The culmination of the work completed in CEP 817 entailing the use of the Stanford d.school Design Thinking Process is included within my Problem of Practice Final Design Report for Increasing Student Retention in Online Courses for review: Final Design Report – CEP 817. It has been a fantastic journey!
I Am A Designer – We Are All Designers
I was a designer; at least for many years I considered myself a designer in both my personal and professional life. My undergraduate work earned me a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree with a specialization in Advertising Design and after graduation I entered the graphic and web design industry where I spent over 16 years serving and supporting corporations and clients with my design work. In 2002 I entered the field of education (part-time), while still actively working in the graphic and web design field. I was a designer.
Fast forward to 2009 where I transitioned from my job in industry into the field of education as a full-time instructor teaching Web Programming to community college students. It was at that moment that I swapped the professional title of “designer” with the title of “educator”. Don’t get me wrong; I am very passionate about education and my role as an educator is one of the most fulfilling roles that I have ever achieved in my professional career. But, I felt a sense of loss in a way because I had thought when I became an educator that all the creativity and design skills that I developed and had flourished over the many years that I served in the industry, were gone. It’s often said, “If you don’t use it, you lose it.” that played over and over in my head like a broken record. I could not make the connection between design and education other than a few lessons on design basics sprinkled into the Introduction to Basic Web Programming course that I presently teach. I was a designer.
Education is a part of me, I was one of those kids that loved school and as an adult, it’s not any different. I have a passion for education but deep inside I found myself missing and yearning for the creativity and love of design that I encountered and interacted with every day when I worked in industry, that is until I learned that design exists in everything! It’s not limited to a job title, particular career, or field; it’s in everything that we create and in every single career, industry, and field and also everyday life. The epiphany came during the spring of 2017 in my “Learning Technology by Design” course at Michigan State University. I have discovered how to bring design and creativity to teaching, what I was missing has been rediscovered. I am a designer. We are all designers.
What I Learned About Design
“Design is a funny word. Some people think design means how it looks. But of course, if you dig deeper, it’s really how it works.” ~Steve Jobs
Through my journey over the past few months, I have learned that design has many facets, it’s not only how something looks on the outside it also includes how something works on the inside and there is a formal process to design (and there should be). As I mentioned, I have been involved with “design” for many years simply because of the industry that I worked in prior to education. To me, I saw design as being what a person sees on the outside – a graphic image, a painting, a poster, an advertisement in a magazine, a sculpture, the list goes on. What I was missing was the formal process behind the design – the steps taken leading up to the final product.
My background in design taught me to understand and get to know my target audience, storyboard and create rough drafts of what I was designing based on my audience, and then produce a finished design piece for everyone to see. This could be comparable to the empathize and ideate modes of the design thinking process outlined within the d.school bootcamp bootleg document. But my process essentially only included two modes, what about the other three modes in the design process? I certainly don’t recall defining, prototyping, and testing my designs (the designs were critiqued by my instructors and a few classmates, but nothing more). There were missing pieces, what wasn’t apparent before is apparent to me now and I now realize that the process I was accustomed to was incomplete. Design is about people, a process, a product or service, usability, interaction, engagement, functionality, teaching, learning, problem solving, critical thinking, and creativity! It’s about being open to feedback and the willingness to react and then modify a product or service based on user feedback. It’s about open-mindedness, collaboration, communication, and yes, failure. What once was a simple two-step process to me in my career prior to education has now emerged into something greater and more powerful that I can not only use professionally but also personally in my every day life. I am a designer.
The Learning Experience
We interact with design on a daily basis – from a product we use, to a commercial on TV, a pop-up add while browsing the web, or maybe the way a parking lot is arranged, or how a road is designed that we travel on. Design is all around us. So you may ask, how is design valuable in education? As educators we are continuously working and interacting with curriculum, creating and/or modifying new or current lessons, creating positive classroom learning environments (both online and offline), and interacting with students on a daily basis. All this can be tied back to design either indirectly or directly.
Following a formal design process as outlined within the d.school bootcamp bootleg document where the focus is on five different modes in the process (empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test) provides a solid foundation and road map for educators to follow during their design journey. It isn’t a coincidence that the process begins with the empathize mode where an educator observes, engages, and immerses themselves with their users and it’s here that we can really learn and start to understand what our students experience. After all, it’s our students that will be interacting and engaging with what we create, they will be using our design as a teaching and learning resource, a tool so to speak. We have to be able to know and understand what they need, not what we think they need.
