Final Reflection on the Online Learning Design Course

30 August 2021

                           Final Reflection

Introduction

Thank you for logging onto my e-portfolio and reading this reflection. I am Virimai Mugobo and I am the Head of Department and Senior Lecturer in the Departments of Retail Business management at CPUT. I teach Applied Retail Research to fourth year students studying for the Advanced Diploma in Retail Business Management. The purpose of this e-portfolio is for me to demonstrate the work that I have done as part of the Online Learning Design (EDN4501) course at the University of Cape Town. The ePortfolio is composed of three key components. The first part of the ePortfolio highlight my teaching and learning context and this is summarised in the form of my two student personas and my empathy map which exhibits my identity as a teacher in relation to my context. The second part of the ePortfolio highlights my learning design plan which details my course’s learning objectives, the teaching and learning activities and the assessment and feedback in the context of my planned learning design interventions. The final component of the ePortfolio is composed of the learning design prototype. The learning design prototype is further presented and explained using the screencast that is also part of this ePortfolio.

The Purpose of the Final Reflection

The essay is my final reflection as a student in the EDN4501 course. The essay will start with a discussion of my understanding of learning design followed by a discussion of my experience using the TEDDIE learning design model. The subsequent sections detail my learning design interventions ,the context in which I came up with these interventions, my key design and development choices, the improvements that I may make to my design in the future and my reflections on the whole learning design process that I went through including my viewpoint of the future as a learning designer.

My understanding of learning design

I got exposed to formal learning design process when I enrolled for the EDN4501 course. Initially, my understanding of learning design was only in terms of my use of the Blackboard Learning Management system as a platform for teaching and learning.

My understanding of learning design now is that it is a deliberate, planned and collaborative process that highlights the learning activities in addition to the student support services that are performed by the various role players in the teaching and learning process. In this regard, learning design includes activities, services, and role players. The activities include learning objects such as the LMS platform, the teaching and learning information and computer technology (ICT) applications, and other resources such as journal articles, case studies books. The services include synchronous and asynchronous lectures, discussion forums, chats, wikis and so on. The role players include teachers, teaching assistants, tutors and learners.

During the EDN4501 course, I got the exposure to a number of learning design model such as ADDIE (analyse, design, develop, implement and evaluate), ASSURE (analysis, statement of the objectives, selection of media, utilisation of materials and requirement for learner performance) and TEDDIE (think, explore, design, develop, implement and evaluate) (Govender et al., 2021). The TEDDIE model as a conceptual framework was adapted from Dabbagh and Bannan-Ritland’s (2005) model and Mor and Mogilevsky’s (2012) Design Inquiry of Learning (DIL) model (Govender et al., 2021). In my design intervention, I therefore used the TEDDIE model, which I found to be very effective in terms of its flexibility and all-encompassing architecture. This model provided me with the structure in the process of developing the synchronous and synchronous activities and services for the design of the first three modules in my online course called Applied Retail Research.

I found TEDDIE to be an easy model to follow as it gave me a very clear step-by-step approach to learning design. Previously, I have read literature on learning design models but I had never used one in practice. So the use of TEDDIE in this case was something novel to me. Generally, I think TEDDIE is a robust model that was easy to apply in my teaching and learning context. The five linear steps in TEDDIE are a clear highlight and summation of the process that one can easily follow when designing a course (Nambi, 2019). Because of its simple and convenient linear process, I found the TEDDIE model to be easy to measure in terms of time and money as the steps that one needs to follow are clearly designed.

However, I also found the TEDDIE model to have a few weaknesses. Firstly, the model assumes a rigid linear posture that is not robust enough to allow for iteration. Learning design is a complex, iterative and fluid process that cannot be effectively implemented using a rigid and step-by-step process. For example, the design phase is separate from the development and implementation phases and as such if you make wrong assumptions about what is possible during the design phase, you may find these assumptions not possible to action during the development or implementation phase and this may lead to costly and time-consuming revisions. In this regard, one may argue that the development and implementation phases in the TEDDIE model come in very late in the design process to allow for the discovery of flaws in the process and allowing the designer the flexibility of going back to the drawing board. Secondly, I found the TEDDIE model to be expensive in terms of time and money if one is to follow all the steps in implementing a learning design.

