Seems like an easy question to answer, right? I might not give it a second thought.

Yet, as an online course developer, I sometimes find myself in conversations with co-developers where I realize I’ve been working under a different assumption about what a lecture is. And that’s fine, I kind of like having my preconceptions challenged. I wanted to share a little of that experience.

Our media development team has one of the stricter definitions of lecture, a specific kind of video recording. They have to, they are handling hundreds of videos every term. It’s essential for them to be able to sort media into the most efficient pipeline. Makes sense.

However, when I am working with subject matter experts, instructors, co-developers, etc. … I have found it useful to stay more flexible regarding many definitions. Sometimes errors in assumptions can open a door for discourse. It has certainly been a creative challenge. As an example, I’ll reminisce a little about a couple of my favorite mistaken assumptions about lectures. Ah yes, I remember it like it happened just this last Fall ….

I helped develop an upper-division online course centered on technology for educators. My first mistaken assumption was going in all ready to talk about video lecturing. The instructor on this co-development was a podcaster and wanted to deliver lectures in that format. I’ve had other instructors who preferred podcast lectures, no worries there. Some instructors see podcasts as a more portable kind of lecture or an alternative way to access the content. Students can listen to lectures on the go or download the lecture for offline listening. We just had to make sure to include transcripts for accessibility instead of captioning.

Also, I got to design the following playback interfaces to make them look more ‘podcasty’.

As you’ve probably guessed, there was a second mistaken assumption on my part. I was thinking the podcasts were the lectures. The podcasts are pieces of a larger “discourse given before an audience or class especially for instruction”. (Miriam-Webster: lecture and discourse). For our course, this discourse might be composed of multiple media element types.

The instructor wanted each ‘lecture’ to be a curated collection of learning elements focusing on specific topics; podcasts, video, reading, even Padlet posts. Part of the pedagogy here is to immerse them, as students, in a variety of technologies in the lectures that they may be using as educators. Together, we collaborated to find the most effective way to present all of this material as discrete lectures. Below is what we came up with. Would you still consider these lectures?

Interestingly, I don’t think we’ve quite strayed far from the Merriam-Webster definitions:

  • lecture: A discourse given before an audience or class especially for instruction
  • discourse: Formal and orderly and usually extended expression of thought on a subject. Connected speech or writing

While the course did include some interactive learning elements, these were not incorporated into lectures. It’s an interesting thought though.

  • How would you incorporate interactive exercises into lectures?
  • Does that still work within the definitions given above?

Maybe we can stretch the definition a little more. (Hmm. Perhaps in another blog post)

My takeaway here is that a lecture doesn’t have to be something given before a live class, or a simple narrated PowerPoint video online. As a course developer, my goal is to support my co-developer’s vision. But I am also serving the learning needs of students. As an online course developer, I have more flexibility about what a lecture can be. It makes sense to be open to more possibilities. I look forward to having more of these conversations with co-developers.

Stay flexible. Keep learning.

As a follow-up to discussing equity in grading and group work, Feldman (2019) offers a compelling case against the use of extra credit. “But wait a minute,” I can hear you saying, “Extra credit is optional—students have to opt-in if they want to do it! And it can be fun! What’s wrong with that?” Many instructors may think of extra credit as a way to benefit students and give them extra opportunities in a course, especially at the end of a term, to improve their grade, take on additional challenges, and demonstrate additional skills they have learned. (I know I thought about extra credit that way at one time!) However, there is more at play with extra credit than you might think. Let’s return to Feldman’s three pillars of equitable grades:

  1. “They are mathematically accurate, validly reflecting a student’s academic performance.
  2. They are bias-resistant, preventing biased subjectivity from infecting our grades.
  3. They motivate students to strive for academic success, persevere, accept struggles and setbacks, and to gain critical lifelong skills” (Feldman, p. 71).

With these three pillars in mind, let’s examine some potential issues with extra credit:

  1. Accuracy: There are many ways extra credit can obscure what information a grade includes. First, it can be used to incentivize certain behaviors, which obscures a grade by not assessing academic performance or learning. (For example, extra credit for turning things in on time.) Second, it can obscure whether a grade reflects what students know by turning grades into a commodity (more about this below). In this way, grades are a reflection of how many points students are able to accumulate, not necessarily how much they have learned or whether they have met all of a course’s learning outcomes.This kind of extra credit can unintentionally signal to students that their behavior and non-academic performance in a course is more important than their learning.
  2. Bias: Sometimes extra credit is awarded to incentivize students to participate in extra events or opportunities, like attending a webinar, guest lecture, local event, etc. However, in addition to treating grades like a commodity, this kind of incentive also makes it difficult for students without outside resources or help to engage. What about students without the money for event tickets, transportation, child or family care, and/or without the time away from work, family, etc.? They are unable to participate, even if they want to, due to external factors outside of their control. And often these are the students who could potentially benefit the most from additional points if they are already struggling because of these exact conditions. For extra credit that provides extra challenges beyond the course materials, only the students already doing well will be able to participate and benefit from the opportunity, additionally shutting out students who are already behind.
  3. Motivation: Having extra credit, especially at the end of the course, can also be damaging to student motivation, as it places an emphasis on grades and points instead of learning. For example, some students may prioritize obtaining a desired grade above learning important content, while other students may use extra credit to bolster a weak area they were unable to fully grasp, thereby giving up on learning that material entirely. Both of these potential mindsets set students up to focus on a product (grade) more than learning and any future perspectives they might have about their learning.

One additional issue of extra credit to consider is the additional work and time on instructors for both designing additional assignments and grading the extra work, especially at the end of a term when there is usually a plethora of assignments, exams, and projects to grade.

“If the work is important, require it; if it’s not, don’t include it in the grade.”

Feldman, p. 122.

So, what options can we give students that are more equitable as an alternative to extra credit? Instead of creating additional assignments, allow students to revise and resubmit work. This shift can help support students by encouraging them to learn from past mistakes, build on their learning, and see their growth over time. Revisions and resubmissions don’t have to only happen at the end of the term, so instructors can also consider timing of revisions based on course design, formative and summative assessment timing, and their own workloads. It also helps students who may be struggling with outside barriers to have additional attempts to complete work they may have missed. It also means that students cannot opt-out of important work or concepts because they cannot substitute those points from other areas of the course. Lastly, it saves the instructor time from designing and implementing additional assignments and complicated grading setups at the end of a term when instructors are often the busiest. While the use of extra credit is often from a place of good intentions, I hope this brief outline helps recontextualize how it may have a larger, negative impact in your course than you may have initially thought, as well as a strategy for replacing it in your course designs.

