Since it’s the holiday season, and I’m fresh out of deep, pedagogically significant ideas to post, I’m offering this letter-to-Santa missive as my final contribution of the year.
I know it’s a busy time of year for you, what with bringing toys and goodies to all the faculty and instructional designers that beavered all year to make online and hybrid learning effective, efficient, and enjoyable, but I have a few things to ask of you.
In fall 2017, DePaul upgraded our installation of our learning management system, D2L, to the “Daylight” interface. One of the primary reasons D2L underwent this design overhaul of the entire system was to implement a principal called “Responsive Design.”
Responsive Design is a method of web design whereby developers build one version of a website that is designed to adapt and scale to whatever device it is accessed from. This is in contrast to the early days of smartphones, when developers would create a separate “mobile” site, which you would be redirected to if you were accessing it from a smartphone or tablet. Instead, there is only one version of the site, but the elements move, resize, and adapt depending on the size of the screen the site is viewed from.
Last summer, DePaul surveyed all faculty to solicit feedback on our two primary learning management systems (LMSs): D2L and Digication. Faculty told us that, for the most part, D2L is meeting their teaching needs.
The feedback on Digication, our ePortfolio tool, told a different story. Faculty voiced frustration with both the lack of upgrades and the usability challenges of creating well-designed portfolios. So, the Digication Steering Committee reviewed nine other digital portfolio platforms, as well as the planned upgrade to Digication, to determine which platform would best meet our needs moving forward.
At FITS, we have a number of strategies that we like to recommend to help keep students organized and on task:
- Use the “Completion Tracking” feature in the D2L Content tool so students can check off items as they complete them.
- Set due dates that will be pushed to the calendar tool and encourage students to subscribe to their calendar so that it syncs to whatever personal calendar they use.
- Use use the News tool to send updates and, again, encourage students to subscribe so they get updates via email.
But there’s a danger in all these strategies. If you don’t fully commit to them they can backfire spectacularly, and rather than help keep students on task, only create confusion about what they’re supposed to do.
Getting good feedback from students can be a challenge. Gone are the days where someone from the academic department came into your class and distributed paper course evaluations to every student. Response rates for online course evaluations are abysmal, and the students who respond usually represent the extremes—they either tend to be really happy with the course or decidedly unhappy. So what to do?
Recently the college I support conducted two focus groups for our online students. I didn’t facilitate the focus groups; I have to give credit here to our great online operations team and the researchers who support the college Teaching, Learning and Assessment committee. In these focus groups, our adult students were asked “If you had the opportunity to design your ideal online course experience, what are the features you would include?”
So what did they tell us?
Can you remember feeling nervous, anxious, and fearful about the upcoming online course you registered for at the advice of an academic advisor? While the advisor gave you some basic information about the course and told you not to worry, the little voice inside would say, “Are you sure you can do this”? That little voice never really went away until the end of the course.
The online world of learning is so very different than the face-to-face classroom. Students don’t have the opportunity to speak to the instructor after class or stop by their instructor’s office on the way home to ask a question. Everything, everything is done virtually.
When I began my classes for my M.S.Ed. in Instructional Technology (IT), I was often looked upon as an odd duck. Most of my classes were full of classroom teachers, school librarians, and administrators looking to be in charge of a different area. So here I was, a musician in their midst (and a jazz musician, no less), and when I would invariably be asked about what brought me to IT, I always answered, “I’m going to change the way we teach music.” I’ve widened the scope of my approach, and my research, to include everyone I serve at the University, but I still haven’t lost sight of that goal. But the problem isn’t in the discipline itself; rather, it’s in the materials and methodology.
In a previous life, I was a music professor, and tried as much as possible to leverage technology to improve my course materials and course delivery, and to facilitate better learning experiences for my students. However, these improvements tended to be hybrid instruction methods, such as online testing, audio or video lectures, online paper submission or discussion boards. They did make my course more efficient and created more hands-on class time for me, but did little to truly transform the learning experience in the classroom or outside of it. The students thought taking tests online, watching short video lectures, and doing lots of stuff online was “cool,” but as we all know, “cool” doesn’t really equate to a sea change in their learning. (This was over a decade ago, when doing anything online had way more sparkle than it does today.) Looking back on it after studying and practicing Instructional Design for several years, I see most of my former “innovations” are not really that groundbreaking, just repackaging of old lessons to take advantage of some tools I had available.
Now that Spring Quarter is settled in and courses are all running and up to date (including the build-as-you-go courses) and I have a little bit of breathing room, it is time to switch focus to summer courses, and even autumn quarter courses and beyond. Essentially, what this means, is it is time for spring cleaning courses that were built over the past few years, and may not have been looked at much since then.
The focus for now is on master courses owned by the college. Many of these were designed in the early push to develop online courses, and many of them were designed by faculty members who are no longer at the university, or were designed on previous versions of the LMS and haven’t been updated to utilize newer features and services we now have available to us.
To ensure that I’m checking all the dusty corners of the courses during spring cleaning, the Director of Online Learning for the college I work with asked me to create a checklist of items to review for these redesign/update courses. The following areas are those that I see as crucial for an update cycle. Feel free to point out in the comments any areas I missed, or other helpful tricks or tips you have for updating older courses.
A couple of weeks ago, while traveling with a team of athletes from around the Midwest (all of whom are students at different D2L institutions) I had the opportunity to talk a little with them about what frustrates them with D2L. To be fair, one was my own kid and managing our D2L instance is my job, but it seemed like a good opportunity to get some student feedback.
What was interesting about their responses was that in all but one exception (the one exception being the discussion board) the feedback they gave me had less to do with the Learning Management System itself and more to do with things the instructor does with the system. I thought I would share with you their observations and some best practices. Below are their top three complaints and what you can do to alleviate some of the issues.
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