By: Julie Jacobs, Jana King, Dana Simionescu, Tianhong Shi
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 While our practices were informed by research-based media theory, we also recognized those theories might be outdated.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 lecturesincreaseextraneous 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.
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”.
This review of recent literature shows no evidence that visual instructor presence increases extraneous cognitive load.
Students tend to prefer lectures with visual instructor presence – they report increased satisfaction and better perceived learning, which can boost motivation and engagement.
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.
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).
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!
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:
“They are mathematically accurate, validly reflecting a student’s academic performance.
They are bias-resistant, preventing biased subjectivity from infecting our grades.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
Have clear evaluation criteria that shows the alignment of the group work with a follow-up individual assessment.
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.
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.
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!
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!).
The purpose will:
answer the question “why will I need to complete this assignment?”
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.
highlight its significance and value within the context of the course.
guide them in understanding the requirements and expectations of the assignment from the start.
The purpose will:
guide the scope, depth, and significance of the assignment.
help to craft a clear and concise declaration of the assignment’s objective or central argument.
maintain the focus on and alignment with the outcome(s) throughout the assignment.
help identify the prior knowledge and skills students will be required to complete the assignment.
guide the selection of support resources.
For instructional designers
The purpose will:
guide building the structure of the assignment components.
help identify additional support resources when needed.
facilitate an understanding of the alignment of outcome(s).
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:
“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:
Purpose of project
Application of methods
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.
“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.
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.
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:
Review the lectures: Highlight the importance of understanding key concepts discussed.
Review the readings: Encourage students to reinforce their understanding by revisiting assigned readings and additional materials.
Engage in review activities: Suggest using review materials, practice questions, or study guides to cement knowledge.
Participate in discussions: Reflecting on class discussions can offer unique insights and deepen understanding.
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:
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.
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.
Number of Attempts: Indicate whether students have multiple attempts or just a single opportunity to take the quiz.
Question Format: Provide information about the types of questions included and any specific formatting requirements.
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.
Point Allocation: Break down how points are distributed, including details for varying point values and partial credit.
Resources: Specify whether students can use external resources, textbooks, or notes during the quiz.
Academic Integrity Reminders: Reinforce the importance of academic integrity, detailing expectations for honest conduct during the quiz.
Feedback and Grading: Clarify how and when students will receive feedback and their grades.
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.”
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.
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 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.
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.
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”.
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.
My family and I were preparing for a move. We packed up some of our things, removing extraneous items from our walls and surfaces and preparing our house to list and show. Not willing to part with these things, we rented a small storage unit to temporarily warehouse all this extra “stuff.” Well, as it turned out, we ended up not moving at all, and after a few months went to clear out the storage unit and retrieve our extra things. The funny thing was, we could hardly remember what had gone in there, and as it turns out, we did not miss most of the items we had packed away. We ended up selling most of what was in that storage unit, and shortly thereafter, we did even more “spring cleaning.” One of the bedrooms, which also doubles an office, needed particular attention. The space was dysfunctional, in that multiple doors and drawers were blocked from fully opening. After a little purging and reorganization this room now functions beautifully, with enough space to open every door and drawer. I have been calling this process “moving back into our own house,” and it’s been a joy to rethink, reorganize, and reclaim our living spaces.
Course Design Connection
As I have been working with more instructors who are redeveloping existing courses, I have been trying to bring this mindset into my instructional design work. How can we reclaim our online learning spaces and make them more inviting and functional? How can we help learners open all the proverbial doors and operate fully within the learning environment? You guessed it: While our first instinct might be to add more to the course, the answer might lie in the other direction. With a little editing and a keen eye on alignment, we can very intentionally remove things from our courses that might be needless or even distracting. We can also rearrange our pages and modules to maximize our learner’s attention.
Memory and Course Design
Our working memories, according to Cowan (2010), can only store 3-5 meaningful items at a time. Thus, it becomes essential to consider what is genuinely necessary on any given LMS page. If we focus on helping learners to achieve the learning outcomes when choosing the content to keep in each module, we can intentionally remove distractors. There can be a place for tangential or supplemental information, but those items should not live in the limelight. To help get us started on this “cleaning process,” we can ask ourselves a few simple questions. Are there big-ticket items (assignments, discussions, readings) that are not directly helping learners reach the outcomes? Are we formatting pages and arranging content in beneficial and progressive ways? Might we express longer bodies of text in ways that are more concisely or clearly? Can we break text up with related visuals? Below are some tips to help guide your process as you “clean” up your course and direct your learners where to focus.