References

Feldman, J. (2019). Grading for equity: What it is, why it matters, and how it can transform schools and classrooms. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

One of the most common concerns that instructors raise about teaching online is how to engage students in meaningful interactions. Online discussion boards is the default for simulating the types of conversations that take place in a classroom, albeit the online environment favors written communication in the form of posts and replies. These written posts may be the easiest ways of communication in online learning environments offering students less overwhelming experiences and more opportunities for critical thinking and building community (see benefits of discussion boards). However, written communication is not the only way in which students can interact with one another -images, audio, or video can increase engagement and motivation. Still, these options are not intuitively built into online discussion forums. 

The discussion board option appears to be boring and demotivating -it sounds more like a chore than an activity where students build community and participate in the exchange of ideas and perspectives – where they grow intellectually and as individuals. Online discussions can turn into spaces for dialogue, debates, and community. How do we design these spaces so that students engage and interact more meaningfully? Well, let’s explore a tiered approach to spark engagement in online discussions.

Tier 1: Revamp Discussion Boards

Consider the Community of Inquiry framework (CoI) in facilitating deep, engaging, and meaningful learning. The three elements of this framework can be used to design discussion boards: social presence, cognitive presence, and teaching presence. Ragupathi (2016) describes these presences in online courses as follows: “Social presence that will encourage students to present their individual personalities/profiles, help them identify with the community, communicate purposefully and function comfortably in a trusted environment; (2) Cognitive presence that will get students to introduce factual, conceptual, and theoretical knowledge into the discussion and be able to construct/confirm meaning through sustained reflection and discourse; and (3) Teaching presence to provide necessary facilitation of the learning process through effective discussion.” (p. 4). Social presence in particular can be achieved through discussions (although not the only tool) to promote a sense of connection and community. 

Apart from a strong foundation on a sense of connection and community that the CoI promotes, the structure of the discussion assignment plays an important role. To this effect, “structure” and “why” are the key

Revise Structure and Format

  • Establish a clear purpose and add value to the participation/contribution:
    • Instructor-led: contextualize the outcomes, make explicit expectations
    • Student-led: ask students to share their takeaways from the discussion participation (e.g., reflection, embedded in assignments)
    • Connect the content to the discussion assignment (e.g., ask students to refer back or cite previous readings/videos completed in the weekly content)
  • Clearly set expectations for:
    • Grading criteria (e.g., provide a rubric or grading guidelines)
    • Timeframe
    • Resources (e.g., from the course or external)
    • What is a “good post” (e.g., provide an example, describe an example that does not meet expectations)
    • Clarify terminology (e.g., link to a glossary of terms)
  • Support continuity of engagement:
  • Make discussion spaces manageable (students & faculty)

Visit this link for discussion board examples.

Tier 2. Augment the Discussion Boards

The next tier is to augment the opportunities that discussion boards offer. Structure and creativity will intertwine in layers to turn discussions into collaborative spaces. Here, there is greater emphasis on community as a place where students take a more active role, embrace challenges, and own their contribution role as active participants in building knowledge together.

  • Start with setting the discussion board as a place for a conversation:
    • Introductions: encourage students to use additional elements to introduce themselves to the class (e.g., images, videos, goals, expectations). With the caveat that it is optional so they feel comfortable choosing what and how to share. 
  • Create discussion scenarios/questions/prompts that elicit more than one response:
    • Post first before you see previous posts
    • Students post follow-up questions and bring additional examples. Students reply to more than 2 peers who have not received replies yet
    • Encourage students to bring their experiences, outside readings, and additional resources to share
    • Encourage posts in different formats (e.g., video, images, infographics, mindmaps)
  • Student-facilitated discussions:
    • Create small groups and ask students to select a leader (rotate leadership role) Alternatively, randomly assign a leader
    • Student leaders post summaries of discussions in small groups and/or in whole-class discussions
    • Set expected participation: 
  • A minimum number of responses (1 post; 2 replies; number of posts in total)
  • Consider self-paced discussions and encourage students to post a certain number of posts throughout the term or week. (Caveat: the first few students that post might need to wait until others post)
  • Create a learning community for future assignments:
    • Students share initial drafts, outlines, and research topics and ask for comments/feedback. Alternatively, students post their initial work and share their goals, and ideas about how it is relevant. Students are encouraged to read the shared work or not.
    • Beyond the Question and Answer format (e.g., role plays, debates, WebQuests)
    • Set the discussion as a Peer review assignment.  

Tier 3. Beyond Discussion Boards*

The linearity that many discussion board platforms have could make the interaction feel inauthentic, boring, and tedious to navigate. An alternative to a linear discussion is the concept of social annotations and collaborative spaces where students intersect transversally and with multimodal elements.

  • Social Annotations: students can add comments, post questions, vote, and interact with peers over learning materials such as readings, videos, visuals, and websites. Students interact and collaborate based on interests and questions they have while studying the content. You can use social annotations as a learning tool.
  • Asynchronous conversations: increase the collaborative nature of group work with multimodality where students not only post and reply but also create their own content for others to comment on. Explore asynchronous conversations in VoiceThread.
  • Collaborative work: online discussions do not have to be about posts and replies only. Students can engage in meaningful conversations through collaborative work. For example, students can do collaborative assignments, interact synchronously or asynchronously, and comment on each others’ contributions. Some web platforms you can explore include Microsoft Whiteboard and Miro.

Tier 4: Unleash the Discussion Boards

While discussion boards are mainly associated with asynchronous learning environments, discussions can play an important role in hybrid learning. You may be wondering why when we know that one of the underlying features of hybrid learning is to use the class time for active learning, collaborative and team activities, increased participation, and social interaction. But these activities do not have to end when the class time is over. Discussions can help keep students engaged in the class topics and activities after the in-person experience. Any of the tier approaches described above could be integrated seamlessly into hybrid learning to give continuity to class conversations, prep for future in-person activities, foster metacognitive and reflection skills, and strengthen social presence. 

*Note: The use of other tools outside of the Canvas learning management system will require a careful evaluation of accessibility and privacy policies.  

References

This article has its roots in a discussion I had with an Ecampus intern about going on the job market. This intern is working in an academic technologies role at a higher ed institution already, but also getting the Instructional Design certificate here at OSU. It was my first time thinking about what the growth of instructional design certificate and degree credentials means for all instructional designers. Very few of the instructional designers I’ve met and worked with here or at my previous institutions actually have degrees in instructional design, including myself. The field of instructional design emerged out of a specific institutional and educational need in higher education and corporate education, which makes for an ever-growing, ever-changing, but always innovative membership. How do we, as a field, continue to be inclusive of all instructional designers, regardless of their academic or educational backgrounds? 

