The UX of Course Design

UXI stumbled upon a post on Medium by John Spencer called "8 Ways UX Design Theory Transformed My Approach to Course Design - How a Small Side Project Changed the Way I Teach."  As someone who has taught for a quartet of decades and done UX design and even taught UX, I was intrigued by what he might have learned about "how to build community, communicate clearly, and set up effective systems as we design our courses."

A few basics to start: User experience design theory is confusingly abbreviated as XD, UX, UXD or UED, But it is about focusing on the user experience of a device, tool, platform or web application. In doing this, a designer considers accessibility, usability and the easy to overlook pleasure someone might get from the interaction. Do you think Facebook would be as popular if people didn't get pleasure from using it?

Spencer says he first embraced UX design when he worked on creating a blogging platform for students called Write About.

As with any design, you make the best that you can, add features you think users will want - but then you have to deal with how users react and use it.

Is there a connection to teaching?

Every lesson has a design and teachers learn to design based on what works with a course or even with a specific group of students. Even larger in the design scheme is our current use of classroom systems and course architecture.

Building tools and systems that can be used intuitively understand with a minimum of additional instruction or training is key to UX. If you as a teacher spend a lot of time teaching procedures and methods rather than teaching your content and concepts.

Some of Spencer's takeaways make a lot of sense to me. For example, embrace onboarding. Onboarding is the mechanism through which new employees acquire the necessary knowledge, skills, and behaviors to become effective organizational members. When you sign into a website or register for a service, you might get virtual tour and buttons have pop-ups or rollover text. The designers want you to feel comfortable as you navigate that first experience. Do we offer that to students when they enter a course?

Read Spencer's post, but maybe think about course design as a system that should seem invisible. I don't know that you need to be a UX designer to teach, or that we can all create a course that when you enter it you immediately know where to go and what to do, but we can certainly put the learner at the center of the design.

The Battle of the Learning Management Systems


D & G


David and Goliath in a detail from Michelangelo



Yesterday, I wrote about Google's continuing movement into the  learning management (LMS) world, and a reader sent me an opinion piece that says that the "Goliaths" of the LMS world are losing ground to the "Davids." The author of that piece, Carol Leaman, does not tell us who these "Davids" are by name. Are they the more open systems like Moodle and Sakai? Is Google Classroom one? It's hard to think of Google as a David when we know it is a Goliath.

But the real takeaway from the essay is that after about two decades of LMS use advancements have not kept pace with expectations for both academic classroom use and for the training of employees.

The author gives numbers (from Ambient Insight) that show global revenues of $46.6 billion in 2016 declining to $33.4 billion by 2021 with the U.S. corporate segment having a negative 33.9 percent growth rate.

What are schools and companies looking for? The wish list includes platforms that are mobile-first, cloud based, drive voluntary learner engagement and use what we are learning from cognitive science about mapping knowledge to how learners best acquire it.

In my seventeen years of using various LMS and doing instructional design for both higher education and corporate training, I noticed a gap between those two markets. Much to my initial surprise, organizations outside academia were much more concerned with being able to measure knowledge, mastery and growth by learners and correlate it to business results.

It shouldn't have surprised me that companies wanted a return on their investment (ROI) in an LMS and in training costs and employee time. Surely, we have these concerns in education too, but our "assessment" follows different models. Education has several centuries of precedents for measuring learning. Some of them work in the modern classroom. Some do not. Even fewer work in an online environment.

The LMS field is still young.  Many people consider FirstClass by SoftArc (which the United Kingdom's Open University used in the 1990s) as the first modern LMS. Blackboard, WebCT and others appeared at the turn of this century. But learning management systems were preceded by computer-managed instruction (CMI), and integrated learning systems (ILS) which offered a way to manage instructional content and also manage student data. When I started in online learning at NJIT in 2000, we used the term CMS (Course Management System). If you consider in this history the terms ILS (coined by Jostens Learning) and CMI (originally used to describe the PLATO Learning Management system), then we can go back to the 1970s and find systems for computer-based instruction being offered that were content-free and a separate product from the course content.

