Random Thoughts on Instructional Design
On August 3, 2006, I will be conducting a Course Design Showcase at the Conference on Distance Teaching and Learning, in Madison, Wisconsin. I wrote the following white-paper as a handout for the presentation. As always I welcome any feedback.
This course attracts non-traditional students with widely varying backgrounds, previous experience, interests, learning styles, outside commitments, and learning speeds. To meet the needs of this widely varied student base, learning contracts were implemented. This methodology reduces the challenges associated with the broad spectrum of adult learning characteristics, by replacing a traditional content plan with a process oriented design. Students are given responsibility for being well prepared, providing clear explanations of assigned topics, summarizing major points, and engaging their peers (target audience) in learning activities. The instructor takes responsibility for providing clear directions, allowing latitude in the assignments, creating a safe online environment, and providing timely feedback.
The direction of the content for this course is defined by the instructor but the actual content is driven by student interests. Students are provided with a series of industry scenarios and guiding questions that they use as a basis for designing their own learning opportunities. In many cases the design of this course assisted the students in going above and beyond the course expectations. While classroom management practices, assessment methods, and deadlines are not negotiable; the assessment rubrics allows the students to decide which grade they want to achieve and the frequent feedback provides opportunities for mastery.
This asynchronous course examines different trends and issues in Instructional Design each week. Students are provided with readings which explore the topic of the week, web links that provide examples or resources, online guided discussions, and in some instances reinforcement exercises. Each week also includes an "Items to think about" section that serves as a learning guide for the week’s content. Students are not required to submit the answers to these items to the instructor, but they should know the answers so they can apply the concepts to the online discussions and their final projects.
To set up a clear start and end date for each week of instruction, class weeks officially begin on Tuesdays and end on Sunday at midnight. Students have access to the course materials approximately one week prior to the start of the course. Students are instructed to carefully read through the course documents and direct any questions they may have to the instructor through email, phone calls, or within the online discussion room.
The design of this course places the instructor in the role of mentor and guide. The nature of the role of mentor is to help guide the student’s learning when the student either asks for guidance or show the need for it. Students are encouraged to seek instructor feedback throughout the course. Students should take advantage of this resource by either privately contacting the instructor via telephone/email, or by publicly requesting assistance on the discussion board. A request for assistance must be focused with a question or a problem statement, not simply “read this and let me know what you think”. The formulation of the question or problem statement for which the student is requesting feedback within a virtual classroom setting helps the students develop the skills necessary to properly communicate their instructional questions to project teams and clients in the real world.
The curriculum presents theories, facts and concepts from several related fields and requires the students to discuss the information, make recommendations for changes within their chosen industry, and apply selected techniques to industry based projects. This problem centered rather than content-centered methodology allows the student to demonstrate a conceptual understanding of their chosen audience.
The instructor creates a supportive, cooperative learning environment that motivates students to take responsibility for their own learning, and enhances peer-to-peer interaction. Class discussions invite students to share their knowledge and experiences, and assist each other with learning objectives. The interactions also allow the instructor to track whether students understand the content, and where necessary guide them in different directions. The alignment of clear measurable objectives promotes high expectations for student achievement, and provides the scaffolding needed to obtain said objectives.
Students are engaged in learning through online discussions, student led facilitation of these discussions, and the completion of three assignments over a 14 week period. The following paragraphs describe the four activities that engage student in peer-to-peer interaction.
Since discussion, in an asynchronous environment, takes place over time, students are expected to check in — and participate — several times during the week. This degree of participation is extremely important in reaching the "critical mass" necessary for the online discussions to thrive. Students must avoid simply repeating points made by others. Postings must show evidence that the student has completed, understood, and applied the readings. Students are expected to make quality contributions to discussion postings which tie personal experiences to the concepts being studied through clear, concise descriptions of the experiences and how each experience relates to the topic. Students may also raise challenges that spring from the discussion material in an attempt to shape an “informed” conclusion.
Everyone assumes the role of facilitator of the class discussions at least once during this course. The facilitator guides the class through the activity for the week while the instructor takes on the role of master learner in these sessions. In this role, each facilitator is expected to start the discussion on the Monday prior to the start of their selected week(s), and wrap things up on the Sunday. These steps immediately engage the students as leaders within the course and aid in building the community of learners necessary for the success of instruction within an asynchronous environment.
The Electronic Trends & Issues Portfolio requires each student or small groups of students to gather and organize a comprehensive collection of materials/information relevant to a specific topical area. They are encouraged to select an area that is aligned with their current position or one to which they may transition. The information contained in the portfolio – its purpose, usefulness, and facts should demonstrate the students range, ability, and understanding of the selected industry’s educational needs.
Students are required to formally present their portfolio to the class twice; once at midterm, and then again at the end of the course.
The portfolio and presentations on them achieves four things: 1) the students are exposed to a number of potential client groups in-depth; 2) the students are able to practice teaching with online materials; 3) they are able to investigate an industry to determine if they want to further their career as an Biomedical Writers in selected industries; 4) they develop a tangible artifact for their own professional portfolios.
There are five basic formative assessment methods implemented throughout this course which give feedback both to the students and the instructor on their performance: peer assessment, instructor feedback through the project development lifecycle, self-assessment, rubrics, and student assessment of the course and instructor. The variety of assessments implemented within the course provides a picture of the depth of knowledge and understanding developed throughout the course. The use of various assessment methods also help s prepare the students to work effectively in design teams within a variety of environments. As Biomedical Writers, the assessment process provides a real life view of the role assessment plays in determining whether the program goals and outcomes, as defined in collaboration with peers and clients, are achievable, and appropriate for target audiences.
The course is based upon the mastery learning approach, including the ability to receive early formative feedback from peers and the instructor prior to the completion of final products. The students are required to utilize the discussion board, during scheduled project review sessions, to take advantage of the knowledge, insight, and experience of their peers. By encouraging the submission of drafts for peer review, the iterative process that results represents the cycle of instructional design and the sharing of ideas that occurs within a design team. The student receiving the reviews benefit from the feedback which students are encouraged to take into consideration when developing their final projects.
Assessment is integrated throughout the curriculum. Constructive feedback is provided by both peers and the instructor. To assure that peer assessment takes place students are required to post their projects to the course site at predefined points during the term and to respond to the postings of others. The instructor encourages students to submit their projects as many times as necessary prior to the formal assessment period for review and comment. In an effort to assure that improvement is being made between submissions students are also required to submit specific questions or concerns with their materials.
Self-assessment is accomplished with reflective journaling submitted at mid-term and at the end of the course. Self-assessment provides an opportunity for the students to look at their own learning and predict how the lessons learned would apply to their approach of future projects as a Biomedical Writer.
This course has been offered to different audiences for the past four years. The first two years the student population was comprised of instructional designers, corporate trainers, and a few secondary education teachers with moderate to advanced multimedia skills. In an effort the tap into student creativity and interests, portfolio teams were allowed to choose from a variety of technologies for the design of their portfolio projects.
The third year the course was offered the student demographic changed dramatically. The majority of the students were K-12 educators or individuals completing secondary education certifications. In many cases the students had few multimedia skills and little experience working in project teams. In many cases they struggled with technological tools and often selected products based on convenience rather than audience needs. In many cases the research aspect of the project suffered and far too many “Power Pointless” products were submitted.
For the fourth year the course materials were migrated the from the campus course management system to Moodle (open source learning management system) and blogs. This migration allowed the instructor to create two versions of the course that would be targeted to very different audiences.
In all offerings the direction of the content for this course is defined by the instructor but the actual content is driven by student interests. Students are provided with a series of industries and guiding questions that they use as a basis for designing their own learning opportunities. In many cases the design of this course assisted the students in going above and beyond the course expectations.
The majority of this course is very learning centered. There are a few components that do not achieve optimal levels of learning centeredness. The instructor concentrated on techniques that enabled students to become interpersonally empowered. By helping students to coordinate the pursuit of multiple goals, the instructor also took steps to ensure that they have the capability to be successful in the course.