Cut out the Bigger Extraneous Content
It is simple to assume that for your learners to meet the course outcomes, they must read and comprehend many things and complete a wide variety of assignments. When planning your learning activities, it’s crucial to keep in mind the limits of the brain and also that giving learners opportunities to practice applying content will be more successful than asking them to memorize and restate it. For courses with dense content, lean into your course outcomes to guide your editing process. Focusing on the objectives can help you remove extraneous readings and activities. This will allow your learners to concentrate on the key points. (Cowden & Sze, 2012)
For the items you choose to keep in your course, reviewing assignment instructions, and discussion prompts is helpful. Consider inviting a non-expert to read these items. An outside eye might help you to simplify what you are asking your learners to accomplish by calling to your attention any points of confusion. You may be tempted to add more detail, but try to figure out where you can remove text when possible. Why use a paragraph to explain something that only needs a few sentences? Simplifying your language can enable learners to get to the point faster. (For more on this, see the post by intern Aimee L. Lomeli Garcia about Improving Readability). When reviewing your instructions and prompts, think about what learners want to know:
· What should they pay attention to?
· Where do they start?
· What do they do next?
· What is expected?
· How are they being assessed/graded?
Utilize Best Practices for Formatting
Use native formatting tools like styles, headers, and lists to help visually break up content and make it more approachable. Here are some examples:
If I were to list my favorite animals here without a list, it would look like this: dogs, turtles, hummingbirds, frogs, elephants, and cheetahs.
Suppose I give you that same list using a header and number list format. In that case, it becomes much easier to digest mentally, and it looks nicer on the page:
Julie’s Favorite Animals
Provide High-Level Overviews
If an assignment does need a more thorough explanation, and your instructions are running long, you can always create a high-level overview, calling out the main points of the page. You could place this in a call-out box or its own section (preferably at the top). This is where learners can quickly look for reminders about what to do next and how to do it. Providing a high-level overview alongside detailed instructions will cater to a variety of learning preferences and help set up your learners for success.
Scaling up beyond single pages and assignments to module organization, consider the order you want learners to encounter ideas and accomplish tasks. Don’t be afraid to move pages around within your modules to help learners find the most efficient and helpful pathway through your material (Shift Elearning, n.d.).
Wrapping It Up
The culture of “more is better” is pervasive, and it’s almost always easier to add rather than to remove information. In online learning, when we buy into the “culture of more” we can impede the success of our learners. But more isn’t always better; sometimes more is just more. Instead, don’t be afraid to dust off that delete button and start reclaiming and reorganizing your course for ultimate learner success. Sometimes less is best. For more on the art of subtraction, see Elisabeth McBrien’s blog post from February of 2022.
Cowan, N. (2010). The magical mystery four. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 19(1), 51–57. https://doi.org/10.1177/0963721409359277
Cowden, P., & Sze, S. (2012). ONLINE LEARNING: THE CONCEPT OF LESS IS MORE. Allied Academies International Conference.Academy of Information and Management Sciences.Proceedings, 16(2), 1-6. https://oregonstate.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://www.proquest.com/scholarly-journals/online-learning-concept-less-is-more/docview/1272095325/se-2
Lomeli Garcia, A. L. (2023, January 17). Five Tips on Improving Readability in Your Courses. Ecampus Course Development and training. Retrieved April 4, 2023, from https://blogs.oregonstate.edu/inspire/2023/01/17/five-tips-on-improving-readability-in-your-courses/
McBrien, E. (2022, February 24). Course design challenge: Try subtraction. Ecampus Course Development and training. Retrieved April 4, 2023, from https://blogs.oregonstate.edu/inspire/2022/02/24/course-design-challenge-try-subtraction/
Parker, R. (2022, June 30). Why less is more for e-learning course materials. Synergy Learning. Retrieved April 4, 2023, from https://synergy-learning.com/blog/why-less-is-sometimes-more-when-it-comes-to-your-e-learning-course-materials/
Shift Elearning. (n.d.). The art of simplification in Elearning Design. The Art of Simplification in eLearning Design. Retrieved April 4, 2023, from https://www.shiftelearning.com/blog/the-art-of-simplification-in-elearning-design
Ecampus students have access to a number of online resources to support their academic success at OSU. Receiving guidance and feedback on their writing assignments can be helpful across courses, throughout their planning and revision process. In this post, we will share more information about the current writing resources available to students, no matter where they are located, along with resources for faculty.
OSU Writing Center
The OSU Writing Center supports any type of writing project, during any stage of the writing process. Instructors can share this resource with students, or even integrate the writing center’s support as a step to receive guidance and feedback from a consultant in coordination with a class assignment.