As we progress through the design thinking process modes, it’s important to keep an open mind and understand that we are identifying a problem with the goal of exploring and developing solutions to that problem all the while keeping our target audience at the forefront. Now, there will be successes and failures during the process but that’s part of learning. I look at each “failure” as an opportunity to learn and then I go back to the drawing board if need be. Just like with coding a website or a web page, nothing ever really works and functions correctly the first time so we find the errors, make the tweaks, and then test it again, that’s usually the same case with lessons or projects that we assign to our students within a course. One of the most important lessons that I learned as I progressed through the design process, is the value of feedback from those that are using and interacting with the product. I view a lesson, a project, a tutorial, a video, an infographic, etc. as a product for student use.
I have come to the realization that a design-based approach can be applied to any type of problem (for which you are searching for a solution) both inside and outside of the classroom as well as both personally and professionally in everyday life. In my professional career as an educator, I can easily implement a formal design process into each lesson or project that I create for my students. In fact if I didn’t, I feel that I would be doing my students a disservice. As I mentioned, it’s so important to know and understand the audience that you are designing for and to get their feedback and use that feedback to make modifications. I am continuously tweaking content every single semester within the courses that I teach based on student feedback. Not a single semester goes by that I’m not modifying a homework assignment, project, or creating an additional supplemental resource. In fact, as I’m writing this now, I realize that without being aware of it, I was implementing a design process of my own.
As I previously mentioned, the d.school’s design thinking process provides an excellent road map that we as educators can follow as we journey through learning about our users (students), defining a problem, developing creative solutions, prototyping our designs, gathering valuable feedback from our users (students) through testing, and then producing a final product that can serve as a valuable teaching and learning resource/tool for our students. Bottom line, don’t be afraid to fail, listen to those that are actually using and interacting with what you’ve designed, and then make the necessary adjustments. In my opinion, the design process is an ongoing process and one that is never ending…it’s a journey not a destination. I am a designer.
Problem Solving & Design Thinking in Life
Reflecting back from the beginning to the end of this course, I view problem solving and the importance of design thinking as something that is essential and that can be applied in both my personal and professional life. Progressing through this course, one of the greatest moments and a huge eye opener for me professionally, was during the empathy mode where I engaged in experience prototyping, character profiling, and requested honest feedback from my students through the use of a 10-question survey. I really began to understand my students at this point early on in the course and see them in a different light – I became more empathetic to their situations and challenges. I was challenged with identifying different types of issues that plagued my students and may inhibit their success. I learned quickly that what I thought was mostly related to my teaching style and how I had created and organized the content within my online classroom was not about me at all, it was about the students and what they needed and wanted. The focus quickly went from the teacher (me) to the student, which is where it should have been from the start. This doesn’t mean that the educator doesn’t fit into the equation at all, but instead of being the focal point, the educator is an active participant in the entire design thinking process just as are the students – both parties play significant roles in the process.
Another one of the greatest moments happened during the prototyping process where I received feedback from my students and had the opportunity to engage in an active learning session with one of my students. This experience served two purposes in my opinion, one was to bridge the relationship gap between the teacher and student and show that as an educator, I truly value the feedback and honest opinions of my students. The other purpose was to demonstrate the importance of collaboration and teamwork as both my student and I worked toward achieving a common goal and outcome. It’s opportunities and moments such as these where important “connections” are made and relationships are developed promoting a very positive learning environment and experience for everyone involved.
Following a design thinking process in the pursuit of problem solving whether it be in a classroom or everyday life, I believe can only enhance the experience and allow us to arrive at creative solutions in all that we do. I feel the design thinking process opens our minds to a different way of thinking that may not be apparent if a particular process wasn’t followed. The process allows us to understand our users, clearly and precisely define a particular problem, brainstorm, collaborate, and discover new ideas or tweak existing ideas, build creative solutions that allows for eliciting feedback and useful data from our users, and to develop a final product that both serves a specific purpose and solves a specific problem for our audience. This by no means that once a final solution has been achieved that the work is done. Design is an on going process. This course has reiterated the importance of user feedback and using that feedback to refine a solution to fulfill the needs and wants of whoever my audience is inside and outside of the classroom. I learned that I must continue to learn from and understand my users and be willing to adapt to change, failure is a learning opportunity, and above all…I am a designer. We are all designers.
