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.