Online Writing Support (OWS)
According to the OWS website, both written feedback and virtual support (held over Zoom) are available to all OSU community members, including Ecampus students.
Any OSU community member can submit writing for written feedback or schedule a Zoom appointment. This includes students, faculty, staff, and alumni. However, graduate students working on dissertations, theses, IRB applications, grant applications, manuscripts, and other advanced graduate projects should connect with the Graduate Writing Center for support.
Students can choose one of the following appointment types when they submit their request online:
Consultation (50 minutes, Zoom)
Written Feedback (Replies are usually within 24 hours, Email)
The Writing Center’s website includes answers to common questions. Here are some of the responses to questions students might have about this resource:
How often can I use Online Writing Support?
You can request written feedback on up to three writing projects (or three drafts of the same project) per week. You can make Zoom appointments as often as you like. We welcome repeat writers as we enjoy being a part of your writing process. You cannot schedule an appointment more than two weeks in advance, but we invite you to work with us often.
What kind of writing can I submit for written feedback?
You can submit any kind of writing, as long as it doesn’t exceed 25 double-spaced pages (around 6,250 words). Ideally, for longer projects, you should be prepared to request several written feedback consultations, each focusing on a different section of the project.
How can I provide my instructor with confirmation that I used Online Writing Support?
All OWS consultations will receive an email confirmation after the appointment occurs or after the feedback has been sent to you—usually the next morning. If your instructor requests confirmation that you sought assistance from the OWS, you may forward or capture a screen shot of the confirmation email.
For more information about the type of support the Writing Center provides, please see their overview video below.
Academic Success Center – Writing Resources
Academic Success Workshop Series – Each term the ASC hosts a series of workshops on a variety of topics. Their remote series is available for online registration and hosted via Zoom.
For the Spring 2023 term, the workshop schedule is listed below and features a writing-focused workshop in Week 6.
The details of the workshop series, along with links to register, are available on the Remote Workshop Series website.
The Learning Corner – The learning corner provides a number of online tools, such as guides and fillable worksheets, to support students in reaching their academic goals.
Services & Programs – Supplemental Instruction (SI) is available for certain courses via Zoom, as well as academic coaching support.
A number of faculty support options are offered on the Faculty Resources page, including an optional Canvas module, PowerPoint slides, and a sample Syllabus statement. The Online Writing Support group and Academic Success Center partner with faculty to collaborate on assignments and course-specific tips for implementing writing support for their online students.
In the 1980s, The Walt Disney Company rebranded its Disney Parks engineers as “imagineers,” and I think “instructional imagineering” would be a great rebranding of instructional design (if not for the copyright issue) because I often feel that the work I do is closer to engineering than design. Instructional designers are problem-solvers, but the work we do is not just problem-solving. It’s creative problem-solving, with each new project having new and specific challenges that often need a little imagination to solve–and a little improvisation.
The history of the pedagogy of improvisation is traced back to the work of two women, Neva Boyd and Viola Spolin, working in Chicago in the 20s and 30s. Boyd was a sociologist doing social work with poor immigrant communities at Hull House. She published a theory of play based on her work, which highlighted the positive socialization skills learned by children during games, and theatre or storytelling games in particular. Spolin was a student of Boyd’s, and developed a full drama pedagogy inspired by Boyd’s theories for her own teaching practice. Spolin’s son, Paul Sills, grew up in this environment and was one of the founders of The Second City in 1959.
In 2015, Kelly Leonard and Tom Yorton from The Second City published Yes, And: How Improvisation Reverses “No, But” Thinking and Improves Creativity and Collaboration–Lessons from The Second City, which was when I first learned about the workplace applications of improvisational comedy. There are a lot of videos and articles out there that also demonstrate improvisational comedy gamers as teambuilding exercises, but what I liked about The Second City’s approach is that it’s not just about the games. In 2018, Kelly Leonard and Anne Libera gave a presentation at Recode’s Code Conference on how the principles of improv can help foster better communication in the workplace. The presentation is just under twenty minutes, but it’s filled with insights from the very start, one of my favorites being, “Improvisation is practice in being unpracticed, which is how we all walk through the world.”
Innovative business leaders desiring to tap into creativity have adopted the phrase “yes, and” mindset approach to teamwork and collaboration, but still face the challenge of how to implement and leverage improvisational thinking into everyday practice. Carrie Freeman, Co-CEO of SecondMuse, Forbes Councils Member, and the author of The Power Of A ‘Yes, And’ Mindset To Solve Complex Problems, puts it in these terms: “The ‘yes, and’ approach lets us tap into potential far beyond meeting the immediate needs of a problem.” She concludes that, “It is likely that in broadening our search for ‘yes, and’ solutions, we will discover synergies heretofore undiscovered.”