Oberholster, Venita. (2106, February). [Round Circle, Design, Paint] [Image]. Retrieved from https://pixabay.com/en/orange-round-circle-paint-brush-1210526/
A journey through the design thinking process
The last mode on the amazing journey through the design thinking process is the test mode. It’s an opportunity to test prototyped solutions and gain valuable feedback from the users of your product and their interaction with your solution(s).
The Context & Users
As I worked through each of the modes in the design thinking process up to the final test mode, I have discovered that there are many variables that may affect student retention in online courses. As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, the student population at the college where I teach is very diverse and includes many of the following variables, usually with multiple variables applied to a single student: taking a full-time or part-time course load, working full-time or part-time, holding one or multiple jobs, family responsibilities (children), caretaker for parents, grandparents or other family member(s), Federal Aid recipients, various income levels, varying GPA scores (we are an open enrollment college), commuter college (no on campus housing), various ethnic backgrounds, language barriers and special needs requirements. Given this information, the user group for the test mode for my problem of practice (increasing student retention in online courses) focuses on students within my online basic web programming course. This is an introductory course and the first course within the web programming degree program at the college.
Prototypes Tested & Why
Two different prototypes were tested during the test mode. The first prototype included a video that walked students through creating their first web page. The second prototype included the process of using an online collaborative coding tool called Collabedit that allows for real-time collaboration among multiple users during a single session. A tutorial PDF document was created that explained how to access and use Collabedit and its features so the user has a basic understanding of how to join and participate in a collaboration session prior to joining the session.
Within both prototype solutions, I was testing the effectiveness of the tool, ease of use, ease of access, and its functionality to determine if these solutions would be beneficial to online students and if the solutions would provide the students with additional support options that could be used for learning and collaborating with both the instructor and their classmates within their online classroom. I also wanted to determine if these solutions provided value and support to the user and assisted them in successfully learning the course material.
The Test Protocol(s) & Design
The testing period for both prototypes ran from March 27 – April 2 respectively. I designed my tests to be available over a week long period in order to give users enough time to participate. I also designed the tests in a way that they would be available in an online setting to simulate a true user experience since the audience includes users participating in an online course. The design intentions were to make access to the prototypes and providing feedback as easy, convenient, and user-friendly as possible.
The test protocol for the video included the following:
- A video was created that walks through the process of creating a basic web page using HTML. This video uses information from Chapter 2 with the course textbook as a reference point.
- The video was uploaded to YouTube and initially set to “Unlisted”, students were provided with the URL to access the video.
- An extra credit assignment was created within my online web programming classroom that offered students points for participation in reviewing and providing feedback based on the video walk-through.
- The assignment link within my online classroom provided the user with some basic background information, instructions for accessing the video, and a series of some general questions regarding the video.
- The users were given a deadline for submitting their feedback (one week).
- Feedback was submitted through a drop box within the online classroom and assembled and documented within a Word document at the end of the submission period.
The test protocol for the online collaborative coding session process using Collabedit included the following:
- A multipage tutorial was created that provides the user with basic information on how to access, use, join, and initiate an online collaborative coding session using Collabedit.
- The tutorial provides instructions and screen shots documented the process.
- Prior to joining a collaborative session, the user is supplied with the Collabedit tutorial document so he/she can prepare for the session.
- I initiated the Collabedit session and invited the participant via email with some basic instructions and a URL that the user can copy/paste into their web browser to join the session.
- The Collabedit sessions contained the HTML code the student participant needed assistance with and was present in the browser window upon joining the session.
- The user was instructed to modify the HTML code within the session window and engage in conversation via the chat window during the session while we collaborated in real-time. The session lasted for approximately 45 minutes.
- Feedback was submitted through email following the session and was based on a series of questions regarding the use of Collabedit.
- Feedback was assembled and document within a Word document.
I received very valuable and useful user feedback. I had approximately half of my online basic web programming course students participate and provide feedback regarding the video walk-through that I created. I was able to conduct an online collaborative session using Collabedit with one of my web programming students. A few other students that were interested in testing Collabedit contacted me but due to scheduling conflicts, they were not able to participate.
Some feedback regarding what users liked included:
- I love the fact that the video is broken down line by line explaining in detail the function of each tag.
