Melissa Koenig

The Extra Credit Game

A couple of years ago Sarah Brown wrote about gamification strategies and the new wave of activity trackers—many of which have game theory elements built into them, e.g. leaderboards, badges, levels, etc.—and how these elements helped her re-imagine how she approached running.

While there is much talk about how adding these types of elements into classes may help to engage our students, the question, at least in my mind, is how much of this do we really want to add to our classes? Does everything have to be a game? At what point are we dumbing down the educational delivery method in order to make it more fun? And if we do this what message are we sending our students? If it isn’t fun, is it not worth doing?

I think these are large philosophical questions that bare a closer look, at some point, but, even given these questions, I do think there are ways to make parts of our classes more fun. At the D2L Fusion Conference (June 2015) in Orlando I was able to sit in on a session conducted by Vincent King-Spezzo, an instructional designer at Valdosta State University, about gamification. What was interesting about his presentation was the way he implemented game theory in his class. It wasn’t used for learning the “meat” of his course, but as a way for students to earn extra credit points. Continue reading

Sharon Guan

Learning by Messaging: Social media apps and the classroom

On the first day of class, I asked my students, “How many of you have a smart phone?”

Everyone raised their hands.

“Great!” I said. “Take them out—if they aren’t already—because you will do a lot of messaging in this class. Go to and download the app to your phone.”

After the students created their accounts, I gave them my phone to scan the bar code for the class group I created within the app.

Within 15 minutes, all fifteen of them were in the Chinese 104-101 WeChat group. After the setup, I began explaining what WeChat is, and how I’ve used it in previous classes.

WeChat is a mobile messaging app developed by a Chinese company called Tencent Inc. According to DMR, as of Aug 22, 2015, there are 800 million active users. It’s user-ship has surpassed Twitter and continues to grow rapidly and globally. It is threatening the global social media market and has been referred to as the potential “Facebook killer”.

In my Chinese language class, I use WeChat to serve the following purposes: Continue reading

Ashanti Morgan

Making Online Content More Accessible: Simple Techniques to Support All Learners Online

With the growing demand for blended and online content, it’s easy to get overwhelmed with considerations such as what type of content to include, identifying new websites or technical applications to introduce, and ensuring that the course design meets the needs of all learners.

The sheer nature of working at a distance increases the need to create opportunities for learner engagement and decrease ambiguity in communicating information. Thankfully, there are a number of different solutions that incorporate audio and/or video components that assist with humanizing the look and feel of your course. Introducing this type of media into course design means ensuring that all learners are able to access auditory resources.

One of the advantages of taking a blended or online course, especially for learners with specific needs, is the infinite number of times you can playback or review a concept until it’s mastered. For learners with special needs, diverse and/or preferred learning styles, English language learners (ELL), or English as a second language (ESL) students, incorporating transcripts, subtitles, closed captioning, etc. to audio and/or visual content in a course is invaluable. Faculty have also found that learners without special needs find having these resources embedded in the course a bonus. Continue reading

Sarah Brown

Web design is…dead? Maybe it’s just resting its eyes?

Web design is dead,” declareth Sergio Nouvel of UX Magazine. I’ll admit that this clickbait headline drew me in—if web design is dead, what about instructional design? But, as expected, the “big reveal” of the article wasn’t anything earth shattering: web design may have met its demise, but from its dead cocoon husk emerges a new field, experience design. And in my view, experience design = instructional design for non-teachers, so this is good news to me.

While the grand finale of this article may not seem like much more than a semantic differentiation, I appreciated Nouvel’s thoughtful description of the trajectory web design has taken in the past few years, especially now that we carry computers in our pockets and wear them on our wrists. Users still access websites through their full computer-based browsers, but that’s rapidly shifting, so much so that the venerable New York Times forced its staff to use only their mobile site for a week to emphasize the importance of mobile.

More importantly, Nouvel’s description of the transition from a focus on “the design of individual web pages” to the “design of an ecosystem with a focus on user experience” mirrors what I’ve seen in my job as an instructional designer. Establishing a quality template for content—one that is readable, easy to edit, and designed to look like a high-quality website—takes time. I’ve worked in my college for a few years now, and it’s only in the past 6-8 months that I’ve had a consistent starting point that has worked for most faculty and that’s flexible enough for customization. Continue reading

Jan Costenbader

Digital Whiteboards: Choosing the one that’s right for you

I currently teach online and hybrid Mathematics courses in the College of Science and Health. My courses are computationally intensive and often require the professor to write equations or diagrams on a white board. This presents a particular challenge when creating screencasts for online delivery, which requires a combination of hardware and software. I will focus primarily on the hardware for this post, the software is worthy of another complete discussion.


Before going on to the hardware, I should mention some of the software tools. First you need a screen capture software to record the screen and audio. Free screen capture software includes Jing and Screencast-O-matic. The most robust, paid versions include Camtasia Studio for Mac and PC (also from Techsmith) and ScreenFlow on the Mac. (I use ScreenFlow.) Next, depending on the hardware solution chosen, you will need a drawing tool. A great freeware app is Open-Sankoré for Mac/PC/Linux. (Note that the latest version of Open-Sankoré does not work with Mac OX Yosemite. OpenBoard is a workable alternative.) Khan Academy is well known for their engaging videos (PC only) which works with SmoothDraw. On the Mac side, there are a couple of candidates. I use Deskscribble and FlySketch. Of course, there are some hardware alternatives which are included below. Continue reading

Daniel Stanford

Four Ways to Improve Online Lectures

I recently signed up for a subscription to News In Slow French, a weekly news program for French students. Each episode features two announcers who discuss current events at a slow pace, making it easier for non-native speakers to understand. I’ve listened to several hours of old episodes over the last few weeks and there are several things I like about the way the lessons are designed. Here are four practices I’ve observed that I believe have relevance for anyone producing online lectures.

