Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Instructional Design Strategy for Achieving Alignment

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Which Comes First, Activities or Assessments?

We have been told all our lives to put things in order. Keep your tax files in order. Keep your house in order. Alphabetize your index. Number your chapters. Write the introduction before the conclusion. Yet, sometimes actually doing things in the order in which they appear as a final product is not the most effective approach.
Take course design for example. When we see the finished product of an online course, we see the objectives followed by activities and resources, and finally the assessment. While this sequence may be the logical order for the published course, it is not necessarily the most effective approach for the design process, especially when alignment is a critical focus.

Quality Matters (QM) is an organization that has done extensive research on alignment, the direct correlation between course/lesson objectives and the activities and materials/resources that support success in demonstrating accomplishment of those objectives through the assessments. The QM rubric for assessing this alignment has helped many designers focus their course content on what the students should learn as opposed to what the instructor wants to teach. With this focus in mind, the alignment between the objectives and assessments is imperative. Designing the activities and selecting the materials/resources become central to this alignment between objectives and assessments. Therefore, I propose a design sequence that is different from the sequence of the published course that students see. 
Design Model of Alignment Dependencies

Design the assessments first in direct alignment with the objectives. If an objective states that the learner will analyze data, craft the assessment so that the learner demonstrates data analysis. If the objective states that the learner will create a product, or research a concept, craft the assessment so that the learner demonstrates specifically what the objective says the learner will demonstrate. If the objectives are not measurable and you have the authority to revise the objectives, then tweak them as you design the assessments. Objectives will need to be measurable if you are to align the assessments to those objectives. When alignment is achieved, the objectives will look very much like a description of the assessments.

Once you have the assessment developed, then you can focus on developing activities that support the learners' success. With each activity, such as readings, exercises, gaming, viewing videos and listening to audio segments, question its inclusion using this criteria: does this activity support the learner's successful demonstration of the objective through the assessment? The same criteria holds true for the materials and resources that you include. Evaluate each one to determine if it moves the learner toward success in meeting the objective. Without that questioning, designers may find themselves including interesting materials/resources that nonetheless are not directly in support of meeting the objectives.

For example, I was designing a lesson once on how to craft quality discussion forum questions. The objective was for the learners to craft a question in their content area using the criteria presented in the lesson. I included a wonderful article on effective forum facilitation. When I questioned whether the resource supported accomplishment of the objective, I realized it did not. It was an interesting article on discussion forums, but not on writing the forum questions. I did include the resource because of its value, but clearly identified it as optional. By doing so, the learners could look at the resource if they had the time and interest to do so, but they also were made aware that the resource was outside the scope of the lesson.

Try this approach the next time you design a lesson, a course, or a workshop. Design your assessments first to align directly with your objectives. Revise the objectives as needed so that they are measurable. Then design activities to support the learner in successfully meeting the objectives. Evaluate all materials and resources. Do they support the activities, the assessments? If not, consider eliminating them or identifying them as optional. Using this process can promote alignment so that learners can focus on meeting objectives successfully.
Authors Byline: LuAnne Holder and David Holder

Friday, January 4, 2013

Twelve Twitter Tips for the Tenderfoot

Twelve Ideas (and one bonus) for Getting Started with Twitter in the Classroom
Many educators disregard Twitter as a narcissistic fad used to mark one’s personal movement through the day. How could such a tool be used effectively for education? While many limit the use of Twitter to self-proclamation of what they ate for breakfast, educators can instead use it as a flexible forum for promoting student engagement and nurturing development of a learning community.

If you are curious about using Twitter to enhance your class but unsure of how to begin, the following suggestions offer you ways to ease into using this tool. For those of you who are completely new to the Twitter scene, check out Twitter Tips for Newbies for basic information.

Here are twelve easy-to-implement ideas on how to use Twitter in your class:

1.       Class Accounts
Create a
Twitter account for your class that all students can “follow”. Tweets to this account will display on each student’s Twitter page. (Each student will need to have an account as well.) Students can tweet notes, insights, and questions about course content to this account for all followers to view. You can respond to student tweets as well as tweet assignments, announcements, and encouragement to the class yourself.

2.       Class Introduction Tweets
Collaborative learning works best when social connections are established. Build these social connections among students with an ice-breaker activity. Assign students to tweet their autobiographies as an introduction. You can set a scope for the content such as tweeting about their prior experience with the course content or you can let them write freestyle. The 140 character limit will help them get to the core of what they’d like to share about themselves without rambling.