My learning design and its context
As part of my assessments for the EDN4501 course, I designed a prototype of the first three modules of the Applied Retail Research course to be offered fully online via the Blackboard LMS. My design work also included a digital story that captured my Covid-19 experience as a teacher, two personas that represent the demographic profiles of my students, an empathy map that reflects my identity and my learning design plan. The learning design prototype includes a video introduction to the course, a highlight of the course objectives and the content of each of the three modules. Each module is composed of an introductory video, a highlight of the module objectives, notes for the module and the formative assessments for that module.

In terms of context, I teach the Applied Retail Research course to 4th year students who are enrolled for the Advanced Diploma in Retail Business Management programme. The class has 110 students, the majority of whom are full-time students. The course is offered fully online via the Blackboard LMS. Offered over two semesters, the course is delivered both synchronously, through 90-minute weekly sessions via Blackboard Collaborate and asynchronously. All the content for the course is deposited on the Blackboard LMS and students who are not able to attend the synchronous classes have access to all the recordings on the LMS 24 hours a day and from any location in the world.

As a university of technology, CPUT courses are vocationally-oriented and as such they focus more on the acquisition of hands-on/practical skills by the students than theoretical knowledge. The target group for my programme is predominantly Black African females and males who intend to seek employment and business opportunities in the retail industry. As such, about 90% of my students are Black South Africans, predominantly Xhosa-speaking and originally from the Eastern Cape.

As a result of my experience in the EDN4501 course, I have gained new insights about my students. Firstly, the fact that the majority of my students come from previously disadvantaged backgrounds means that most of them are compelled to find some part-time employment as they study. This therefore limits the amount of time they have for learning. As such, I have ensured that most of the teaching and learning activities in the course are available asynchronously as almost half of the class find it challenging to attend the synchronous classes. Secondly, I have also realised that my students, mainly because of their backgrounds, do not really enjoy assessments that require them to engage in complicated intellectual discussions. They rather prefer assessments that are hands on and relate to the real work environment and as such in my new learning design, all the assessment tasks are hands-on and require the learners to do activities that are related to practices in the real work environment

My design choices
In designing my project, there were a number of design and development choices that shaped the project. Firstly, my learning design choices were heavily influenced by Gachago et al.,’s (2020) nine dimensions of learning design. In terms of the first dimension ( (open/closed), my course will be closed as it is only open to students registered for the course at CPUT. In terms of whether the course is structured or unstructured, the course will be highly structured as each module will basically follow the same structure, in which I will start by providing the learning outcomes, followed by chunked content including short videos and concluding with self-help exercises and tasks.

In terms of the third dimension which considers whether the design will be facilitated or unfacilitated. As the Course Convener, I will facilitate and collaborate with my students in both synchronous and asynchronous activities in order to ensure their active participation. The course is designed in such a way that grants equal access to all the students. I view this, in terms of learning design, as ensuring that all my students have equal access and equal opportunities. In this regard, the proposed learning design should ensure equal access, equal participation and recognition of the humanism and cultural significance of all my students. The way my learning design is structured should thus reflect inclusion and representativity. These design and development choices that I made, ensured that my learning design affords social justice and equity for all my students. This is in line with Fraser’s (2007) parity of participation and it, to a greater extent support equal access and collaboration among my students (Gachago et al’s., 2020 ninth dimension). As a teacher and as a learning designer, I subscribe to the notion of an inclusive and representative learning design.

As part of ensuring that the student voice is heard in the learning design, I will involve my students in the learning design process so as to make the whole process participatory. I will thus follow both the social constructivist and connectivist learning theories. According to Gachago et al., (2020), the fourth dimension that one should look at when designing a course pertains to whether the course will be certified or not certified. The course that I teach, Applied Retail Research, is part of the curriculum for the Advanced Diploma in Retail Business Management and as such it is a certified course. The course has 24 credits and 4 summative assessments. Students taking the course have to attain at least 50% to pass the course.

