All posts by Elisabeth Ramos-Torrescano

Elisabeth Ramos-Torrescano

About Elisabeth Ramos-Torrescano

Lisa wears two hats at DePaul. She is the Assistant Director of Information Technology and Program Development for the School of Nursing, and a Senior Instructional Designer for Department of Health Sciences and the Master’s of Public Health. She has fifteen years of experience working in educational, non-profit, internet start-ups, and publishing organizations in positions that leverage her background in user experience, instructional design, and leadership. Lisa earned her B.A in American Studies from Northwestern University, and a M.B.A with a concentration in Health Sector Management from DePaul University’s Kellstadt Graduate School of Business. Lisa is in the throes of raising 3 teenage boys, but she makes time to ride her bike, try out new recipes weekly, garden, travel, and attend cultural events around the city.

Elisabeth Ramos-Torrescano

Provide Easy Access to Academic Support with Widgets

I dropped my oldest son off at college in August. Man, that was a tough goodbye. So many unknowns and questions, like, will he survive? Of course he will. However, one area that I probably overcompensated for in high school was reminding him (fairly often) to talk to his teachers, go to the writing and math centers—basically utilize all the academic resources possible. Did he? Not really, unless he was desperately trying to climb out of a hole.

So, would this continue in college? It couldn’t. If it did—well, he might end up back at home.

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Elisabeth Ramos-Torrescano

Instructional Designers as (Secret) Change Agents

Street signs decide on same old way or change choose new path and directionDo instructional designers secretly serve as change agents in higher education institutions? Change is a faint tremor that rarely erupts to alter the academic structure cemented in tradition and intricate policies.  However, instructional designers have a unique role that gives them access to the three primary stakeholders at a university:  faculty, administration, and students. Acting in a supportive, non-threatening role, instructional designers have the opportunity to create change without having to move the weighty levers of the academic machine. Taking a look at the five characteristics of change agents identified by George Couros, author of Innovative Mindset, provides a better understanding of why instructional designers may be the secret change agents in higher education institutions.

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Elisabeth Ramos-Torrescano

A “Wicked Difficult” Challenge: Managing the Obsolescence of Human Knowledge

The New Media Consortium recently released the 2017 Horizon Report. First launched in 2003, the annual report taps into a panel of higher education experts to identify emerging technologies and trends that will impact the industry near term (one year), mid-term (three to five years), and long term (over five years). In addition, the Report identifies six major challenges to the implementation or adoption of education technology. The first two were deemed “wicked difficult” challenges.

Oh my! What could these be? The first is managing the obsolescence of human knowledge and the second is the changing role of the educator. Let’s leave the second on the table for now, and just deal with the thorny first wicked challenge.

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Elisabeth Ramos-Torrescano

Give the People What They Want

Drew Lapp, a product/interface designer and user experience researcher, wrote a blog post that resonated with me, “Design and the Art of Listening.” Over the years, with more design experience, gained trust by faculty, and a desire to move beyond a task list, I listen more. Listening closely and actively to faculty, students, and administrators have enabled me to propose ideas that put me in the position of a co-collaborator. By listening, I am able to empathize and offer an idea for a solution that is relevant and (hopefully) addresses the root of the issue. It’s amazing how much information can come from individual meetings with faculty, hallway comments by students, and discussions in department-wide meetings, just by listening. As I move amongst these user groups, I start to hear common complaints, challenges, and gripes…a designer’s dream! I get fired up to find that solution, but not so fast. As Lapp says, “…much of the time people aren’t able to tell you what they want right away. Sometimes it takes a while to get the answer; sometimes they aren’t able to articulate it themselves. So how do you figure this out? You listen and you listen some more.” Exactly. Back to listening, but now I can ask more intelligent and refined questions that start to get to the heart of the complaint or issue, so that eventually I can, as Lapp so eloquently says “give the people what they want.” Isn’t this the designer’s ultimate goal?

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Elisabeth Ramos-Torrescano

Tipping the Balance Towards Scalability

I attended the Council on Global Affairs’ International Women’s Day Global Health Symposium. The focus of the day was on the health of the next generation for women and girls locally, nationally, and internationally. The keynote panel focused on new initiatives and challenges with implementation. Rebecca Winthrop, the Director for the Center of Universal Learning at the Brookings Institute, talked about the science of scalability and her project, Millions Learning, which “…explores specifically not just how to improve learning, but how to do so in a way that can be efficiently and effectively implemented at a large scale.” Her comments really resonated with me. Specifically, she emphasized that successfully scaling up means releasing the idea of having a “gold plated” model that can be replicated with fidelity. That model is too complex and requires finesse specific to a particular author. When scaling up, sustainability is the goal. To achieve this, the cookie cutter model will not work. Rather, it is best to identify the core “ingredients” and aim to replicate those and then allow the user to adapt to their particular context. This creates a partnership that allows the program to maintain its essential attributes, but allows the user to “make it into their own” and have some ownership. Continue reading

Elisabeth Ramos-Torrescano

Can Project Management Achieve a Zen-like State?