3.       Pre-class Questions
Before each class session, post a question to spark interest in the upcoming topic. Link the topic to current events, post a problem or puzzle that can be solved with the upcoming lesson, juxtapose an element of the content against an accepted assumption, or cite an astounding statistic based on the content. These tweets do not require a response, but you may be surprised at the interest you build before the lesson ever begins.

4.       Class Announcements and Reminders
Tweets can be a handy addition to the emails and course reminders about major assignments or upcoming exams that you already send out. Using Twitter, you can quickly alert students to changes in due dates, corrections in assignments, or class cancelations. When students are comfortable checking Twitter regularly, these tweets will be a non-intrusive method for conveying the latest news.

5.       Links to Supplemental Sites
Build a resource library by tweeting links to sites that augment the current course content and encourage your students to do the same. Twitter is a great place for all to post their reactions to the sites as well. (Check out for abbreviating long URLs to make them more Twitter-friendly.)

6.       Supplemental Discussions
Enhance the class discussions, or discussion forums, with a more informal discussion on Twitter. Students can pose questions about the content on Twitter that they were too shy to bring up in class or that didn’t occur to them during a lesson.

7.        Resource for Resources
Students can follow professional organizations, museums, or experts in the field to access links to cutting-edge publications on topics for their research.

8.       Research Forum
Students can use Twitter to conduct their own research. They can tweet a link to a free survey site such as
SurveyMonkey using specific hashtags to gather poll data from a wide sample. You can also use this approach to solicit anonymous feedback from students during the course.

9.       Small Group Presentations
Whether your students work in small groups virtually or in the classroom, they can present their group’s results using Twitter. This format works particularly well when each group explores one topic within a whole and tweets summaries to the class Twitter account.

10.   Personify Content
Create an account for the course content, a historical figure, or a fictional character. Students can then tweet from that perspective. Writing as Adam the Atom or as Albert Einstein nurtures creative thinking and can also provide a forum for students to tweet anonymously.

11.   Connect with Experts
Assign students to
find Twitter handles for experts in the field. These experts can illuminate content and help them explore new areas. Students can pose questions and maybe even receive a personalized response. Such interactions connect the content with current thinking in the field.

12.   Twitter Essay
Want to see if students understand the essence of a topic? Assign a
Twitter essay. With just 140 characters, the student must analyze, evaluate, summarize, and condense content. Such an exercise promotes critical thinking and retention.    

If you want to assess your student’s Twitter postings, you can use this
Twitter Rubric as a guide for meeting quality standards.
You do not need to be a social media expert to use Twitter in the classroom. You can discover its value along with your students. Your participation can model the wise use of public social media and help guide them in the very important skill of developing a positive digital footprint. It can give the shy students a voice, nurture personal interaction with the content, and connect learners with others inside the class and outside in the field.

First published on Elearning Industry.

Friday, November 23, 2012

A-muse-ment in Digital Form

After reading Chris Friend’s blog on alternate personas in the world of digital writing (When Writing Digitally, Nobody Knows You’re a Duck), I began to ponder what alternate persona I would assume if I were to take one on like Digi the Duck. To assume a digital persona is a bit like dressing up for Halloween, being someone you aren’t in everyday life. My first thought gravitated toward creating a new goddess, you know, all powerful but loving. More specifically, the new persona could be a Muse, breathing inspiration into writers of digital texts, including myself. She could join her nine Muse sisters including Calliope, Erato, Euterpe, Melpomene, Polyhnmnia, and Thalia, the other Muses associated with the craft of writing. She could not, however, become the tenth Muse because Sappho of Lesbos has already been bestowed with that honor. A more appropriate title for the Muse of digital writing would be the .5 Muse. I’ll call her Digimulios, the Muse of amusement in digital form.
I need to call on Digimulios now because I am getting way off topic. What I want to share is a word cloud of Friend’s blog shaped appropriately as a duck. I used to develop this word cloud. The site’s default shapes did not include a duck, so I imported one from PowerPoint.

Word clouds are a great way to see which (digital) words are emphasized. In seeing words sized in relation to the frequency of their use, we can see which ideas are accentuated as well. Do you think this word cloud expresses the essence of the blog entry?

 I also tried another analysis tool for digital text at This tool allows you to classify a work by Myers-Briggs categories, gender emphasis, age appropriateness, social issues, mood, tone, and many other classifications. I ran the Friend blog entry through the classics classifier, which compares the style of a work of digital text to the writing styles of classic authors. I found that the writing in this blog entry was classified as 33% similar to the writing style of Nietzsch’s works, 17% with Edgar Allen Poe, and almost 13% with Plato (a close friend to a young Digimulios most likely).
Both of these approaches can open possibilities for a variety of approaches for analyzing available digital texts, while also being an inspiration for creating new texts. I implore you, Digimulios, to sing the URLs for these tools from the heavens of cyber space. Inspire digital writers and expand our network. By the way, don’t forget to sing to me with your inspiration when you see my curser blinking on a blank Word document.

Monday, November 12, 2012

How to Design Assessments that Promote the Learning Process

First published by


Assessments are critical elements of instruction; they determine accomplishment of lesson objectives. However, you can design assessments to be more than an evaluation of what has been learned. You can design them to be a part of the learning process itself. Authentic assessments require learners to apply their new knowledge and skills to real-world challenges, which promote retention and enhance problem-solving skills. How can you design assessments that promote the learning process? Let’s look at 5 characteristics of authentic assessments to see how.

Authentic Task: An assignment given to students designed to assess their ability to apply standard-driven knowledge and skills to real-world challenges - AuthenticAssessment Toolbox

Construction of new knowledge
Traditional instruction encourages recognition and confirmation of established knowledge. Nothing is wrong with presenting and testing this knowledge. Being knowledgeable in a field requires a person to understand the established concepts in that area. Learners often feel comfortable when they are only asked to recognize, recall, and or confirm knowledge presented. Yet, to advance critical thinking skills, learners need to confront new challenges by constructing new knowledge. Such a constructivist approach to assessment often includes a social element. Learners work together in teams to address new problems. Given a simulated scenario, they synthesize confirmed knowledge to create possible solutions to new problems. They use analysis to identify the essence of the problem, as well as constraints that could hinder solutions. They use synthesis to consolidate the constraints and possible solution approaches identified by the team. They use evaluation to determine which solutions could be effective. Finally, they use negotiation to agree upon a group solution, which likely will involve some level of compromise. Such assessment activities take longer to accomplish, certainly longer than answering multiple choice or short answer questions. Yet, this type of assessment supports learners’ abilities to transfer confirmed knowledge into creative applications. 

Learner formatting of the assessment
One principle of adult learning theory is to allow learners to determine their own learning goals. In most instructional settings, specific learning objectives must be met. However, students can play a role in structuring how they show evidence of skill proficiency. In a business writing course, the assessment might include the construction of an eportfolio. Students write a business letter, an email, a resume, and a business proposal, but the student selects his own topics to benefit him in his unique job search. In a marketing class, learners perform a SWOT analysis on an organization they are already affiliated with or one in a field in which they hope to pursue a career. Allowing learners to format their own assessment, promotes retention and transfer of knowledge.

Traditional assessments are manufactured to allow quick evaluations that easily quantify learner proficiency. Authentic assessments more often call for application of skills that can transfer directly to real-world situations. For example, new hires in a manufacturing facility might be required to take a course on safety. An authentic assessment might include a case study where learners rearrange equipment or restructure policies to address safety issues. In a leadership course, a learner might be asked to analyze her personal leadership style and then respond to certain scenarios using that style.

Direct evidence of skill acquisition
With traditional assessments, you can calculate a percentage of correct answers to indicate a student’s acquisition of knowledge. A skilled test writer can even craft multiple choice questions to require analysis or synthesis. However, these types of assessments still provide only indirect evidence. Did the distracter choices influence the student’s selection? Did the student guess to get the correct answer? Direct evidence of skill acquisition involves application of the skills. Can the student in a highly technical course apply the information to create new code, or write a Help file that explains a software application in language a user would understand? Can a physics student develop a protocol for conducting an experiment in a simulated setting? Can an HR trainee create interview questions to identify an applicant’s fit in a particular corporate culture? Such authentic assessments can provide for direct evidence of skill acquisition as well as being a learning activity itself.

Authentic assessments often include an element of reflection. While some instructors may not consider reflection activities as assessments, they can promote self-assessment and transfer of learning. Assessments that include reflection promote the expression of how students’ personal goals and values intersect with the course content. Asking learners to identify what they learned, how they learned it, and how this new knowledge can be applied nurtures metacognition, which promotes critical thinking, life-long learning, and skill in future problem solving.

As you identify your objectives and design your course, consider adding authentic assessments to your course design. You’ll gather a more complete representation of your learners’ skill acquisition, a benefit as you make continuous improvement revisions to your course. Students will engage in the learning process even while engaged in assessment activities. Finally, because these assessments apply skills and knowledge, and empower students to set the direction of their learning, this approach can also increase motivation, and retention.


Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Developing Communities of Practice

Developing Communities of Practice

Originally posted in eLearning Industry.     

Social media allows friends, family, and co-workers to easily stay connected. Those same tools can be used to establish a community of practice (CoP) where participants connect to nurture and learn from one another.
"Many ideas grow better when transplanted into another mind than the one where they sprang up." - Oliver Wendell Holmes
CoPs are organized either formally or through happenstance. They may focus on promoting a business, or on training and professional development, or even on a hobby or topic. Membership in a CoP requires a passion for the community’s domain, a willingness to contribute to its knowledge base, and application of new skills. Both novices and experts have insights to contribute.

Why participate in a CoP?

CoPs may be organized by an organization. Participants may work in the same job role within an organization. These communities mentor new hires, disseminate processes and best practices to a large group, solve emerging problems, and engage in continuous improvement initiatives. Participants can share stories about challenges, collaborate on tasks, and share resources. These activities promote life-long learning and an environment of cooperation.
While many CoPs focus on institutional roles, they need not be limited by geography or organizational departments. Communities can connect multiple departments where members experience strategies used by others. CoPs can include members from multiple organizations, nurturing cooperation between business and government, education and business, professionals and volunteers. Communities can connect participants in different cities, regions, and even nations. Membership can be dynamic when members influence the group’s structure and direction. So even if you establish a formal CoP, be prepared for it to evolve and develop subgroups on its own.

How can you establish a CoP?

CoPs can be planned through a formal process. For example, employees attend training where they collaborate to apply new skills for solving new problems. After completion of the training, you establish an online forum to support participants as they apply the training in unique situations.
CoPs can also emerge spontaneously. Teachers can discuss common challenges, such as classroom management, during their lunch break. Software engineers can discuss code they submit to an open source project with others contributing to similar projects. Professionals can share resources and ask for guidance on LinkedIn discussions. These communities emerge without support from any institution. Yet even these spontaneous, participant-driven communities maintain passion for their domain, active participation, and contributions to the body of knowledge.
Many suggest using multiple approaches for establishing a CoP to address past experience with social media and multiple learning styles. These suggestions can get you started:

Social bookmarking

Social bookmarking takes the individualized practice of saving URLs in Favorites to a social level. Instead of bookmarking on one computer, with social bookmarking you save by keywords in a cloud application. Therefore, if you want to locate a site on a team member’s computer during a meeting, you log into your social bookmarking site, enter your password, and search by keywords.

You can also set up private (or public) groups for your CoP. For example, everyone in your CoP may be interested in social media for marketing. You set up a group for your community where all members can add links that all can access. Even better, with some social bookmarking applications, such as
Diigo, you can highlight and add sticky notes to sites that all group members can see. View this video for more information:
Diigo improving how we find, share, and save information.



You can take two approaches with a community blog. You can publish scheduled entries, where members subscribe to email notifications or access through an RSS feed. This is a “push” approach. Another approach is to send a “teaser” email containing the entry’s introduction followed by a link to the blog for more information. If the email recipient isn’t interested, she deletes. If she is, she accesses the blog to continue reading. This is a “pull” approach.

Private LinkedIn groups

Spontaneous CoPs can emerge within larger LinkedIn groups. You can also establish your own LinkedIn group specifically for your CoP. It’s simple. Log into LinkedIn and select Create a Group from the Groups drop-down menu. Populate the form and select Create a Members-Only Group. Such a group can function as your CoP’s discussion forum. Individual members can personalize their options for receiving notification of new posts.

This approach is simple to implement and intuitive for group members. You can encourage active participation by posting questions, asking for further clarification, and establishing a social presence. Launch the group with an introduction or ice-breaker activity. Establish social connections first to promote a sense of trust, then participants will feel more comfortable contributing to problem-solving and mentoring activities.


Much like social bookmarking, curation allows communities to archive sites of interest. Curating sites such as Pinterest and ScoopIt serve open communities. You can invite friends to follow your Pinterest board(s) but as a public site, anyone can search for your “pins”. ScoopIt is public, also. Public curation can add multiple perspectives to a CoP from outside comments on a pin or scoop. Additionally, community members can search for other boards and scoops to broaden their exposure.

Involve management in any social media initiative. Use input from the community to improve processes, increase employee motivation, and provide insight on the organization’s mission. Developing online CoPs can move training and problem-solving beyond onsite meetings. CoPs can provide continuous improvement through an organic collaborative process.