The course design process is a problem-solving process, and it is a process dependent upon conversations and dialogue between multiple parties. These conversations all offer opportunities to practice the improvisational mindset. The first conversation, between the instructional designer and course developer, is an opportunity to set the tone of the development process. It’s when I ask the most “yes, and” questions. Each successive response from either myself or the course developer offers an opportunity to either follow up or change direction. That conversation can also lead to conversations with the media teams, which are also opportunities to set the tone using “yes, and” mentality to further creativity and collaboration. Kelly Leonard, in the 2018 Recode presentation, states that “Improvisation is yoga for your social skills,” and like any yoga practice, it must be practiced. It’s a kind of mindfulness; a way of being in the moment, listening to the ideas of others, and creating a space for imagination and collaboration.
One final note is that, like improv, you never know who you will be working with on a given project. Some improv games are more fun than others. But leveraging the “yes, and” mindset depends upon not going into a situation with expectations, assumptions, or predictions, even when it might involve people you’ve worked with before. I’ve been watching Ryan Stiles and Colin Mochrie on “Whose Line Is It, Anyway?” for twenty years, and while they are consistently funny, there are some scenes that are more memorable than others (see: 15 Times Ryan AND Colin Owned “Whose Line Is It, Anyway?”). But what keeps me watching is that you never know what scene will end up as part of the next greatest clips compilation, because they never know what’s going to happen next either.
ChatGPT has been featured everywhere recently, with some educators being particularly worried because of its ability to craft essays, provide answers to quiz questions, and bypass plagiarism detection software. Teachers are trying to find ways to detect AI generated content, but are we being too hasty to associate AI in education with academic misconduct? Could the tool being used to cheat on courses actually help build them? I put this to the test by asking ChatGPT some questions.
Note: The purpose of this was to see how much of the course development process could be generated by the chatbot.
How to begin?
Let’s start at the beginning: how do we design a course? Well, keeping the process brief for this post, we want to start with some course learning outcomes, align them with some assessments, and generate some activities to help practice for those assessments. I have a background in linguistics and language education, so I wanted to see how this chatbot would respond to some prompts to create a generic English language course.
The following is the chat transcript from ChatGPT verbatim. Screenshots of the conversation are available below. Anything under the “ChatGPT” was written by the AI, with my comments in the “Comments” subsection under that.
Gathering the learning outcomes
Could you generate 4-5 course learning outcomes for an intermediate English as a second language course?
Students will be able to understand and use complex grammatical structures in spoken and written English, including verb tenses, modals, and conditional sentences.
Students will be able to participate in discussions and debates on a variety of topics, using appropriate vocabulary and idiomatic expressions.
Students will be able to read and comprehend authentic English texts, such as news articles, short stories, and literary works, and be able to analyze and interpret them.
Students will be able to write clear, well-organized, and grammatically correct essays, using appropriate transitional words and phrases to develop their ideas.
Students will be able to give presentations in English, using appropriate pronunciation, intonation, and stress to convey their message effectively.
These are standard course learning outcomes for an ESL course. As I simply asked for learning outcomes with no context, the chatbot has no idea how detailed they should be, or how long it will take to achieve these outcomes. Though that was tested in the next question.
Basic weekly topics
Using those outcomes, what would the topics for a 10-week course look like?
Week 1-2: Review of basic grammatical structures, introduction to verb tenses, including present perfect and past continuous.
Week 3-4: Introduction to modals, including can, could, may, might, must, should, and will. Practice using them in context.
Week 5-6: Conditional sentences, including zero, first, second, and third conditionals. Practice using them in context.
Week 7-8: Vocabulary building and idiomatic expressions. Practice using them in discussion and debates.
Week 9-10: Reading comprehension and analysis. Practice with a variety of texts and interpreting them.
Week 11-12: Writing skills, including clear organization, development of ideas and use of transitional words and phrases.
Week 13-14: Presentation skills, including pronunciation, intonation and stress.
Note: These topics might vary depending on the level of proficiency of the students in the class and the specific course design.
Interestingly here, the chatbot gave me 14 weeks of topics rather than the 10 I asked for. I believe this is because of the structure of my question, because this is fixed in a later question. This was the only glaring mistake during our entire “conversation”.
What kinds of assessments could be used for these outcomes and topics?
Grammar and vocabulary quizzes or tests to assess students’ understanding and mastery of grammatical structures, verb tenses, modals, and idiomatic expressions.
