Lessons learned from running our first online Design for User Experience course

Today’s post is by Lisa Spitz, Lesley Assistant Professor and consultant for the College of Art and Design’s bachelor’s program in design for user experience.


In Fall 2, 2016 we ran our first course in the Design for User Experience program, Typography 1. 10 students signed up for the course. Excitement ensued. And then I started looking into the class roster. Of the 10 students, just 1 was a Design for UX student. The remaining students represented a mix of Business, Counseling, and Psychology programs. As a new program in an entirely new category for Lesley, I realize that it takes time to market and enroll new students. Nonetheless, I was a bit disappointed by the turn out. I didn’t question the applicability of the content to individuals “outside the field”. Principles of good typography is something anyone can benefit from. But I was worried about the complexity of the learning activities I’d planned and the Adobe software that was required to complete them.

What I learned over the subsequent 8 weeks is the importance of being flexible and the benefit of testing a course with individuals outside your domain. Let’s start with the latter point. For those familiar with Universal Design for Learning or Inclusive Design, it’s a bit like that. If you can make your course “work” for individuals outside your program, chances are it will work better for those inside your program as well. I’m not talking about “dumbing down” content or removing requirements. I’m talking about adding instructional supports to make the course content and expectations clearer. Here are a few ways I made that happen while the course was still in flight:

Providing better prompts
As a typography course, students were expected to create several designs and critique the work of their peers. However, journal entries revealed that students lacked the confidence to do so and some even felt hypocritical critiquing their peers’ work. The original critique questions I’d provided assumed they could judge which design was best (or worst) and give concrete recommendations on what to do next. But students were not sure how to assess the work of their peers. How would they know which was best? They certainly could tell which one they liked, but could not articulate why it was better. So, I went back to the drawing board and made the questions more personal. “What words would you use to describe this?”; “What is being emphasized?”; “What interests you about the design?” Etc. These questions were easier to answer. They required students to respond based on what they saw and how they felt, not what they deemed to be “good” or “bad”.

Original critique language:Critique_Before

Revised critique language: 
Critique_After


Creating more explicit directions

As a visual learner, one of the biggest challenges I faced when creating my own online course is finding ways around the “wall of text”. To explain an activity requires quite a bit of documentation. Aside from using all video or images, there’s almost no way around it. And when confusion arises, the tendency is to double down with more explanation. Instead, I took a step back, added images, cut text, and used more headings and bulleted lists – detailing process, specifications and steps for completion.

Original assignment description: (click for full size image)
direction_before_crop

Revised assignment description: (click for full size image)
directions_after_crop

Personalizing the feedback process
As students submitted their design work each week, I used the Assignment Tool to provide feedback. Originally, I defaulted to the WYSIWYG editor and took to writing what I thought worked/didn’t work and needed improvement. However, it felt as if some of my feedback was getting lost in translation. Again, the wall of text. Midway through the course I switched to video. Instead of writing a single piece of feedback, I recorded my screen as I looked at each of their design options and spoke about their use of typography in great details. If I’d have typed that feedback out, it would have been a novel. But to record it took just a few minutes. Students appreciated the new format and commented on how incredibly helpful it was.

All of these changes required a great deal of flexibility on my part. I ended up re-writing each week’s content before it went live; I added images to show, not tell; I created videos that demonstrated how to do the assignments; I offered up 30 minute 1:1 time slots to address individual challenges; and I gave feedback that was personal and specific. In the end, I had students comment on their appreciation for typography and design. But more importantly, I witnessed their transformation. When week 1 started, students proclaimed themselves unable to be creative. When week 8 finished, they professed the ways in which they were using their new knowledge of good typography to impact their professional and academic lives. As for myself, I still have some work to do within the course curriculum – but am confident that the results will be even better the next time around.