One potentially positive fact is that academia moves very slowly, so we have some time to strategize. Instructional design is still an emerging speciality within higher education, with each institution classifying that role differently, and providing that role with different levels of support. Some institutions, even today, do not have any instructional designers. Current research indicates that this must change. One of the best sources of data about the field of instructional design in higher education and instructional designers is the Changing Landscape of Online Education (CHLOE) Project. The participants in the CHLOE survey are “the senior online officer at each participating institution.” This survey pool recognizes the variance in organizational structures at different institutions by focusing on the COO’s purview. In the 2019 CHLOE 3 survey, it was reported that the median number of instructional designers employed at 2-year colleges, and public and private 4-year institutions, was four, regardless of enrollment or institution size. In CHLOE 7, one of the conclusions was that “insufficient instructional design staffing may be one of online learning’s most serious long-term vulnerabilities,” with only 10% of Chief Online Officers surveyed describing their ID capacity as sufficient for their current needs, and only 3% believing they would be able to meet anticipated need. 

These findings signal that universities should be moving towards a significant fiscal investment in hiring instructional designers. Joshua Kim wrote a few key takeaways from the CHLOE 7 in CHLOE 7: The Present and Future of Instructional Design Capacity. Kim predicts that universities will need to not only hire more instructional designers, but that these roles will need to be hybrid or remote to attract the post-pandemic workforce. In addition to hybrid and remote options, Kim posits that, “Forward-thinking universities may find that they need to start offering star non-faculty educators the same recognition and incentives that have long been necessary to recruit and retain star tenure-line faculty.” But what does this mean for instructional designers? How would an instructional designer even be able to become identified as a “star” within the field or even at a specific institution? 

Understanding Branding for Faculty and Non-Faculty Educators

Circling back to my initial inquiry about what instructional designers can do to ensure the field stays inclusive, I believe an individual enterprise will have a collective impact that will benefit the largest number of people: personal branding. In What’s the Point of a Personal Brand? Executive coach Harrison Monarth uses the story of his client, Mike, to illustrate how important it is for employees to think about how personal branding is now a strategy for gaining visibility within organizations, and that visibility is now a key component when employers are thinking about promotion. Monarth observes that “In high-performing organizations, at certain levels, everyone is exceptional. To clearly differentiate your value and what you bring to the table, you need to do more than have a good reputation. You need to have an outstanding personal brand.” Having a brand isn’t the same thing as being a celebrity, although I think many would agree that there are celebrities in every field, even instructional design. 

Creating a personal brand is a successful career strategy outside of the corporate world as well, and one of the fields that is encouraging faculty to think about branding is not, as one might think, business but medicine. In 2019, the Academic Medicine blog published Knowing Your Personal Brand: What Academics Can Learn From Marketing 101, the purpose of which was to persuade medical professionals that a brand identity can be empowering. According to the article,

[K]nowing one’s academic brand can (1) help faculty members approach projects and other responsibilities through the lens of building or detracting from that brand, (2) provide a framework for determining how faculty members might best work within their institutions, and (3) help faculty members better understand and advocate their own engagement and advancement.

Although this article specifically speaks to and about academic teaching faculty, Instructional designers at institutions are often placed in the professional faculty role, along with librarians or program directors, and have many of the same professional demands on their job descriptions. As former faculty, I can attest that both of my careers have included independent  research, departmental service, and conference or publication responsibilities. 

Finding Your Personal Brand

If a brand is defined as opinions that people have about you based on your work, it is important to be self-aware, and intentional about the work that you do. Creating your brand can be a difficult task if, like me, you have a variety of experiences and interests. It requires self-reflection about one’s accomplishments and body of work as a whole, and the need to generalize what are sometimes very disparate activities. In Using Your Personal Mission Statement to INSPIRE and Achieve Success, an article published in Academic Pediatrics, the official journal of the Academic Pediatric Association, the authors describe a framework for building a personal mission statement (INSPIRE):

  • Identify Your Core Values
  • Name the Population You Serve
  • Set Your Vision
  • Plan How You Will Achieve Your Vision
  • Identify Activities That Align With Your Mission
  • Review, Revise, and Refine Your Mission Statement
  • Enlist Others to Help You Accomplish Your Mission

A slimmed down version of this same framework can be a helpful starting point for creating a brand identity. It enables you to identify your core values, name the population you serve, and identify activities that support those values and populations. But unlike a mission statement, this framework is best completed in reverse; a backwards brand design, if you will. (Sidenote: Instructional designers love to do things backwards). I call this framework SIFT:

  • Start with your experience and accomplishments
  • Identify keywords or topics
  • Frame your work and interests
  • Tie everything together

I believe that SIFT-ing has the potential to be a reflective process that will lead to a changing self-awareness of different types of instructional designers, for ourselves, and collectively. 

Start with your experience and accomplishments

The best place to begin is with your complete resume or CV. It might be tempting to start with the tailored version you used to get your last position, but you don’t want to limit your view to only things that you think are relevant to instructional design. I can trace some elements of my brand back to my undergraduate and graduate degrees. I also include my two years as a contracted captioner for 3play and Rev within the same brand. Finding a brand that encompasses all that you are will only be successful if you use the most complete picture of yourself.

Identify keywords or topics

Your brand is more than just the places that you’ve worked at, the committees you’ve served on, and projects you’ve worked on. To understand your brand, you should begin by identifying a perspective, or positionality, that informs the decisions you’ve made in the past, however unconsciously that might have been, and looks towards the future. Keywords can be a useful next step, but you will want to avoid the potential to find yourself trapped within categories! In a field like medicine, there are already established research interests and specialties. As a field, instructional design hasn’t reached the point of specialization, but we are trending towards accepting that there are too many topics that fall under the broad umbrella of instructional design for everyone to be experts in everything. For example, the Quality Matters Instructional Designers Association has 21 expertise categories that you can select from when joining the association that others can use to find you to connect with you. 

A screencapture of the list of categories from the QM IDA website
A screencapture of the list of categories from the QM IDA website

When I first joined the QM IDA, I didn’t know what boxes to check, or even what some of these categories were. And since they are presented without explanation, the criteria for self-identification are unclear. I can check almost all of these boxes as things I have experience in—with the exception of K12 and the Continuing and Professional Education Rubric, but is experience the same thing as expertise? It might be my imposter syndrome talking, but I am more inclined to identify with interests than areas of expertise. (Sidenote: I still haven’t checked any boxes.) 