- I liked that in the end a resource was provided that would help you if you had any more questions on different topics.
- I do find videos very useful to help me understand concepts within programming I’m finding difficult.
- I enjoyed this video! Videos are most useful when concise and focused on one topic. I think that makes it much easier to refer back to them when necessary.
- I’m a visual and kinetic learner so reading doesn’t help as much as hands on or visual instruction.
- This youtube video takes it a step further and shows you how to create elements within the instructions.
- I like tips and tricks, for example when you mention white space in HTML code for debugging.
- I liked how you went step by step and introduced the basics of the class.
- The language used was easily understood and presented well.
- I absolutely would watch videos like this where a topic is challenging.
- While using this tool (Collabedit) I thought it was very useful and nice to converse with you while figuring out where my errors were.
- I liked the fact that we could, literally converse back and forth and I knew where you were talking when trying to help me, it made this learning experience easier and was very beneficial.
Some feedback for improvement included:
- I would prefer that videos be entirely optional and cover topics that are historically harder to comprehend and not on every single topic we cover.
- I do feel that this video was a little long nut it is packed with information. My suggestion may be to separate it into many parts maybe, like mini videos that way they are more specific to one topic.
- After watching the whole video to the end my one complaint is the text front is a little small.
- I feel as if you could zoom or make the text font larger it would be more user-friendly and helpful
- The use of the yellow cursor bubble was distracting and caused a blur on the parts of the code when you hovered over them. A different pointer might work better.
- Maybe add a definition of terms of the code tags that you used at the end just as a reference.
- I think the length of the video is acceptable, but so is shorter. As I said, I find these types of videos useful, but they are most useful when concise and focused on one topic.
Reflecting on the Process
After wrapping up the testing mode and reviewing the user feedback, I learned a great deal from the process. The first and foremost lesson I learned, is that it’s absolutely necessary to get feedback from your users – the individuals that are actually using and interacting with what you created. It has to fulfill their needs and “work” for them. It should provide added value and make it worth their time. I also learned that in a few instances, I missed the obvious and a feature that I thought would be beneficial may be become distracting if it’s used throughout the entire video. All the user feedback that I received overwhelmingly indicated and verified that the two support options that I prototyped and tested are definitely resources that students see as valuable, supportive, time worthy, and assists them in their understanding of the materials and topics within the course.
Going forward, I will continue to create short, instructional videos for topics that students struggle with and include a video link within each module of my 8-week online web programming course. To accompany the instructional video, a PDF will be provided that highlights the specific HTML tags and web page elements that are discussed within the video along with any additional topic-related references to additional online resources. I will also be posting the Collabedit tutorial PDF document within my online classroom and will make a formal announcement to my students and encourage the use of Collabedit for real-time collaboration with classmates and instructor assistance in an online environment. I want to create a very positive and supportive online learning experience for my students with the goal of increasing student success, confidence, motivation, and student retention in online courses.
Time to test!
My problem of practice continues to focus on exploring ways to improve student retention in online courses. During three of the prior modes in the design thinking process (empathize, define, and ideate), I have discovered a number of obstacles that may inhibit student success and decrease retention for students enrolled in online courses. One of the obstacles is the lack of support and assistance in the online environment where the instructor is not standing in front of the class lecturing, demonstrating, and available to immediately answer questions and provide assistance within a synchronous setting. For the prototype mode, I created two prototypes that focused on providing additional support and resources to students when it comes to learning weekly and fundamental course topics and offering assistance – the prototypes were tested by online students currently enrolled in my web programming course.
Approximately half of the students in my course participated in the testing process and provided feedback on the video that I created which walked students through creating their first web page (based on a hands-on exercise within chapter 2 of their course textbook). I participated in an online collaborative coding session with one of my students where we tested the use of an online tool called Collabedit for collaboration between students and students and their instructor. Prior to the collaborative coding session, I supplied the student with a tutorial PDF document that I created for accessing and using Collabedit and its features so the student had a basic understanding of how to join and participate in the collaboration session.
The purpose of testing the prototypes that I created was to determine if these solutions would be beneficial to online students and if the solutions would provide the students with additional support options that could be used for learning and collaborating with both the instructor and their classmates within the online classroom. If students know that assistance and additional support is available, they may be more likely to stay enrolled in the course, successfully learn the course material, and complete the course with the appropriate knowledge to continue on with their education with confidence and assurance.