Life by Design

Archive for the ‘virtual learning’ 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.


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).