Decreasing Design Presence

With the Humanizing Online Learning MOOC in full swing, I wanted to dig more into a topic that I tend to allude to at conference presentations. While educators often talk (rightly so) about increasing teaching, social, and cognitive presence, there is also one form of presence that needs to be decreased when designing and teaching courses: design presence.

I’m using “design presence” here to cover a wide range of user interface, instructional design, and learning theory issues. In my mind, there are at least three areas that are heavy on design presence, and therefore design presence needs to be decreased in these areas:

  1. Technological Design Presence: tool/technology interfaces and instructions
  2. Instructional Design Presence: tool and content instructional design decisions
  3. Epistemological Design Presence: underlying learning theory choices

While some might notice there is some overlap with these areas and teacher, social, and cognitive presence, I have found that there are still some differences. Working to decrease design presence also ends up helping to increase teaching, social, and cognitive presence in the long-run.

Technological Design Presence

This is an area where user interface and instructional design collide, and for many courses designers the options are pre-determined by institutional adoptions. However, where choices are allowed, utilizing tools that have the least complex user interface options is ideal. For example, if you really want to use a listserv, but the tool you have to use is complex to sign-up and use, why not use Twitter? The user interface on Twitter is very simple compared to some older mass email tools. If you have to have a really complex set of instructions to use a tool, why not consider using something with less instructions and stress on the learner?

Or if you have a listserv tool that is easier to use than Twitter, why not use that instead of Twitter?

Where there are several options within a tool (like an LMS), why not choose the least confusing, most ready-to-use tool? Newer features in larger LMS tool sets often have a steep learning curve. For example, the blog feature in Blackboard was very confusing when it was first released, and it really worked more as a re-arranged discussion board. If you have to stay within Blackboard, then stick with the tools that take the least amount of time to explain to learners.

Additionally, think about other issues that cause unnecessary technology confusion. Blackboard was infamous for allowing course designers to set-up boxes within boxes within boxes. Avoid using tools and content structures just because you can. Avoid using desktop tools that make no sense online (like “folders” inside of online content). Avoid using complex navigational structures just because you can.

Once learners have to click around a half dozen times just to get somewhere, or dig through complex tool instructions, or spend too much time figuring out what you want them to do, they are running into too much technological design presence. Decrease what you can where you can.

Instructional Design Presence

This next facet has many connections to the first one, so there will probably be some overlap. Many times, course designers will make tool and content design decisions that are unnecessarily complex. For example, complex grading schemes that require dense explanations and calculators to figure out. Why go there? Obviously, there is merit to the idea that grades are problematic altogether, but many instructors are stuck with them. So why make them so complex? Why not just base course grades on a 100 point scale (which most people understand already), and make each assignment a straight portion of that grade. Complex structures based on weighted grades and 556 point scales and what not are a burden for both the instructor and the learner.

Rubrics are also a part of this area. Complex rubrics with too many categories and specific point values are, again, a burden for learners and instructors. Compare the complexity of this rubric with this one. I realize some people like the first one because it has so much detail, but to be honest, it is something most readers aren’t going to read through, because just glancing at it could cause stress.

Or another issue might be design choices that add unnecessary complexity, like having students upload Word docs to discussion forums for class discussion. Why not just use blogs? That is basically what you are doing with Word Docs and discussion forums.

Course designers typically make many choices with tools and content in their courses. Do these choices increase the instructional design presence of those decisions? Or do they decrease the design presence and allow learners to focus on learning rather than figuring out your designs?

Epistemological Design Presence

This area is a bit more difficult to get at, as it probably affects overarching decisions that affect everything in your course. For instance, if you lean more towards instructivism that places yourself at the center of everything in a course, you will probably choose many tools and interfaces that support your instructivist leanings: lecture capture, content heavy videos, long reading assignments, multiple choice tests, etc.

Now, just to point out, I am not a person to bash instructivist lectures across the board no matter what. There are times when learners need a well executed lecture. However, in education, many instructors use lectures too much. They use lectures to fill time when learners should be doing something hands on and/or active. If you are using lectures on video (or textbook readings) when learners should be creating their own knowledge, or applying concepts hands-on, or collaborating in groups, you have increased the epistemological design presence of your preferred learning theory at the expense of what the learners really needed. Time to decrease that facet of design presence.

There are times when learners don’t need to socially connect or listen to lectures, but work on their own. There are times when they need to connect with others rather than work individually. Don’t stick with instructivism or social constructivism or connectivism or any other theory you love just because you like it best. Put the learner first.

But what about the times where learners are at different levels and need different theories? Or, when no one theory fits and it is really up to the learner? I say, give them the choice. Build in multiple pathways for learning in your course. Build in scaffolding for learners to change into different theories. But avoid the mistakes I have made in the past and make sure to decrease the design presence of those options and pathways as much as possible. Don’t focus on the difference between the pathways – just focus on the fact that learners can make the choices they need at any given moment and then show the choices.

