Instructional Design Essentials – Final Project

For my final project, I am envisioning one module in a longer multimedia online learning experience aimed at Harvard freshmen. The module will be delivered entirely online , asynchronously. Based on feedback from the other #ideala participants, I think that I can use a tool like Articulate Storyline or Adobe Capitvate to create a rich learning environment that would include self-assessments, simulations, personalization, and formative and summative assessment.

For the purposes of this assignment I have been focusing on the module designed to address the following learning goal”evaluate three major databases and choose the appropriate one for starting journal article searches.” The module would include a short quiz so students could self-assess their level of competence, and so that they could start at the appropriate point in the module. The module would be designed with cognitivist and socio-constructivist principles in mind, as well as with attention to multimedia learning theories. The goal is to chunk information and scaffold students, but also to provide some element of personalization, so that students can relate the content to scenarios they are likely to encounter. Short pop-up quizzes will be included at strategic points in the module to assess student learning as they go. If possible, the module would adapt based on the assessment results, allowing students to review or skip ahead as needed. At the end of the module students would be asked a few questions (open and closed-ended) to give feedback on the experience and to help them further reflect on what they learned. This data would also be used for future refinements of the module.

This course has been very useful in helping me think through the challenges of designing stand-alone modules in a much more thoughtful and structured way. I feel like I now have a much better handle on what things are possible, as well as having gained some useful ideas for software and tools to help make it possible. It was also somewhat reassuring to read about the challenges that librarians from vastly different institutions are all sharing, with regard to student preparation and he challenges of teaching information literacy skills. It has helped me to really hone in on engagement as a principle factor that will shape the design of the modules.

It’s been a very interesting and informative four weeks!

Filling my plate at the ed-tech buffet

In our week 4 post we are asked to consider what technologies might be most appropriate for our final projects. My short answer: I have no idea.

Ok, well, that’s not quite true, I do have a LOT of ideas. But in my case, I’m not so much picking from a list of possible technologies as I am trying to figure out how to design a learning experience that would be accessible online, anytime. What I have been sketching out over the last few weeks is more than just a video, more than just a screencast. What I am looking for is a multimedia format that will combine audio & video, text, database simulations or walkthroughs, and quizzes. I am not sure, based on the various technologies that I have used over the years, that there is ONE tool that will do that. What I suspect is that if we move forward with building stand-alone modules then we will need to do just that – build something that has these components. That’s definitely outside of my skill set (I am not a programmer). One possibility is that something could be done within our LMS, but as we are currently transitioning to a new system, there are still a lot of unknowns there.

In addition, and with regards to the NMC trends for libraries and higher ed, anything we build has to be mobile-ready. That’s another challenge that I will need help solving. While I am usually fairly skeptical of tech predictions, I think we can already see that mobile devices are prevalent in our library spaces. 42% of US adults own a tablet, and 58% own a smartphone. That number is even higher for the college-age cohort, 83% of whom own smartphones. Increasingly we are seeing people’s internet access funneled through mobile devices, and that means that any instructional content we create online has to be functional and smooth on a mobile device. And to add complexity, I think it’s very important that whatever we build has to be accessible as well. Video without captions, for example, leaves a lot of people out in the dust.

There are a lot of emerging educational technologies out there that I think have the potential to be used to teach research skills in a library setting. Ones that I am starting to explore include games and simulations, intelligent tutors, and adaptive learning. But without knowing more specifically about how these systems work, I can’t really say how they would meet the specific learning objectives for my imagined module. More research is needed!

What’s my motivation? (week 3 pt 2)

For the second part of our Week 3 blog, our intrepid course leaders have asked us to consider how we might motivate our learners. In some ways, for my project I might be a little luckier than most, in that this is not a required course, or a one-shot that students may feel “forced” to pay attention to, but rather optional, asynchronous online modules. So I think that at least some of the people who would be hypothetically viewing the modules would be intrinsically motivated. For example, there are a lot of libraries at Harvard that do face-to-face library instruction. I can imagine one audience for the modules being people who wanted to attend a F2F session but could not for scheduling reasons. Others might be non-native English speakers who want to view the module to review what they learned in a F2F session (something that seems to be a need for at least some of the libraries here). There might be other intrinsically motivated groups, too, for example students who are trying to get started in a project late at night or on a weekend and need some instruction outside of working hours (though I’m sure that never happens ;-p). I’m not quite sure what to do about learners who are not intrinsically motivated to use the modules. I don’t know if these will ever be required for any students groups (for example, to view before attending a F2F session), but if that happens, then we would also need to think about how to sell the usefulness of the modules to these groups.

