“Io sono una donna”

I am a woman – in ITALIAN! Yes, in less than a day I am speaking Italian (well, just a little) because Alex turned me on to DuoLingo – the coolest and most fun educational game I have ever touched, seen, listened to and talked to! Yes, all the senses engaged and my mind soaking up basic vocabulary and grammar while having fun. These little skills will build. And then I will put them together to make bigger skills such as actually conversing. And eventually I hope to express an original and complete thought to another person in grammatically correct sentences. Ultimately, I’d like to be able to analyze the nuances of texts and conversation in scholarly Italian works. Which brings me to the topic of this post.

For module 3 I need to discuss why I do what I do, and in an attempt at coherence I will also do some response to module 2 which ties in to this ( I know, I know – it won’t count – but it will to me because I have to think it through) as I discuss what I learned about organizing and designing for online courses.

In the last module we looked at exemplar courses that we are still looking at this module. For me they were very familiar. The ones we could tour were in Angel and they looked very much like the courses they were based on in the old SLN Lotus Notes product. Linear, text based, some diagrams and tables – I see Rob is using some publisher links to hopefully some good language interactives that hopefully have some images. These courses are lean and mean machines for learning. No distractions, lots to read and write, based on solid CoI framework, and their bones are evident. So we can all learn solid design and pedagogy by looking and listening to the interviews. Some of them are nearly 10 years old but still solid at the core.  But I came away with some of the same questions I had the first time I looked at these courses 10 years ago in lotus notes.

  • Why so linear?
  • Why so text heavy?
  • Where are the visuals?
  • Where is engaging web design?

While I know from experience Rob’s prodigious teaching and design skills, if I dispassionately compare his front page to my little DuoLingo app I’m afraid he is not looking very competitive or compelling. It’s 2014 – why are we making these kind of courses?

Some of this has already been addressed by Beth and Steve. They started making video with narration and embedding contextualized quizzes. Their work has evolved with the tools available – which for them was critical as they teach art history. Now everyone can enjoy their SmartHistory/Khan Academy content – including my students who use them regularly. But I remember my lotus notes training and trying to find someone to show me how to get images into what was essentially a document exchange business product. I was used to an LMS which was graphically rich, and I also had been using basic web design tools for years. At some point Beth hosted a session on the importance of using images in the course environment – YES!!!

Now, listening to Steve and Beth discuss challenges of navigation for students, keeping things linear, and using less hyperlinking, I had to mentally review my design experiences, the evolution of tools and the choices we all make about structure and student experience. Then I thought about Moodle – linear, text heavy, cluttered front pages – and can see that I want to make Moodle do more than what I see so far. I want a more visually engaging, well designed graphic experience for my students. I want to use images to guide and compel but not confuse. I want to foster visual and design literacy. I want to make sure my course looks like the interesting and engaging web environments they see in games, web sites, advertising, periodicals, and mobile apps while not overwhelming them. I don’t want my students landing on page after page of text and skimming because they are immediately bored and turned off. I want images and activities to compel them to read what is there and really examine the prompting images and moving to the next thing.

Too often I see that LMSs and other educational tools are underutilized by faculty with limited understanding of what they can do with technology. And on the flip side there are those that try to use every tool in the toolkit and make a crazed patchwork of activities that is very confusing. Often a trainee will say to me “I want to keep it simple” which is actually not what they want. They want to complicate the process of teaching online by not learning how the tools can automate, support and differentiate instruction, giving them more time to work directly with students. They are overwhelmed by the nature of contemporary web based tools and they think in terms of documents and printing and physical texts. The 2014 Horizon Report documents that lack of digital literacy is a fundamental issue with faculty in higher education and I face this challenge every single day on the job. I worked with someone for 3 semesters until one day I said – “you know, a URL – every web page has an address”. He replied “I didn’t know that”. Instructional Designers who work with faculty that make their own courses may find that there is a huge learning curve and a small window of opportunity.