Decreasing Design Presence

edugeek-journal-avatarIf you are a good course designer, you probably already know everything I have touched on here. There is nothing new or different about what I am outlining here – this is solid instructional design methodology taught in most instructional design courses or learned on the job. However, it is seldom examined from the angle of decreasing design presence, and since I am one of the “wayfinders” in a course on the Community of Inquiry framework that covers teaching, social, and cognitive presence, I thought it would be a good idea to have a place to point to every time I mention “decreasing design presence.”

(image credit: Human Presence by Manu Mohan)

Matt Crosslin
Matt is currently the Learning Innovation Coordinator with the UT Arlington LINK Research Lab. His research focuses on Learning Theory, Innovation, and learner empowerment. Matt holds a Ph.D. in Learning Technologies from the University of North Texas, a Master of Education in Educational Technology from UT Brownsville, and a Bachelors of Science in Education from Baylor University. His research interests include instructional design, learning pathways, sociocultural theory, heutagogy, virtual reality, and open networked learning. He has a background in instructional design and teaching at both the secondary and university levels and has been an active blogger and conference presenter. He also enjoys networking and collaborative efforts involving faculty, students, administration, and anyone involved in the education process.

Non-Linear Instructional Design

A great Twitter conversation recently got me thinking about non-linear instructional design. Now, of course, we often look at instructional design itself as a non-linear process, but that is not what I am referring to here. Most of the instruction we see in formal education is almost always designed as a linear road-map to be followed in exact order from beginning to end. And for some topics, this is great – I don’t want engineers skipping steps when designing solid bridges. But in many other topics, there aren’t really ultimate steps that have to be taught in a certain order as much as there is really just a preferred order that many in the field lean towards that becomes a default “sequence” for all learners. Which, unfortunately, leads to very little room for improvisation, flexibility, emergence, etc. A lot of this can be attributed to our formal education systems that often encourage behaviorism and pedagogy over connectivism and heutagogy. Too many times the education system looks at “planning” as a linear week by week script.

We often end up with two problems in this kind of system. One is that people come up with an outline that they stick with even if the course isn’t flowing that way. And when the course isn’t flowing well, instructors get bored or distracted and they put off planning specifics until the last minute. They tell learners that they are improvising, but learners can often tell the difference between lack of planning and planned improvisation.

The other problem is that instructors do plan well, but then think of something better at the last minute and change plans. Which usually ends up being a great lesson, but also means they wasted a lot of time on a plan that wasn’t used and might not ever get used.

However, designing a course in a non-linear manner can allow for courses to be well-planned as well as being emergent, flexible, and student-centered.

The first step is to actually make space in your course plan for flexibility, rabbit trails, new ideas, and extended time on more interesting ideas. What I mean by this is cut back on the number of weeks of content overall. If you have a 15 week course, only create 10 weeks of content. Just flat-out force space into the schedule and leave it there.

The second step is to stop looking at your topic in a linear fashion. Make a list of ten topics you want to cover, but don’t number the list. Intentionally shuffle that list. Think of it more as a jigsaw puzzle, with each piece being a topic / week. Once all of the pieces are together, then you have a full picture of the topic of your course.

The idea would be that you would sit down and talk with your class to socially negotiate an order to go through the topics. As a course, you could come up with the order that your learners want to go through. Or even more advanced – don’t even have a pre-defined list, but take time each week to figure out where to go next week.

Finally, you need to do the instructional design. I know that seems weird to say that right after I just said let the learner choose the topics, but you as the instructor still need to be prepared for what ever topic could be chosen next. You can still create something akin to an assignment bank that you choose from depending on what topic is being covered that week. In fact, you would probably need to design a large ranges of fairly open-ended activities that could fit in with a wide-range of topics within your field. Instead of a jigsaw puzzle, you are really looking at your class like a Lego project or play-dough sculpture that is being built by several people at once. You have several specific pieces (activities) that you add at certain moments when the learners choose to pull out certain other pieces (topic).

Another way to a look at this idea is like this. Most courses are already designed in pieces, but these pieces are part of a specific path that has one way in and one way out. They generally look like this:

Wooden-Train-Track-Amazon-Toy-Deals

One way in, one way out – linear in design. Which works well in many situations, but not in others. To accomplish non-linear instructional design, the pieces of the course have to take on different structures:

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lego-feat1

edugeek-journal-avatarA play-dough design would be a more malleable design where the different pieces have the ability to shape into different directions and even blend with other pieces. The Lego design would be made of smaller more defined pieces that connect easily with other pieces to form changing designs and pathways as the learners define the path. There is really not a major distinction between the two – just different ways of looking at the design theory. If you look at the different assignments in the ds106 assignment bank, you can see hundreds of activities that are designed in either Lego or Play Dough fashion to connect with or plug in to any part of the ds106 course.

(header image credit: Dima V, obtained from freeimages.com)

Matt Crosslin
Matt is currently the Learning Innovation Coordinator with the UT Arlington LINK Research Lab. His research focuses on Learning Theory, Innovation, and learner empowerment. Matt holds a Ph.D. in Learning Technologies from the University of North Texas, a Master of Education in Educational Technology from UT Brownsville, and a Bachelors of Science in Education from Baylor University. His research interests include instructional design, learning pathways, sociocultural theory, heutagogy, virtual reality, and open networked learning. He has a background in instructional design and teaching at both the secondary and university levels and has been an active blogger and conference presenter. He also enjoys networking and collaborative efforts involving faculty, students, administration, and anyone involved in the education process.

