The Rules of Engagement

online courseI was reading an article with suggestions on how to get more social media engagement on the same day that I was doing a Quality Matters (QM) review of an online course. The QM rubrics ask a reviewer to consider student engagement. Social media marketing and higher education may seem very different, but the engagement objective is certainly shared.

I decided to walk through the article's suggestions with an eye to online courses to see how much crossover I would find. 

The article says there are three rules of engagement for social media: Be Consistent. Ask Specific Questions. Include an Element of Fun.  I'd have to say I would like to see all three true in online courses. 

Having come from the K-12 world before higher ed, I learned quickly that consistency in my teaching was critical. That was true about lesson presentation, grading, discipline and all the rules that are on the syllabus and that come up throughout the year. Consistency builds a kind of trust in student expectations. It helps avoid situations where you might be accused of treating some students better or worse than others. My middle school classroom had a pretty much daily routine that became so natural that when I did depart from it my students immediately noticed it. That can sound a little boring and occasional "inconsistencies" and spontaneous teachable moments are certainly also needed.

As a reviewer of online courses, I try to put myself in the place of a new student in the course and I often find that instructions for assignments and even discussion questions are just not very clear. Ask Specific Questions is very important. Teachers know that a question in a classroom such as "Are there any questions?" or "Does everyone understand that?" are terrible ways to elicit responses and a terrible way to check on learning. 

Including an "Element of Fun" sounds great and yet I know that if I suggest that to many professors I will get a doctoral stare from them. Sadly, I have learned that there are too many teachers who think that real learning should NOT be fun. In fact, they seem to associate suffering with learning, as in the equally stupid mantra of "No pain, no gain." The best learning experiences are enjoyable ones. That's why gamification became a hot topic in education. It's not that everything in a course should be like playing a video game, but what makes games on and offline engaging should certainly be considered.

Create a Club-Like Experience. "Club" isn't the right word in education, but online you will often hear that you need to build an online "community." Social media sites are very good at this. They gain followers who check sites every day, post, like, and comment. Isn't that what you want in your online class community? 

I always tell the faculty that they need to personalize their courses and that they need to have a social presence there. Video is a great way to do this with things like a syllabus and course walkthrough video using screen capture and your voice. You should also let students see you. The experience shouldn't be like hearing a voice on the radio that you can't attach to any actual human. A short (less than 5 minutes) welcome video for the course is easy to record using anything from your phone to whatever your school provides. It can be shot in your office or from your couch. But what if it is a video of you at the park with your dog, or you in your lab on campus? Either is more interesting and would also present another side of you.

Beyond the rules, there are also many tips and suggestions to increase engagement. One suggestion is to encourage conversations with audience triggers. The "trigger" term might trigger things associations like pain points. These sparks(?) for conversation have nothing to do with the topic of your content or your primary value but use the personal likes/dislikes of your audience. Of course, you first need to know those likes/dislikes. Then, you can use hobbies and other interests, such as movies, pets or sports, as a pathway to content. (This might be your entry into "fun.")

Using visuals is hardly new in presenting in face-to-face situations but it is still lacking in many online courses that are very text-based.  (BTW, putting text on PowerPoint slides is NOT visual - even when you insert some gratuitous clip art.)

There are plenty of articles on increasing engagement online ( a few below) but I am suggesting that you also look to how engagement is encouraged online by advertisers, game makers and the stars of social media.



https://www.d2l.com/blog/7-tips-for-increasing-student-engagement-in-online-courses/

https://onlinelearningconsortium.org/news_item/ten-ways-overcome-barriers-student-engagement-online/

https://www.wbtsystems.com/learning-hub/blogs/9-ways-to-increase-online-student-engagement 

https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/online-education/student-engagement-how-to-help-students-succeed-in-the-online-environment/

https://community.canvaslms.com/thread/16033-student-engagement-in-an-online-course

 

What Is on the Horizon in Higher Education

horizonThe annual EDUCAUSE Horizon Report for Higher Education is always interesting to read. The report for 2019 is online now. It is 44 pages, so it would be a full lunchtime read, but as a cheater's guide or preview I offer the two parts that I always look at first.  