About ten years ago, mergers in the learning industry brought the LMS into the same house as publishers of content. This was a meetup that I have always seen as dangerous for education, but probably good for corporate clients. I don't want to see curriculum coming from a vendor, even though I have to concede that textbooks have unfortunately driven course design for a very long time.

Will Goliath(s) fall and if so, who and what will bring it down? 



I received an email letting me know that Carol Leaman is the CEO of Axonify, so the David in this story is Axonify. 


No More Classrooms

classroom via pixabay

Jeffrey R. Young moderated a panel at the Reimagine Education conference  that was a debate on the question, “Is the Classroom Dead?” There were two people making a case for the need for in-person gatherings of learners (the traditional classroom) and two arguing that the classroom has outlived its usefulness. 

Young's own post about it had what might be a more accurate title question: What If We Stopped Calling Them Classrooms?

What do you picture when you think of the word classroom? A teacher in front of a group of students in a room that probably has rows of seats/desks. How does that model match trends in education today?

NJIT once had the trademark on the term "virtual classroom" and that was often used in the early days of online education to describe what we were trying to do. The instructional design of the time followed the term and tried, as much as possible, to reproduce the classroom online. That meant 90 minute lectures, sometimes recorded in a physical classroom live before other students (lecture capture is still being done today). It meant having ways to "raise your hand" and respond to questions or ask questions. It meant tests and quizzes and ways to submit work and a gradebook.

But is that the way we should design online learning? Is it even the way we should be teaching in a physical classroom today?

One thing we seem to have gleaned from MOOCs is that the optimal length of video lectures is 5-7 minutes. Has that been adapted to most face-to-face or even online courses? No. Should we be teaching in a classroom in chunks of 7 minute lessons?

Not calling a classroom a classroom solves nothing. Calling a school library a media center doesn't mean much if the physical space and its contents remain a library.

Yes, this post is more questions than answers, but perhaps questioning what the classroom is in 2017 is where we are right now.


Collaborating Online 8 Years Later

I clicked on a post here that I wrote in 2008 while I was directing the Writing Initiative at Passaic County Community College. We were using etutoring for writing and were part of a consortium of colleges in the northeast. (eTutorng.org - part of the Connecticut Distance Learning Consortium) We supplied tutors to support the service based on the amount of usage our students put into the platform and our students used it a lot. 

As part of our writing-intensive courses in the Writing Initiative, students could submit their work up to three times and received a reading and comments from one of the consortium writing tutors (generally higher ed instructors with at least a Masters degree).

PCCC does have labs and tutors for the ESL students and for students entering at a Basic Skills level (pre-college) but did not have a center for college-level students. That is how eTutoring was introduced. We did build a writing center as part of the Initiative, but this online collaboration was an important part of the project.

Some students and teachers still don't trust online courses, but those courses, etutoring and online collaboration are almost a necessity at this point for many schools to supplement face-to-face experiences. 

We saw many similarities between what we do on the ground, and what we do with writers in the computing cloud, and another aspect of this was online collaboration with students and with colleagues. 

Back in 2006, we were trying out Writeboard http://writeboard.com. Since many of our colleagues had never used something like that before, I invited people to try out a collaborative page. That page still exists! If you go to the Collaborative Writing document that I started in 2008 at http://123.writeboard.com/19fb2cf0f68038b98/login, you can still login using the password: collabwrite.  

Knowing how reluctant readers of blogs are to comment on posts (here's a post on another blog of mine about just that), I suspected that there was a good chance that the response to the would be underwhelming - and it was just that.

But 8 years have passed and using tools like Zoho http://www.zoho.com and Google Docs http://docs.google.com for collaboration are more common and Writeboard seems primitive. I feel that also is the way wikis are viewed, though collaborative websites still aren't easy to do.



mobile sample

I use Dropbox as often as shared Google files. We have not gone "paperless" despite hearing that battlecry for about 25 years, but it is rare that I email a file or hand someone a paper document to read and make comments. Getting feedback from a larger group, keeping track of everyone’s copies, and maintaining one "final version" is really difficult if you're not collaborating online in the cloud.

With services like Dropbox, you share your file with several people at once, and they can leave comments on specific parts and maintain one version. 

Now, Dropbox Paper is another way to help teams create collaborative docs and share important information. They also have a new Paper mobile apps for iOS and Android that you can use for on-the-go access.

It is progress that online collaboration is much more common with researchers and writers who also share email, files and meet live with web conferencing.

You can ask people - perhaps your students - to upload files to your Dropbox even if they don't have an account.

I keep telling people to sign up for a free Dropbox account if only to protect important files (docs, photos, whatever) with automatic backup. Usually, people do it AFTER their hard drive crashes, which is like buying insurance after the accident.

 


Google Goes Deeper Into Education

Google has been getting deeper into education, particularly into higher education. For example, their interest in creating a technically skilled, innovative and diverse workforce has moved them into computer science (CS) education.

That is a logical path for the company and they are interested in developing programs, resources, tools and community partnerships which make CS engaging and accessible for all students.

In STEM generally, women and minorities are historically underrepresented and that's true for computer science at the post-secondary level. In the U.S., women and ethnic minorities each represent just 18% of computer science graduates.professional experience.

You would expect Google to have sophisticated analytics, and analytics in online education software is a key feature in an LMS today as a way to understand how students are doing in greater detail than is possible by trying to do it manually. Course Builder offers several built-in analytics that require little set-up and also options for creating custom analytics using Google Analytics and Google BigQuery. They do note that not everything is free - running either type of custom analytics counts against your App Engine quota and can incur costs.





Course Builder is part of their overall education strategy. Check these links for more information:

Open Line Education https://www.google.com/edu/openonline/  

Course Builder Features https://www.google.com/edu/openonline/course-builder/docs/1.10/feature-list.html

One feature is accessibility https://www.google.com/edu/openonline/course-builder/docs/1.10/feature-list.html#accessibility 

Peer Review https://www.google.com/edu/openonline/course-builder/docs/1.10/feature-list.html#peer-review

 


Teach Online, Even If Your School Doesn't Offer a Platform

If you have never had the opportunity to teach online and have wondered what it's like, here's a chance to find out. Canvas offers you a chance to try out their learning management system (LMS) for free. They offer two options: Take Canvas for a test drive with a free, two-week trial account that is pre-loaded with course content so that you can explore without having to build from scratch. But, even better, is the offer to actually teach your existing class on Canvas for free, forever. "You bring the content and students. We’ll provide the awesome platform, " says Canvas.

Sure, this is an offer meant to help market the platform and entice you to recommend it at your institution, but take advantage of it. That is especially true if you have never taught online and want to give it a try. Perhaps your school doesn't even offer the option to supplement your face-to-face class with an online section. Though I am more involved in how any LMS including Canvas is used in higher education, this is probably even more applicable to pre-college. (Look at how the platform is being used in K-12 education.)  

I have designed online learning and taught in a number of learning management systems over the years - WebBoard, WebCT, Blackboard, eCollege, Sakai, Moodle and Canvas. My first experience with Canvas was when I taught a MOOC in the Canvas Network back in 2013. That was a meta-MOOC called "Academia and the MOOC" and was intended to attract teachers as well as others in academic roles (instructional designer, support staff, administration and student).

I found Canvas easy to use, but it seemed like a work-in-progress at the time. It lacked many of the tools I was used to having built-in (equation editor, white board, blog, wiki and journal features etc.). But here are some interesting things that came out of that experience.

Teaching that MOOC led me to connect with many other online instructors. Some had take my "course" (which was more of a large conversation) in order to try out Canvas as much as to learn about MOOCs.

dip your toe inWhile I was facilitating the MOOC, I was contacted by two other New Jersey colleges that were considering moving to Canvas. The instructional designers at both schools separately reported the same phenomena at their colleges. The instructional design staff felt as I had when I encountered Canvas - it seemed "underpowered." But, their faculty really liked it for pretty much the same reason: it was clean and simple and didn't have all those "tools we never use." Both colleges now use Canvas.

I think that anyone currently teaching at any level should have experienced being a student and being a teacher in an online setting. There is just no getting around the fact that it is and will continue to be a part of what learning has become and how it is offered.

Dip your foot into the online water - or just jump in with your whole course. It's not as scary as it looks.