Instead, what I think is the big motivational challenge is *keeping* learners engaged after they have started the module. Assuming we can drive people to the content, how do we keep them? I think that the ARCS model is potentially useful here. If we can capture their attention, I think the drop down menu I described in the previous post can help establish relevance. Potentially having some adaptive assessment programmed in, along with some feedback, can help establish learner’s confidence. As far as satisfaction, we can potentially also solicit feedback from the learners in order to find out how well they feel they learned from the modules, what they liked, etc (h/t to Erica for this idea in her comment on my previous post). A bonus of this would be being able to use this feedback to make changes if need be.

The other think I’ve been thinking about this week in relation to motivation is flow theory. This concept is also used in talking about game design, and as I mentioned in previous posts, I am interested in exploring how we can use education game design techniques to make research literacy modules. If we can help learners experience flow, and feel immersed in the content, then they will hopefully both learn and have a more satisfactory, and maybe even enjoyable, experience! I have actually signed up for this edX course to try to learn more about game design and how it can be applied in educational settings.

You got your theory in my ID — tastes great!

In general, I am drawn most to constructivist and social constructivist approaches to teaching and learning. These approaches also are very compatible with my research approach, which is grounded in ethnomethodology. I do also think there is some value to cognitivism, particularly in reminding us to think about how information is presented to learners (organized and chunked). With regard to online learning, I think cognitive approaches take on even greater importance because of the need for structure. Ideally I would like to create online learning modules that draw on all three of these approaches, but once again I am met with some design challenges. In particular, how do you incorporate learners’ experiences into asynchronous modules? How do you target the learners’ zone of proximal development if you don’t really know who your learners are and what they know? Obviously, as I mentioned in an earlier post, some of these answers might be found more generally in research prior to development. A survey of incoming freshman could reveal general trends in knowledge/experience/sociocultural context that could help inform the design of online modules. I suspect there are also some things that can be done by incorporating some adaptive learning programming into the modules, so perhaps the module can assess with a few questions what the learner’s ZPD is. I don’t have the programming background to know more about how that would work, so again I would love any ideas in that direction.

Given these challenges, I did start trying to sketch out a *very rough* idea for a module targeted at freshmen, linking back to the assessments and goals I discussed last week. This module would be focused on journal searching, and in particular on assessing three major databases.
In the opening screen of the module, I imagine some kind of overview of what the module would cover. This would probably be one of several modules, so the menu bar would include links back to previous/future modules. One of the ways that I thought could help inch this module in the constructivist area would be to come up with some general scenarios that freshman in this case would be likely to encounter. I thought that the question “What do you want to do today?” might help get students to think about their experiences a bit. The drop down menu would then have different options, perhaps “Learn about scholarly journals,” “Learn how to choose a journal database,” etc. The bottom boxes represent windows for each of the three databases we discuss in the module, and hovering over the box would bring up the text “Learn how to use [database].” My hope is that giving some options would help the learners customize their experiences to the extent possible in a stand-alone module.


Depending on what option was chosen, the module would move one to more specific instruction. This might be a place to have some adaptive learning questions, maybe? In this wireframe I envision the student has chosen to learn how to choose a database. There would be a video demo or similar that shows the features of the database, and on the right some of the main bullet points for comparing the database. The bottom of the screen has the same windows for the three databases, so the student could either proceed to the next one in the sequence or skip.

As I said, this is very rough, but I hope you can see how this might start to address some constructivist approaches to ID. I welcome any thoughts or suggestions!

Week 2 – Where the rubber meets the road: Assessment!

This week’s assignment has had me spending A LOT of time staring at my notes trying to think through the challenges of assessing learning in online, asynchronous modules. Even if it were an online course, I would still have opportunities to interact with students, and that opens up so many more possibilities for active learning assignments and quality assessment tools. When you’re designing stand-alone online learning modules, the challenges are both conceptual AND technological. I could probably dream up a lot of interesting assessment, but can they be implemented?

