Core area 2: Teaching, learning and/or assessment processes 

a) An understanding of teaching, learning and/or assessment processes 

My use own experiences as a learner, which help me to look at the course from a learner’s perspective, as well as my knowledge of Instructional Design models to inform my approach to learning design. There are some online courses that I did not enjoy and even a couple that I gave up on before completing. In those cases, it was often clunky design that put me off. For example, if the design looks outdated this can communicate to the student that the course is old and they may feel less confident that the information is up to date.

I also found it frustrating when there was supposed to be feedback from a tutor, but none was forth coming. For example, a course that I was quite excited about doing was supposed to be remote and asynchronous but involved feedback from a tutor at a college that was involved in the delivery. I got about halfway through and had answered several essay type questions but never had any response to let me know if I was on the right track. I did not intentionally give up however, when other aspects of my job at the time got busy, it was easier for it to slip down the priority list when I felt like there was no one looking at my work anyway.

When we are discussing developing asynchronous courses, I always encourage the person who will be delivering the course to consider these questions so that together we can design learning that meets the needs of the students.  I also encourage them to think about how they will interact with the students and what is feasible for them. For example, I have been involved in discussions around creating a MOOC for horticulture and one of the aspects I was keen for the tutor to consider is how she would be able to engage with remote students who are not connected with the University but are taking the course. Would she set up a discussion forum and monitor it? Or perhaps state that between certain dates the course was ‘live’, and any interactions and feedback would occur within that time frame.

If the academic knows they will not have time to engage directly with students, what other ways can we ensure that the students feel their effort is ‘seen’ and that they are making progress? My aim when making these suggestions is to try and mitigate the student feeling ‘abandoned’ or like their efforts are pointless in the same way I have sometimes felt in my own learning experiences. This in turn will hopefully encourage students to stick with the course and prevent drop-off.

When designing learning experiences, I generally follow a workflow based around the ADDIE model: Analyse, design, develop, implement, and evaluate. Analysing the needs of the student, the required learning outcomes and proposed delivery mode is an important first step as it informs the next stage, the design. For example, what level of prior knowledge do the students have? What do students need to be able to do/demonstrate and how will they be assessed? Will this be fully online or a blended approach? Are there elements that will require physical demonstration?

Once we have analysed the needs of the students, established how the course will be delivered, what the learning outcomes are and how they will be measured I move on to the design and development stages.

In instances where the module will be taught completely online, in a self-directed and asynchronous fashion the use of activities, quizzes and awarding badges can be a useful way of keeping the student motivated and engaged with the learning. Active learning is “any learning activity engaged in by students in a classroom other than listening passively to an instructor’s lecture” (Faust & Paulson, 1998, p. 4) in an online scenario ‘listening passively’ could also be considered as reading through text or passively watching a series of videos. Active learning strategies have been linked to improved student academic performance (Hake, 1998; Michael, 2006; Chaplin, 2009).

I therefore consider it important when designing and developing content for online teaching to include interactions that will help the student to demonstrate and evaluate their own understanding of the subject. Quizzes that log the responses are also useful for the course developers and course tutors when it comes to evaluating how successful the module is and if revisions are needed to improve the student’s learning experience. Conversations with the subject matter expert about including quizzes or knowledge checks and discussions about the benefits usually happen during the design stage. I will support the academic in creating these by showing them options or drafting up an example that I think would be engaging and effective in the context.

Creating resources that are visually appealing and chunking content into digestible segments are other examples of where my own learning journey has influenced my learning design decisions. When recreating the Anatomy, Physiology and Health resources (discussed in detail in section 1B) I wanted to improve the look and refresh them rather than just recreate them exactly as they had been. This involved changing the way some of the pages were laid out, using Bootstrap panels to break up content or highlight specific parts.

“Careful use of design elements on a course page provide the clues and context for the learner that they would get from a facilitator in an in-class setting.” (The importance of consistent course design – Alyssa Filippi, Instructional Designer D2L, 2019) The different coloured Bootstrap panels can be deployed in a consistent way so the students know what sort of information they can expect. For example, perhaps a green panel is always used to denote and activity or a yellow panel is used to highlight important information. This is a useful clue for visual learners, but the panels are also labelled with header text for the less visually inclined and to ensure accessibility for colour blind students.

Chunking content can also prevent the student from becoming overwhelmed, by focusing them on the material one stage at a time. This could take the form of an accordion, for example, if there is a list of items or stages each with its own detailed description then being able to expand and read a section at a time can make the amount of information less intimidating.

The importance of creating educational spaces that are inclusive is widely discussed in webinars and conferences across digital education, and it is something UHI strives for. When I am developing new resources or evaluating older ones with a view to redeveloping them, it is something I always keep in mind. Imagery can play a powerful role in this, as well as being beneficial in increasing the students understanding and engagement with the material. For example, The Reproductive System page 22 ‘the menopause’ I replaced an image of an old woman looking a bit miserable with one of an older woman looking relaxed and enjoying the sun. I think it is important for the imagery used in resources to feel positive and inclusive and to try and avoid using photographs that promote negative stereotypes.

