Life by Design

Archive for the ‘instructional design’ Category

Screen Shot 2013-06-04 at 2.23.19 PM In this day and age, ‘innovation’ is certainly the buzz word especially  with new modes of educational delivery given the discovery that in a myriad of ways that traditional models are not serving the student and preparing them for their role in the 21st Century global marketplace. While we need to embrace traditional learning theories, we need to build new houses on these trusted foundations. Houses that are engaging, collaborative, social, and challenging students to use knowledge to solve real world problems. Many instructors of varied content areas are looking for new ways to develop and deliver courses. We are no exception here at the Center for Applied Second Language Studies at the University of Oregon. We specialize in developing new and better ways to teach foreign languages.

In this article I want to share three current challenges as we move forward with developing online modules in Chinese and soon, Swahili.

  1. The team is challenged to grow and it is human nature to take a step forward into the unknown and then shrink back to the familiar
  2. Blending two theoretical models – Instructional Design and Foreign Language Acquisition Learning Theory
  3. Preparing students in advance to become independent learners as opposed to the historical model where the teacher is the only resource for learning

Our Chinese content team consists mostly of native Chinese speakers, all of whom are well-educated and trained by the best standards. Now, that we are in the stream of innovation, it is a challenge to have this team try out completely new models of educational delivery with some of the most creative Web 2.0 tools available. In the face of change, it is human nature to intellectually want to change and grow, but on other levels we often retreat to what’s familiar. We want to create something ‘insanely great’ to quote Steve Jobs, yet how far can we push the envelope? How can we stay grounded in fundamentals, yet take the roof off of brick and mortar instruction so that students and instructors can breathe?

The second challenge is to mesh two theoretical models, one of Instructional Design and the other of Foreign Language Acquisition . We think we have discovered some points where these two models touch, but again are breaking very new ground.  Our desire is to deliver something completely new and different. Can we take the best of both models and find a way to fit one with the other for a dynamic delivery?

Lastly, it is no secret that students of today for the most part have been taught by traditional means and rely on the teacher to not only be the sole deliverer of content, but to also be the subject matter expert. If nudged in a new direction to see themselves as responsible for not only the quantity of their learning, but the quality of their experience, can and will they do it? Self-discipline and self-motivation are traits that some naturally are born with and others acquire meeting the vicissitudes of life. We plan to meet our student cohort early in the development of our project and discuss this topic among others. It is my hope to prepare them mentally and emotionally to take an evolutionary leap forward in becoming in charge of the quality of their own learning experience. I do not think this is too much to ask. In my own academic life, the points of greatest satisfaction.



At the Center for Applied Second Language Studies at the University of Oregon in Eugene, Oregon a grand experiment is taking place.  Due to the impact of recent budget cuts in education both at the K-12 level and in higher education, foreign language courses are being dropped and students are scrambling to find new and different ways to access these necessary courses.   The courses are not only necessary for college admission, but to adequately function in the globalized job market of the future.   Some high school students in our state are going to community colleges for classes, while others are taking online courses developed by educational corporations.

We have assembled a team of Chinese specialists in curriculum and pedagogical design and along with myself working in instructional design and technology, we are preparing online modules in Mandarin for both high school students and the national Flagship program which supplies classes that deliver both content and high level Chinese language instruction to college students.  Our goal is to create a completely new format that offers the best of language instruction and enriched technological media for high student engagement.

Being in a pioneering field is both exciting and daunting at times.  One of the greatest challenges we have faced is exactly how to blend the philosophy of sound evidence based language instruction with best practices in Instructional Design.  There is an art and science to both good language instruction and engaging instructional design and finding the exact points where these two disciplines intersect has been fascinating.

Communication is key.  One would think that it would be easy to communicate the needs for an online module to a content development team.  But without having taken an online course, the members of the content development team rely heavily on my expertise and understanding of how the course will unfold in an asynchronous online setting.  By contrast, not speaking a word of Mandarin, I rely heavily on the team’s expertise in developing both content and curriculum that will meet national and international standards of language instruction.

Working with native speakers from China and Taiwan, I have discovered their learning styles and their great attention to detail.  While it has been mentioned in the literature that Asian cultures by nature may not necessarily be innovative, I would disagree.  What I have noticed is that their ability to revise, refine and innovate is keen on models that are already created.   The areas where I see our team being stretched is in using new models of teaching, such as project based learning and folding in Web 2.0 tools, the quantity of which grows by the day.

It is immensely rewarding to work side by side with colleagues from China and Taiwan as we move forward with our online initiatives.  The various perspectives, skill sets, talents and viewpoints help to create an enriched learning experience that we are eager to sample with student groups soon.

Image courtesy of:

Extracted: 3/30/12 at 11:34 AM (PST).