That said, here are my thoughts on Fink’s Procedures for Educative Assessment:

As I noted last week, for the purposes of this class I am working on an introductory research skills module aimed at freshmen, covering the library catalogs and journal databases. Here are two forward-looking assessment situations:
1. A student needs to locate a specific book chapter that is listed as required reading on a class syllabus
2. A student needs to locate three peer-reviewed journal articles on a specific topic for a class assignment

One of my learning goals relates specifically to situation 2: Evaluate three major databases and choose the appropriate one for starting journal article searches. I’m having a harder time coming up with criteria that are more than just binary. For example, one criterion for meeting this goal would be: The student selects the correct starting database for the discipline in the assignment (i.e. WoS for hard science topic, etc.). Another criterion might be: Student selects WoS or ASP if most recent research (i.e. last 3-5 years) is required by the assignment. A third criterion would be: Student selects at least one additional database for the search and compares the results.

I’m going to talk about self-assessment, FIDeLity Feedback and the active learning stuff together, because I think this is really the tricky part of designing online learning modules. Let’s face it, most online tutorials are still fairly passive, either a series of text heavy pages, maybe a narrated PowerPoint, or screencasts. We’ve been seeing more going on with tools like pop-up quizzes, which helps, but the simple fact is that is is much harder to engage students in active experiences, and relatedly, hard to give immediate feedback (or even any feedback) when there is no instructor and the modules are accessed asynchronously. In most cases, you are back to delivering information to learners, so there is not an opportunity to actually see what they are doing, and therefore it is difficult to assess their learning. The actual proof of learning might come when they turn their assignments in to their classes, and the librarian might never get any feedback as to whether an online module was helpful to students or not.

However, I don’t think all hope is lost. It does seem like there is technology that is making it easier to embed quizzes into screencasts, so in addition to doing some simple multiple-choice assessment of knowledge activities, I thought perhaps a type of self-assessment might be to ask students to rate their confidence in carrying out the task on a likert-type scale. In addition, I think the use of simulations may help in online library instruction. For example, I recently heard about the Guide on the Side tool from the University of Arizona (where our course leaders are!), and it looks very promising (does it work with resources that are behind a login, like databases?). In the case of my specific learning goal, if I had a tool that would allow learners to run simulated searches with feedback like some of the samples on the Guide on the Side page, that would seem to be more of an active experience, and would hopefully allow for more accurate assessment. I am also interested in exploring the possibilities of games for designing online instruction in libraries, but it is not a subject I know a lot about. So if anybody here has ever used games or other simulations, I would love to hear about it! For those of us working on asynchronous online modules, I think the real challenge lies in what tools are available at your particular institution, because unfortunately that is going to limit the kinds of instructional and assessment activities you can design. The other constraint that goes with that is that all the feedback has to be pre-programmed in, so there is no flexibility for individualization or spontaneity.

Speaking of feedback, I want to talk a little bit about the FIDeLity model. As I already noted, frequent and immediate feedback are big hurdles in asynchronous online learning, particularly in self-contained modules. Something that I think does not get enough attention, but that I think is really important, however, is how emotion is communicated online, particularly in text-based environments. I’m coming at this as somebody with a background in online communication research, and based on some recent research that I’ve seen, as well as a decade+ of observing and studying online conversation, my current working hypothesis is that people are generally really bad at accurately decoding the emotional intent of text-based communication. For online learning, I think the implication is that your words may be perceived as sounding harsher if they are delivered through text. Even feedback that is meant to sound positive may be at best perceived as neutral. So if a goal is to design online learning that contains feedback delivered with empathy, then I think we have to try to come up with ways to move beyond text, and incorporate maybe audio and or video feedback on our modules. Of course, that adds to the workload and the technical challenges, which is also an inescapable part of online instructional design. It’s not something I’ve seen much of, so I’m interested if anybody knows of good examples.

I’m not sure if I’ve quite answered all the questions, but I’d love to hear what people think, particularly if you are also trying to create stand-alone online learning content.

Week 1 – part 2

Formulating Learning Goals

I think sometimes that formulating meaningful learning goals is one of the hardest parts of course design. It’s really easy to come up with a bunch of content, but actually trying to articulate exactly what you want students to get from that content can be pretty challenging. I have the advantage of having a lot of preexisting content, but no real information on who put it together or what the goals were when it was compiled.

