Sunday. That way, if students have questions about an assignment that they are wrapping up over the weekend, you still have Monday morning to get back to them instead of scrambling to answer multiple emails on Sunday evening.

Connecting with our students is essential, but how do we do it? Well, I guess it depends on what you mean by connected. Zoom works to see one another on a screen, you can attend activities on campus and possibly see some of your students, or we can take a deeper look into what connected means. When I think of education, connecting could be students to each other, students to the material, the material to real life, you to the student, etc. I’ll focus on the last one here: You to the student.

Think back to a time when you were in school and you had a “favorite” teacher or professor. What was it about them that made them your favorite? Did they open up their classroom at lunch to play cards with students? Did they give you a “good luck” note for a sporting event? Maybe they came to your choir concert, attended a theater production you were in, or maybe they made themselves available in a time of need. Whatever it is, that’s what connects you. What made them your favorite is because of the connection that you formed.

Effective connection is:

  • Being available
  • Caring (and showing it)
  • Treating the student with respect
  • Being a trustworthy confidant
  • Showing belief in students
  • Acting warm and welcoming
  • Showing compassion
  • Being on the student’s side
  • Exuding love for teaching
  • Showing true interest in students
  • Being a great listener
  • Accepting every student

For me, there were lots of teachers I liked and many I’d say were “favorites” but looking back, one made that huge impression and connection. How? By giving me a cut up straw on a string. Yes, you read that correctly, a cut up straw on a string. That teacher listened to what I was saying when she asked a question about how a track meet went. If it was not so good of a meet, I’d reply “I sucked from a big straw.” When it came time for an important meet that year, I got a good luck card with a straw I couldn’t suck from. That was over 20 years ago and I still have that cut up straw. Now that’s a connection!

Connection Do’s and Don’ts. 

DO

  • Be available
  • Care (for real!)
  • Treat students with respect
  • Be a trustworthy confidant
  • Show belief in students
  • Be warm and welcoming
  • Show compassion
  • Be on the student’s side
  • Exude love for teaching
  • Show true interest in students
  • Be a great listener
  • Demonstrate acceptance

DON’T

  • Try too hard to be liked
  • Gossip about students
  • Fail to set boundaries
  • Fail to set high expectations
  • Be unable to say no
  • Be sarcastic
  • Pamper students
  • Fail to follow through
  • Pretend to care

 

 

Run through the lists and think of a way you can make the do’s happen and ways you can keep the don’ts from happening. Was there a specific example from your examples that really stood out? Use that to help guide you in the other examples. Perhaps you remember a time where you failed to set high expectations, what happened? Reflect on why you thought you had (or know you didn’t) and what you’d like to do differently next time.

Want to know more? Read “You’ve Gotta Connect: Building Relationships That Lead to Engaged Students, Productive Classrooms, and Higher Achievement” by James Alan Sturtevant, 2014