Online spaces for learning are increasingly a part of the student experience of their course. Most university courses have an associated site for their learning management system (LMS) – for ANU, this is Wattle (Moodle), but it could also involve websites, blogs, or social media online spaces. While a significant amount of planning often goes into what happens in the face-to-face classroom environment, online environments may not be planned in the same way.
This coffee course aims to get you thinking about the student experience of your online learning spaces and offers ideas and strategies to plan and design your online classroom effectively. It is not about course design as a whole, but rather, what the visual and interactive experience of an online course site might be. We hope to put our student hats on and explore what visual aspects frustrate, and what assists and engages students in online sites and courses.
The teacher as designer
As a teacher, when you are asked to set up an online course, you are setting out to design an experience or a series of experiences for your students. You want to design that experience to maximise their learning and their chances of achieving the required outcomes for the course, and to reduce confusion or stress for students.
Here is a quote that encapsulates the essence of designing student experience – it is a process of “orchestrating” numerous elements of a curriculum, course, or learning journey, for the student to have the most effective learning experience:
“In learning design particularly for blended or e-learning solutions, learning designers often need to orchestrate the design for products (such as learning resources), systems (such as a course shell in a learning management system) and services (such as timely feedback or discussion facilitation).” Soulis & Seitzinger, 2017, p. 3
If you have an online space for your course, whether or not it is fully online or a blended model, the visual design of this space is only one aspect of the total course design, but it should reflect the total course design approach.
Empathy in course design
Learner-centred education design is known as Learner Experience Design (LX), which means you design your program and any online spaces with student experience at the forefront of your thinking. Empathy in design and “human-centred” design have become important concepts in course design, as explained in Educause Review, Jan 12, 2015, Using Design Thinking in Higher Education.
The design and accessibility of online spaces has a direct impact on student well-being. An excellent resource on the impact of curriculum design and academic teaching style on student well being is a Melbourne University page called Enhancing Student Well-being. See also our Espresso Coffee Course, Fostering Student Well-being. Principles of universal design and student engagement are big factors in an empathetic course design, and we have covered these topics in previous coffee courses – go to Universal Design for Learning and Engaging Students Online.
How do we as teachers empathise with our student audience? Generally, we would attempt to put ourselves in the place of our students. One strategy is to research any feedback that students have given from previous courses. This might involve looking at last semester’s official student feedback data (at ANU this would be the results of the SELT data from your course or a similar course). Some individual teachers also take time to obtain less formal feedback from their students such as verbal feedback after lectures or tutorials, or quick polls or evaluation questionnaires at the end of class. These sources of student feedback will provide you with rich information on the student’s experience, and where things are working well as well as where things are causing the students problems. Where possible, it is good practice to involve students in the design of the course, as partners – this might be via focus group discussions and other means of consultation, during the course design phase.
Concepts borrowed from User Experience or UX (Guo, 2012) can be useful in helping us design course environments with the student in mind. Below is a concise set of principles* that we can adapt:
- Value: Does the design address the needs of students? How useful is the course site in helping them improve their learning experience and achieving the learning outcomes?
- Usability: How easily can learners navigate their course sites and complete their intended tasks within the course?
- Desirability: Does the design of the course site engage students?
- Adoptability: How easily can students start using and familiarising themselves with the site?
*Note that UX principles vary widely and these were chosen based on their relevance.
Share your worst student experience in an online or blended course. What were the problems, and what did these problems relate to in terms of course design?
The most common student complaints
Looking at what frustrates and holds back students when they are navigating their programs or courses, whether online, blended or face to face, provides us with valuable material for empathy. We note their frustration and we resolve to try to spare them of similar experiences again. Some of these frustrations include lack of teacher presence, lack of a feeling of community, confusing web navigation, long scrolls on the web page, broken links, lack of quality resources, for example. Students’ biggest need in the higher education environment is nearly always to be able to easily locate assessments and to know what they need to do and by which date.
These kinds of issues can be addressed in the online course design, although along with this must come a culture of teacher commitment to the online students’ well-being.
Have you or your students experienced any of these difficulties? How might the design of online spaces remedy or help to alleviate some of these issues?
How do we put empathy and “design thinking” into practice?
In the following two days, we are going to share with you some tools and strategies to ensure online learning spaces are an engaging and stress-free environment for your learners.
Guo, F., 2012, “More than Usability: the Four Elements of User Experience Part I” in Eliciting Desired Behaviour Blog, April 24, 2012
Morris, H., & Warman, G., 2015 “Using Design Thinking in Higher Education” Educause Review, Jan 12, 2015.
Soulis, S., Nicolettou, A. and Seitzinger, Joyce, 2017. “Using Learner Experience Design (LX) for Program Enhancement” in Conference Proceedings, Open and Distance Learning Association, Australia
Zanjani, N, Edwards,S.L., Nykvist, S. & Geva, S., 2017, “The important elements of LMS design that affect user engagement with e-learning tools within LMSs in the higher education sector” in Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 2017, 33 (1).