The other challenge when designing in smaller modules, rather than courses, is to figure out how to chunk the information. Right now, we have a starter guide for freshmen, but I’m wondering if one module can realistically cover all of the material. So for right now, I am scaling back on the learning goals. Here is what I have come up with so far:

Knowledge Goals
-know the difference between the two online catalogs and how to choose the appropriate catalog for the research task
-know the various access points for Harvard library materials

Application Goals (the biggest focus of this module)
-be able to formulate good research questions
-demonstrate the ability to effectively search the two online catalogs
-be able to evaluate three major databases and choose the appropriate one for starting journal article searches
-be able to assess additional library sources beyond the major databases for their appropriateness for different research problems

Integration Goals
We are at the very early part of thinking about what an online learning strategy would be for the libraries, but I think that ultimately one goal would be that various modules connect to each other in some way. So ideally whatever students learn in an introductory module could be built on in subsequent modules. In addition, I would want students to be able to integrate the content across their studies. Beyond that, I would like online library instruction to help students learn how to think about the data-and information-rich environments they will likely encounter in the rest of their careers and lives.

I’m not sure of this counts as a learning-how-to-learn goal or not, but I would like students to feel comfortable navigating various information-rich environments, but also to adopt a critical eye when looking at sources and information. But I also want them to know how to ask for help, too! I definitely don’t think they will get there directly from going through one online module, but what I would hope is that it would start them on their journey.

Week 1- part 1

Here are my responses to the first set of questions in Fink’s Guide.
Situational Factors
1. One of my goals is to help design online learning modules that can be used across the Harvard libraries. This poses a challenge in assessing the learning context, because the modules will ideally be used by undergraduate, graduate, and professional students across the various colleges and schools. For the sake of this class, however, I will focus on an introductory research skills module aimed at freshmen. The module would be available online, to be used as a supplement to face-to-face library instruction, for students who missed an in-person overview, or for students who want to refresh their memories. Faculty would also be encouraged to embed the module in their course sites.

2. In general, the expectations are that this module will help freshmen develop a basic understanding of the type of research they will be expected to do at Harvard. The other main expectation is that students will have at least a basic understanding of the resources available to them at the Harvard libraries, and will know how to start their research. These learning goals will be further developed in collaboration with Harvard research librarians.

3. This is definitely a practical, applied subject. One of the challenges we face is that Harvard has just launched a new online catalog interface, but the old interface is still active (and they do different things). The other main challenge is that there are over 70 libraries at Harvard, and there are multiple portals to accessing library resources. This means that it will be a challenge to decide what to include and what to exclude in an online learning module.

4. As freshmen, the target students are bright and motivated. However, they are likely to have had similar experiences as other freshmen in terms of their high school research experiences. They likely have not used many resources beyond Google, and may be overwhelmed by the sheer number of options they have available to them. I expect to be able to add more to this question as I spend more time talking to research librarians and their experiences.

5. In the context of online learning, assessing the characteristics of the teacher is an interesting question. For the particular module I have in mind, there will not be one “teacher,” per se. Rather, what I anticipate is that we will be revising existing materials and calling upon the expertise of multiple librarians in order to shape the design of this module. The module will most likely be designed to be delivered asynchronously, and it may feature the voices and/or faces of multiple librarians. But all of that could change depending on the actual design.

Just as an aside to Part 1, I think this list is extremely useful, but possibly somewhat limited in its focus on course-based instruction. I think perhaps this list presupposes a familiarity with the learning situation that somebody new to a particular institution or learning environment might not have. So actually a first step before the design process could be a data gathering process. These might be questions that need to be discussed with colleagues, for example.

Instructional Design Elements course

I am currently transitioning into a librarian role, after working as a faculty member in higher education for more than 15 years. In my new position as the Online Learning Librarian for the Harvard Library I will be leading and managing collaborative efforts in the development of online learning programs across the Harvard libraries. I started getting involved in online learning back in the late 90s when I worked at a community college in west Texas, and in my last position I coordinated an online BA program. I am taking this course to get a better perspective on the language of instructional design, and particularly for ID in a library setting.

New job!

I am very happy to announce that I will be joining the Harvard Library this fall in a new position focusing on online learning. As the Online Learning Librarian, I will be leading and managing collaborative efforts in the development and delivery of innovative e-learning programs and services across Harvard libraries. I will be collaborating with the HarvardX team, as well as with Research, Teaching and Learning library staff across Harvard to design and develop programs to build and assess online learning modules and tutorials that develop student research experiences and skills. I am very excited to be able to bring my perspective as a communication scholar to research on pedagogical and technological innovations and learning outcomes in the online learning area, and to be able to develop and apply best practices drawn from research.