Oral presentations, debates, or discussions to assess students’ ability to participate in spoken interactions using appropriate vocabulary and idiomatic expressions.
Written assessments such as essays, short answer questions or summary writing to assess students’ ability to understand, analyze and interpret texts and convey their ideas in writing.
Reading comprehension quizzes or tests to assess students’ ability to understand and interpret authentic English texts.
Writing assessments such as essays, reports, or research papers to evaluate students’ ability to organize their thoughts, develop their ideas and use appropriate transitional words and phrases.
Oral presentations or speeches to assess students’ ability to convey information effectively using appropriate pronunciation, intonation, and stress.
Self-reflection or peer-evaluation could be used as well to evaluate students’ progress and areas of improvement.
A fairly wide range of skills being tested here – which is also down to my extremely generic requirement of ‘intermediate english language”. I thought the assessments here contained enough that someone designing a course could pick a few of them from each set provided.
Can you map the above assessments to the previously mentioned course learning outcomes? How would they align?
Sure, here’s how the assessments could align with the previously mentioned course learning outcomes:
1. Grammar and vocabulary quizzes or tests align with the outcome of being able to understand and use complex grammatical structures in spoken and written English, including verb tenses, modals, and conditional sentences.
2. Oral presentations, debates, or discussions align with the outcome of being able to participate in discussions and debates on a variety of topics, using appropriate vocabulary and idiomatic expressions.
3. Written assessments such as essays, short answer questions or summary writing align with the outcome of being able to read and comprehend authentic English texts, such as news articles, short stories, and literary works, and be able to analyze and interpret them, and also the outcome of being able to write clear, well-organized, and grammatically correct essays, using appropriate transitional words and phrases to develop their ideas.
4. Reading comprehension quizzes or tests align with the outcome of being able to read and comprehend authentic English texts, such as news articles, short stories, and literary works, and be able to analyze and interpret them.
5. Writing assessments such as essays, reports, or research papers align with the outcome of being able to write clear, well-organized, and grammatically correct essays, using appropriate transitional words and phrases to develop their ideas.
6. Oral presentations or speeches align with the outcome of being able to give presentations in English, using appropriate pronunciation, intonation, and stress to convey their message effectively.
7. Self-reflection or peer-evaluation align with the outcome of evaluating students’ progress and areas of improvement.
It’s important to note that the assessments should be designed to be both formative and summative, in order to provide ongoing feedback to the student and help them to track their progress and identify areas for improvement.
Alignment of assessments to outcomes is one of the most important parts of designing an online course. I was impressed with the combination of outcome to assessment as explaining why an assessment is being given to students is quite common.
How could multimedia help students?
Can you think of how multimedia could be used in this course to promote effective language learning?
There are several ways that multimedia could be used in an intermediate English as a second language course to promote effective language learning:
Video and audio recordings of native English speakers can be used to expose students to authentic English, including different accents and dialects. This will help students to improve their listening comprehension and pronunciation skills.
Interactive online exercises and activities, such as quizzes, games, and simulations can be used to provide students with opportunities to practice and reinforce their grammar, vocabulary, and idiomatic expressions in a fun and engaging way.
Online discussion boards, chat rooms, and virtual meetings can be used to provide students with opportunities to interact with their classmates and teachers in real-time, thus promoting their speaking and writing skills.
Online videos, documentaries, and TED talks can be used to expose students to a variety of interesting and engaging topics, and to provide students with opportunities to practice their listening comprehension and critical thinking skills.
Online flashcards, quizzes, and other tools can be used to help students to memorize and retain new vocabulary words, and to improve their spelling and word recognition skills.
Online or offline multimedia-based learning materials, such as interactive e-books, mobile apps, and podcasts, can be used as additional resources for students to explore and practice their language skills on their own time.
Online resources such as subtitles for films, TV shows or podcasts can be used to improve students’ listening comprehension, vocabulary and grammar skills.
Overall, multimedia can be a great tool to make language learning more interactive, engaging, and personalized, and can be used to support the traditional teaching methods and assessments.
The multimedia selection here is fairly common in ESL classrooms. Selecting a combination of these would enhance the learning experience. It is also helpful that an explanation of purpose is given for each item on the list.
Diversity and inclusion
Students on this course will be from diverse backgrounds and cultures. Can you anticipate any topics that would best be avoided?
When teaching students from diverse backgrounds and cultures, it’s important to be sensitive to cultural differences and to avoid topics that may be offensive or controversial. Some potential topics that might be best avoided in an intermediate English as a second language course include:
Religion: It’s best to avoid discussing religious beliefs, practices, or controversies, as they can be deeply personal and may offend some students or create unnecessary tension among the class.