Which brings me to why I do what I do and what I have learned. I began my investigations for this course with an interest in enhancing interaction with faster and more dynamic feedback loops, increased collaboration and gamefying. I know that this will require that I  learn more complex tools in order to keep it simple for my students. The technology needs to be transparent – not boring. I work daily to help faculty realize that the tools can do a lot of the grunt work of managing a course if they just learn them and use them effectively. Because I discovered the graphically rich, adaptively hyperlinked, multi-sensory interactions of games, I know that effective use of tools to craft engaging activities for students is possible – learning will take place and it will be valid and fun. The best example being my new addiction DuoLingo. Somewhere between the ponderous lists of topics, documents, linear structures, text based discussions  and clunky interfaces,  and the equally off-putting sensory overload of misguided graphics, arbitrary sounds, and things that go “boom” and “click”, is an elegant approach to course design that could resonate with my students and engage all their senses. I am collecting resources on that, shared in diigo and below.

The other component, besides visual engagement, that is so critical to my thinking now is acquisition of a factual knowledge base.  This past week my first 6 week class wrapped up and an email from a student reinforced my belief in my super hard weekly quizzes as well as much of what we are learning in this class about a teaching presence. She wrote:

“I’ll tell you now – what I loved was the broad range of material that supplemented the text in a significant ways. I would have liked more of your lectures, though. … The quizzes and exams were very challenging, not bad, just saying; if not for open book I would have failed, but I may have learned the most by taking them than by simply reading the text”

The evaluation survey came back with the same general theme – they love the quizzes. And the quizzes are very visual and conceptual and … did I mention hard? And they learn from them. They are questions – hard questions that make them learn the facts to answer. And they are graphically rich. Some are image maps they have to click on (which I don’t see in Moodle unfortunately).

I do what I do based on detailed student evaluations, institutional student feedback surveys, and a firm grounding in CoI through my early work with SLN. Everything I do is based on interactions. And everything I want to do with new strategies, needs to be consistent with the CoI framework of interactions – but more elegant, contemporary and dynamic. There are now many ways to be socially present, as can be seen in Alex’s ETAP course. And there are now many ways to automate presence and interaction and focus faculty and student interaction in areas that count because of the tools in and out of LMSs. My students want to hear my take on things, “more of [my] lectures”, but they appreciate the building blocks of the automated quizzing to learn the factual knowledge necessary for those lectures to have meaning. They want the substance – the meat – they get excited when they know things and can apply them. I want to make this even more engaging and inviting.

Which will be my next post: why I am so focused on factual knowledge and my reflections on the readings in relation to that. Stay tuned dear readers.

Design links of interest to all:

5 Visual Design Strategies that Promote Student Retention

The Power of Visual Grouping

Gamefication Shows the Learner Visible Signs of their Learning

Graphics and Learning


4 thoughts on ““Io sono una donna”

  1. Thanks for the links! I am especially interested in the ideas of gamification and have been doing a lot of research into this myself. I also LOVE duolingo. A friend introduced me to it a few months ago and I was hooked on practicing Spanish. It certainly is an engaging, and visually appealing, way to learn.

    I am interested to see how your incorporate graphics into your Moodle course. This is something I also strive toward, especially since I will be working with younger students. I am working on balancing visual appeal with distraction. As you say, we don’t want visuals to confuse our students but to enhance the learning experience.

  2. (4)
    Hi Linda,

    Thank you for asking “It’s 2014, why are we making these sorts of courses?”

    I have been thinking the same thing. Wondering why there seems to be such a lag in what we are seeing and what is good design. A blink tag may have been awesome in 95 but its cheese-tastic today!
    Have you read “Don’t Make Me Think” by Steve Krug? I recommend it. A straightforward approach to web design.

    I too was looking into ways to present images in Moodle, if you find something beyond the gallery let us know. HTML also seems to behave a little oddly within the moodle URL page that we can add.

    • (4)
      I had some luck laying out images in a table structure to fix them in place – but now there is a new editor. I will let you know how it works for images. If you look at my Modern Art History course (just started) you will see at the bottom 2 examples of how I used images to set the tone for the topic. Thanks for the tip on the Krug web design book – I will check it out!

      • Andrea I just tried the table tool in the new wysiwyg editor (which is really just a tweaked version of the old editor) and though it makes tables (as did the old one) none of the internal borders show up in Moodle – which makes me think there is something funky with html in Moodle. I looked at the code and the table code is fine. But perhaps the style sheets and structures of the Moodle pages are interfering with browser interpretation of table code. I don’t know but it is just one of many disappointments in this product for me so far.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *