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

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

Prior to starting in my role at UHI the most experience I had in training was with new starts when I worked in hospitality and being given the responsibility of re-training all front of house staff on how to make coffees to ensure we stayed competitive in a saturated market.

I did, however, have experience as a leaner from my time at college and also from taking a number of short courses both face to face and online. Since starting UHI I have continued on my own learning journey and have completed a number of LinkedIn Learning courses as well as an OERu course and a synchronous remote class with Stills Gallery on Adobe After Effects.

I use my own experiences as a learner 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 a clunky design that put me off, I also found it frustrating when there was supposed to be feedback from a tutor but none was forthcoming. 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 a number of essay-type questions but never had any response to let me know if I was on the right track. I didn’t 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.

It is important at the planning stage of the module or course to analyse the needs of the student as this will inform the design. What level of prior knowledge do the students have? How will the course be taught? Are there elements that will require physical demonstration?

When we are discussing developing asynchronous courses, I always encourage the person who will be delivering the course 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 won’t 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?

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 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 when it comes to analysing how successful the module is and if revisions are needed to improve the student’s learning experience.

The inclusion of videos, interactions and 3D models can be helpful in giving students a more comprehensive understanding when face to face demonstrations or in the field experiences are not possible. When I was approached by the archaeology department to help them create a virtual field-work experience for students unable to visit a dig site due to COVID I suggested that we could create a set of resources that included embeds of 3D models, image hot spots and video content from previous site visits to allow them to still explore the area and get a feel for it.

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 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. 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.

I also consider the addition of relevant imagery to be beneficial in increasing the students understanding and engagement with the material. When refreshing older resources, I try to source up to date photographs to use as examples. 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.

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 the pandemic caused the UK to go into lockdown in March 2020 many teachers and students had to immediately switch from a face-to-face model of teaching and learning to an entirely online method. The shift happened literally overnight, and my role was to support the lecturers to move their teaching online and think about different ways to engage their students. As previously discussed in section 1C one of the main things we advised against was trying to deliver synchronous online lectures as this could disadvantage students who might have been sharing devices with others in their home or didn’t have a strong enough internet connection to support multiple devices on video call at the same time.

One of the first lecturers I worked with had never taught online before. When teaching face to face she usually used PowerPoint presentations – these could have been uploaded straight to Brightspace as they were, and the students would have been able to access them. However, PowerPoints often present information as bullet points outlining the main ideas or takeaways and are designed to complement a lecture or discussion, they are not stand-alone learning objects. I suggested that a better way to present the information to her students would be to turn the PowerPoints into Forge resources that the students could work through in their own time. I created one for her as an example and then provided her with a Word template so that she could take the rest of the PowerPoints and arrange them in a way that was comprehensive and coherent. I then used these Word docs to create a set of Forge resources that could be embedded in Brightspace.

Both the teacher and her students really benefited from using the resources in 2020 and despite teaching returning to the classroom they are still finding them useful now:

“I and my students are absolutely delighted with the lecture support notes, and the feedback I am getting on them is they are great to navigate around and the look and feel of them is a huge improvement on 25 pages of bland notes.  I can never thank you enough for the support in this area – this semester is always a challenge for me and you have lightened my load greatly.”

Lecturer, Business and Accounting, 2020

“Students in this year’s cohort also have commented positively on the web based notes and they like the fact that they can pause and come back or pick up a specific element to read over again.”

Lecturer, Business and Accounting-2022

While some courses are taught mostly face-to-face UHI is an institution that also specialises in blended and remote learning. I have been working with one of our Forestry and Conservation researchers to develop interactive resources for the Forest Landscapes and Society degree which is entirely remote. As the students will not have the opportunity to get together and go out to explore different landscapes the lecturer was keen that we create some virtual assets.

The first set I created using Storyline to produce two panoramic views with hot spots embedded. As directed by the academic, many of these hot spots contained links to external webpages. When my line manager looked over the resource, she suggested that it would be good to add some text around the links to give the students more context, I agreed that some form of supporting text would improve the student experience and updated the resource accordingly.

Whilst working on this project I also learned more about 360 photography and creating virtual tours (discussed in more detail in Section 5: Specialist Area). I felt from conversations with the lecturer that he was looking for a more immersive student experience than the Storyline panoramas could provide. I put together an example tour so that he could get a feel for how it would work and see how it could be used as a teaching aid. The feedback was that a virtual forest walk could be a useful asset and it was arranged for me to go and take three 360 panoramas.

As there were a few of us in the department now with experience in creating virtual tours a discussion was had at a team meeting about potentially standardising which icons, layouts and skins (similar to the player options in Storyline) were used. My concern was that standardising could hinder future projects as it would impede our ability to be flexible and respond to the specific needs of a project. Other colleagues agreed and the final decision was not to standardise the outputs. However, I saw the benefit to students of some of the elements that my colleague had used in her virtual tour. Specifically, the inclusion of a skin which works as a menu bar down the side of the image. Including this means that the student has choices as to how they move between scenes and allows for an introductory pop-up box that can give the student a bit more information about the scene they are going to view. I also included a feature that would open a Google Maps satellite view of the area as I felt that would help the students to understand better where the scenes they were exploring were located and, if it’s not too far, allow them the opportunity to visit in person.

Thinking about the learners who would be using these immersive resources, I suggested to the lecturer that we could also incorporate some forest sounds. He was very enthusiastic about this possibility. I considered trying to record a soundtrack myself but realistically my microphone is not good enough and would probably mostly pick up wind which can sound quite unpleasant and would likely be more distracting than enhancing. For this reason, I sourced some royalty free forest sounds and embedded them, the student also has the option to turn the audio off is they wish.

Another part of understanding the requirements of the people I am producing learning resources for is understanding the time pressure often faced by academic staff. Enthusiasm doesn’t necessarily mean they will have a lot of time to contribute to the project themselves. The current forest virtual tour is still under development and requires some more input from the lecturer before it is ready for use. I have tried to make things as easy as possible by adding prompts where I think more information could be helpful and suggesting that not all the hot spots need to be links or explanatory text. It could be just as useful to the students to point out things for them to consider themselves that could be discussed in a group or on a discussion board.

Once the resource is completed, I will look forward to receiving feedback from the students and the tutor about what worked well for them and if there are changes or additional features that they would find helpful. This feedback will not only help me to improve future virtual tours but the information will also be shared with the rest of my department and potentially the wider university in the form of a blog post about the project.

Not all of 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 Communications site and disseminated on Yammer. The aim of the post is both to share best practice and outline why it necessary and to provide a few solutions by sharing links to reputable, free image banks. The blog has had 56 views and a positive response from academics.

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