Which Came First: The Learning Design or the Tool?

Back in the day when I taught 8th grade Science, I worked at a school that most would label “inner city.” I had a room that was not designed for Science experiments, a small stash of equipment (most of which didn’t fit the state standards at the time), and $200 to cover all supplies and experiments for the whole year. Which doesn’t go very far considering the price of Science equipment, even back in 2000.

Oh, and I was fortunate that at some point they had replaced the standard school desks the other classrooms had with those huge black science desks that re-arrange more easily.

So I was forced to get creative (i.e. cheap) with my lab experiments. My favorite experiment was using a handful of dirt to explain the big bang theory. All you need is a white poster board and a handful of dirt and pebbles from outside. The handful of dirt represents the universe before the bang as you squeeze it your hand. Throwing that handful of dirt at the poster board represents the big bang. The resulting splatter on the poster board shows what happens after the bang. Simple, effective, and low cost.

Sometimes people think when I refer to “teaching the big bang with a handful of dirt” I am insulting something, but the truth is its really just a reference to doing the best you can with the tools you are forced to use. If I had had a better classroom set-up (with sinks), I could have let the students do the experiment. More money would have meant being able to buy kits that do the same thing, but that make a better “splat” (big bang) on a piece of paper. Even more resources and flexibility would have meant being able to show computer simulations on an overhead projector so that the students could have compared their splats to the model. And so on.

This post is inspired by a Twitter conversation with Whitney Kilgore, which I think eventually indicated we were talking about different angles on the idea of what drives design. Ultimately, I hope Whitney saw that I wasn’t disagreeing with her or debating, but saying that out of the two over-arching ways to approach design, I prefer one over the other while not thinking one is better than the other.

To explain what I mean, I’ll start off by looking at how we as instructional designers really have two over-arching approaches when we design courses: one where we are have to let the tools drive the learning design because of various limitations, and the other where the learning design drives the tool selection because we have many options. One is where we make do with what we have, and the other is where we get to do whatever the design dictates.

You can design really good courses either way. However, when you are limited in your tool selection due to budget or even campus policy that says you have to use a specific tool, you have to make concessions to get those tools to work for the design.  Most of us that are in education have been used to being either limited by budget or administrative decisions for so long that we don’t even realize the concessions we are making based on these limitations.

A lot of what I am talking about here was covered by Jim Groom in his “there’s more to education than the LMS” keynote at the OLC Emerging Technology conference last year. Its not that the LMS is evil – all technology has its possibilities and its limitations. Being forced to use a tool like an LMS means being forced to accept those limitations, even if your learning design will suffer immensely from those limitations.

Of course, there are also those courses that work well within the possibilities of an LMS, and others that use parts of the LMS in connection with outside tools very well. I teach a highly rated college course for the UT Brownsville Ed Tech department that just uses the LMS, a discussion board, a textbook, six pages of content (including syllabus) and four projects. This course was very well designed by the staff at the University (I am an adjunct for the course, so I can’t claim the design :) ), and almost always receives glowing responses from the students. This is because good course design is not about finding new emerging technology to make it “work,” but using good theory to design a solid learning experience. The course that I teach is also highly rated because it’s designers let the learning design drive the tool usage, instead of letting the tool drive the learning design.

For those that are curious, this course only uses the LMS to collect and grade the projects that students create, which are everything from videos they create to webpages they design. Other than that, the course is mainly in WordPress. Oh, and we also usually get really good responses on the discussion board.

This is probably where I go all metamodern on my five readers, but neither method is necessarily “better” by default. When I worked as an instructional designer, I designed award-wining classes that resided entirely within the LMS. There are also really, really bad classes that ditch the LMS and do a horrible job in the open web. Whether you let the tool drive the learning design or the learning design drive the tool selection – that is no indication of design quality. It just dictates what possibilities and limitations you deal with, and whether it is your choice to choose tools that match the possibilities and limitations you need for the design or if that choice is made for you regardless of what your design needs are.

Of course, as we found out at Jim Groom’s keynote last year – you start mentioning the limitations of the LMS and those that love the LMS will push back. As Jim pointed out, all tech tools are designed by people for a specific purpose. This means that they have a certain paradigm or theory coded into the design. Audrey Watters and many others have written and spoken on this also. These biases don’t mean that you shouldn’t use those tools, but we should all be aware of these very real limitations that exist.