Frame your work and interests

I hadn’t noticed a pattern to my interests while I was doing them, but by reflecting on my professional journey, I realized that I could trace one interest all the way back to my undergraduate honors thesis, through to my current career as an instructional designer. I’ve always had an interest in communities and the community spaces they inhabit—especially if they are online. Community doesn’t appear on QM’s list of categories, but it is the lens through which I approach many of the categories on that list. Accessibility, Computer-Based Learning, Distance Education, Hybrid instruction/Design, LMS, Multimedia Creation, Problem-Based Learning—all of these categories need to address questions of community by addressing inclusivity, access, equity, and authentic student-student and student-teacher interactions. Community is the keyword I use to frame my research interests and approach to instructional design, in all of its various forms.

Tie everything together

If you go to my LinkedIn profile, you’ll see that I have “Humanities girl in an instructional technology world” as my headline. That’s my brand. You might notice that it does not include “instructional design” or “community.” But at the same time, by labeling myself a humanist, I am evoking the words associated with humanities and humanism–things like communities, kindness, compassion, human potential, and the arts. Technology is often viewed either as the savior of humanity, or its destruction. In reality, of course, it’s both. By framing myself as a humanist working with technology, I am clueing people in that my perspective on technology will incorporate potential negative impacts for people. The playful nature of the headline i.e. using “girl” to rhyme with “world” also reveals my personality. Compare this headline with something like, “I am interested in humane approaches to technology used in education.” It’s true, but it doesn’t tell you about me as a person outside of my interests. 

Being “On Brand”

To declare a brand is not to limit your interests, nor should it be criticized as promoting a non-interest in other topics. Another observation from Kim is that instructional designers are likely very busy, and overstretched. In his words, there is “a significant mismatch between institutional demand for instructional design services and the available supply.” To avoid burnout, instructional designers need to be strategic with the projects they commit to. A brand can also help you be selective about which conferences you attend, or committees you serve on. Being “on brand” can be a way of focusing your energy, and also a touchstone of your identity. 

Using the SIFT framework, you can reflect on your professional values, and your professional goals. One of my colleagues in the field is an accessibility expert, and gets called in to consult on all things related to accessibility in addition to her daily work as an instructional designer. She recently became a certified Accessibility Professional with the IAAP, and this credential is visible on her LinkedIn profile as an emblem of her brand. Knowing her brand allowed her to appeal to her institution to allow her this opportunity that enriches not only her own skillset, but the prestige of her institution by having an IAPP certified accessibility professional on their staff. In that sense, personal branding can also help institutions build diverse departments that are teams of specialists.

To return to the three benefits of branding for faculty outlined in the Academic Medicine article, knowing my brand helps me decide where to devote my limited bandwidth by pursuing professional activities that are “on brand” for me. I can also use my brand to search for specific opportunities that will build my brand, even if those fall outside the typical skillset of instructional designers. However, moving towards a “branding” mindset also benefits my colleagues, who are equally, individually, uniquely talented, and should be recognized for their specialties and allowed to follow their passions, rather than be constrained to their job duties. As instructional design teams at universities grow, having a team of specialists can also help alleviate burnout by allowing people to play to their strengths. This can ensure that instructional design remains a space where all career pathways are valid and not contingent on specific credentials.

References

Borman-Shoap, Emily, Li, Su-Ting T., St Clair, Nicole E., Rosenbluth, Glenn, Pitt, Susan, and Michael B. Pitt. Knowing Your Personal Brand: What Academics Can Learn From Marketing 101 Academic Medicine 94(9):p 1293-1298, September 2019.

Kim, J. CHLOE 7: The Present and Future of Instructional Design Capacity InsideHigherEd (2022)

Li, Su-Ting T., Frohna, John G. and Susan B. Bostwick. Using Your Personal Mission Statement to INSPIRE and Achieve Success View from the Association of Pediatric Program Directors 17(2): p107-109, March 2017.

Monarth, H. What’s the Point of a Personal Brand? Harvard Business Review (2022)

Uranis, J. Definition Update: Chief Online Learning Officer (COLO) (2023)

By: Julie Jacobs, Jana King, Dana Simionescu, Tianhong Shi

Overview

A recent scenario with our course development team challenged our existing practices with lecture media. Formerly, we had encouraged faculty to include only slides with narration in their lecture videos due to concerns about increasing learners’ cognitive load. Students voiced their hope for more instructor presence in courses, and some instructors started asking about including video of themselves inserted into their lectures. This prompted us to begin thinking about instructor presence in lecture videos more deeply: why were we discouraging faculty from including their faces in lecture videos? While our practices were informed by research-based media theory, we also recognized those theories might be outdated. 

We began to explore the latest research with the following question in mind: does visual instructor presence in lectures increase extraneous cognitive load in learners? We use the phrase “visual instructor presence” to refer to lecture videos where an instructor’s moving image is seen giving the lecture, composited together with their slides. This technique is also commonly referred to as “picture-in-picture”, as seen in the image below.

Image 1: Adam Vester, instructor in College of Business, in his lecture design for BA 375 Applied Quantitative Methods.

A task force was created to review recent research on visual instructor presence and cognitive load, specifically in lecture-type videos. Our literature review included a look at leading multimedia learning scholar Richard E. Mayer’s newest group of principles. We also reviewed more than 20 other scholarly articles, many of which were focused on learner perception, motivation & engagement, and emotion. 

Findings

According to recent work in multimedia learning, research in this area should focus on three areas, namely learning outcomes (“what works/ what does not work?”), learning characteristics (“when does it work?”), and learning process (“how does it work?”) (Mayer, 2020). Below are our conclusions from the 23 research articles we reviewed regarding instructional videos, attempting to answer the above questions of “what works”, “when does it work”, and “how does it work”.  

  1. This review of recent literature shows no evidence that visual instructor presence increases extraneous cognitive load. 
  2. Students tend to prefer lectures with visual instructor presence – they report increased satisfaction and better perceived learning, which can boost motivation and engagement. 
  3. While some studies find no difference in performance outcomes when visual instructor presence is utilized, others found increased performance outcomes with visual instructor presence. Proposed explanations: embodiment techniques such as gestures, eye contact, and body movement which fosters generative processing (the cognitive processes required for making sense of the material); social cues can help direct the learners’ attention; increased motivation (as per point 2 above) contributes to better learning. 
  4. The effects may depend on the specific type of visual instructor presence (e.g., small picture-in-picture, green-screen, or lightboard) and the characteristics of the content (complex/difficult vs simpler/easier). 

Recommendations

Based on these findings, our team has decided to remove the default discouragement of instructors wishing to use picture-in-picture in lectures. If an instructor is interested in having their visual presence in the lectures, we encourage them to discuss this option with their Instructional Designer and Lecture Media Coordinator to determine if this style is a good fit for them and their content.