The fifth dimension is in terms of “eventiness” which refers to whether or not the course has deadlines and commitments that have to be honoured within set timelines. Yes indeed, my course is highly structured with specific modules and tasks that must be completed at set times, though through dialogue, I am very flexible on the timelines. As part of the intervention for my Online Learning Design project, I am planning to use the adaptive release tool which will facilitate the gradual release of content as specific tasks are completed by the students. However, in view of Fraser’s (2007) idea of parity participation, one may argue that using adaptive release does not, to some extent, democratise the learning space as students are placed in a highly structured environment in which they must follow a particular order of events and tasks without much room or personal independence to decide what to do and what not to do. I will therefore try to overcome this challenge by ensuring that my students are involved in the process ab initio and that they contribute to what content and activities will be covered in each and every module. I am sure this will ensure that their voice is heard and that they buy into the process thereby guaranteeing their participation.
Following the principles of pedagogy of care and trauma-focussed pedagogy, I will also give due consideration to my students’ context and circumstances and I am always willing to accommodate them.

According to Gachago et al (2020), the sixth dimension that one should consider when designing an online course is whether the course is content-driven or process-driven. My course seeks to guide students throughout the research process by providing them with the relevant knowledge, skills and tools they require to successfully complete their research projects. In this regard, the course is a hybrid of both content and process. The content will be in terms of the various research theories, methods, tools and techniques that I will share with them whilst the process will be in terms of the step-by-step approach they need to follow as they implement their research projects.

The seventh dimension, according to Gachago et. al., (2020) should consider whether the students will follow a homogenous learning path or an autonomous learning path. As alluded to earlier on, the course is highly structured and follows a modular approach and as such all the students follow a homogenous learning path which is designed to take them through the whole process. It is however important to note that despite the fact that the course follows a homogenous learning path I will not place students in a box with little or limited autonomy. I will incorporate the student voice (co-creation, co-design, co-development) in the design of the homogenous learning design and they will also contribute towards the determination of the content to be covered and how it will be covered. This will ensure that irrespective of being homogenous, the course remains participatory and the voice of the students is prevalent throughout the whole course from the beginning till the end and this ensures that there is participatory parity and social justice and equity in the learning design.

The eighth dimension that Gachago et. al (2020) proposed is that of determining to what extent fun or playfulness is used in the course. In this regard, the dimension ranges, on a continuum, from seriousness to playfulness.

As I alluded to at the beginning of this reflection, one of the tools that I will incorporate in the proposed learning design intervention is the use of gamification in order to encourage student engagement and participation in the various learning activities. I will use a number of games that students must play as part of their formative assessments. However, I concur with Gachago et al’s., (2020) view that “playful learning is a course principle but depends on participants’ perception of playfulness.”

The last dimension proposed by Gachago et al’s., (2020) focuses on the extent to which collaboration is built into the course design. This dimension ranges, on a continuum, from individual learning on one end to collaborative learning on the other. I am a firm believer in both cognitive-behaviourist and constructivist-connectivist learning theories. As such, the course design will incorporate activities done individually and other activities in which the students are required to collaborate with each other using tools such as Blackboard Collaborate, WhatsApp and so on. The idea of students working together fosters collaborative and social learning and to some extent reinforces Fraser’s (2007) ideas about social recognition and participation parity in that the students work together collaboratively, in groups, as equal partners and with equal access to the content and other resources.

In my design and development phases, I also incorporated Laurillard’s (2013) conversational framework which provided an overarching design framework for my learning design by placing the learners at the centre of my design thinking and modelling. Furthermore, the conversational framework also incorporates the six learning types (acquisition, investigation, practice, discussion, collaboration and production). As I was designing and developing my project, I incorporated the notion of six learning types and this helped me to come up with various online activities that my students could engage in and all these which are supported by pedagogical theories such as social constructivism, collaborative learning and so on. For example, the research work that my students do requires acquisition of information and investigation. The students engage in discussions and collaboration in some of the formative assessments and produce assignment and project reports as artefacts.