Giving Students Access to Film Footage and 3D Models to Enhance the Studio Experience

Matt Nash, Chair of Video and Animation at the College of Art and Design, received a $2,500 Academic Technology Innovation Grant in Fall 2016 for the purchase of professionally-produced data assets for students to use in Digital Filmmaking and Animation and Motion Media courses. The data assets are raw film footage and 3D models, which will be edited and manipulated by students in courses that focus on concepts of 3D animation, editing theory, advanced technical proficiency, audio design and other aspects of post-production.

Two sets of digital assets were purchased through the grant: professional produced film footage ($1,050) and 3D animation models for Autodesk MAYA ($950). The grant award also includes the purchase of portable hard drives ($500), which will store the assets that will be available for check out by faculty and students.   The acquisition of these sets of video assets allows the Animation and Digital Filmmaking faculty to focus on their primary pedagogical goals without the distraction of creating and managing assets that are outside the learning outcomes.

The Teaching and Learning with Technology committee reviewed the proposal and found it aligned with the criteria for grant funding including:

  • Funding request is primarily to purchase hardware or software
  • The hardware or software represents innovative use of technology to advance teaching and learning
  • Priority is given to projects that would have a direct impact on students

If you are interested in applying for an Academic Technology Innovation Grant and would like more information, please email tech.grant@lesley.edu.

Threshold Concepts: Helping Students Break through Learning Barriers

breakthrough-1027872_960_720Many, if not all instructors have seen their students struggle to grasp or even fail to understand a concept important to progressing in a course or subject area. This type of learning block can derail a student’s development and have a ripple effect in their studies, particularly if that concept is a building block for future learning. These types of concepts have been identified by researchers in a UK national research project into qualities of strong teaching and learning in the undergraduate disciplines (Enhancing Teaching-Learning Environments in Undergraduate Courses). Erik Meyer and Ray Land, economics professors, found that certain concepts were held by economists that are central to mastering their subject, and that such “threshold concepts” had common features. The acquisition of threshold concepts has been likened to passing through a portal, where learners enter new conceptual territory. New ways of thinking or practicing, previously inaccessible, come into view for learners. Without these concepts, which often afford a transformed view of the subject landscape, students often cannot progress.

Further work over the past decade has examined threshold concepts in a wide range of subject areas, finding that identifying threshold concepts in an instructor’s discipline is a useful first step to tackling “troublesome knowledge”. A group of professors has created a process to increase student learning of threshold concepts called “Decoding the Disciplines”. The process begins with identifying learning bottlenecks making explicit tacit knowledge of experts (like professors) to help students master the mental actions needed for success.

For more information about Threshold Concepts and the Decoding the Disciplines model:
Decoding the Disciplines website
ETL Project (Enhancing Teaching-Learning Environments in Undergraduate Courses)
International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning
Threshold Concept in Practice (text)

Design Your Own Professional Development

Friday, January 20 9AM – 12:30PM

Join eLIS for a constructivist professional development workshop in an “unconference” model to kick-start your use of technology in instruction for the Spring semester. For those unfamiliar, an unconference is an organic, participant-driven professional development event. We will gather together from 9-9:30AM to brainstorm the key topics that participants would like to cover, and then we’ll break out into three one-hour workshops based on the topics the group generates.

Examples of topics we might engage in together:

  • Designing online discussions
  • Choosing technology tools to support learning
  • Using the online environment to support learning
  • Using video and multimedia in your class

Examples of technology tools we may discuss as part of the training:

  • Blackboard Basics
  • Advanced Blackboard topics such as using rubrics or the grade center
  • Using Atomic Learning in your classes
  • Conducting a webinar with Collaborate Ultra
  • Using Kaltura for sharing video in myLesley

Registration will be required. Click here to register.

 

Bonus 12 Days of Learning: Most Popular TED Talks

We have wrapped up our 12 Days of Learning series (shamefully stolen from Atomic Learning). As we head into the winter break, we thought we would leave you with some bonus viewing material for inspiration in the new year. The Most Popular TEDTalks, 25 of the most watched TED presentations.

TEDTalkPlaylist

Have a great holiday and winter break. We’ll see you in January.