Politics: Avoid discussing or debating controversial political issues, as they may be divisive and could create tension among the class.
Cultural stereotypes: Avoid making generalizations or negative comments about any particular culture or group of people, as this can be offensive and perpetuate stereotypes.
Racism and discrimination: Avoid discussing these topics in a way that might make any student feel targeted, uncomfortable or offended.
History: Some historical events can be sensitive and can cause discomfort to some students. It is important to be aware of different perspectives and be sensitive.
It is important to remember that every student is unique and has their own personal experiences and perspectives, and topics that may be acceptable for one student may not be for another. It’s best to use common sense, and if you are unsure, it’s always good to ask your students if they are comfortable discussing a particular topic.
It’s also important to create a safe and inclusive environment, where all students feel respected and valued, and where they can express themselves freely without fear of judgement or discrimination.
I included this question because of the importance of diversity and inclusion in the classroom, and with an ESL course in particular, students will be from diverse backgrounds. It was good to see that the chatbot could provide not only a list of topics to answer my question but also to give additional advice on the learning environment.
Converting this into an online course
How could everything mentioned so far be developed as an online, asynchronous course? Student interaction might be limited to discussion boards as they are likely to be in other countries with different time zones.
An intermediate English as a second language course can be developed as an online, asynchronous course by using a variety of tools and resources to create a self-paced and interactive learning experience. Some potential strategies include:
Use a Learning Management System (LMS) such as Canvas, Blackboard, or Moodle to create a centralized location for all course materials, assignments, and communication. This will provide students with easy access to all the resources they need to complete the course. Use video and audio recordings, as well as interactive online exercises and activities to provide students with opportunities to practice and reinforce their grammar, vocabulary, and idiomatic expressions in a fun and engaging way.
Use discussion boards, chat rooms, and virtual meetings to provide students with opportunities to interact with their classmates and teachers in real-time, thus promoting their speaking and writing skills. These tools can also be used to create a sense of community among the students, despite their geographic distance and time zones.
Create and provide online multimedia-based learning materials, such as interactive e-books, mobile apps, and podcasts, as additional resources for students to explore and practice their language skills on their own time.
Use online quizzes, tests and assessments to evaluate student’s understanding, and use the results to provide them with feedback and guidance on areas where they need to improve.
Use Self-reflection or peer-evaluation to evaluate students’ progress, and areas of improvement.
Provide detailed and clear instructions for all assignments, activities, and assessments, and make sure that the deadlines are flexible enough to accommodate students in different time zones.
Encourage students to take an active role in their own learning by regularly checking in with them, providing them with feedback, and giving them opportunities to reflect on their progress and set goals for themselves.
Overall, an online, asynchronous course can be designed to be flexible, interactive, and engaging, and can provide students with opportunities to learn and practice their language skills at their own pace and on their own schedule.
I work in the field of online and hybrid learning, and often adapt existing in-person courses to online versions. I wanted to see if the chatbot could also do this, given that all of the previous answers were based on the assumption of an in-person class. This was not the fault of the ChatGPT – I never specified whether I wanted it to be an online-specific course. An important lesson here is that imprecise input will not result in precise output (see: GIGO for more information, or this article on tailoring your prompts for ChatGPT).
Still, given the updated prompt, it was able to provide both synchronous and asynchronous activities to accommodate for differences in time zones and locations.
Asking directly for an opinion
Can you think of anything else that might be important to consider when building this course?
Here are a few additional things that might be important to consider when building an intermediate English as a second language course:
Assessing students’ prior knowledge and language proficiency: It’s important to assess students’ prior knowledge and language proficiency before the course begins, in order to tailor the course content to their needs and to ensure that they are placed in the appropriate level.
Differentiating instruction: Since students in an intermediate English as a second language course will have varying levels of proficiency, it’s important to differentiate instruction and provide multiple means of representation, expression, and engagement to meet the needs of all students.
Scaffolding and modeling: Provide students with the necessary support, guidance and modeling to complete the activities and assignments.
Provide opportunities for students to practice and apply their language skills in authentic and meaningful contexts.
Encourage students to use English as much as possible: Encourage students to use English as much as possible, both inside and outside of class, by providing them with opportunities to interact with native speakers, read authentic English texts, and listen to English-language music and podcasts.
Use technology to enhance language learning: Use technology to enhance language learning by providing students with access to online resources, such as grammar exercises, vocabulary lists, and pronunciation guides.
