As hard as I try, I cannot separate my experiences in life as a result of taking LT7100 from my experiences being quarantined during the COVID-19 pandemic and going online to teach mathematics courses at a USG institution. Although I have, over many years, facilitated courses in an online environment via ITT Tech, University of Phoenix, Atlanta Tech and, more recently, eCore®, I have never designed a course in an online environment – until now. For the past five weeks, I have converting two college level mathematics courses designed for face-to-face environments into courses delivered 100% online. Not only was this a new instructional design experience for me, but it was a completely new experience for most of my students.
Many of my decisions regarding the look and feel, the flow, and the evaluation of students in my courses relied on my past experiences as an online teacher and as a teacher in a face-to-face environment. However, there were some aspects of what I have learned about instructional design and technology thus far in LT7100 that I found myself considering when making decisions. Although I did not have the luxury of time to devote to strictly designing the course (since I had to also facilitate it), I was able to consider some of the best practices of instructional design that I learned in LT7100.
One of the most important things I have learned inLT7100 is to focus on the learner. Considering who the learners are, their life situations, and what skills they bring into the course is of paramount importance. In my current situation, I have a combination of dually enrolled high school students, first year college students, students with and without private spaces to study in their homes, students with and without outside-of-school responsibilities, students with and without access to reliable WIFI, students with varying levels of technology skills, students with varying levels of desire to learn mathematics, and students with varying work ethics. The last two of those characteristics were no different online as they were in a face-to-face environment, but the manner of addressing them has been different.
Perhaps the second most important aspect of the design of my online courses that needed to be considered is how to evaluate the knowledge of my students. In my class that is part of a STEM major, I required a lock-down browser preventing students from accessing another website on their computer when taking the exam. Still, students could “cheat” by having another person take the exam for them, or have another computer open so that they could look up answers on another website. I could have chosen to “proctor” my students as they took their exams by requiring a webcam to be focused on them at all times. However, I did not think that I could successfully proctor twenty students at once, and I found that requiring this when the students never agreed to have a camera come into their homes and record them, was unsettling. Thus, I did not require that the exams be proctored. Instead, I required a “show all work” document, in the student’s own handwriting, to be uploaded to a drop box as a supplement to the answering of multiple choice questions. Perhaps this was only a deterrent, and perhaps this method was no perfect. However, considering the imperfect times we are living in, I am satisfied with my decisions. For the final exam, I will include some “show all work” questions as part of the actual exam, and I will grade those questions manually.
As I work on my final project for LT7100, I begin to see more clearly what an instructional designer does. It reminds me of the software development process in some respects. I can recall that, when I worked for IBM in Poughkeepsie, we started out with more than one design phase before we got to the development and testing phases. I recall learning that the earlier in a design cycle errors were caught, the less expensive the error was to fix. The most expensive errors to fix were the ones that were found in the customers’ hands. I can see how this would be true for an instructional project, as well. This is why it is crucial to involve the subject matter experts and all of the stakeholders at every phase when designing an instructional product.
The last very important takeaway I have gotten as a result of taking LT7100 is the concept of an instructional design team. I have learned that teams work best when everyone has his or her own defined role. When everyone on the team has the exact same responsibilities, it is too easy for one person to try to speak for another or make decisions for another. Unless someone has the permission to make decisions for another, whether by a defined role or by explicit grant of permission, no one should make decisions or speak for other people. If someone is given a specific area of responsibility, then that person is charged with making decisions for that arena and that arena alone. With the power to make decisions comes responsibility for their consequences. Thus, a lead instructional designer that is put in charge of a team of instructional designers must carefully consider the various role (s)he needs his/her team to assume. Then, the lead instructional designer must, with all the necessary thought and consideration, assign those individual roles to the team members. In that way, all of the cogs in the wheels will remain functional and contribute to the whole.
I am looking forward to continuing my journey toward my M.S. in Instructional Design and Technology at Georgia State University, and I welcome the opportunity to build on my current knowledge and skills. As I incorporate knowledge into practice and, as a consequence, build new skills, I am comforted in knowing that my decision to pursue this degree was a good one, and a very fitting one, for me.