One of the reasons I get frustrated with LMS companies is that they slap some social tools in their LMS and suddenly claim that they are social constructivist or connectivist or active learning or whatever the current buzzword is. Adding a social element to your course does not suddenly mean its social constructivist in nature. Instructivism just means that the instructor is the center of the course, and discussion boards, Twitter, VoiceThread, etc can all be designed in a way that still makes the instructor the center. But there are other claims that also don’t live up to the claims. Giving students the ability to click on more links does not make something interactive. Inserting YouTube videos does not create an active learning experience. I could go on and on, but I rarely see tools in the LMS that truly count as connectivist, constructivist, interactive, or active by themselves. Which wouldn’t be that much of a problem if the LMS companies weren’t claiming otherwise.

edugeek-journal-avatarSo the question is, which one is better: letting the learning design determine what tool possibilities and limitations you teach with, or letting the tool drive the design? In a real world scenario, you usually end up with a mixture of both. Even if you are forced to use an LMS by institutional decisions, there are many tools to choose from within that LMS. However, even when you are allowed to choose what ever tool you want, you may still not find the perfect tool. In that case, you would still have to let the tool drive the design in some ways once you have let the design considerations drive the tool choice. In the real world, these are not Yin/Yang opposites that never cross over into the other. You will use elements of both in most learning contexts. Metamodernism to the rescue!

(image credit: Gozde Otman, obtained from freeimages.com)

Matt Crosslin
Matt is currently the Learning Innovation Coordinator with the UT Arlington LINK Research Lab. His research focuses on Learning Theory, Innovation, and learner empowerment. Matt holds a Ph.D. in Learning Technologies from the University of North Texas, a Master of Education in Educational Technology from UT Brownsville, and a Bachelors of Science in Education from Baylor University. His research interests include instructional design, learning pathways, sociocultural theory, heutagogy, virtual reality, and open networked learning. He has a background in instructional design and teaching at both the secondary and university levels and has been an active blogger and conference presenter. He also enjoys networking and collaborative efforts involving faculty, students, administration, and anyone involved in the education process.

Instructional Design and the Search for the Golden Child

One of the things you quickly learn as an instructional designer is that you precariously straddle two worlds that don’t always like to interact: practical and theoretical. Most academic fields have some level of tension between these two sides. In education its usually between the more practical Curriculum and Instruction side and the more theoretical Educational Philosophy side. And, of course, there isn’t a hard line between the two – they tend to mix a lot in the middle. You often find the instructional designers hanging out in that middle mix.

That’s really what the instructional designer does – take the theory and mix it with the supporting research on what practically works and produce effective and engaging design.

Easier said that done.

One of the issues that designers often deal with is getting the instructors to focus enough on good theory in order to form a strong foundation for quality practical design. The fine line between good and bad design or even okay-ish and good design is often held back by lack of theoretical focus more so than lack of technical knowledge about technology tools.

But….

Most instructors seem to be convinced that there is a “golden child” technology out there just waiting to be discovered. If they can just find this technology, or combination of technologies, or even hidden features in technologies they already use… then their classes will magically transform into glorious utopias of engaged learners. Students will be happy, completion rates will skyrocket, everyone will hold hands, pass out flowers, and start a drum circle chanting the praises of how awesome the course is.

What most instructional designers know is the harsh reality that learning more and more about technology and tools often makes it harder to design a good course. Instead of a concentrated focus on what works best for what you want students to learn, technology becomes the driving focus. And this means the course often gets worse, or at best trades one okay-ish design for another okay-ish design.

Some of the most innovative and effective courses out there are being taught with things like blogs and Twitter and YouTube videos – basically just a bunch of tools that most people know how to use already. No golden child magical technology tool doing cool stuff that no one else seems to be aware of. Just really good theory and focused instructional design.

This blog post is one of many that I am working on inspired by the OLC Emerging Technologies Symposium this week, and the conversations that occurred around/at/because of that event. I was in the test kitchen there playing with cool new tools and apps as much as the next person. I love emerging technology and finding new websites and tools and services to use. I also love it when people find great educational uses for these cool new things. But most of the really awesome courses out there are not coming from people getting more technical training, but from people that dig into the theory side and said “I want to accomplish this theoretical idea” and then found the basic technology to realize their vision.

Of course, that is easy to say for people like me that love the theoretical side of learning, whether it is epistemological, ontological, or just purely philosophical. For those that find theory to be more on the dull side, its not quite so easy. But we need to push back against the slow creep of technological solutionism in instructional design that tells us we need to “get more technological training!” to fix our courses.

Think of it this way: if you need to have more technical knowledge in order to improve your courses, then your IT department is going to be the best instructional design department on campus. But your IT department will be the first ones to tell you they can’t help you with digital learning, because that is (generally) not what they know.

So, if you find theory a bit intimidating, I get that. Find something you already know and dig deeper. You don’t have to learn it all.

If you find theory boring, well, I don’t get that. :) But I see where people could feel that way. Find the one part that is least boring and dig in to see if maybe it will surprise you.

If you think you already know theory well enough (but you don’t work primarily as a theorist in some way)…. ummm…. let’s talk a bit about scale. One of my incredibly brilliant professors once told me he had read one book by Jurgen Habermas over 20 times and still maybe grasped about half of it. Habermas has many books, and is himself just one of hundreds if not thousands of thinkers that influence educational theory. You may understand the cliff notes version of theory in general or maybe a few specific theories at a Wikipedia level, but that is not nearly all there is out there.

edugeek-journal-avatarThe people that are exploring the depths of theory out there are the ones that are coming up with truly revolutionary ideas like connectivism or rhizomatic learning, or creating revolutionary tools like ProSolo or a Domain of One’s Own. Or to tie back to OLC this week, its not the people that find a better tool than Twitter that are going to change education, but the people that Bonnie Stewart that dig into an existing tool like Twitter to see what is going on there that will. I promise you – if you dig more into Bonnie Stewart’s work than you dig around for technical training on a tool, you will see bigger and better changes to your course.

