A Reflection of Learning Technology by Design

I Am A Designer – We Are All Designers

Round orange paint design by ArtsyBee at https://pixabay.com/en/users/ArtsyBee-462611

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.

References

Oberholster, Venita. (2106, February). [Round Circle, Design, Paint] [Image]. Retrieved from https://pixabay.com/en/orange-round-circle-paint-brush-1210526/

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A “Tangible” Idea

Our Connected World…

Our connected world sketch.I decided to take the idea of “our connected world” and transform that idea into something both visual and physical – turning the intangible into something tangible so to speak. I made a smiley face out of some paper that I had lying around my house (putting my childhood skills to use) to represent a person at the center of a connected world. I used orange yarn to create a circle and on that circle resides a series of objects/devices that connect to each other either directly or indirectly. The blue yarn extending from each object/device connects the person to that object/device. Essentially, everything is connected! I work with technology on a daily basis so the idea of always being connected to something or someone is a reality that is very much present in today’s world.

The Connected World at my Home!

The process of taking an idea and transforming into a physical form was enlightening simply because I found it extremely easy to find items in my house that are part of a “connected world” in some way, shape, or form. I used 13 items to visually display the idea, but I could have easily found many additional items around my house. As I added an object to my “connected world” circle, I thought about how it actually played a role in the connection. For example, my Bose portable speaker is Bluetooth enabled which connects to the other Bluetooth devices in my house and the Xbox controller connects to my GoPiGo robot, which is also connected via Bluetooth to my computer(s) and Raspberry Pi. It’s amazing!

I never really thought about how connected these objects really were to each other and to me until bringing the idea to physical “life”. I think that when an idea becomes tangible, it allows you to see things and experience them in a different way. I really enjoyed this experience, it allowed me to visually see and experience the connections of the world of technology right inside my home.

A Tale from Different Perspectives

Basketball on the court by PDPics

Note: Fictitious names were used in the following stories in order maintain anonymity.

A Teacher’s Perspective

As I stood there in the gym waiting to videotape the event, tears welled up in my eyes with happiness and pride as Albert (suited up in uniform) ran onto the basketball court with the rest of the team  when his name was announced at the last home boy’s basketball game of the season. The team gave him “high-fives” and welcomed him like he had played with them the entire season. This game was very special for many reasons. Prior to this last game, I had talked with one of Albert’s LINKS (who is on the 8th grade boys’ basketball team) that works with Albert during his Physical Education class, his paraprofessional, and my principal to arrange for Albert to shoot free throws during the last home game of the boy’s basketball season. We also talked to the referee prior to the game and asked him to call a foul on the other team so that Albert would have the opportunity to come into the game and shoot a free throw. The time came, I watched Albert walk up to the free throw line and take his first, second, third, and fourth shots, and on the fifth shot you heard the swish of the net as the ball passed through – he made it! The crowd cheered and stood to their feet! I watched with so much emotion and beamed with pride as the boy’s basketball team, many of which are my students, surrounded him and presented him with the game ball signed by each player. I have had many amazing moments in my teaching career but this one was special. I will remember it as the evening that my student Albert, who has autism, felt like part of a team doing what he loves to do – shoot free throws.

A Student’s Perspective

I’m not nervous at all, I’m very excited! I can feel a big smile on my face. I see a lot of people here – my Mom and Dad, and there is Ms. Jones (my PE teacher)! There are so many sounds around me right now. I hear basketballs dribbling, people talking, shoes squeaking on the court, and whistles blowing. It’s very warm in here. They called my name! What do I do? There’s Zack I see him at school, he plays basketball with me. He wants me to run out on the court with the team, wow! Everyone is giving me a “high-five”. I see Mary, she helps me in class and there is the lady that walks in the hallways at school all the time. So many people are here that I recognize. The lights are bright. The man in the funny uniform just blew his whistle, it was loud. They want me to come into the game and shoot a free throw. I have been practicing every day in class with Zack and Mary, I love shooting free throws! 1, 2, 3…let me have the ball again…4, and 5. I made it! So many people are clapping – it’s loud, the team is all around me – I’m so excited! I feel my body shaking. Wow, they are giving me a basketball and it has writing all over it. I’m going to hold it tight and never let it go. There is Ms. Jones again, she’s smiling at me. It’s warm in here.

My Thoughts…

Hearing, writing, and rewriting the stories above was a very interesting experience. It allowed me to sit, listen, and engage in the experience as my friend, a middle school Physical Education teacher, told me an amazing story about one of her autistic students and the idea she had to make him feel special for one night doing what he loved to do in class every day. There were numerous other people involved in organizing this special night that allowed the idea to come to fruition – students, paraprofessionals, the school principal, the referee, and the parents were all instrumental in making this happen.

The experience of hearing my friend tell this story was very emotional, in a good way. I could hear the excitement and pride in her voice and see the joy in her eyes as she told the story. The further she got into the story, the more details she shared not only about the event but about her experience working with the autistic kids in her class and how special they are. I found it a little difficult to express the context of the story (from the teacher’s perspective) in one paragraph because I felt there was so much that needed to be shared and expressed in order for the reader to really engage in the experience. I found that the hardest part of reframing the story and writing it from the student’s perspective, was trying to see and feel the experience as a person with autism. I called upon my friend’s expertise in the area to help me better understand and for a brief moment, walk in someone else’s shoes.