Image 2: Bryony DuPont, associate professor of Mechanical Engineering, utilizing visual instructor presence in her lecture design for ME 382 Introduction to Design.

We recommend considering the following points:

  • What is their presentation style? Do they tend to spend a lot of time talking over a slide or is there a lot of text or other action (e.g. software demo) happening in the video? If there’s a lot happening on the screen, perhaps it’s better to not put their video on top of it (the instructor video could be placed only at the beginning and/or end instead).
  • What type of content? Is it simple or more complex? For more visually complex content, a lightboard or digital notation without picture-in-picture may work better, to take advantage of the dynamic drawing principle and the gaze guidance principle. 
  • Is it a foreign language course? If so, it’s likely helpful for the learners to see the instructor’s mouth and body language. 
  • Is the instructor comfortable with being on video? If they’re not comfortable with it, it may not add value. This being said, our multimedia professionals can help make instructors more comfortable in front of the camera and coach them on a high-embodied style of lecturing. 

Since implementing these guidelines and working with an increased number of lectures with visual instructor presence, we also noticed that it works best when the instructor does not look and sound like they’re reading. Therefore, for people who like working with a script, we recommend practicing in advance so they can sound more natural and are able to enhance their presentation with embodiment techniques.

We would love to hear about your opinions or experiences with this type of video. Share them in the comments!

For a detailed summary of our findings and full citation list, please see the full Literature Review.


Some form of group work is a common activity that I help design with faculty every term. Oftentimes, faculty ask how to consider the different levels of engagement from individual group members and how to assess group work, often in the form of a group grade. Improving group work in asynchronous courses and group contracts to promote accountability are some of many ways to guide students into collaborative work. However, collaborative work may require offering equitable opportunities to all students to succeed. Based on the work by Feldman (2019), I’d like to outline some suggestions for assessment design through an equity lens.

Before jumping into assessing group work, Feldman outlines three pillars of equitable grades:

  1. “They are mathematically accurate, validly reflecting a student’s academic performance.
  2. They are bias-resistant, preventing biased subjectivity from infecting our grades.
  3. They motivate students to strive for academic success, persevere, accept struggles and setbacks, and to gain critical lifelong skills” (Feldman, p. 71).

With these three pillars in mind, let’s examine some potential issues with a group receiving one grade for their work.

  1. Accuracy: a collective group grade does not necessarily reflect an individual’s contribution to the group work or assess an individual student’s learning in terms of outcomes. For example, if a group splits up sections of a project into individual responsibilities, a student who did their assigned section very well may not have had an opportunity to gain new knowledge or build on their learning for aspects where they were struggling. And a group grade does not accurately capture their individual work or learning.
  2. Bias: Many times peer evaluations of group work come with some kind of group contract or accountability measure. However, there is a possibility for bias in how students evaluate their peers, especially if that evaluation is based on behaviors like turning things in on time and having strong social skills instead of learning. For example, maybe one of the group members had a job with a variable schedule from week to week, making it difficult to join regular group discussions and complete work at the same pace every week for the duration of the project. Other group members may perceive them as difficult to work with or inconsistent in their commitment and award them fewer points in a peer evaluation, especially if other group members did not have outside factors noticeably impacting their performance.
  3. Motivation: Group contracts and using evaluation as a way to promote productivity is an external motivator and does not instill a sense of internal relevance for students participating in group work. Instead, students may feel resentful that their peers may evaluate them harshly for things outside of their control, which can quickly snowball into a student disengaging from group work entirely.

“The purpose of group work is not to create some product in which all members participate, but for each student to learn specific skills or content through the group’s work together.”

Feldman, p. 104

So how do we assess this learning? Individually. If we can reimagine group work as a journey toward an individual reaching a learning outcome, then instead of assessing a behavior (working well and timeliness in a group) or what a group produces, we can instead create an assessment that captures the individual impact of the group work instead. Feldman outlines some tips for encouraging group work without a group grade:

  1. Have a clear purpose statement and overview for the group work that outlines the rationale and benefit of learning that content in a group context.
  2. Have clear evaluation criteria that shows the alignment of the group work with a follow-up individual assessment.
  3. If possible, include students in the process by having a brainstorm or pre-work discussion ahead of time about what makes groups productive, how to ensure students learn material when working in groups, and what kinds of collaborative expectations can be set for a particular cohort of students.
  4. Be patient with students navigating a new assessment strategy for the first time and offer ample feedback throughout the process so students are set up for success on their assessments.
  5. Ensure the follow-up individual assessment is in alignment with learning outcomes and is focused on the content or skills students are expected to gain through group work.

As an added bonus, assessing group work individually in this way is often simpler than elaborate group work rubrics with separate peer evaluations factored in, making it both easier for the instructor and easier for the student to understand how their grade is calculated. Additionally, it will be important to design this group work with intention—if an individual could learn the material on their own, then what is the purpose of the group interaction? Think about a group project you may have assigned or designed in the past. What was the intention for that journey as a group? And how might you reimagine it if there was an individual assessment after its completion? I hope these questions are great starting points for reflecting on group work assessments and redesigning with equity in mind!

References

Feldman, J. (2019). Grading for equity: What it is, why it matters, and how it can transform schools and classrooms. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

An illustration of a person kneeling and question marks around

Have you ever been assigned a task but found yourself asking: “What’s the point of this task? Why do I need to do this?” Very likely, no one has informed you of the purpose of this task! Well, it likely was because that activity was missing to show a critical element: the purpose. Just like the purpose of a task can be easily left out, in the context of course design, a purpose statement for an assignment is often missing too.

Creating a purpose statement for assignments is an activity that I enjoy very much. I encourage instructors and course developers to be intentional about that statement which serves as a declaration of the underlying reasons, directions, and focus of what comes next in an assignment. But most importantly, the statement responds to the question I mentioned at the beginning of this blog…why…?

Just as a purpose statement should be powerful to guide, shape, and undergird a business (Yohn, 2022), a purpose statement for an assignment can guide students in making decisions about using strategies and resources, shape students’ motivation and engagement in the process of completing the assignment, and undergird their knowledge and skills.  Let’s look closer at the power of a purpose statement.

What does “purpose” mean?

Merriam-Webster defines purpose as “something set up as an object or end to be”, while Cambridge Dictionary defines it as “why you do something or why something exists”. These definitions show us that the purpose is the reason and the intention behind an action.

Why a purpose is important in an assignment?

The purpose statement in an assignment serves important roles for students, instructors, and instructional designers (believe it or not!).