Improvements to my learning design
I subjected my project to some review or evaluation. The first evaluation was by my colleague, a fellow teacher at CPUT (peer-evaluation). The second evaluation was by two prospective users, who are students at CPUT(student evaluation) and the last one was a self-evaluation. One common factor that came out all these evaluations was that my learning design has too much content that the students need to deal with, especially the module notes. I concur with this feedback and one way to overcome this challenge will be to chunk my content inter smaller pieces that students will find easy and convenient to engage with. This chunked content could also be in the form of short videos that the students can easily deal with. My colleague and students also pointed out that there were too many formative assessments as each module has four formative assessments. I also concurred with this feedback and in future I will reduce the formative assessments to two per module. From my own perspective, I think I also need to improve in terms of the time allocated for each module. Requiring students to do one module per week is rather too ambitious. So one way to improve on this aspect, will be to allow my students to do one module in a fortnight.

Reflection of my learning design to me as a learning designer
My learning design project, to a larger extent reflects on me as a learning designer. Firstly, the amount of work that I put into the whole projects clearly demonstrates my commitment and dedication to the teaching profession. As a teacher, I strongly believe that it is my role to facilitate authentic, significant, active and deep student learning that will ultimately lead to an enjoyable learning experience and success for my students. The learning design thus reflects this personal position, for example, through the use of the adoptive release functionality, gamification of learning and the use of formative assessments as learning and for learning. Furthermore, the fact that the learning design was designed and developed for students and with students reflects my orientation towards social constructivist and connectivist learning theories that are by and large student-centred.

How I see myself, future in relation to learning design
I strongly believe that as a teacher, learning design will continue to play a significant role in my teaching practice. I view myself as a life-long learner and as such, I will continue to embrace technology in my teaching practice and continue to use learning design to improve my students learning experience so that it becomes memorable, enjoyable, lifelong learning that guarantees student success. Through experience, I see myself gaining more knowledge and skills in learning design and this will, to a larger extent, make me a better teacher. Furthermore, I also see myself increasingly consolidating the voice of the students in my learning design work through co-creation and co-delivery activities that will ensure that in everything that I will do, I will do it together with my students and for my students. This is the only way that will ensure social justice and equity in my teaching practice.

Conclusion
Learning design is a critical function that can be used to fundamentally improve student learning and student success. My experience as a student in the EDN4501 course has taught me that as a teacher, I need to create an environment and platform that affords my students multiple learning opportunities in order to enhance their chances for success. In this regard, my learning design work can significantly enhance my capability and capacity as a teacher to produce outstanding results that are reflected in student success and throughput. The EDN4501 course inculcated in me the knowledge and understanding of the importance of ensuring that the voice of the student is topical in the teaching and learning cycle. Thus, my learning design should provide equitable opportunities to all my students, be socially just and be humanistic in nature and in architecture.

References

  • Dabbagh, N. & Bannan-Ritland, B. (2005). Online learning: Concepts, strategies and application. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson.
  • Fraser, N. (2007). Reframing Justice in a Globalising World. In Julie Connolly, Michael Leach & Lucas Walsh (eds.), Recognition in Politics: Theory, Policy and Practice. Cambridge Scholars.
  • Gachago, D., Bali, M. & Pallitt, N. (2020). No Size Fits All: Design Considerations for Networked Learning Across Contexts in Higher Education. In M. De Laat, T. Ryberg, N. Bonderup Dohn, S. Børsen Hansen, & J. Jørgen Hansen (Eds.), Proceedings of the Twelfth International Conference on Networked Learning (pp. 128–138). Aalborg: University of Aalborg, Denmark.
  • Govender, S., Gachago, D & Immenga, C. (2021). An experiential introduction to design thinking and learning design. Lecture notes for EDN4501W. University of Cape Town.
  • Laurillard, D. (2013). Rethinking University teaching: A conversational framework for the effective use of learning technologies. London: Routledge.
  • Mor, Y. & Mogilevsky, O. (2013). The learning design studio: collaborative design inquiry as teachers’ professional development. Research in Learning Technology, 21.
  • Nambi, R. (2019). Adopting a TEDDIE Learning Design Model to Plan Blended Teaching Activities: Reflections from a Teacher Trainees’ Poetry Lecture. International Journal of Learning, Teaching and Educational Research, 18(3), pp. 164-185.