“Huh?” you ask?  The typical project management state of mind is angst-ridden and chaotic.  There are too many projects with too many tasks and too many people to manage.  Then there is the inventory and handling of the content in order to check-off completed tasks to complete the projects.  And so it goes, until the mind becomes a tangled mess that brings on the dire need for a cup of coffee and a candy bar.

Three weeks before the beginning of a new quarter became the trigger point for inducing this project management panicked state of mind.  The bits of content and emails started rolling in which prompted growing task lists, phone calls, and meetings with my production assistant.  We couldn’t seem to get the information contained in any organized way where we felt in control.  We also found that in this morass of information, we were making mistakes.

Then along came Asana.   Asana is a cloud-based project management tool whose tag line is “Teamwork without email. Asana puts conversations and tasks together so you can get more done with less effort.”  YES!  Continue reading

Elisabeth Ramos-Torrescano

Cloning the Research Librarian and Other Solutions

Problem: Student–to–Research Librarian Instructor ratio is 60:1.

Solution: A collaborative effort between the faculty, research librarian, and instructional designer to design and embed online tutorials in the learning management system, Desire2Learn (D2L)…quickly.

It is mid-October and the January 2nd winter quarter start date is fast approaching. Nursing 400: Theories of Nursing will be offered as a hybrid for the first time. The instructional designer and faculty have been working feverishly to produce narrated PowerPoint lectures, embed video clips, write content and assignment instructions, develop rubrics and engaging discussion prompts, and integrate images and graphics. The course hinges on a multistep research-project assignment and the librarian instructional time is vital for students to have a successful course experience.

How will the students become familiar with the massive amount of library resources available to them vital to their research-project assignment? The research librarian usually conducts face-to-face instructional sessions on information literacy (IL) and useful library resources. However, the number of students in the winter cohort is much larger. He figures he needs two to three clones of himself to conduct all the scheduled face-to-face sessions plus advise students and tend to faculty research requests.

In comes the instructional designer. What about embedding online tutorials right into the course so that you can focus on advising students and handling special requests? Ding-ding-ding! Of course, the research librarians have already thought of this. They created a YouTube channel with tutorials about general library resources; but for this course, tutorials are needed that specifically address the research needs of nurses. The librarian, instructional designer, and faculty decide on four topics crucial to nursing students who are at this stage in their study and research novices. After input from the librarian and faculty, we get to work on the scripts and create the accompanying PowerPoint slides. The British accent of the research librarian coupled with his witty humor creates an entertaining and authoritative sounding product.

Now where to place these tutorials? We decide to create a “widget” in D2L that resides on the course home page so that students see it every time they log in and it’s quickly accessible. The faculty clearly directs students within the introductory course announcements to the tutorials that also include a short video introducing the research librarian and providing his contact information. Mid-course, we nervously solicit feedback from students via an embedded survey within the course.

Select Survey Results

6 question survey; n=20

Question 2: Did you feel successful when researching your topic after viewing the tutorials?





Not sure


Question 3: Given the option, would you have preferred online tutorials, in-person library instruction session, or both?

Online Tutorials


In-person Instruction




Open-ended Question: Would you change anything in the online tutorials? 

No, I thought the tutorial was very self-explanatory and covered all the necessary topics to adequately navigate through the DePaul library resources.

I think that everything was well covered

No, I thought it was enough to get me started, navigating things like this usually requires me to play around in it.

I thought it was very thorough. I like how it was broken up so that if we forgot something, we could go back and rewatch a section without having to rewatch the whole thing.

No, I think it would be beneficial to have the tutorials as an overview for an in-person tutorial.


In conclusion, it is helpful to look at a more comprehensive study of student content retention and the effectiveness of online tutorials versus face-to-face instruction.

Alison Brettle and Michael Raynor published a paper in Nurse Education Today titled “Developing information literacy skills in pre-registration nurses: An experimental study of teaching methods” (2012) which looked at the question of whether an “online tutorial was as good as face-to-face training for teaching IL [information literacy] skills to students nurses.” (p.2) The study of seventy-seven students added evidence to the previous claim by Carlock and Anderson (2007) that suggests online tutorials and face-to-face instruction of IL and research skills are equally effective methods.