For students

The purpose will:

  1. answer the question “why will I need to complete this assignment?”
  2. give the reason to spend time and resources working out math problems, outlining a paper, answering quiz questions, posting their ideas in a discussion, and many other learning activities.
  3. highlight its significance and value within the context of the course.
  4. guide them in understanding the requirements and expectations of the assignment from the start.

For instructors

The purpose will:

  1. guide the scope, depth, and significance of the assignment.
  2. help to craft a clear and concise declaration of the assignment’s objective or central argument.
  3. maintain the focus on and alignment with the outcome(s) throughout the assignment.
  4. help identify the prior knowledge and skills students will be required to complete the assignment.
  5. guide the selection of support resources.

For instructional designers

The purpose will:

  1. guide building the structure of the assignment components.
  2. help identify additional support resources when needed.
  3. facilitate an understanding of the alignment of outcome(s).
  4. help test the assignment from the student’s perspective and experience.

Is there a wrong purpose?

No, not really. But it may be lacking or it may be phrased as a task. Let’s see an example (adapted from a variety of real-life examples) below:

Project Assignment:

“The purpose of this assignment is to work in your group to create a PowerPoint presentation about the team project developed in the course. Include the following in the presentation:

  • Title
  • Context
  • Purpose of project
  • Target audience
  • Application of methods
  • Results
  • Recommendations
  • Sources (at least 10)
  • Images and pictures

The presentation should be a minimum of 6 slides and must include a short reflection on your experience conducting the project as a team.”

What is unclear in this purpose? Well, unless the objective of the assignment is to refine students’ presentation-building skills, it is unclear why students will be creating a presentation for a project that they have already developed. In this example, creating a presentation and providing specific details about its content and format looks more like instructions instead of a clear reason for this assignment to be.

A better description of the purpose could be:

“The purpose of this assignment is to help you convey complex information and concepts in visual and graphic formats. This will help you practice your skills in summarizing and synthesizing your research as well as in effective data visualization.”

The purpose statement particularly underscores transparency, value, and meaning. When students know why, they may be more compelled to engage in the what and how of the assignment. A specific purpose statement can promote appreciation for learning through the assignment (Christopher, 2018).

Examples of purpose statements

Below you will find a few examples of purpose statements from different subject areas.

Example 1: Application and Dialogue (Discussion assignment)

Courtesy of Prof. Courtney Campbell – PHL /REL 344

Example 2: An annotated bibliography (Written assignment)

Courtesy of Prof. Emily Elbom – WR 227Z

Example 3: Reflect and Share (Discussion assignment)

Courtesy of Profs. Nordica MacCarty and Shaozeng Zhang – ANTH / HEST 201

With the increased availability of language learning models (LLMs) and artificial intelligence (AI) tools (e.g., ChatGPT, Claude2), many instructors worry that students would resort to these tools to complete the assignments. While a clear and explicit purpose statement won’t deter the use of these highly sophisticated tools, transparency in the assignment description could be a good motivator to complete the assignments with no or little AI tools assistance.

Conclusion

Knowing why you do what you do is crucial” in life says Christina Tiplea. The same applies to learning, when “why” is clear, the purpose of an activity or assignment can become a more meaningful and crucial activity that motivates and engages students. And students may feel less motiavted to use AI tools (Trust, 2023).

Note: This blog was written entirely by me without the aid of any artificial intelligence tool. It was peer-reviewed by a human colleague.

Resources:

Christopher, K. (02018). What are we doing and why? Transparent assignment design benefits students and faculty alike. The Flourishing Academic.

Sinek, S. (2011). Start with why. Penguin Publishing Group.

Trust, T. (2023). Addressing the Possibility of AI-Driven Cheating, Part 2. Faculty Focus.

Yohn, D.L. (2022). Making purpose statements matter. SHR Executive Network.

I have always struggled with test anxiety. As a student, from first-grade spelling tests through timed essay questions while earning my Masters of Science in Education, I started exams feeling nauseous and underprepared. (My MSEd GPA was 4.0). I blame my parents. Both were college professors and had high expectations for my academic performance. I am in my 50s, and I still shutter remembering bringing home a low B on a history test in eighth grade. My father looked disappointed and told me, “Debbie, I only expect you to do the best you can do. But I do not think this is the best you can do.” 

I am very glad my parents instilled in me a high value of education and a strong work ethic. This guidance heavily influenced my own desire to work in Higher Ed. Reflecting on my own journey and the lingering test anxiety that continues to haunt me, it has become evident that equipping students with comprehensive information to prepare for and navigate quizzes or exams holds the potential to alleviate the anxiety I once struggled with.

Overlooking the instructions section for an exam, assignment, or quiz is common among instructors during online course development. This might seem inconsequential, but it can significantly impact students’ performance and overall learning experience. Crafting comprehensive quiz instructions can transform your course delivery, fostering a more supportive and successful student learning environment.

The Role of Quizzes in Your Course

Quizzes serve as diagnostic and evaluative tools. They assess students’ comprehension and application of course materials, helping identify knowledge gaps and areas for additional study. The feedback instructors receive through student quiz scores enables instructors to evaluate the effectiveness of the course learning materials and activities and understand how well students are mastering the skills necessary to achieve the course learning outcomes. This enables instructors to identify aspects of the course design needing improvement and modify and adjust their teaching strategies and course content accordingly. By writing thorough and clear quiz instructions, you support students’ academic growth and improve the overall quality of your course.

Explain the Reason

Explain how the quiz will help students master specific skills to motivate them to study. The skills and knowledge students are expected to develop should be clearly defined and communicated. Connect it to course learning outcomes and encourage students to track their progress against them (Align Assessments, Objectives, Instructional Strategies – Eberly Center – Carnegie Mellon University, n.d.).

Why did you assign the quiz? Would you like your students to receive frequent feedback, engage with learning materials, prepare for high-stakes exams, or improve their study habits?

Equipping Students for Successful Quiz Preparation

Preparing for a quiz can be daunting for students. To help them navigate this process, provide a structured guide for preparation. Leading up to the quiz, you may want to encourage your students to:

  1. Review the lectures: Highlight the importance of understanding key concepts discussed.
  2. Review the readings: Encourage students to reinforce their understanding by revisiting assigned readings and additional materials.
  3. Engage in review activities: Suggest using review materials, practice questions, or study guides to cement knowledge.
  4. Participate in discussions: Reflecting on class discussions can offer unique insights and deepen understanding.
  5. Seek clarification: Remind students to contact their instructor or teaching assistant for any questions or clarifications. You add a Q&A discussion forum for students to post questions leading up to the quiz.

