Putting it all together.

Whew, Instructional Design Essentials is over! The time flew by so quickly, and I wish I’d had more time to dig into the content during the four weeks that the course was live, but I’m looking forward to taking closer looks at our readings and getting to that critical pedagogy component I was really psyched about but didn’t really get a chance to explore. I’ve summarized my plan for approaching the one-credit course I taught this past semester were I to teach it again. Here’s what I’ve been working on.

Teaching environment: As mentioned previously, I chose to dissect and recreate the curriculum for an 8-week, for-credit research course that I taught this past semester. The purpose of this course was most immediately to give advice and assistance to upper-level students working on research-intensive projects, but I’d also want to lead the class in a way that promoted these concepts as transferable beyond college assignments.

Learning outcomes: Simply because this is a for-credit course, my learning outcomes ended up pretty broad. The next step after creating this course curriculum would have to be to break the outcomes down into more manageable components lesson by lesson. I feel like I’m asking for a lot with these outcomes, but these students are seniors with previous research experience who are about to enter the “real world.” I think they’re ready to work toward these goals, and I think they need to accomplish them as they prepare to graduate and be more or less on their own.

I want my students to understand research not as simply writing a paper, but to actually see the mechanisms of sharing ideas, “conversing,” developing knowledge, and thinking critically as primary components of what Research with a capital R is. I want them to think of themselves as not just consumers of this information but as participants in the continued sharing of knowledge.

I also want them to develop confidence in their ability to use research critically to answer their own questions and to draw from their understanding of the research process to be capable, self-directed learners.

Assessment: I definitely want to provide formative assessment throughout this course to help them stay on track with their research. In the last iteration of the course we had them keep research journals where they could reflect on where they were in the process and what they saw themselves needing to move forward. We wanted to keep stock of where our students were by keeping tabs on those journals. Unfortunately the journals weren’t as successful as they could have been; I think I could have done a better job explaining their purpose and where they fit within the course objectives as documentation of their self-directed learning. So I think I would keep that exercise going, but clarify and maybe simplify it a bit. And also provide more opportunities for students to share their responses with their classmates, prompting discussions that would also provide opportunities for assessment (though not necessarily grading).

I think I’d wrap the course up with a reflective paper accompanying my students’ final products. There’s only so much I can gauge about their process from the product, and the process is where the real learning happens. This is also riffing off of our existing assessment approach, as we have them reflect on their process of doing research generally. But I feel the prompt is a bit too vague: “tell me about your experience doing research for this paper” and other such questions doesn’t really help me get at anything to assess their understanding. I could revise the existing assignment to ask a pointed question, like “where do you see your paper fitting into the information ecology? If it was published, who would read it and why? What’s your reasoning for your answers?” or something like that.

Learning theories: We talked about a couple of learning and motivation theories in week 3, and of those theories constructivism is by far the most important one to incorporate into this course. Students need to experience doing research in order to build their understandings of research, in order to achieve the outcomes we’re aiming for. The course is honestly kind of a guided problem-based learning course: they’re given a problem and set free to solve it. I can give them tips and guide them when they get stuck, but they really need to try and fail and succeed in order to figure out the key factors involved in doing research of that caliber. In the classroom I might use this approach and give students specific objectives, like “find a theoretical approach to your subject that you might be able to use to frame your paper” after spending some time discussing and modeling the whats and whys of that concept.

Instructional technologies: I said in my last post that I’d get the most use out of collaborative ed tech, but I’m now rethinking that idea. Each student’s task is vastly different, and they’re likely to all be in different places in their research process, so collaborating might be difficult. What I might do instead might be to use a flipped classroom approach and make videos/tutorials in order to give my students information to revisit after class as well as something concrete to reflect on and bring to class for further discussion. This can definitely extend the precious hour I have with them a week and help us make the most of our time. I’ve made some video tutorials in the past that are concept-based (as opposed to process-based) which I could see working well for sparking questions, debate, and reflection.

Lessons learned: I think the biggest lesson I learned from this course was that instructional design, while sounding kind of scary and unfamiliar, is not all that dissimilar from the way I typically try to plan my lessons. The course did give me some new tools and strategies to consciously incorporate into my lesson/course design, and though it’s not entirely second-nature I can 100% feel this process becoming more familiar the more I work with it. Having the sort-of checklist of concepts we discussed in the course can enhance my lessons by helping me double-check that, for instance, yeah, the learning goals are strong and classroom activities follow logically from those goals, but there’s also an element of motivation and incentive built in as well. Teaching can feel like juggling 15 balls at once sometimes, and this course gave me a moment of pause to lay all of those issues out on the table and examine how they interact with each other before tossing them all up in the air again.

Thinking and learning about teaching is one of my favorite things, so completing this course was as fun as it was challenging. Here’s to channeling my inner instructional designer in the upcoming semester.