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How Can Instructional Designers Support Faculty?

Part 1: Crafting Objectives and Recommending Content Delivery Methods

If you are a faculty member at a college or university and you have been asked (or told) to move your popular face-to-face course online, would you know where to begin? Do you have enough time in your busy schedule to attempt a trial and error approach? Did you know that there are professionals who specialize in moving courses online? We are instructional designers (IDs) and we would love to help you.

There are many steps instructional designers can take when working with faculty to move a traditional course online. One of the first is to help faculty members identify the objectives of the course. Another is to recommend the most effective ways to deliver the course content. In this blog, my colleague Sue Livingston and I will give examples of how we work with faculty to complete these two steps.

Professor A had a popular course about 19th century Europe. She provided us with her lecture notes, reading material, guidelines for a semester project, and the syllabus. Specific course objectives were not entirely apparent from these materials, although the syllabus told the students what portion of their grades came from class discussion, quizzes, exams, and the semester project.

Professor A and I met for about an hour. I asked her "What do you want your students to be able to do and know at the end of this course? Professor A replied, "The student should understand the critical events that shaped 19th century Europe."  That sounds like a good objective, except for one problem. How does the instructor KNOW that the student “understands” the critical events that shaped 19th century Europe? And just as important, how does the student know for certain that he or she understands? This led to a conversation that was specifically about observable objectives.

An observable objective is one where the verb used will result in a product that the instructor can see. If a student can correctly answer a multiple choice question, the instructor can see the answer and know that it is correct. In this case, the verb is “answer.” If the student participates in online discussion forums, there is a saved online conversation where the instructor can see this participation. But in this case, the verb “participate” may not clearly reflect the instructor’s expectation that the student contribute actively to the discussion. Our goal is to help instructors to create observable objectives for their course. This lets students know exactly what is expected of them AND it helps the instructor focus the students' efforts.

Here is an example of one of the new, observable, objectives we created for Professor A's course: "The student will correctly answer quiz questions at a rate of 70% or higher." Here is another example: "The student will participate in every online class discussion by asking at least one content-related question, and correctly answering at least one content-related question from the professor or another student. We continued this process until observable objectives were written for every activity, quiz, project, and exam that the students would complete for this course.

Professor B, an accounting professor, reached out to his dean for assistance in taking his in-person, entry-level accounting course and placing it online. The dean decided they would need the assistance of an ID who was experienced in blended and fully online learning.

After a conversation to establish the objectives for the course, my second conversation with Professor B was to review the possible delivery methods. I asked Professor B how he would like to deliver his course online. He replied, “I just want you to record my lectures, I’ll be using the whiteboard to demonstrate, and then we can put it all in the LMS.” Placing any traditional course online means more than simply taking the existing content and creating an electronic copy to be placed in the LMS. This was my opportunity to discuss delivery methods that would be well suited for the content and keep the student engaged.

Because Professor B was comfortable being on camera, I knew that we could make good use of video. Video demonstrations became one of the important components of the course. We worked on a consistent design for the videos and aligned them to the unit-level objectives. We reviewed how he could use some simple recording software to record short video lessons that would replace in-person lectures. The videos would include the professor on camera in a smaller window for just a few moments. Then the demonstration would become the focus of the video. The professor would use screen recording software on his tablet rather than on a classroom whiteboard.

Based on research1 I knew that these videos would be most effective if they were no more than 4 to 6 minutes in length, with key points covered in the beginning of the video. To accomplish this, the videos were scripted. This script was used for closed captioning in the video to meet accessibility requirements. The LMS at Professor B’s institution supported interactive videos that enabled the instructor to embed quizzes. We took advantage of this to add self-checks to the end of each of the video segments. Using these short videos reduced the cognitive load on the student and the embedded quizzes kept the student engaged.

The professor was concerned about the engagement of his students. He normally taught this course in person and he felt he was losing the ability to connect with his students and the ability of his students to connect with each other. He had several group projects that involved analyzing an income statement and balance sheet of a corporation. Students would work together to identify potential issues with the company's health. To support the professor’s objective of continuing to include group projects, we enabled discussion boards in the LMS. The professor would post the team assignments on the board. The students would make comments on the balance sheet and income statement for their group. They would also comment on each other’s comments, similar to a social media post. The rubric for this assignment was designed to be clear and concise so that the students knew exactly what the expectations were and how they were to be graded.

When you move a course online, you lose the in-person interactive component of the learning experience. You may not be face-to-face with your students in the classroom, but there are many ways to achieve student interaction, just as there are many ways to achieve a high-quality online course experience. Let an instructional designer help you with all of it!
[1] "SIGCHI Conference Proceedings Format - MIT CSAIL." Accessed 11 Aug. 2020.

Jane Gibbons

Jane Gibbons

Instructional Designer
I’m Jane Gibbons, an instructional designer here at Unicon. I have a master’s degree in Educational Technology and have been working as an instructional designer for many years. I have worked for small vendors with big clients and as an employee of large Silicon Valley companies. I was an independent contractor for several years before I hit the jackpot by being hired by the good folks at Unicon.