Crafting Clear and Detailed Quiz Instructions 

When taking the quiz, clear instructions are vital to ensure students understand what is expected of them. Here’s a checklist of details to include in your quiz instructions:

  1. Time Limit: Explicitly mention the duration of the quiz, the amount of time students have to complete the quiz once they have started it, or if it’s untimed. Suggest how they may want to pace the quiz to ensure they have time to complete all the questions.
  2. Availability Window: You should specify an availability window for asynchronous online students. It refers to the time frame during which the quiz can be accessed and started. By giving an extended window, you allow students to take the quiz at a time that suits them. Once they begin, the quiz duration will apply.
  3. Number of Attempts: Indicate whether students have multiple attempts or just a single opportunity to take the quiz.
  4. Question Format: Provide information about the types of questions included and any specific formatting requirements. 
  5. Quiz Navigation: Have you enforced navigational restrictions on the quiz, such as preventing students from returning to a question or only showing questions one at a time? Share this information in the instructions and explain the reasoning.
  6. Point Allocation: Break down how points are distributed, including details for varying point values and partial credit.
  7. Resources: Specify whether students can use external resources, textbooks, or notes during the quiz.
  8. Academic Integrity Reminders: Reinforce the importance of academic integrity, detailing expectations for honest conduct during the quiz.
  9. Feedback and Grading: Clarify how and when students will receive feedback and their grades.
  10. Showing Work: If relevant, provide clear guidelines on how students present their work (solving equations, pre-writing activities, etc.) or reasoning for particular question types.

End with a supportive “Good Luck!” to ease students’ nerves and inspire confidence.

Crafting comprehensive quiz instructions is a vital step in ensuring successful course delivery. Providing students with clear expectations, guidelines, and support enhances their quiz experience and contributes to a positive and productive learning environment (Detterman & Andrist, 1990). As course developers and designers, we are responsible for fostering these optimal conditions for student success. Plus, as my father would say, it is satisfying to know you have “done the best you can do.”

References

Align Assessments, Objectives, Instructional Strategies—Eberly Center—Carnegie Mellon University. (n.d.). Eberly Center: Carnegie Mellon University. Retrieved June 28, 2023, from https://www.cmu.edu/teaching/assessment/basics/alignment.html

Detterman, D. K., & Andrist, C. G. (1990). Effect of Instructions on Elementary Cognitive Tasks Sensitive to Individual Differences. The American Journal of Psychology, 103(3), 367–390. https://doi.org/10.2307/1423216

Footnote: My son called as I was wrapping up this post. I told him I was finishing up a blog post for Ecampus. “I kind of threw Grandpa under the bus,” I said. After I shared the history test example, he said, “you didn’t learn much.” He and his sister felt similar academic pressure; I may have even used the same line about the best you can do. In my defense, he is now. Ph.D. candidate in Medicinal Chemistry and his sister just completed a Masters in Marine Bio.

Image by: pingebat, licensed from Adobe Stock

As higher-ed professionals involved in course design, we have the honor, privilege, and responsibility of shaping the learning experiences for countless students. Among the many tools at our disposal, course mapping stands out as a fundamental technique that deserves a spotlight. Couse mapping fosters clarity, and showcases alignment between the learning outcomes/objectives and course materials, assessments and activities. In this blog post, we will explore the importance of course mapping in online higher-ed courses, highlighting its role in meeting the new requirements in the recently updated Quality Matters (QM) rubric 7th edition. Join us as we delve into the transformative power of course mapping, benefiting course developers, instructors, instructional designers, and learners alike.

The Big-Picture:

The updated QM rubric (7th edition) recognizes the strength of course maps as a design tool, and has now made them a required element for course review. To quote the QM rubric update workshop (2023), “the course map must include all of the following components mapped to one another so the connection between them is apparent: course learning [outcomes/] objectives, module learning outcomes/objectives, assessments, materials, activities, and tools.” At its core, course mapping involves creating a visual representation of the entire course curriculum, breaking it down into manageable units, and illustrating the relationships between various components. This visual often takes the form of a table, but many variations exist. Course mapping is a holistic approach, which provides a roadmap for instructors, course developers, and designers to create a comprehensive, cohesive and well-structured learning experience; and for students to easily navigate and find the content and assignments. By explicitly relating the aforementioned course components, course maps simply demonstrate alignment and make clear the purpose of each element as part of the larger picture. 

Orchestrating a Symphony of Learning & Student Success:

With the implementation of the new QM rubric (7th edition), course mapping has gained significant prominence as a means of ensuring alignment and coherence across the curriculum.  By mapping out the weekly outcomes/objecives, learning activities, materials, tools, and assessments, instructors can ensure that each component of the course aligns with the overall outcomes/objetcives. This process can highlight pathways for students to progress logically through the content. Additionally, course mapping facilitates coordination among multiple instructors or instructional designers involved in a course, enabling a consistent design and a more harmonic learning experience for students. Much like a conductor of an orchestra, a course map provides the nuanced direction to each section. Harmony in a design means that elements are unified. Learners benefit from this because they more clearly connect their learning activities with a specific purpose. 

By imbuing the many learning activities with clear purpose (alignment to the outcomes/objectives), learners understand the work they are being asked to complete.  Mapping out course activities also provides instructors with a high-level view of their course, which helps ensure a balanced distribution of learning strategies, which can help accommodate a variety of learning needs. As a result, students are more likely to be engaged, motivated, and empowered to take ownership of their learning, which can lead to improved learning. Course maps act as a first step towards transparent course design, which empowers learners to take initiative and work through problems independently. If we give them all the pieces and help them make connections, they can forge their own pathway to success.

Efficiency and Continuous Improvement:

Course mapping also acts as a vehicle for efficiency and continuous improvement in higher education courses. By visualizing the entire course, instructors and instructional designers can identify potential gaps, redundancies, or misalignments, leading to more effective course revisions. Moreover, the iterative nature of course mapping promotes reflection and collaboration among course developers, instructors, instructional designers, and course reviewers, fostering a culture of continuous improvement. 

Additionally, for instructors the course map then acts as a blue print for the course, which can enhance the connection between the course elements, which can also be helpful if course outcomes/objectives need to change. For instance, courses with detailed maps might be more efficiently adapted, as instructors can easily identify parts of their courses that will need to change and know where to focus their energy.

Assessment and Accreditation – Meeting Quality Standards:

Accreditation bodies and quality assurance agencies like QM place a strong emphasis on clearly defined learning outcomes/objectives and assessment strategies. Course mapping provides a comprehensive framework for demonstrating alignment with quality standards or accreditation competencies. By mapping learning outcomes/objectives to assessments, instructors can provide evidence of student achievement and ensure that all necessary areas are adequately covered. This not only satisfies accreditation requirements but also enhances transparency and accountability within the course, program, and even the institution. At OSU Ecampus, we use the Ecampus Essentials list to ensure we are creating high-quality online and hybrid learning experiences. All Ecampus courses are expected to meet the essential standards and are strongly encouraged to meet the exemplary standards.