1. Provide Interactive, Just-in-Time Remediation

News in Slow French does a great job providing supplemental information for terms that might be unfamiliar. (See the screenshot of an interactive transcript shown below.) This strategy can be replicated in a variety of formats by linking unfamiliar terms and concepts to supplemental readings and/or videos.

Interactive Transcript Screenshot

Click to view the full resolution image

Continue reading

Alex Joppie

Building an Airplane While You’re Flying It: Why You Shouldn’t Build Your Online Class on the Fly

Hofstadter’s Law: It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter’s Law.

In Faculty Instructional Technology Services, we’ve established a recommended timeline of two academic quarters to develop an online or hybrid course, assuming the instructor has a normal course load over that time frame. That’s twenty weeks, give or take. In this time frame, we can help instructors in planning, development, and quality assurance in creating a professional online or hybrid course.

With less time, we can do less.

This quarter, most of our consultants are working on at least a couple build-as-you-go courses, where instructors are still developing course materials while the course is running. I understand why this happens, particularly in the Spring quarter. Instructors are busy people, and it’s hard to find the time to prep for the upcoming quarter, particularly when there are so few breaks in the academic calendar. It also might be a shock to be asked to spend so much time preparing a course they’ve been teaching face-to-face for years and are not accustomed to needing to do a lot of preparation for each offering.

I’ve never seen a course simply not run because the online materials weren’t ready. The course always gets done in the end, because it has to. But that’s not to say that building a course while it’s running isn’t without consequences. Continue reading

Sharon Guan

Why Do We Educate?

June 8, 2015 is a special day for high school graduates in China. It is the day to witness 10 million students enter college exam sites to try and earn themselves admission into colleges. Students are told that every point they earn on this exam will significantly impact the rest of their lives because whether or not they can make it to a college and what college they get into will define who they will become.

While I still get butterflies in my stomach when I think about my college exam day, I couldn’t find a word to describe how I felt when I saw the picture of the book-tearing event that occurred a day prior to this year’s national college exam day. The picture below is a scene at a Henan Province high school prior to the exam day. Students tore their textbooks, study notes, learning materials into pieces and tossed them in the air like party confetti!

book tearing event

I have heard about students burning their books to mark the end of a painful era of studying, but never as massive and violent as this! In a country where education is seen as the means for everything, what causes this hostile attitude towards the carrier of knowledge and symbol for learning?

If every rebellion has its roots in oppression, maybe the following images can offer us some explanation of the cause.

Continue reading

Ashanti Morgan

ADDIE vs. AGILE Model: An Instructional Designer’s Perspective

As an instructional designer over the last decade, I’ve come across a number of methods that have been introduced to enhance the design process. From understanding by design (UBD) to rapid prototyping, each approach brings about a fresh perspective that designers are charged with considering as techniques to utilize as he or she hits the “refresh” button.

I, like most designers that have been doing this work for a while, have a foundation in the ADDIE model – a methodology that was first developed in the 1970s for the U.S. Army by Florida State University.  Its focus is based upon a 5-phase approach to design: Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, and Evaluation. For more information on the ADDIE model, check out an ADDIE infographic detailing the nuances of each phase.

A methodology that’s gaining traction with instructional designers across industries – and for good reason – is the AGILE instructional design process. The AGILE method is a project-oriented approach introduced by Conrad Gottfredson, a performance-support practitioner. It encompasses the five stages involved when designing eLearning experiences: Align, Get set, Iterate and implement, Leverage and Evaluate (Pappas, C. “The Power Of AGILE Instructional Design Approach…”).

In the table below, note the similarities and distinctions of the ADDIE and AGILE approaches to design.

Continue reading

Josh Lund

Teaching Online…For Real This Time

Online and hybrid learning are so commonplace nowadays that many students have experience with them even before they leave K-12.  However, with the increasing ubiquity of this mode of instruction, there are certain challenges that we encounter along the road to “teaching a good class.”  Looking back to the beginnings of online teaching and learning, the greatest fear many faculty had, and some still do, was that it would be flat, not engaging for students, and that students would lose all sense of a faculty member even teaching the course.  Since that time, we have come a long way in trying to allay faculty and student fears that an online course will have less quality and be a “gimme” course and will be much easier than a face-to-face course would be.  (Well, that last one is an idea we are still trying to discourage.)  A brief look at the distance education/online courses of years past will show how we’ve attempted to alleviate the  concerns of student engagement and reveal that it’s still a hidden issue that could use some work.

The earliest kind of distance education courses were correspondence courses.  Students would get a book to read and a series of tests to take at a testing location. Tests were mailed in and scored, and afterwards a certificate was supplied to the school for the academic credential.  I took one of these courses in high school, and I was the teacher and the student, and because I only read the book to prepare for the tests, I can honestly say I learned little or nothing. Continue reading