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Posts Tagged ‘design

One of my educational fantasies is getting the backing to design and facilitate my own courses for instructional designers and educators. 

One course would focus on empathy as design for learning. I would use the two YouTube videos to seed discussion.

Video source

Video source

One fairly obvious takeaway of empathetic learning activity design might be that we should first be aware of what a new learner content experiences. Another might be the importance of actually experiencing what a learner goes through.

Both videos illustrate these principles by having male participants experiencing period pains and a content creator shadowing a heartlands cleaner. 

“No pain, no gain” is not just a saying in a gym. It applies to lesson and resource design if we first start with empathy.

It might have been a slow news day. STonline published an op ed from an architect who bemoaned how the red look at some new HDB blocks were rejected by most respondents.

The architect thought that Singaporeans were “unimaginative”. How about not painting everyone with the same brush and considering some nuance and context?

According to the article, a Swiss firm designed the look. Did they consider our context? Red might be lucky, but it is also associated with disreputable districts.

How about admitting that some designs reflect bad taste? It is not surprising to read that respondents felt that the place looked haunted or straight out of a horror movie set.

The residents might see red over those housing blocks. I feel blue about how design — whether of apartment blocks or curricular plans — is based on judgement instead of also including empathy. 

Empathy for the user and the learner does not mean that we give in to their whims. It means that we design for change with as many perspectives as possible.

There are several principles that one might apply when getting accurate and actionable feedback. For example, you should be suitably skilled in question writing, question sequencing, and questionnaire design. That skill list is not exhaustive.

My reflection is about questionnaire design. It is the most basic skill to develop, but some still fall at this hurdle. I use a recent exit survey to illustrate how NOT to design a feedback form.

I ended a trial subscription to a grocery service because it did not deliver. It literally did not deliver — it missed two of four items I ordered and charged me the full price. The email customer service was prompt enough and promised to issue a refund. But the template-like response was enough for me to suspect that this happens more often than not.

The cancellation process included a four-question form in the grocery app. It was so poorly designed that I could not complete it. So what was wrong with the form?

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Reverse the point allocation
Most feedback forms use a Likert or Likert-like scale of “1” to “5” points with “5” being the best and “1” the worst. 

This form used a four-point scale (fair enough if you want to avoid middle ground responses) but reverse the point allocation, i.e., “4” was worst.

If I did not read the tiny on-screen instructions, I would have accidentally scored everything high when I wanted to indicate low. Was that the intent of the form designer because they expected bad feedback?

Put points before the question
Normal feedback forms put the question before the answer options. This form put the rating before the questions. There was no logic to their design.

Space questions poorly
The designer of the form did not insert enough white space between questions. The previous question was right above the answer options of that next question. 

In information design terms, there was no chunking of each question and answer block. This was yet another way to confuse the user and get the wrong responses for the questions.

Revert to unanswered state 
There must have been something wrong with the app because I could only answer two questions. When I tried answering the third question, one previous answer would revert to the unanswered state resulting in a net of two answered questions.

I could not provide feedback because the form was poorly designed and technically flawed. 

The form could have been fodder for a course on feedback form design for instructional designers or a lesson on questionnaire design for teachers. We would have laughed at the ineptitude and then cried at how it persists because these design skills are not taught or prioritised.

Whenever I have the opportunity to facilitate learning, there are so many things I want to try in a workshop or course. 

The content I uncover with my learners — teachers, educators, trainers — tends to fuzzy because it is about educational theories, approaches, and philosophies. Unless we spend a lot of time together and have practicum, we cannot see concepts transform into action.

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So I am going to try to make one of my lesson designs more obvious: Conceptualise, apply, transfer. First we discover and uncover concepts, e.g., how to design home based-learning (HBL) with greater empathy. We concurrently think of ways to apply such concepts in new or current online lessons.

The next step is what I must try not to leave out — how to transfer such ideas and strategies from HBL to classroom practice. If, for example, teachers learn how to provide students with a choice of assessment or to design more accessible resources in HBL, there is no reason why they should not also do the same for everyday practice.

This Edutopia reel outlined how a teacher expanded a strategy for a special needs student so that it benefitted the rest of her students.

She shared how she used social stories to aid a student on the autism spectrum. Then she asked herself a critical question: If this strategy could help a student with ASD, could it also not help neurotypical students?

If we think carefully about how we teach, we might be able to think of other ways we might have done the same. Something designed for the minority ends up helping the majority. 

This might be infrastructural like a slope or lift for a wheelchair that make access better for all. If could be a time-tabling shift or a classroom allocation for a SPED student that challenges how the status quo benefits no one.

I can think of how the pandemic necessitated remote teaching and online learning. So long the second class citizens of schooling, these were lifelines and critically reflective educators have learnt that they do not always have to talk or lead. They can listen and follow as well. 

In doing so, the rest benefit from a) questioning the way things used to be done, and b) finding broader and better strategies. This is designing from the extremes of circumstances so that practices become central to all.

I hate how some businesses hire people to stick advertising material in my apartment gate. They are an eyesore and an intrusion of my space. 

Junk flyer stuck in my gate.

Who doesn’t want to come home and be greeted with multiple flyers that tout services you do not need?

This is probably too small a matter in the eyes of the authorities, so I manage these junk flyers with a small wire basket on the gate. It did not take long for the flyer stickers to learn to deposit them there. When they do, I collect the now neat pile for recycling.