Conclusion:

As higher education professionals, we have a shared responsibility to provide transformative courses and programs that prepare learners for the challenges of the future. Course mapping stands as a crucial tool in achieving this goal by fostering alignment, engagement, and continuous improvement. As the new Quality Matters (QM) rubric (7th edition) recognizes, course mapping is an essential practice in creating intentional and effective courses. By investing time and effort in course mapping, instructors and instructional designers can craft coherent and purposeful learning experiences that empower students and maximize their potential for success.

Let’s embrace course mapping as a tool for success in online higher education, ensuring that our courses are meticulously crafted, intentional, and impactful. 

Course Mapping Tools:

  1. The Online Course Mapping Guide
  2. OSU Ecampus Course Planning Chart
  3. Berkeley Digital Learning Services Course Map Template (Public Use)
  4. University of Arizona Course Map Templates

Course Map Samples Shared in the QM Rubric Update:

  1. ACCT 3551 Course Map
  2. Course Alignment Map for HIS 121 American History to 1865

References:

Beckham, R., Riedford, K., & Hall, M. (2017). Course Mapping: Expectations Visualized. Journal for Nurse Practitioners, 13(10), e471–e476. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nurpra.2017.07.021 

Digital Learning Hub in the Teaching + Learning Commons at UC San Diego. (n.d.). What is a Course Map? The Online Course Mapping Guide. Retrieved July 5, 2023, from https://www.coursemapguide.com/what-is-a-course-map

Quality Matters. (2023, May 22). QM Course Worksheet, HE Seventh Edition. Retrieved July 5, 2023, from https://docs.google.com/document/d/16d1mDaII_kgXvyjeT_brn-TKqACnr_OY_D_r5SnJlC0/edit 

As educators and instructional designers, one of our tasks is to create online learning environments that students can comfortably use to complete their course activities effectively. These platforms need to be designed in such a way as to minimize extraneous cognitive load and maximize generative processing: that is, making sure that the learners’ efforts are spent on understanding and applying the instructional material and not on figuring out how to use the website or app. Research and practice in User Experience (UX) design – more specifically, usability – can give us insights that we can apply to improve our course page design and organization.

Getting Started: General Recommendations

Steve Krug, in his classic book Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability, explains that, in order for a website or app to be easy to use, the essential principle can be stated as “don’t make me think” (Krug, 2014). That may sound like a strange principle in an educational context, but what Krug referred to is precisely the need to avoid wasting the users’ cognitive resources on how a particular platform works (thus reducing extraneous cognitive load), and to make them feel comfortable using that product (enhancing generative processing). When looking at a web page or app, it should be, as much as possible, obvious what information is on there, how it is organized, what can be clicked on, or where to start; this way, the user can focus on the task at hand.

Krug (2014) provided a few guidelines for ensuring that the users effortlessly see and understand what we want them to:

  • Use conventions: Using standardized patterns makes it easier to see them quickly and to know what to do. Thus, in online courses, it helps to have consistency in how the pages are designed and organized: consider using a template and having standard conventions within a program or institution.
  • Create effective visual hierarchies: The visual cues should represent the actual relationships between the things on the page. For instance, the more important elements are larger, and the connected parts are grouped together on the page or designed in the same style. This saves the user effort in the selection and organization processes in the working memory.
  • Separate the content into clearly defined areas: If the content is divided into areas, each with a specific purpose, the page is easier to parse, and the user can quickly select the parts that are the most relevant to them.
  • Make it obvious what is clickable: Figuring out the next thing to click is one of the main things that users do in a digital environment; hence, the designer must make this a painless process. This can be done through shape, location or formatting—for example, buttons can help emphasize important linked content.
  • Eliminate distractions: Too much complexity on a page can be frustrating and impinges on the users’ ability to perform their tasks effectively. Thus, we need to avoid having too many things that are “clamoring for your attention” (Krug, 2014, Chapter 3). This is consistent with the coherence principle of multimedia learning, which states that elements that do not support the learning goal should be kept to a minimum and that clutter should be avoided. Related to this, usability experts recommend avoiding repeating a link on the same page because of potential cognitive overload. This article from the Nielsen Norman Group explains why duplicate links are a bad idea, and when they might be appropriate.
  • Format text to support scanning: Users often need to scan pages to find what they want. We can do a few things towards this goal: include well-written headings, with clear formatting differences between the different levels and appropriate positioning close to the text they head; make the paragraphs short; use bulleted lists; and highlight key terms.

Putting It to the Test: A UX Study in Higher Education

The online learning field has yet to give much attention to UX testing. However, a team from Penn State has recently published a book chapter describing a think-aloud study with online learners at their institution (Gregg et al., 2020). Here is a brief description of their findings and implications for design:

  • Avoid naming ambiguities – keep wording clear and consistent, and use identical terms for an item throughout the course (e.g., “L07”, “Lesson07)
  • Minimize multiple interfaces – avoid adding another tool/platform if it does not bring significant benefits.
  • Design within the conventions of the LMS – for example, avoid using both “units” and “lessons” in a course; stick to the LMS structure and naming conventions as much as possible.
  • Group related information together – for example, instead of having pieces of project information in different places, put them all on one page and link to that when needed.
  • Consider consistent design standards throughout the University – different departments may have their own way of doing things, but it is best to have some standards across all classes.

Are you interested in conducting UX testing with your students? Good news: Gregg et al. (2020) also reflected on their process and generated advice for conducting such testing, which is included in their chapter and related papers. You can always start small! As Krug (2014, Chapter 9) noted, “Testing one user is 100 percent better than testing none. Testing always works, and even the worst test with the wrong user will show you important things you can do to improve your site”.

References

Gregg, A., Reid, R., Aldemir, T., Gray, J., Frederick, M., & Garbrick, A. (2020). Think-Aloud Observations to Improve Online Course Design: A Case Example and “How-to” Guide. In M. Schmidt, A. A. Tawfik, I. Jahnke, & Y. Earnshaw (Eds.), Learner and User Experience Research: An Introduction for the Field of Learning Design & Technology. EdTech Books. https://edtechbooks.org/ux/15_think_aloud_obser

Krug, S. (2014). Don’t make me think, revisited: A common sense approach to Web usability. New Riders, Peachpit, Pearson Education.

Loranger, H. (2016). The same link twice on the same page: Do duplicates help or hurt? Nielsen Norman Group. https://www.nngroup.com/articles/duplicate-links/