Assessing a Collaboration Project


For this discussion post, you are in the role of an online instructor who has assigned a website to be built by groups comprised of four students each in your course in Multimedia Web Design. This is a capstone project for the course and you have had the opportunity to observe each student’s level of cognitive attitude, technical ability and participation in the course through other collaborative projects, like the Discussion Board. You are entering the last two weeks of the course, and by now, peer to peer relationships have been established and your role now is to function as a learning guide.

Reflect on your role as a learning guide and how best to approach your students, now that they have become more independent. In your previous online courses, reflect upon an instructor who has handled this transitional role well and draw from it as you develop this week’s post.

Reflect on your role as a student and how it has been for you working in groups for academic projects in the past. What have you learned that you can take forward with this assignment?

For this week’s post:

Please describe how you would:

  1. Form the groups for the Captstone Project
  2. Communicate Best Practices for helping the group to manage the project
  3. Establish roles for the project
  4. Assess both individual and group performance
  5. Design rubrics for this assessment

Here is the rubric that your post will be evaluated by the following rubric.  Click on this link, scroll to the very bottom of the page and locate the rubric for Discussion Posts.

Post by Wednesday: Please post your response to the class Discussion Board by Wednesday of this week.

Friday: Review the Discussion Board posts and enter in to any discussion to add and expand the discussion.

Sunday: Again, review all the responses to your initial post and follow up with any conversations that you have been participating in to date.

(Cartoon thought bubble reads: ””)


With the explosion of online learning in both K-12 and higher education, there too, has been an explosion in plagiarism and cheating.   While the motivation for cheating has not changed over the years, the realization that one has cheated, especially in the digital world, has, as it is much more visible in a cyber based classroom.  Most students do not realize that by cutting and pasting text from a website into their research paper without citation represents plagiarism and cheating.

In an interesting survey of approximately 50,000 students from more than 60 universities students believe: ‘cut & paste’ plagiarism – using a sentence or two (or more) from different sources on the Internet and weaving this information together into a paper without appropriate citation – is not a serious issue. While 10 percent of students admitted to engaging in such behavior in 1999, almost 40 percent admit to doing so in the Assessment Project surveys [2002-5]. A majority of students (77%) believe such cheating is not a very serious issue (CAI research, 2005) as cited in Jocoy & DiBiase (2006).  Why has cheating become ‘not a very serious issue’?  It appears both the expectations and enforcements of facilitators/educators has fallen off.

According to Jocoy & DiBiase (2006), it is much harder to detect manually as well.  With budget cuts, shorter teacher days, higher enrollments, it seems plausible that a lot of cheating is going unnoticed.  Thankfully, plagiarism software is now available to online instructors that can check for plagiarism.  Turnitin is a good case in point.  Other methods include Google which allows instructors to track down copied phrases and online services such as EVE actually compares student papers to Web documents and/or to essay databases to find and report instances of matching text.  In their study, Jocoy & DiBiase(2006) did notice a difference in detecting instances of cheating by using digital resources.

Our authors, Palloff & Pratt (2011), discuss the importance of creating an assessment that is highly individualized.  For instance, rather than creating a multiple choice test, design the assessment so that the student has to write a personal reflection paper that demonstrates how they would apply the knowledge gained in the course to their everyday lives.  There is an argument for preparing students for the work world in such a way that collaborative research, and fact finding becomes a norm.  Right now in my son’s 7th grade class, the math teams occasionally take a group exam and each member of the team can contribute their knowledge to the exam.

As an instructor, there are several remedies than can be implemented to cut down on both plagiarism and cheating.

First of all, the instructor holds the expectation that students will not cheat and that there will be enforcements and consequences if students are caught.  The announcement of assignments being processed by Turnitin should be enough of disincentive for a student to go down that road.  More use of librarians can also be helpful, as many current students do not really understand the nature of plagiarism.

As an online instructor, examinations can be made of documents side-by-side, discussion posts can be compared to one another, unusual wording or lengthy wording that differs from the student’s ‘signature style’, and even a mix of fonts and type style in one paper are all ways that an instructor can possibly suspect cheating.  If it is suspected, it is best that the instructor addresses the issue with the student offline and explains the situation and asks for an explanation.

The online instructor has the responsibility to set the tone of this issue early on in Week Zero in the course policies of what the expectations and consequences are for cheating.

The student who cheats only cheats him or herself on really knowing the material that will benefit their life somehow in the future.  That is a real loss for that individual and needs to be prevented.

As I look to the future of online learning, I really like the idea of designing assessments that are as individualized as a student’s fingerprint.  Design the assessment so that the student is forced to engage higher level thinking skills and demonstrate metacognition.  Reflecting on one’s experiences in life or applying the content information to one’s life are excellent ways to measure learning and guarantee that the student has delivered original thinking and truly contributed something unique to the learning community of the course.