Junk flyer deposited in a wire basket on my gate.

But I always leave one offending piece behind. Why? Call it the instructional designer in me providing a visual cue as an effective instruction. 

If I remove all the flyers, the flyer stickers do what they normally do. If I leave one in my basket, they follow that cue. If I was still teaching educators about instructional and visual design of resources, this would be an example of a visual cue. 

When referring to online education, Martin Weller opined that “the means that effectively saved education during the online pivot… has now become the enemy”. That might be true in his Open University and UK context. I am unsure if that is the case here because I do not have survey data.

But, for the sake of argument, let’s start with this. About a third of a population will never bend to change, another third will embrace it, while the last third could go either way. It is the first third that might call work from home and online education a public enemy. Why? Weller said that they need to distract from underlying issues, divert blame from themselves, or make themselves feel superior. 

He explained that these folk rely on the false dichotomy of “online is pretend, in-person is real” because: 

…simple narratives are powerful for many people, so even if everyone involved knows that it’s nonsense, you can still end up spending a lot of your time refuting it…

It is important for the third that is at the forefront of change to win over the third that is indifferent. I would argue that it is not the mode (in-person or online) or the medium (Post-Its notes or Padlets notes) that matter as much as the method. Both can be used or abused.

For example, if avoiding group think or engaging in divergent thinking is the goal, then an immediate group activity is the wrong method. Instead, a well-informed facilitator might use a disciplined think-pair-share strategy.

Each mode and medium might lend itself to certain methods, e.g., immediacy over reflectiveness, but that does not make one method better than the other. Context matters. If an issue is urgent, immediacy rules; if an issue is important, it might be better to reflect on past strategies before moving forward.

Studying or working in person or online does not auto-magically make things better. You can get distracted, attend time-wasting events, do empty tasks, etc. in both.

Instead of blaming the mode or medium, I say we improve our methods, e.g., build in choice, autonomy, and empowerment; design for meaningful learning and work; start with empathy. None of these are easy. Anything worth doing is not easy.

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Our LTA wants us to be their eyes and ears in the name of public safety. This is a good move and message. But they could have been better at their messaging.

The tweeted graphic contains a “villain“ in each scenario. He is wearing a mask and glasses. No would-be baddie would be that obvious!

Also, in today’s context, the baddie is the only responsible person on public transport. He is masked up so that he does not transmit droplets.

All the other commuters are breaking the current rules and aiding the COVID-19 enemy. Perhaps Mr Mask should call 999 and report these enemies of the state.

An instructor of a communication programme could have a field day with this graphic. A teacher educator like me would simply point out that the resources that teachers prepare can have unintended messages. This is why it is important to share to get feedback and to be reflective enough to change.

I learnt from this tweeted news article that I had been invited to get my second COVID-19 vaccine booster.

The vaccination centre I previously visited had closed after the height of the pandemic, so I had to look for another one. I found an alternative thanks to this website and it even provided information like operating hours. It was timely information.

But when my wife and I made our way to that centre, a security guard told us that no staff was around and we could wait for about an hour for their return. Two other groups of people who walked through the gates after us were told the same thing. Only then did we see a printout on a notice board that staff had a lunch and dinner break.

Of course they did. They are doing good work and need good food. I wonder why that information was not included in the website. To be fair, the break information was on another website. But I only had the information from the first site.

Mine is not a complaint against these frontline workers. Instead I am reflecting on the importance of providing timely information to stakeholders. Once again I view this with an educator’s/learning designer’s lens: If information is important enough, repeat it in the different places it might be found. 

A simple application of this principle is providing clear and concise instructions more than once. I practice what I preach when providing information to my learners in email, course sites, Google Docs, etc. 

This might seem repetitive, but we need to realise that the learner does not see what an expert or designer sees. It is better to assume that they see it just once and take that at face value. This is empathetic and realistic learning design.

Donald Clark succinctly pointed out what instructional designers are not overtly taught: Learning as a process should not be confused with learning as an event.

An event might take the form of a class that lasts anywhere between 30 minutes or 3 hours. I used to facilitate a course on weekends where administrators decided that each class should last 4 hours. 

That recollection reminded me that administrators tend to only see learning as events. The process of learning can — and often does — span multiple events. It can even go past those events, e.g., when a course is over or when a student graduates. 

Administrators and policymakers who talk the talk of “lifelong learning” should themselves learn about how learning is a complex process. It can be tedious, varied, and difficult. Addressing learning-as-process by focusing on a timetable and curricular milestones is one way to frustrate learners. 

Teachers and educators also need to unlearn the expectation to operate only within the pradigm of learning-as-events. Working within classes or periods might be pragmatic, but it is counter to how we learn.

How do we learn? By the natural processes of consuming, digesting, assimilating, accommodating, acting, reacting, playing, changing, and more. When and where do we learn? More often than not, outside the classroom, e.g., reading in a library, checking your notes on a train ride, reviewing a video in your room. Just how many of these process are included in the design of learning in a course?

Rising above, Clark’s call to focus on learning-as-process reminds me of my own course design and facilitation. Even though I have a Masters and Ph.D. built on the foundation of instructional design, I have learnt through practice and reflection the importance of learning-as-process.

I design learning experiences and establish expectations with this in mind. But I need to make the distinction between process and event clearer to my students so that they are not stuck on event-based thinking when I have designed for a more freeing process.


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