Provide regular and constructive feedback: Provide regular and constructive feedback on students’ progress and areas for improvement. This can be done through formative assessments, individual conferences, or through online tools such as rubrics and self-reflection.
Be flexible and responsive: Be flexible and responsive to students’ needs and be open to suggestions and feedback to improve the course.
Cultural sensitivity: Be culturally sensitive, and be aware of the cultural backgrounds of the students and make sure that the course content is inclusive and respectful of different cultures.
Keep in mind that the course is not just about language, but also about culture. Provide students with opportunities to learn about the cultures of English-speaking countries in order to help them to understand and appreciate the language and its context better.
For this question, I wanted to see if the chatbot could provide additional considerations for teaching and learning. These are all great suggestions, which is probably why the AI selected them – they likely appear in many examples of educational content that it had been trained on.
Rewriting course learning outcomes to be more measurable
Can you take the aforementioned course learning outcomes and rewrite them with strong, measurable verbs? For example, “understand” is not easy to measure.
Sure, here are the course learning outcomes rephrased with strong, measurable verbs:
Students will be able to identify and use complex grammatical structures in spoken and written English, including verb tenses, modals, and conditional sentences with 80% accuracy on grammar quizzes and tests.
Students will be able to initiate and participate in discussions and debates on a variety of topics, using appropriate vocabulary and idiomatic expressions with 70% accuracy on oral presentations, debates, or discussions.
Students will be able to read and comprehend authentic English texts, such as news articles, short stories, and literary works, and analyze and interpret them with 80% accuracy on reading comprehension quizzes or tests.
Students will be able to write clear, well-organized, and grammatically correct essays, using appropriate transitional words and phrases to develop their ideas with 80% accuracy on writing assessments such as essays, reports, or research papers.
Students will be able to give presentations in English, using appropriate pronunciation, intonation, and stress to convey their message effectively with 80% accuracy on oral presentations or speeches.
These objectives are now specific, measurable and have a clear criteria of success. They are also aligned with the assessments and activities that you have previously mentioned.
I conducted an experiment which mimics the process that instructional designers routinely encounter when designing online courses. There are often a set of learning outcomes given at the start of the development process which regularly use verbs that are heard to measure such as “understand” or “know”. This makes it difficult to align assessments to outcomes because what does it really mean to “understand” something? How can we apply a rubric or grade to it?
Note that, in a real development beginning from scratch, we would want to design the course learning outcomes to be measurable from the start before anything else. In practice, however, I usually work with faculty on courses with predetermined outcomes that are either modified to more measurable ones, or linked to more measurable weekly learning outcomes.
ChatGPT modified the one verb I called out – “understand” – but left “comprehend”. Perhaps this also required a specific mention in the initial question, and is another example of how your initial prompt influences the results.
Creating a weekly schedule
Can you make a weekly schedule, from week 1 to week 10, with an overview of activities for that particular week, incorporating the aforementioned assessments where appropriate and aligning all of it with the course learning outcomes?
Sure, here’s a possible weekly schedule for an intermediate English as a second language course:
Overview of the course and introduction to the course learning outcomes
Assessment of students’ prior knowledge and language proficiency
Introduction to verb tenses, including present perfect and past continuous
Interactive online exercises and activities to practice verb tenses
Vocabulary building and idiomatic expressions
Review and reinforcement of verb tenses
Quiz or test on verb tenses
Introduction to modals, including can, could, may, might, must, should, and will
Practice using modals in context
Review and reinforcement of modals
Quiz or test on modals
Introduction to conditional sentences, including zero, first, second, and third conditionals
Practice using conditional sentences in context
Review and reinforcement of conditional sentences
Quiz or test on conditional sentences
Vocabulary building and idiomatic expressions
Practice using vocabulary and idiomatic expressions in discussions and debates
Reading comprehension and analysis
Practice with a variety of texts and interpreting them
Writing skills, including clear organization, development of ideas and use of transitional words and phrases
Review and reinforcement of writing skills
Writing assessment such as essays, reports, or research papers
Presentation skills, including pronunciation, intonation and stress
Review and reinforcement of presentation skills
Practice oral presentations or speeches
Self-reflection or peer-evaluation
Vocabulary building and idiomatic expressions
Reading comprehension and analysis
Practice with a variety of texts and interpreting them
Writing skills, including clear organization, development of ideas and use of transitional words and phrases
Review and reinforcement of all language skills
Final assessment, which can include a combination of quizzes, tests, essays, oral presentations, or other forms of assessment.