Evaluation is the final stage of ADDIE when the model is viewed as a ‘waterfall’, each stage flowing into the next. However, in reality it is an ongoing process that happens at each stage. I am in frequent contact with the academic, my Educational Design and Development Lead and other members of my department discussing progress, making revisions, and offering ideas and solutions. This process of continual evaluation helps myself and my colleagues to learn and grow as we are going and hopefully produces the best possible outcomes for the students.

b) An understanding of your target learners  

As an Instructional Designer my target learners are both the students at the University, whose learning experience I am always considering when I create resources, and the teaching staff whom I support and advise.

When it comes to thinking about students as my target learner, I again often draw on my own experiences as a learner to put myself in their shoes and consider what they might need or expect from the course. This is further fleshed out through discussions with the course leader about what level of prior knowledge the students will have. For example, when creating the Storyline activity (discussed in section 1B: Creating a new suite of online resources – reflection) I made a conscious decision that as masters students, the leaners would be more than capable of recognising and clicking the risk areas. If I had been creating a similar activity for students who were learning about infection prevention and control for the first time, I would have taken a different approach and made the hotspots obvious so that the students learned the information and did not become frustrated or demoralised.

Subjects are taught in a variety of different ways at UHI: Entirely face-to-face, blended and completely online. However, usually there is a course tutor guiding the students through the course, giving them feedback and leading discussions. As mentioned in 2A, I have been working on the creation of a MOOC that will be hosted on OpenLearn and is intended for students outwith UHI. After some discussion we realised the tutor will not have the time for the kind of regular input that would enable her to moderate discussion boards or communicate directly with leaners. I have been drawing on my experience as a remote learner to find ways that the students will still feel engaged, part of a learning community and be able to see they are making progress.

Video introductions are a good way to help the student to feel they are being taught by a real person and will be included throughout the MOOC. One of the final activities asks students design to their own garden, as the MOOC is entirely self-directed this will not be marked or critiqued by the tutor as it would have been in a class environment. I have suggested that a way of still allowing the learners to have their designs seen and commented on would be to give them the option of sharing it on their own social media with a unique hashtag. This way of sharing work was used in an online course I did, and I think it works particularly well for creative activities where there is not a ‘correct’ answer. I still occasionally get people liking the post, so I know there are people doing the same course I did and searching those hashtags. This made the activity feel more meaningful to me and helped build a sense of community around the learning experience.   

As well as understanding the learning needs and abilities of different student groups I also need to have an understanding of the teaching staff I am working with. Before the pandemic, the work that the Educational Development unit did was project based and the subject matter expert had planned in advance to work with us to create online learning materials.

When the country went into lockdown in March 2020 many teachers went from an entirely face-to-face delivery to completely online. Rather than walking into a lecture hall and talking to the students, perhaps with a PowerPoint or physical demonstration as an aid. The teaching staff now had to be prepared to provide the students materials in advance and teach using a flipped classroom approach where students cover the work and then come to an online tutorial to discuss it in more detail.

 As a department we also changed our delivery methods and went from pre-planned projects to offering help to any lecturer who felt they needed it. Often these lecturers had never taught online before and so were not used to creating online materials that could be used asynchronously. As a team we created a portal where staff could access lots of resources that would help them, but for some people they really needed a more personal approach as they were time poor and not confident in their digital skills.

My role was to upskill the teaching staff and give them the tools to create well presented, easy to navigate, online spaces in the university’s VLE, with resources that are copyright compliant and accessible.

As discussed in section 1C, when staff were struggling, I would suggest a one-to-one Teams tutorial. This gave me the ability to show them examples that were tailored to their specific needs so they could see what I was doing and ask questions that would be answered immediately. They could also share their screens with me so that I could give feedback and help resolve any issues they might have encountered. It gave them confidence and meant they could get their courses up and running much more quickly than if they had simply read the guide texts. Many of the teaching staff at UHI are on part time contracts which is another time constraint, and it was helpful to them to have one person they knew was on hand to answer questions and give feedback quickly.

Not all the support I provide is face to face or because of a request for support. I know from my time working with writer’s templates that finding images that are public domain or open licence can be a problem for many. This is why I wrote a blog post on the topic which is published through our EDU Comms site and disseminated on Yammer. The aim of the post is both to share best practice, outline why it is necessary, and to provide a few solutions by sharing links to reputable, free image banks. The blog has had more than 60 views and a positive response from academics who do not always have the time to discover these things for themselves.

This as a resource is very useful and practical indeed and gives the user complete information and instruction in what needs to be done. The “where to find images” was absolutely fantastic and gives the user some resources to find good images etc to use to make learning materials more engaging.

Lecturer, Politics

This is a really good reference blog, I forget about this subject all the time, and would be really beneficial for all students to read, understand and access pathways to open licence material. As I think we all use images quite liberally.

Lecturer, Forestry