One is the section on "Key Trends Accelerating Higher Education Technology Adoption."  If you look back at past reports you will see that some trends come back for several years. That is partly intentional as the report predicts ones that should be considered "Short-Term" meaning in the next one or two years, as well as ones for 3-5 years and long-term trends that are probably 5+ years away.

Of course, there are also trends and tech developments that are almost perennial. We always seem to be rethinking online learning, learning spaces and assessment. And some tech, such as blockchain and rethinking degrees, have been "on the horizon" for a chunk of years and still don't seem to be really making a big difference.

In the short-term, the report lists "Redesigning Learning Spaces" and "Blended Learning Designs."

For Mid-Term Adoption in the next 3-5 years, they list "Advancing Cultures of Innovation" and a "Growing Focus on Measuring Learning." I think the latter should be moved up as a perennial topic.

In the 5+ years category is the rather broad "Rethinking How Institutions Work" and the returning "Modularized and Disaggregated Degrees."

The other section I always jump to is called "Important Developments in Technology for Higher Education." Again, there are predicted "Time-to-Adoption Horizons" given for each. 

The report also considers the challenges in adopting any of these technologies or trends. For example, one that I have been challenged by since I started in higher education tech in 2000 is what they term "The Evolving Roles of Faculty with Ed Tech Strategies."

The report says about that (and I generally agree) that:

"At institutions of any type or size, involving faculty in the selection and implementation of educational technologies can be difficult. Whether an institution is implementing a new courseware platform for the purpose of personalizing learning or building a completely new program by applying a pedagogical approach such as competency-based learning, such efforts face a range of challenges. Identifying learning outcomes and engagement strategies before identifying educational technology solutions creates an advantage by establishing faculty buy-in at the earliest stages of a strategic initiative.

The role of full-time faculty and adjuncts alike includes being key stakeholders in the adoption and scaling of digital solutions; as such, faculty need to be included in the evaluation, planning, and implementation of any teaching and learning initiative. Institutions that address the needs of all faculty through flexible strategic planning and multimodal faculty support are better situated to overcome the barriers to adoption that can impede scale.

...in order for faculty to fully engage in educational technology, training and professional development should be provided to facilitate incorporation of technology... adjunct faculty also need to be considered in professional development...workshops that include both faculty and students could enable learning for both groups of stakeholders."

But I do always bristle when the business of education overrides pedagogy, such as the statement that "frameworks for tech implementation and prioritizing tech that offers high ROI should be a guiding principle for institutional tech adoption for faculty use."

An ID By Any Other Name (Is Still an ID)

I saw a job posting on higheredjobs.com for a "Remote Learning Architect" and I thought "Hmmm. I design learning, and I work remotely. Am I a Remote Learning Architect?"

I have written about the role of instructional designers      Maybe I am a Learning Experience (LX) Designer. Maybe I am a User Experience (UX) Designer. I know that I design learning experiences for users using instructional design theories and practices. 

I have held those titles in past years and currently I'm working as a Virtual (that's remote, right?) Instructional Designer (ID). It certainly is a job that varies from place to place. In a small college or company, you are likely to be doing some of the work of an instructional technologist, media creator, graphic designer, pedagogical coach and some pretty boring copy/paste of content from faculty and subject matter experts (SME).

That job posting is from iDesign, an educational service company, so it is corporate with a classroom flavor. So, what is a learning architect?  Like George on Seinfeld, I always wanted to be an architect, so this looks like my opportunity. Maybe.

architect

This post will outlive the job posting, so here is an abridged version of the job description. 

Adjunct/Part-Time
iDesign is currently seeking qualified learning architects and instructional technologists to join our course development team. iDesign is offering a comprehensive suite of services to help academic and business partners increase their online presence.
Learning Architects work with Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) and key stakeholders to support and guide the design, development and production of innovative online courses. The Learning Architect collaborates with SMEs to adapt content for online instruction, suggests relevant learning technologies, and develops course materials that support the stated learning objectives. The Learning Architect works closely with a number of team members including Learning Architects, Instructional Technologists, Quality Reviewers, Multimedia Editors and Graphic Designers to ensure the design and development of online learning support the vision of the partner and subject matter experts. Learning Architects works with the Senior Learning Architect/Project Manager to keep them informed of issues that impact course design and development and delivery of the project.