The small student sample from NSG 400 seems to validate these findings.

We will continue to iterate the online tutorials based on student feedback and performance. It is also important to listen to that 5% who do not find the tutorials equally as helpful as face-to-face instruction; where are the gaps? We will look for solutions that capitalize on the scalability of online tutorials while integrating the irreplaceable value of face-to-face instruction. We can’t clone the research librarian, but we will continue to seek other solutions.


Brettle, A., Raynor, M. Developing information literacy skills in pre-registration nurses: An experimental study of teaching methods, Nurse Edc. Today (2012), doi: 10.1016/j.nedt.2011.12.003

Elisabeth Ramos-Torrescano

Instructors as User-Experience Designers

In April, Dr. Constance Stanley of the University of Colorado gave a day-long workshop titled “50 Ways to Teach with Impact” to the Chicago Area Faculty Development Network. To my surprise, the workshop presented techniques grounded in user-centered-design best practices. The workshop was geared toward instructors teaching in a face-to-face classroom; however, many of the strategies could easily be transferred to an online class. As a former user-experience analyst and current instructional designer, I found the bent of the workshop to be a welcome integration of these two disciplines.

Whitney Hess wrote the blog post “Guiding Principles for UX Designers” for UX Magazine that went gangbusters in the Twitterverse. Her guiding principles correlate nicely with Dr. Stanley’s “50 Ways to Teach with Impact.” Let’s take a look.

Guiding Principles for UX Designers

50 Ways to Teach with Impact

Understand the underlying problem before attempting to solve it

Pre and post interviews

Make things simple and intuitive

Metacognitive activities throughout course

Acknowledge that the user is not like you

Administer VARK learning-style preference

Have empathy

Realize that the student is bombarded with information and pressure to multitask

By taking the student perspective and needs into consideration, the instructor becomes a user-experience designer of the classroom environment. Dr. Stanley provides numerous techniques that emphasize engaging the student at multiple levels so as to “hook” each student. This is similar to the best designs, which allow users easy and seamless access to a service or product.

Details on Dr. Stanley’s strategies:

Pre and post interviews: To get a feel for the prior knowledge and assumptions of the students, instructors require that students take an online survey with questions about the content at the beginning of the course. With the results, the instructor now “understands the problem.” Tweaking the content and its delivery to make it accessible and engaging for a particular class of students is “attempting to solve the problem.” The post interview gives the student a sense of “where they have come” and gives the instructor valuable feedback on their content-delivery choices or user-experience design.

Metacognitive Activities: Dr. Stanley stated that, “these activities ask the learner to observe ‘the way things are’ versus ‘the way I make them as a learner.’” In other words, students are put into situations that ask them to reflect on their process and understanding of the content. Examples of these types of activities are: self-assessments; selecting from a choice of activities based on their preferred modality of learning; or having a dialogue with peers about their understanding of the content. By creating these opportunities, instructors provide pathways for students to access the content in simple and intuitive ways.

VARK (Visual, Auditory, Read/Write, and Kinesthetic) learning preference assessment:Students and the instructor answer a quick sixteen-item questionnaire to find out their learning preference. The instructor receives the student results anonymously. By knowing the breakdown of learning preferences within a particular class, the instructor can adjust the delivery of the content to meet student needs. In addition, the instructor can be cognizant of his/her own learning preferences so as not to tilt the presentation of content towards that modality; thereby “acknowledging that the user is not like you.” The assessment is available at:

Influx of Information/Multitasking: Being empathetic to the bombardment of information students are faced with via text messages, e-mails, twitter feeds, etc. is essential in understanding the “user.” Designing a course experience that capitalizes on these devices and information streams encourages students to participate, because their frame of reference is being acknowledged. Rather than competing, play along with it. Poll Everywhere presents a content-related question to the student that is answered via text. Instructors can project the real-time results on a screen in the classroom or present them in an online collaborative environment. Multitasking and information overload are part of our students’ realities; so let’s use the very devices and technologies that vie for their attention.

The instructor as a user experience designer—I like that idea. Through the strategies presented by Dr. Stanley, instructors get a sense of the audience, their needs, and their preferences. Using these “specs” to inform the design of content delivery will lead to student engagement and participation. As one of the pioneers of user-experience design Donald Norman said, “Academics get paid for being clever, not for being right.”