Random Thoughts on Instructional Design
On August 9, 2006, Amanada Albright and I will be presenting the following paper at the MERLOT International Conference in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. We wanted to make the presentation as light and engaging as possible so we modeled the narrative the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy written by D. Adams. We would love it if you would read the article, visit the site and then provide us with feedback.
What do two instructional designers (screen name “WEcID4All”) do on a 22 hour drive from Florida to Pennsylvania after attending a thought provoking professional conference on current topics in higher education? They talked about whether the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (H2G2) held the answers to the ultimate questions about course development. After pondering this for some time, they decided to consult with an H2G2 expert via IM. And so they IMed Deep Thought, the second greatest computer of all time and space on the legendary planet of Magrathea, to ask him if he could provide the ultimate answer to effective strategies for student-centered course design. The communication went something like this:
WEcID4All: Oh great Deep Thought, we are weary cyberspace travelers seeking answers to the ultimate questions about course development.
Deep Thought: So what would you like me to do about it?
WEcID4All: We were hoping you’d have the answers. Do you?
Deep Thought: You’re interrupting my web surfing! Why should I waste my time on an answer?
WEcID4All: Well, here’s the situation…The needs of non-traditional learners and technologically literate traditional students are pushing the development of web-enhanced and online learning opportunities that are vivid, interactive, and learning centered. The role of educators in this new paradigm is to provide students with online learning environments that encourage critical reflection and knowledge construction through social interaction with other students in learning-community settings (Palloff & Pratt, 1999). Some researchers believe that the development of learning centered communities should be the primary goal of online instructors (Hiltz, 1998; Palloff & Pratt, 1999). Unfortunately, there are few practical tools to guide faculty in the development process for online instruction (Bonk & Wisher, 2000; Palloff & Pratt, 1999; Paulsen, 1995). To exasperate this problem, fulltime faculty have limited time for face-to-face training, and adjunct faculty may not live within commuting distance of a training facility.
Deep Thought: Sounds complicated. Fine, let me see what I can come up with…
Deep Thought: (…..Seven and a half minutes pass….) "42."
WEcID4All: Thank you Deep Thought, but we’re looking to provide guidance to new travelers in course development. Can you expand upon your answer?
Deep Thought: You are annoying travelers. Do you know where your towel is because you’re going to need it?
Deep Thought: I will help you find your own answers by sending you on a quest. The information that you seek lies on the planet of Coluni in the Higedu galaxy. Continue your travels there and report back to me when you’ve found what you seek.
WEcID4All: How will we know if we’ve found the answers?
Deep Thought: Check the results against your needs analysis. Until then, I’m going back to what I was doing before I was so rudely interrupted.
….And so the journey to the development of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to Course Development began.
WEcID4All: Deep Thought, we have traveled to Coluni in the Higedu galaxy and found much information. So much information, that we figured the best way to present it would be on the Internet.
Deep Thought: The Internet? How are you using the Internet to convey this information?
WEcID4All: Well, we’ve developed a tool. Let us explain…This self-paced course is dedicated to assisting faculty with the development of online courses by identifying resources focusing on online pedagogy and supplemental content. While this product is currently available on the Internet, it can also be presented within the course management system that faculty are expected to utilize for delivery of their own courses. One of the benefits of this delivery method is that the faculty are given an opportunity to be immersed in the online learning environment as a student prior to instructing a course.
Deep Thought: Sounds complicated. How does this tool communicate the answers to my answer to the faculty?
WEcID4All: As it turns out, the answers to your answer vary based on faculty experience levels and interests, and often their time is very limited. To help address the variety of topics/questions which faculty have during the curriculum design process, the guide materials are arranged in five major sections, and a series of related subsections.
Section I: Course Design Types. Faculty have a number of options when it comes to the use of technology to support their courses. The question is “Which delivery mode is right for this course?” This module focuses on the differences between Web-Presence, Web-Enhanced, Web-Centric, and Online courses. Each designation includes a definition for that course type as well as recommended content that a faculty member may choose for the online portion of the various course types.
Section II: Planning Courses. With an understanding of the various course type options, the next question is “How do I begin planning my course?” Since there are some slight and not so slight differences between designing a course for traditional face-to-face vs. online, this module provides planning information which guides faculty through the process of organizing and designing their materials for presentation in both online and classroom based courses. Some of the topics included in this section are: Tips for Effective Teaching, Teaching Checklist, Course Management Tips, Organizing a Class Session, Getting Students Involved, Integrating Technology, and Engaging the Learner.
Section III: Content Development. As the course begins to take shape, it is only natural to ask “What can I do to design a course that is engaging and provides meaningful learning for the students?” This module provides extensive information about the pedagogy for designing instructional units as well as designing content for presentation online. The internet holds a vast selection of fabricated modules and case studies that faculty can adopt at little or no costs. This site provides links to the various collections that will facilitate the search for and possible adoption of these resources to help the faculty meet the objectives set for the course. To support meaningful learning from a constructivist perspective, suggestions for designing structure and navigation through the course are provided as well as information on methods of designing interaction into a course including the use of webquests, blogs/wikis, interactive online tools, student or group homepages, case studies and mind tools are included within this section .
Section IV: Assessment and Evaluation. As the content is being developed based upon the goals and objectives defined for the course, the question that all the students want an answer to becomes apparent, “How is my learning going to be evaluated?” When planning assessments, particularly for on-line courses, it is important to think creatively and "out of the box." This is the time to provide a wide range of opportunities for students to tap into their own "intelligences." After providing some brainstormed ideas for how to incorporate creative assessments into an online course, the module presents faculty with the information on the design and development of rubrics including additional online resources to assist faculty with the development of their rubrics.