Designing Instruction

In my unretirement, I am back into the world of instructional design this semester. During my first phase working in this area, I was the manager of a department of instructional design, but as the years passed and I moved on I became a designer independently.

For the next year, I will be designing the initial courses that will launch the Virtual campus at the County College of Morris in New Jersey. This is a virtual designer position. I will do almost all my work virtually.

The Instructional Designer (ID) is a fairly new job title that existed in some form in corporate training setting before moving into education. Of course, teachers at all levels have been "designing" their instruction forever. But the instructional designer position really came to the forefront with technology-enhanced teaching and learning and the growth of distance and then online courses.

I often point out that instructional technology is "the other IT" - an abbreviation that is generally meant to mean "information technology." In my world of IT, the "instructional" takes precedence over the "technology." Perhaps, it should abbreviated as It?

If you look at any job postings for IDs, you will find a wide variety of responsibilities and desired skills. I compiled a list back when I was interviewing people for those positions and was surprised to find the number of items on it.

  1. Collaborates with faculty and other subject matter experts to apply current instructional design theories, practice, and methods to learning activities and course content in alignment with learning outcomes.
  2. Provides instructional design or curriculum development training and support to academic units and
  3. whose work is not limited to online and hybrid courses and programs
  4. Addresses accessibility concerns
  5. Develops course templates
  6. Structures learning activities
  7. Creates or assist other sin creating visual resources and interactive elements
  8. Works with faculty to assess and improve the quality of hybrid and online courses using standards such as Quality Matters.
  9. May write or edit copy, instructional text, and audio/video scripts for courses 
  10. Identifies opportunities for adoption of open education resources OER
  11. Provides additional help to faculty with a learning management system (Canvas, Moodle, Blackboard etc.)
  12. Develops and facilitates individual and cohort-based training and orientation programs
  13. Stays current with expertise in the field by reading appropriate professional journals and trade publications, and
  14. Attends and presents at professional conferences, workshops and meetings
  15. May serve on library, university, and regional or national committees and project teams
  16. Coordinates activities related to orientation and onboarding in-depth/comprehensive pedagogical and instructional technology support of new full and part time instructors.
  17. Consults with faculty on approaches to learning and instruction and helps them to develop materials such as assignment instructions, rubrics, etc.
  18. Provides models, templates, and frameworks that faculty can use to structure course related projects, assignments, and activities.
  19. Manages the design and development of curriculum and courses according to project timelines.
  20. Assists faculty to identify and evaluate instructional software
  21. Support relevant emergent initiatives (such as Digital Humanities, Makerspaces)
  22. Research and test new technologies that support teaching and learning and solve specific problems

What kind of resume items would I expect to see for a good ID candidate? That varies a lot more than the above responsibilities list. I know lots of colleges that have one ID on staff, and larger schools with a department with six or more people. I also see some crossover at some schools with the position of Instructional Technologist. Personally, I see those two positions as very different, but not all schools agree - often it's an issue of available money and salary lines.

I would like to see:

  • A minimum of two years of experience in an instructional design, faculty development, or project management position related to teaching with technology in a college or university setting.
  • Demonstrated experience (meaning you can show me samples for all the "experience" items here) designing templates for online courses in collaboration with department, program, and/or institutional faculty and staff
  • A clear understanding of the learning theories, principles, and strategies that support best practices in online and technology-enhanced teaching, such as Universal Design for Learning. 
  • Experience with at least one learning management system - hopefully, the one being used at the school.
  • Experience designing and facilitating workshops and trainings for instructors
  • Clear understanding of policies concerning accessibility, privacy, information security, and academic integrity
  • Excellent interpersonal and communication skills and the ability to work as a contributing and collegial member of a team, and to communicate proactively within the team environment.
     

I would prefer to see some of these items on a resume.

  • Project management skills
  • An advanced degree in a discipline such as Instructional Design, Learning Technologies, Curriculum and Instruction, Adult Learning, or a related field
  • Teaching experience in a college or university setting
  • A record of professional or scholarly contributions to instructional design or faculty development, evidenced through either publications or participation in professional organizations
  • Basic graphic design skills
  • Experience with creating innovative assessments (e.g. performance based, game based, media based).