Cartoon courtesy of www.  Extracted from:  Google Images. 04/07/11

Jocoy, C., & DiBiase, D. (2006). Plagiarism by adult learners online: A case study in detection and remediation. International Review of Research in Open & Distance Learning, 7(1), 1–15.

Palloff, R. & Pratt, K. (2011) Plagiarism and Cheating. Laureate Education Inc., Video Production.

Today, instructors who are looking into online education may or may not be well aware of the vast array of technological tools available for the function of online courses.  The value of these tools which include:  LMS (Learning Management Systems such as Blackboard, Sakai, and Moodle), Discussion Board forums, wikis, email, blogs, video lectures, YouTube, synchronous collaboration tools, webinar and online chatting apps all help to create one of the most essential functions of online learning, and that is, to build a community of online learners.  These tools also increase learner engagement, which inspires and encourages the learner to rediscover their natural love for learning and ignite the curiosity that is still present about things unknown.

For a new online instructor, the exposure to these tools can be overwhelming and daunting and may deter the instructor from moving to an online format.  The key is to try just the essentials the first time around.  Those essentials would be:  email communication, Discussion board forums and the grade book.  With each version of the course, learn another tool that will add another dimension to your course.  But always remember, the content is what is most important.  All the enticements of the technological tools are secondary to the content and the instructor’s responsibility to build a close-knit community of learners.

We have to keep in mind that online learning opens the door to students who may have disabilities of various kinds; so again, the technological tools increase accessibility and usability of information.  Tools like, Text to Speech, Close Captioning for videos, and font and design tools that can build and simplify the appearance of websites for these students.  Building online courses that are both usable and accessible increases the success for all learners.  In their article, Cooper, Colwell & Jelfs (2007) make a compelling argument that by making elearning both useable (effective, efficient and satisfactory in a specific context of use) and accessible, which allows the learning system and environment to adjust to the needs of all learners, everyone wins.

As I move forward with course design myself, I am particularly excited about Learning Management Systems that are modeled after Social Networking sites because they are intuitive, fun and excellent at building communities.  I also think blogging, webinars, online chatting and having classroom lectures in virtual worlds such as Second Life and other SIM environments are exciting possibilities.  From what I have learned, the more you learn about technology, the more you can learn.  Challenge yourself to try something new each day, and before long the courses you design will be amazing, educational and support your students in rediscovering their natural curiosity and love for learning.

For instance, this video shows a fascinating animated look at the role of antibodies in our body.  Media like this certainly engages the learner and tells a story that no words can!

Click here to view:;jsessionid=qQe1JtsRQ+h8BltDfNlOPA**?action=2&discussion.ascdesc=ascending&discussion.listtype=threaded&resid=19623


Boettcher, J. & Conrad, R. (2010) The Online teaching Survival Guide. Josses-Bass.

Cooper, M., Colwell, C., & Jelfs, A. (2007). Embedding accessibility and usability: Considerations for e-learning research and development projects. ALT-J: Research in Learning Technology, 15(3), 231–245.

CTE Online (2010) Antibody Animation.  Extracted from:;jsessionid=qQe1JtsRQ+h8BltDfNlOPA**?action=2&discussion.ascdesc=ascending&discussion.listtype=threaded&resid=19623


Animation in the classroom is becoming an increasingly popular trend in education with the advent of new software development that makes the process very easy for the educator and student alike.  Large software companies, like GoAnimate, through its educational division have provided 2.500 schools with its animation tools since December of 2010.  Xtranormal, claims that its registered users have jumped from 800,000 to 2.4 million in the last six months across disciplines and industries.  The average movie from this developer costs about $1 to make.

In addition to Twitter, blogs and YouTube videos, do-it yourself animation has emerged as the latest form of self-expression and can assist in conveying complex topics in the classroom.

Do Animations Assist Learning?

Educational research evidence about the effectiveness of classroom animation is mixed.  Different investigations have compared static and animated displays across a number of different content areas.  Generally speaking, it has been found that using animations in the classroom are not intrinsically more effective than static graphics.  What is relevant here, are the particular characteristics of individual animations and how they are used in a specific learning lesson.  For some students, the display of animation of a complex topic may be overwhelming exceeding the limit of one’s learning capacity.  Pausing the video and adding a written or f2f explanation can circumvent this issue.  Having the learner in control of how quickly they view a video can also help the learner gain maximum advantage of this technique.