(image credit: Mariana Figueroa, obtained from freeimages.com)

Matt Crosslin
Matt is currently the Learning Innovation Coordinator with the UT Arlington LINK Research Lab. His research focuses on Learning Theory, Innovation, and learner empowerment. Matt holds a Ph.D. in Learning Technologies from the University of North Texas, a Master of Education in Educational Technology from UT Brownsville, and a Bachelors of Science in Education from Baylor University. His research interests include instructional design, learning pathways, sociocultural theory, heutagogy, virtual reality, and open networked learning. He has a background in instructional design and teaching at both the secondary and university levels and has been an active blogger and conference presenter. He also enjoys networking and collaborative efforts involving faculty, students, administration, and anyone involved in the education process.

DALMOOC Design and Scaffolding

Returning again to the design of DALMOOC and more specifically the visual syllabus, I wanted to take a look at the scaffolding decisions that were made. In some ways, this course was a unique challenge because we had to do some true scaffolding that could possible span several different levels of experience, from complete newbie to seasoned expert. This is different than most instances of scaffolding, because typically college curses are really more along the lines of linear constructivism than scaffolding. What I mean is this: for most courses on the college level, you assume that your learners have a prerequisite level of knowledge from either high school or earlier pre-req courses. You aren’t introducing, say, physics for the first time ever – but instead you are building on the Intro to Physics course in order to help students learn how to build rockets and predict launch patterns. So you don’t scaffold as much as take chunks of knowledge and skills and plug them into (linear constructivism) existing knowledge. This is scaffolding at the basic level, but you may or may not go beyond one level of scaffolding.

With DALMOOC, we knew that learning analytics is still new for many, but old news for some that may just want to learn some different tools. Additionally, we were adding in new technology that we knew for a fact that no one had ever used. Throw in that mix an international crowd that won’t all be speaking English and then even add the idea to create a visual syllabus (which few are familiar with). This is a tall order covering a huge range that most courses don’t have to consider.

So where to start? Well, with the first page of the syllabus. It needed to be visual, with minimal text, but clear where to start. A wall of text that basically says “start here” kind of violates a lot of what it needed to be. But if you look at anything from OLC to Quality Matters, most online course evaluation tools recommend having a clear and simple indication of where to start. What is more simple and easy to understand than a basic “1, 2, 3, etc”? I have traveled to Asia and Europe and Africa and even people who don’t know English still understand enough about our number system to know that a web page with those numbers on them would indicate you start with number 1.

Of course, a small number of people felt that this was still too confusing. I’m not sure what to say to that. You are presented with a page that says “Welcome to the Class” and then some big buttons that are labeled 1, 2, 3, etc. I’m not sure what is simpler than that.

Of course, I realize that there are those that really, really need the text because they have been programmed to look for it their whole lives. The buttons were given a rollover effect that gives a more detailed description of what they are leading to. This serves two purposes. One, it gives detailed descriptions that are there when you need them, but aren’t filling the screen and overwhelming people that are completely new. Two, they make you actually do something with the syllabus instead of just passively reading a wall of text. You have to mouse over or click on various items to get more details. This moves you from passive to (slightly) active. This was on purpose to get learners engaging more with the content on the very first page. Additionally, this idea was continued on the other various visuals.

For those that are not new to all of this, links were provided on the upper right hand corner – where they usually are on most websites. We don’t expect people to follow the path laid out for them. In fact, we encouraged learners to skip around and make their own path as needed. And that was also possible from the design.

As expected, there was some push back from a few learners (about 5-10 out of the 6,000 that were active at some point) on the design. The basic feedback was that they didn’t like the roll over effects. They wanted the text to be there without rolling over. This probably tells me that the right decision was made, because that was exactly what the rollover effects were designed to do: make the learner do something instead of passively absorbing text. Of course, there are other ways to accomplish the same goal, so other ideas might be used in the future.

The biggest challenge in describing the structure was how to explain the nature of the dual layer course. Course themes are always helpful, as the many versions of ds106 have proven. Of course, it would have been nice to have enough time to have carried out the theme for the whole class. Many of the problems with understanding the structure can probably be traced to the fact that we were not able to inject this theme throughout the entire course (of course, those problems could also come from the fact that we initially designed the daily email to be the central anchor for the course (and therefore, the place were scaffolding and structure sense-making would happen)). It seems like that aspect fell short. However, I think that a consistent theme that is carried throughout the course as a true sensemaking/guidance tool would alleviate many of these issues. Of course, scaffolding in general is a problematic concept in this dual layer approach, but that will have to be a topic for another blog post.

The theme itself was chosen early as an initial idea that ended up sticking. I think the Matrix “blue pill/red pill” theme was a good place to start, but gets a little murky once people start mixing the two and bringing in their own ideas (which is, of course, what we want). My first idea was actually a table full of play-dough – all kinds of colors just waiting for learners to pick and choose and make into whatever they like. Ultimately, this leaned too much towards my connectivism bias and was probably too unstructured for new learners who wanted instructivism. I think that a mixture of the two ideas might work as a better theme in the future: learners are initially given the choice of blue or red play-dough, but they can choose one or the other or mix together to make their own shade of purple – or bring in their own colors to create what they want.

Of course, some of the more complex ideas that were thrown around earlier, like creating scaffolding out of objectives or dynamic group formation and changing, never made it into the course. Interestingly enough, some learners (around 10-15) asked for various versions of these ideas, so they may bear exploration in the future.

Underlying these design decisions were some different theoretical perspectives that go beyond Connectivism and Instructivism (LTCA Theory, Heutagogy, Metamodernism, etc) that will need to be explored in a future blog post.

Matt Crosslin
Matt is currently the Learning Innovation Coordinator with the UT Arlington LINK Research Lab. His research focuses on Learning Theory, Innovation, and learner empowerment. Matt holds a Ph.D. in Learning Technologies from the University of North Texas, a Master of Education in Educational Technology from UT Brownsville, and a Bachelors of Science in Education from Baylor University. His research interests include instructional design, learning pathways, sociocultural theory, heutagogy, virtual reality, and open networked learning. He has a background in instructional design and teaching at both the secondary and university levels and has been an active blogger and conference presenter. He also enjoys networking and collaborative efforts involving faculty, students, administration, and anyone involved in the education process.

MakerSpace Instructional Design

I know MakerSpaces are kind of a rising buzzterm, but I like the idea behind them. Today we met with a few people from around campus to discuss a MakerSpace for the entire campus. I was there because I would totally rather do instructional design this way. Meet together with faculty and students (why do we always leave students out of course design?) to brainstorm crazy ideas for course design. Just have instructors throw out what they want students to do in class and then let the creativity and weirdness flow.

Also image if we had online MakerSpaces for technology tools? In many ways, that is what Jim Groom (one of coolest guys to drive around and chat with) did with his Reclaim Your Domain Demo session at the Sloan-C Emerging Technologies conference. What if that demo space could go online full time and then just blow open the doors for all kinds of other sites and experimentation? What ever the new site social media site of the day is, create a dummy account on it and let people create like crazy. Whatever the open source tool is, let them install it from Installatron and experiment like crazy.

So, yeah, in many ways this would just be open learning design, occupy instructional design, or Massive Open Online Ed Tech, or however else you want to mangle the buzzword metaphor… but basically we need more brainstorming for the design process. Not a new idea by any stretch of the imagination, but something that needs to get more attention.

Oh, and you know Harriet and I would totally create and 3-D print the word ADDIE with a knife in it….

Matt Crosslin
Matt is currently the Learning Innovation Coordinator with the UT Arlington LINK Research Lab. His research focuses on Learning Theory, Innovation, and learner empowerment. Matt holds a Ph.D. in Learning Technologies from the University of North Texas, a Master of Education in Educational Technology from UT Brownsville, and a Bachelors of Science in Education from Baylor University. His research interests include instructional design, learning pathways, sociocultural theory, heutagogy, virtual reality, and open networked learning. He has a background in instructional design and teaching at both the secondary and university levels and has been an active blogger and conference presenter. He also enjoys networking and collaborative efforts involving faculty, students, administration, and anyone involved in the education process.

5 Deadly Sins of Do-It-Yourself Online Instructional Design

When I first started in Instructional Design, the process was pretty top down: instructors gave the designer all of the content and they went to work in their secret bat caves to get it all ready to go online. That model worked for the time, but it took quite a while and instructors were often unable to help students with some issues simply because they were not part of the design process. As time went on, more control was given to instructors in the design phase and the role of instructional designer shifted from producer to guide or teacher. This gave rise to the Do-It-Yourself Designer/Instructor. In some places, this was always the case, but in other places this is becoming more of the norm. But as a trained ID, I see many flavors of DIY IDs committing the same basic design mistakes. Here are my top five – although this list could easily expand past these.

5) Jumping On The Band Wagon Because All The Cool Kids Are

I get it that something is all over the media and it looks fun and you want to try it. But if your first question is: “how can I use this in my class?” then you probably shouldn’t. If you read about some cool tool, website, or idea and don’t immediately get an “A-HA!” moment, chances are it just isn’t for you. Sure, you can try to force it in, but your students will probably see past that and get bored. Because that is where the sin is committed – forcing a cool idea into a class just because it is cool. Make sure you have a solid reason for using it. If you have an activity that you like and you examine all options and find that the cool idea ends up being a great solution, then great – go for it. Just make sure to have a good reason at all times. Experimentation is good – but also remember that the more you experiment with an idea, the further away you should keep that idea from the core of your course. Once you have worked out the kinks and bugs, then move it to being more of the core of your class.

4) Accessibility? Of Course My Students Can Log On. Why Do I Have To Care About Accessibility?