Section V: Other Resources. Where possible we have provided links to additional Resources and Tools that apply to module topics at the end of each section. We have also included ancillary sections that provide access to even more resources as well as background information on a number of learning management systems and about the site itself.
Deep Thought: I’m web surfing all the time, but I can’t say I’ve ever been interested in course development. What other resources does the vast cosmos of the Internet hold that can be incorporated into a course and help an instructor improve their teaching strategy?
WEcID4All: As the course design process continues through its instructional design cycle of review and revise, additional resources and samples will be incorporated. We will also engage fellow travelers in the design and development process.
Deep Thought: This is all very interesting. Tell me, how did you create this tool?
WEcID4All: The tools utilized to develop the product are: XHTML, java, css, Fireworks, and flash. We also used three third party tools to assist in the delivery of content.
In this initial release most of the materials are presented utilizing a very text intensive delivery methodology. Release 2.0 – slated for Fall 2006 is being designed in Moodle and will include a number of interactive modules and reinforcement activities.
The guide is fluid in nature and new information is added as external resources are identified and new content developed. Alerts/Notices about new information posted to this site will appear in the area just below the header. The notice section will also indicate when text within a section pertains to a certain institution or learning management system. A User Survey is attached to all pages. The responses we receive will help us make modifications to the site to better serve the needs of the intended audience.
Deep Thought: How do you envision this tool being used?
WEcID4All: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Course Development is designed as a resource for individuals of varying disciplines and levels of experience. The following is a list of possible uses for the content within the Hitchhiker’s Guide to Course Development by discipline:
Instructional Designers and Instructional Support Staff. This tool has many possible applications for Instructional Designers and Support Staff. It could be included as part of or as a supplemental resource for a self-paced online course designed to train online instructors. It could also be provided as a reference resource to faculty attending one-on-one training sessions associated with the learning management system and the process of designing a course for online delivery. If group training is more conducive to a particular site, the Hitchhiker’s Guide to Course Development could also be incorporated into an Online Teaching Institute where the site is referred to for various activities throughout the institute.
Teaching & Learning Centers. The staff within teaching and learning centers can utilize this tool as a resource by incorporating it into a New Faculty Orientation format providing new instructors to an institution or to higher education with resources to assist them in the development of their curriculum and their presentation tactics. Since the guide is so extensive, it can even be used in the design of workshops around the topics covered within the Hitchhiker’s Guide to Course Development: Assessment, Learning Centered Teaching Practices, Designing Online Courses, and Technology Resources as Course Supplements.
Experienced Instructors (fulltime or adjunct faculty). Depending upon the policies at an institution, courses are typically evaluated on a regular cycle. Department Chairs may choose to pass pertinent links from Hitchhiker’s Guide on to department faculty and adjuncts as a resource for course evaluation and supplemental content development. Particular resources within the Hitchhiker’s Guide can be used to assist with this process: External Assessment, Learner Assessment, Self Assessment, Rubric Design and Utilization, integration of technology into the learning environment, Teaching and Learning Techniques, etc. Faculty Mentors can use this resource to help those you mentor improve on their presentation strategies or move from face-to-face teaching to online teaching. Making small steps such as web-enhancing a course before going completely online helps ease the transition.
Novice Instructors. A novice instructor starting with a traditional classroom setting may find the materials with in the Planning On Ground Courses section useful in planning the first day of class, organizing class sessions, integrating technology, and empowering students. An instructor currently teaching on-ground courses but new to the presentation of materials online either by web-enhancing a class or taking it completely online may find that the sections on Course Design Types, Planning Online Courses, and Online Content Development will help in the transition to this new course delivery mode.
Deep Thought: So, what have travelers said about this tool so far?
WEcID4All: So far we have encountered travelers from many galaxies and cultures, all seeking answers to the same questions we brought forth to you. We have provided them with access to the resources we have gathered thus far and have asked them to help us gather additional data on the topic by completing a cyberspace survey.
Deep Thought: And…
WEcID4All: Well, this is a fairly new product, but we ask anyone who visits the Hitchhiker’s Guide to Course Development to complete the survey and provide us with feedback on the tool’s usefulness and ways it can be improved. Communications are coming in on a regular basis but we do not yet have enough data that we could provide you with an adequate report on the impact of our research.
WEcID4All: But, we can tell you the answer.
Deep Thought: Let me guess…42….
Adams , D. (1995). The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. New York: Ballantine Books
Bonk, C. J., & Wisher, R. A. (2000). Applying collaborative and e-learning tools to military distance learning: A research framework. United States Army Research Institute for the Behavioral and Social Sciences, viewed 2 Jul 2002, verified 29 Jul 2003.
Hiltz, S. R. (1998). Collaborative learning in asynchronous learning environments: Building learning communities. Paper presented at the WebNet 98 World Conference of the WWW, Internet and Intranet Proceedings, Orlando, Florida.
Palloff, R. M., & Pratt, K. (1999). Building learning communities in cyberspace: Effective strategies for the online classroom. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Paulsen, M. F. (1995). Moderating educational computer conferences. In Z. L. Berge, & & M. P. Collins, M.P. (Eds.), Computer mediated communication and the online classroom (Distance Learning ed.) (pp. 81-104). NJ: Hampton Press.