Feedback on final assessment
Review of key concepts and skills
Feedback on the course, and suggestions for improvement
Final self-reflection or peer-evaluation
Note: This is just a sample schedule, and it can be adjusted depending on the specific needs of the students and the course design. Also, it’s important to remember that the assessments should be designed to be both formative and summative, in order to provide ongoing feedback to the student and help them to track their progress and identify areas for improvement.
The language I used in this question yielded the correct number of weeks from the AI. Each week is structured to include a review of the previous week’s content, which is a common teaching technique. This is asking a lot from the chatbot! It managed to incorporate most of my requests though, which again is impressive.
What measures could be taken to ensure academic integrity in the online version of this course?
Academic integrity is a critical aspect of any course, and it’s important to take measures to ensure that students are completing their work independently and honestly. Here are a few measures that could be taken to ensure academic integrity in an online version of an intermediate English as a second language course:
Use plagiarism detection software: Use plagiarism detection software, such as Turnitin, to check students’ work for originality. This will help to detect instances of plagiarism and ensure that students are completing their own work.
Provide clear guidelines on academic integrity: Provide students with clear guidelines on academic integrity, including definitions of plagiarism, cheating, and academic dishonesty.
Monitor online activities: Monitor online activities, such as discussion board posts, chat room conversations, and virtual meetings, to ensure that students are participating in the course honestly and independently.
Use proctoring software: Use proctoring software, such as ProctorU or Respondus Monitor, to monitor students while they take online quizzes, tests, or exams.
Use randomized questions: Use randomized questions, or different versions of the same test to prevent students from sharing answers with each other.
Encourage self-regulation: Encourage self-regulation, and make it clear that the students are responsible for maintaining academic integrity in their work.
Create a culture of integrity: Create a culture of integrity in the class, by emphasizing the importance of honesty, trust, and responsibility.
Have clear consequences: Have clear consequences for academic dishonesty, and communicate them to the students.
Overall, it’s important to establish clear expectations for academic integrity and
ChatGPT froze here, the servers were experiencing high volumes of traffic.
Again, these are solid solutions which are used in both in-person and online courses. A quick web search would yield similar results as these are shared across most educational institutions.
Thoughts on further usage
It is clear that AI is set to change the way we interact with technology in education (or already has depending on how much you are using it). For this test, I simply provided the most generic input to see what the chatbot would generate. For an intermediate (however that was interpreted by the chatbot) ESL course, the learning outcomes were solid, once measurable outcomes were requested, and I was impressed by the generated weekly schedule including high level overviews of activities and assessments.
With more precise input requirements for course content and outcomes, one would expect an even more accurate output.
There are many ways that this kind of technology can be used to enhance courses – and I can see it being a very useful tool for quick questions such as potential assignments for certain learning outcomes, or figuring out if an assignment prompt might result in unintended consequences. For example, see the following:
What could go wrong?
Can you think of any potential negative consequences of using the following prompt in a classroom?
“Make a presentation on current events in your country.”
There are several potential negative consequences of using the prompt “Make a presentation on current events in your country” in a classroom setting:
Bias: Students may only focus on certain events or perspectives, leading to a biased understanding of current events.
Limited perspective: Students may only present events happening in their immediate community, leading to a limited perspective on current events in the country as a whole.
Inappropriate content: Students may present on sensitive or controversial topics that may be inappropriate for a classroom setting.
Lack of critical thinking: By only presenting current events, students may not develop the critical thinking skills needed to analyze and understand the underlying causes and consequences of the events.
Limited access to information: Some students may not have access to current events information, especially if they come from low-income or marginalized communities.
It’s important to consider these potential negative consequences and take steps to mitigate them, such as providing guidance on how to present information in a balanced and fair manner and encouraging critical thinking and analysis of current events.
Watching for potential bias
During my “conversation” with the bot, I was impressed with the response to the diversity and inclusion question I posed. The points it presented were, like most answers in this experiment, fairly common and expected responses for such a course (‘don’t talk about politics, religion, etc. etc.’). A phrase that kept cropping up is ‘it is important to…’ followed by a value statement. Those presented in this conversation were benign, and actually good advice from an educational standpoint (e.g. every student is unique, you should create a safe learning environment, and so on). It seems a lot of work has been done to minimize bias – responses from the bot on many issues have disclaimers and things that are ‘important to remember’. It is also, however, important to remember that biases can creep in and to keep an eye out for it, especially when taking advice from AI.
Obviously the chatbot is pulling this information from somewhere (more info on this is contained on the Wikipedia page for ChatGPT), and even though it is generative AI, one has to wonder how much this will be an issue in the future if content is too similar to an existing program or course – not to mention all other subjects it is capable of generating.