For example, in the articleBiology in Film:  Using Animations to Study Cell Structure”, we have an excellent example of a website that provides an overview of a Cell Structure Lesson, complete with lesson plan, needed materials, a warm up exercise (showing the animated video “The Inner Life of the Cell”), and questions for discussion and reading comprehension.   It is clear that the use of the animated video, brings the subject to life for the student and fully engages the learner.

Would you like to try animation?

Sites such as, and let users build their own cartoons. The steps on all three sites are fairly similar:

•                Pick a character. GoAnimate lets users customize their characters with features like a potbelly, cat-eye glasses, a bouffant hairdo or gorilla hands.

•                Pick a background. Animasher’s options include a lecture hall, a swimming pool and an exploding atom bomb.

•                Add dialogue. On Xtranormal, users type in their own dialogue and select from a range of available voices. Animasher offers sound effects like fireworks and screams.

•                Direct. On Xtranormal, users can add pauses, motions and camera angles. GoAnimate’s editing features include cuts and zooms


Challenge yourself to add some animated features to your learning plans and post to this blog with your results.  Your discoveries and experience are important to our learning community.


Cutraro, J. and Ojalvo, H. (2010)  Biology in Film:  Using Animation to Study Cell Structure. The New York Times.  The Learning Network.  November 17, 2010, 3:06PM.  Extracted from: (February 14, 2011, 1:04PM)

“Educational Animation” (2010)  Wikipedia.  Extracted from:  (Feb. 14, 2011. 1:07 PM).

Gamerman, E. (2011)  Animation Nation.  Wall Street Journal. February 11, 2011.  Extracted from:

(February 14, 2011, 12:57PM).


One of the most challenging aspects of any project, including those of Instructional Design is that of estimating costs and allocating resources.  It is not a popular topic often fraught with politics, market pressures and personnel issues.

I am interested in creating online courses, so I searched for cost estimation tools that might be useful in creating an online course.  The Center for Learning Technologies at Old Dominion University has created the Asychronous Pricing Model (APM) which is an interactive costing model that provides the answer to the question:  How much will it cost to put my course online?  What I like about this model is that it allows the designer to input raw and loaded labor figures, separate pages for every type of multimedia and major production processes used to create online courses, and finally, summary pages for the total hours and final costs associated with the project.  The model allows for quality control costs to be built into each development section.  It is an interactive spreadsheet, which includes categories for the producer, designer, and technician.  This University developed this model to help them be more accurate in assessing costs.  It is a step-by-step guide to enable instructors to quickly build cost estimates.  They can enter raw numbers in categories and subcategories, based on preferences, needs and requirements.  I like this model because it is simple to use, straightforward and user-friendly for the instructor.  Because of this, it might help to reduce the reluctance to move toward more online models for instruction.

The link for this model is found at:

Another challenging part of planning a project is estimating the time it will take to use specific resources.  There is a difference between the time used on a task and the duration of that task.  I located a website sponsored by TT Systems  (a project management consulting firm) that provides Project Management training for the software, “Microsoft Project.”  Their website offers a variety of topics regarding project management.  I especially liked the article “Using Work (effort) to Calculate Duration”.

The authors state, “Many project managers have been taught to estimate the effort that a task requires instead of estimating the duration as is promoted by the views in Microsoft Project. As you recall work (which is the name used for effort in Project), along with duration and units are the components of the work equation that Project applies to resource assignments:

Duration * Units = Work

If the manager has estimated work and has decided not only which resources to assign but also how many units of each will be assigned, then Project can calculate the duration using this version of the formula:

Duration = Work / Units

The authors, assuming that one is using “Microsoft Project” offer the following tips for using the software:  “Traditional project management training often teaches managers to estimate effort (work) for tasks and to decide what resources will be assigned. The presumption is that the software will calculate the duration and distribute the work in proportion to the assigned units. You can do that in Project, but you need to use this method:

  1. Enter the work at the task level (using the Work field in a task table).
  2. Make sure that the task is Effort Driven (it’s the default anyway) and that it is not Fixed Duration.
  3. Assign just one of the resources, being sure to enter the units. Project will assign all the work to that resource and calculate a new duration.
  4. Add the other resources, being sure to enter their units also. Project will invoke the Effort Driven calculations and distribute work in proportion to the assigned units.
  5. If you later want to change the units for one of the resources, delete the resource and than add it back with the new units.

I like this system because it makes clear the definition of duration.  The system seems to simplify the calculations one might manually do to make these numerical estimates of time worked and the actual duration of time that has elapsed on the project.

The link for this specific article can be found at:


Gordon, S., Wu, H., M’hammed Abdous, (2009)”Using a Web-based System to Estimate the Cost of Online Course Production”, Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, Volume XII, Number III, Fall 2009.  University of West Georgia, Distance Education Center.  Extracted from:

T2TT Systems: “Project Management”.  Extracted from: