Category Archives: Instructional Design

Instructional Design; What it is. What it isn’t.

Instructional Design is an organized approach to designing, developing, and delivering course content.

Instructional design projects focus on an identified curricular, pedagogical, or assessment problem. This problem frames the design project and informs the project timeline.

Once a design problem has been identified, a team is assembled to address the problem in a series of projects. In a university like La Verne, the faculty or program chair would be the heart of this team as the subject matter expert (SME) however a member of the design team would act as the project lead. Librarians, educational technologists, and other instructional designers would play a role depending on the project.

Instructional design is intensive work which requires time, and expertise. Far more time than most people would recognize. La Verne faculty balance scholarship, teaching, and service. Instructional design requires a significant commitment to a project timeline.

Common Misconceptions

Blackboard means online education…

The Blackboard learning management system is the least important part of designing an online course because it is simply the location of the course materials. An on ground course would not be described by the building or room in which it takes place.
Blackboard or any learning management system are great networks for organizing students and online courses. However, to develop a truly exceptional online course or program, it takes intentional design and navigation.

An online course is a conversion of a traditional course…

Online courses are pedagogically different than on ground courses. Creating an online course which has the same intimate and collaborative environment for which La Verne is applauded relies on careful design and entirely different tools.
Research in online education correlates social presence to retention and completion rates. Developing activities that promote social presence in an online course and are directly tied to the learning outcomes is essential for creating an online course that sets La Verne apart from other online programs.

Instructional Design is essentially uploading and organizing existing content…

Instructional design is the art of crafting clear learning outcomes, aligning those outcomes to authentic course assessments, then developing the course materials and the course activities with a balance that ensures all learners will succeed.

Synchronous Learning – Practical Issues

When I was a college student, my favorite parts of class were small group activities where we solved a problem or discussed a critical issue. This was when I connected with my peers and rehearsed my burgeoning knowledge on teaching- done in the safe environment of my teacher education classes. I attended a small school and my classes were rarely over 20 students. In the 1980s it was simply not possible to re-create this intimacy in a distance education course.

Now, as an adjunct instructor, I believe strongly that this can be done. I have been addressing the issue of establishing social presence in the online environment by creating online classes that have an intimate, small group feel to them. My course evaluations usually include comments like, “I got to know people in this class better than my classes on campus”. I know instinctively that this delivery is moving in the right direction for small liberal arts colleges like the college where I teach. Yet there is so much we don’t know and can improve upon.

There are some practical issues that need to be addressed in the area of synchronous online learning. The definition of online learning often implies the asynchronous environment and on demand resources. Defining the types of course delivery needs to be clear and transparent for students. Tools that support synchronous learning are different and often go beyond on-demand content systems.

Consider the university where I teach as an adjunct, we have not fully defined (or embraced) the synchronous learning environment nor are we able to correctly schedule an online course that has weekly meeting times for students. Our current definitions are threefold:

  • Web enhanced: this is a course in which up to 10% the course materials are located in an online environment
  • Hybrid: a course in which up to 50% of the course materials are located in an online environment.
  • Distance Education: a course in which 100% of the material is located in the online environment

I understand we are reviewing these definitions and am hopeful that consideration will be made for for the positive potential of synchronous online courses.

Here is how these definitions make it difficult to clarify for students what type of a course to be taking. For the last several semesters, I have required that my students meet weekly in an online meeting space.  Our course registration system will only allow for courses to be coded using the above three options. If the course is labeled distance education, it will not book a room nor will schedule a specific meeting time. If the course is hybrid, it will schedule a meeting time however it also books a room on campus that will sit empty. In addition, it exceeds the definition of hybrid. Each semester, I have made efforts to communicate with the students that there is a meeting time and that this meeting time is a requirement. This is such a hassle for the students yet I have not way around it. Students often have to drop or reschedule other courses to stay enrolled in my section.

So scheduling is one of the issues that when resolved can really support quality synchronous experiences for students. The other issue however is that of a meeting space to support a quality synchronous experience.

For several years I had access to Adobe Connect, an online meeting tool with an excellent reputation. During that same time I also attended webinar sessions using Elluminate as well as WebEx. The interface of Adobe Connect have the most intuitive and agile design from the attendee standpoint and definitely from the teaching aspect. The chat pod allows for whole group conversations as well as the sidebar exchanges that naturally happen in the classroom. This product also easily create polling ahead of the session so that I was able to open polls throughout the course session without fumbling to create one on-the-fly. The most significant element however, was the ability to create breakout rooms and whatever was on the screen at the time say instructions for a small group activity, would follow each group into their breakout session. Pedagogically, polling  and breakout rooms creates the place for conversation. I have switched to WebEx and haven’t found the same simple experience however, I am able to work around it using their tools. Significantly, the Training Module allows for breakout sessions so that is the main thing I feel is needed to get the conversations going.

table 46Those are the two practical issues that I believe need to be addressed. What excites me much more are the teaching strategies and course materials that can create a powerful synchronous learning for students. Learning experiences in which they are challenged by course topics, have an opportunity to think critically, and most importantly, share a space that creates the sense of sitting at a new kind of table with classmates.

I will discuss those on a future post.

Assessment in EDUC407

How much of the final course grade do you typically allot to testing? How many tests/exams do you usually require? How can you avoid creating a “high stakes” environment that may inadvertently set students up for failure/cheating?

boy with tin can + string phone to his ear


EDUC407 is a course with assessments that are exclusively done in projects. Students address an educational concept, (Globalization of Teaching, Presenting Information Powerfully with Images) and the assignment applies the use of a learning technology to submit the response. In the globalization topic, teams of students write a 3rd person article using a Google Doc. The content is driven by the topic; the submission, by the tool. Students are required to use a team folder, the comment stream, and the resolution tool as they peer edit one another’s assignment. The grading rubric balances the value of content and tool as would expected in a Learning Technology for Educator’s course.

What expectations do you have for online assessments? How do these expectations compare to those you have for face-to-face assessments? Are you harboring any biases?

Most of my teaching experience has focused on using project based learning. I have developed a rich relationship with rubrics that continues to evolve.

I am interested in creating short feedback loop resources that give students greater information about how they are progressing before any formal assessment. Authoring tools like Adobe Captivate and iBooks Author are next up on my experimentation list. I am planning to author a tool about the culminating project so that it provides information, rehearsal, and feedback BEFORE the student begins developing the site for the project.

What trade-offs do you see between the affordances of auto-scored online quizzes and project-based assessments? How will you strike the right balance in your blended learning course?

The higher end grading capabilities described in this week’s reading in relation to LMS testing and quizzing can ultimately support a complex testing environment. Having said that, the time and complexity of CREATING the text bank is more time consuming than worthwhile for my assessment.

Projects and balanced rubrics will continue to drive the assessment for the course.

How will you implement formal and informal assessments of learning into your blended learning course? Will these all take place face-to-face, online, or in a combination?

The support for building projects will continue to be balanced between class sessions with direct instruction and on demand videos housed in the LMS. The activities that are built into the meeting sessions are where my current efforts lie. I am developing weekly team activities that focus on application of learning tech skills and conversations around teaching. This is new to my online sessions and I have only taught two semesters using the breakout session model. So far, I really like the purposefulness of the meeting sessions and the reliance the students have on one another. My primary goal is to create a sense of social presence in the course but I am also finding that the learning environment is richer as well.

Why Yes! Clearly Defined Course Objectives Do Inform Design~

Building the bridge while crossing it

This is the best analogy for how I had approached course design in my early days of teaching online and blended courses. I knew where I was heading, I knew the assessment tool that would determine the degree to which my students could apply the concepts in the course, Learning Technology for Educators, however, I had a hazy roadmap for getting there.

Another difficulty of teaching a hybrid course was definition. I also had no real directive on the hybrid delivery method other than a percentage of “out of class” time, read: butts not in seats. When I began purposefully teaching a hybrid course, face to face time could be replaced with up to 50% of course activities in the online environment. This left so many things unclear. And so many possibilities.

So perhaps this course plan method was a positive start. I began by replacing a single group activity spanning two class sessions with a structured group collaboration using cloud based tools. Course plan altered only by location but not activity or outcome. I knew I was taking baby steps of trying to replicate the identical f2f experience and initially this was comfortable.

As I read more from other instructors, met innovative colleagues at conferences, and listened closely to my student’s feedback, it was clear that trying to replicate a f2f class was misunderstanding the pedagogical possibilities afforded by the blended environment.


Phase One: (2008) “Skip” three class sessions and do a group activity using a cloud based tool

Phase Two (2010) Fully online; weekly recorded lessons (another whole journey here with screencasting!) replicating the f2f sessions teaching. Students had group work and weekly open blogging for dialogue.

Phase Three (2011) Fully online; on demand recorded resources (generic) with weekly screencast summarizing previous concepts and framing upcoming ones. These recordings were directed at each specific section and using students names and examples to add personalization to the experience. Weekly blog topics & required substantive response.

Phase Four (2013) Weekly online meetings, structured group activities in the breakout session, weekly assignment overview and any needed modeling. Two f2f meetings on campus during semester. Emphasis on social presence and structured teamwork. Learning outcomes aligned with assessments; detailed quantitative & qualitative rubrics for each activity.

Blue Highways

This BlendKit course is a chance to stop and look at where I am in the design and implementation of this course. I’d like to add a different arc so that the culminating assignment is built up to more intentionally. Creating a gaming component in the early middle of the course is what I am hoping to build during the next 4 weeks.