Did I forget to say that all of these are based on real life quotes? So, yeah – there are people out there that don’t get what accessibility is, much less how to design for it. Usually the biggest culprits are things like low font contrast, bright neon colors, no alt tags, no closed captioning, and other easy to fix issues. But a lot of these common issues seem to be rooted in a main source problem: bad graphic design. So here is where you start: if your course looks like it would fit in well with at a 1990’s retro-web museum display, you have probably broken a few accessibility issues on the way to being in trouble with the style police. Did you skip the alt tag box when inserting the cutesy spinning baby gif? Then there is probably no need for it in your class. Does your text move at all? Its not the 70s anymore and disco dancing letters haven’t really been that good of an idea since then. Does the color of your font match the most popular eye shadow colors all the valley girls were wearing in the 80s? Best to leave those colors in the past. And Blackboard headers? If you don’t know how to use modern fonts or how to design banners to blend with the background so that they don’t look like a cheap banner ad, then just step away from the computer. Especially if you want to use Papyrus font.

3) I Have Already Lecture-Captured An Entire Semester, So My Online Class Is Ready To Go.

I am sure that you are the greatest lecturer in the world. I am sure that your students have a blast listening to you in class. But that doesn’t mean it will translate well to lecture capture. The main issue is that you are not talking to the learner sitting at home watching you on a computer. You are talking to a room full of people – who will ask you questions, cause interruptions, fall asleep and cause you to roam off camera to subtlety “refocus” them, etc. Would you be able to sell your lecture capture as an audio book? Probably not – because it is not the right format. We know that students are more satisfied with learning when the instructor engages with them. In lecture capture, you are not engaging the distance learner – you are creating an artifact of you engaging the face-to-face learners. Think of it this way – if you get a video message from your parents, how would you like it if you open up the file and find it was actually a recording of your parents talking to your sibling, and your parents just say “well, we would say the same things to you, so this is good enough.” Create online videos for online learners.

2) These PowerPoints Worked Great In My Lecture, So They Will Be Awesome Online

PowerPoints. Oh, how I wish we would make these illegal online. Mainly because they are not online tools. PowerPoint is basically a program designed to keep people awake in boring presentations. It is not a good tool for communicating content to online students because it was not designed for conveying content. We have this tool for conveying content online called a web page. Most LMS tools have this neat little box where you can enter text and produce a web page faster than you can clean up your PowerPoint files. Oh what’s that? What do I mean by “cleaning up” PowerPoint files? Ummmmm…. well, see…. most PowerPoints tend to be long bullet point lists of short points that serve to remind you what to say next. They usually don’t make sense apart from the accompanying lecture because, well – they rarely contain complete thoughts. And for some reason, even the few complete thoughts that are present get a bullet point stuck in front of them. Ever wonder why your students don’t “get” the lesson when you just give them the PowerPoints from the lecture? It is because they are probably missing everything you share in between those bullet points. Make sure they get all of that – write a flowing narrative that reads like a normal book or article. Your students will thank you for it.

1) ID is Like Bread: Do You Want Stale Stuff From Last Year or Hot New Fresh Stuff?

We probably all remember getting an outdated textbook some point in school – the ones with references to “current” presidents that haven’t been in office for a few terms, or medical advice about sucking poison out of wounds, or blatant racist illustrations that makes everyone squirm. That has always been the problem with printing textbooks – they go out of date quickly. The same happens in online classes all the time – we get them designed, we release them, and then we take it easy for a few semesters. Or even years. The problem is, the world changes from semester to semester. Even from week to week or day to day. Something will go out of date in your course every time it is offered. Many people will spend more time writing update announcements than it would take to just fix the old information. But maybe you should just make it your goal to teach the class differently every time it is offered? Or maybe you should have an active course that relies more on student interaction than your museum content? This is where many so-called “disruptive” technologies get education wrong. They want to capture “good lectures” on video or capture “brilliant minds” in books and turn the course into a museum where you come to watch something that has been recycled for semesters on top of semesters. Some of the best classes I have ever taken as a student were taught by instructors that told us right from the beginning that they taught the course different every time.  Don’t want your students cheating off a roommate that took your course last year? Then make sure its not the same. Don’t want students selling old copies of your assignments? Make them new and fresh every time. Even if your content hasn’t changed, create a theme for the course. Have some fun and make it different every time. Make it more open ended and constructivist so that even you don’t know exactly how it will be taught each time. Move to a student-centered mindset and see how fun (or crazy) it gets. But most of all, don’t be stale.

Matt Crosslin
Matt is currently the Learning Innovation Coordinator with the UT Arlington LINK Research Lab. His research focuses on Learning Theory, Innovation, and learner empowerment. Matt holds a Ph.D. in Learning Technologies from the University of North Texas, a Master of Education in Educational Technology from UT Brownsville, and a Bachelors of Science in Education from Baylor University. His research interests include instructional design, learning pathways, sociocultural theory, heutagogy, virtual reality, and open networked learning. He has a background in instructional design and teaching at both the secondary and university levels and has been an active blogger and conference presenter. He also enjoys networking and collaborative efforts involving faculty, students, administration, and anyone involved in the education process.

ID discusses the finer points of engaging students with Professor…

Darren Crone
Darren is a sarcastic, odd, bald man with a very dry sense of humor. He originally hails from Albany, N.Y., but claims Charleston, S.C. as his hometown.He joined the Air Force soon after graduating high school. This decision was made because a) working as a busboy wasn’t quite cutting it, and b) he had zero desire to ever attend college. While in the Air Force, he traveled the world as a Combat Cameraman, documenting both natural and man made disasters in places such as Thailand, Namibia, Armenia, Germany, Panama, Italy, Croatia, Japan, Singapore, and probably more than a few places that have changed names since you began reading this bio. There are many stories about his travels locked away in a vault somewhere and it is said that Samuel Adams holds the key.

While in the Air Force, he was given the opportunity to attend a year-long Video Journalism program at Syracuse University. Much to his amazement, he found that higher education didn’t suck at all. Having been bitten by the education bug, he completed his BS and MA in education and training from Southern Illinois University and Webster University respectively. He then completed his doctorate in instructional technology and distance education form Nova Southeastern University.

Darren currently works as an Instructional Designer at The University of Texas at Dallas and enjoys spending time with his wife, children, dogs and fish. His hobbies include weight training, watching the Texas Rangers (yes, really), and trying to appear smarter than he really is.

(Finally) Playing with Prezi

People have been talking about Prezi for a while now, and I’m finally giving it a try. (I’m pretty sure Matt and Harriet used it over a year ago at TxDLA, so I’m definitely behind on this one. Oh well.) Below is my first whack at prezi for my eLearning Online Course Design workshop.

In the workshop, we basically we cover three main areas in this workshop: instructional design (the basics), learning objectives (and using the Goals tool in Bb Vista), and structuring your content (and using Learning Modules, Folders, and Selective Release in Vista). We spent a full hour (out of the two-hour session) on learning objectives, and I knew I’d made an impression when one of the participants came up to me afterwards and said, “This really goes against the ‘fly by the seat of your pants’ mentality that we’re all tempted to take, where we don’t work on our class until a week before we meet.”

Prezi
Click to view prezi.

Lessons learned after using Prezi:

  • Limited design options (fonts, shapes, colors), but this keeps it simply and easy to use
  • I zoomed/focused a bit too much on each individual point. Useful sometimes, but other times it’s too much.
  • I like the ability to easily zoom out and focus on a topic discussed earlier, rather than having to find it in my sequence of slides then later trying to find where I am.
  • Definitely a time suck. Not on the scale of the Sims or Second Life, but set aside a couple of hours for you to explore.
  • This “non-traditional” presentation is definitely impressive. … At least to those who are not overly-tech-savvy.
Katrina Adams
Howdy folks! I’m an Instructional Designer at UT Dallas. I have a Bachelor’s in Elementary Education from Angelo State University and a Master’s in Computer Education and Cognitive Systems from the University of North Texas. I’ve been working in edtech for 11 years. Hmm… what else? I’m a *huge* fan of that little Irish band called U2, and I’m a bigtime Firefly/Serenity advocate.

Microlectures: A Constructivist’s Dream Come True

Here’s another emerging trend for you: Microlectures.  The Chronicle of Higher Education has an interesting article on microlectures called “These Lectures Are Gone in 60 Seconds.”  Basically, one would create a microlecture in this fashion:

Take a 60-minute lecture. Cut the excess verbiage, do away with most of the details, and pare it down to key concepts and themes.

What always makes me laugh about these articles is that some expert always comes in at some point and enlightens us about the short comings of some trend.  Trends are not perfect?  Really?  I think the pedagogical limitations of a microlecture are obvious.  They are obviously not great for more complex subjects that need detailed explanations (but where you need a more detailed explanation of complex subject… why not still chunk that complex subject into smaller steps…  you know, to help people grasp them easier?).

The important thing is that by considering a microlecture, some instructors might actually see the bad pedagogy they have been using all along.  Because while it is true that some concepts are too complex for a microlecture, I would be willing to bet that there at least a thousand percent or more concepts that are not complex enough for a full lecture and get that treatment anyways.  I’m also an instructor from time to time, and let’s face it – we tend to have a habit of loving the sound of our own voice.

The article link above is also a great resource in that (at the end) it teaches how to create a microlecture.  The important thing to note is that a microlecture can be more than 60 seconds.  Also note point number 4 on the list  – this step is very important in helping students actively construct the knowledge they need.  The important part to remember is that the microlecture does not communicate everything the students need to learn… they still have to construct that later on their own.

Matt Crosslin
Matt is currently the Learning Innovation Coordinator with the UT Arlington LINK Research Lab. His research focuses on Learning Theory, Innovation, and learner empowerment. Matt holds a Ph.D. in Learning Technologies from the University of North Texas, a Master of Education in Educational Technology from UT Brownsville, and a Bachelors of Science in Education from Baylor University. His research interests include instructional design, learning pathways, sociocultural theory, heutagogy, virtual reality, and open networked learning. He has a background in instructional design and teaching at both the secondary and university levels and has been an active blogger and conference presenter. He also enjoys networking and collaborative efforts involving faculty, students, administration, and anyone involved in the education process.