References:

PDPics. (2014, July). [Basketball, Court, Ball, Game] [Image]. Retrieved from https://pixabay.com/en/basketball-court-ball-game-sport-390008/

Problem of Practice – CEP 817

Online Learning

Currently, I’m a member of the LMS/Online Advisory Committee at the college and often the topic of student retention comes up in conversation. Student retention is not only important in courses that are taught on campus in a traditional classroom, but also in the online environment as well. It seems that retention in online courses is an ongoing issue and we have yet to find a single viable solution. Is it the technology, the instructor, the teaching method, the student, the course? The list of questions goes on.

For some time now, I have been interested in exploring different ways to improve student retention in online courses so I thought this would be a great opportunity and an ideal problem of practice to explore. The Web Programming curriculum at the college where I teach is taught entirely online but I am going to focus on a single 8-week “Introduction to Web Programming” course (ITWP 1000) within the curriculum. This is a core introductory course within the program and is also a course that is required in many of the other IT programs at the college as well. I typically run 4 sections of the ITWP 1000 course in the Fall and Winter semesters at the college with full enrollment (26-28 students).

I have noticed that within the first week of the course; typically anywhere from 1-5 students drop the course and half way through, additional students may drop or withdraw from the course. For example, a course that begins with 26 enrolled students may end with only 18 and out of the 18, only 15 may have earned a passing grade. Unfortunately, I have no way of knowing the reason a student may drop or withdraw from a course unless the student chooses to share it with me and on occasion some students do. Time commitment, health issues, a family emergency, and finances are some of the reasons that students choose to share. Those types of issues are part of life of which we can’t control, but what about other issues such as their comfort level with technology and computers, reliable Internet access, course workload, lack of confidence, lack of motivation, or not understanding the course material? All of these are obstacles that may inhibit success.

Target Audience and Preliminary Thoughts

The students are going to be the primary target audience during my exploration into improving student retention in online courses (ITWP 1000) but I am very interested in the thoughts and opinions of my colleagues as well so they will play an additional role in my research. Some preliminary ideas of exploration (there may be more) include examining the following:

  • The use of “how-to” videos or video instruction within the course at crucial points.
  • The idea of hosting a “meet and greet the instructor” session online during the first few days of the online class.
  • The idea of hosting online sessions for some of the discussion forum activities for the course.
  • The use of online “tutoring” sessions and what technology could be used to accomplish it.
  • Establishing online office hours specifically for online students.
  • The idea of hosting 2-3 half hour (approximately) on campus sessions during the first few days of class where students can drop in to watch me demonstrate how to set up a connection to the web server and then attempt it themselves with me standing by if they need assistance.
  • The use of video conferencing software for student interaction.
  • Establishing common obstacles that may get in the way of success.

I’m very excited to dive into and explore the issues and obstacles surrounding the student retention rate in the ITWP 1000 course that I teach and the possible solution(s) to increasing student retention in the course.

References:

SpliteShire. (2014, August). [Computer/Communication] [Image]. Retrieved from https://pixabay.com/en/macbook-notebook-apple-device-407127/

A Re-imagined Learning Space

The Current Learning Space

In my current classroom, the desks are arranged so that they face one another with long rows along both sides of the walls and one row positioned in the middle of the room. The computer monitors are hidden inside an area at the top of the desk and when they are opened, the person directly across is blocked from view. The current lighting in the room uses old type fluorescent lighting.

The instructor’s station is located at the front corner of the room and is positioned next to a large pull-down screen and when expanded, 70% of the large whiteboard on the wall is covered leaving only 30% along the side for writing. The video projector equipment is mounted on the ceiling but when powered on, the bright light shines into the instructor’s eyes making it necessary to stand off to the corner when lecturing and presenting to the class.

Interior of the classroom.Interior of the classroom - back to front view.

Restructuring the Learning Space

Learners come into a classroom and on any given day may use chairs, desks, tablets, browse the web, use computer software, etc., all these things are part of their experience whether it’s an object or a service. In the video on Experience Design, Tedde van Gelderen describes an experience as “a holistic view of how people go through a set of events as they are in time.”

How does a learning space affect the way people learn and their overall experience? A study that was conducted during the 2011-12 academic year that included seven primary schools in England, collected performance data on 751 students. The study ranked classrooms “for 10 different design parameters: light, sound, temperature, air quality, choice, flexibility, connection, complexity, color, and texture.” (Vanhemert, 2014) The findings revealed that color, choice, complexity, flexibility, connection, and light did indeed have a significant effect on learning within the classroom.

The notion of personalized learning where each learner has unique needs and learns in different ways can also be incorporated into the space in which they learn. A learning space and experience that is more personal, promotes enhanced learning, engagement, and creativity! As Sir Ken Robinson told CBS News in an interview, “Schools need to make education more personalized. Because everyone is different, they learn in ways that need to be individually addressed.” (Svokos, 2015)

The Re-imagined Learning Space

“A lot of people are talking about communication and collaboration but their spaces aren’t speaking collaboration.” (Edutopia, 2013)

I imagined a learning space designed to be more conducive to collaborative group work, idea sharing, and more student-centered (personalized) and driven. The design takes into consideration a BYOD (bring your own device) environment along with supplied devices (tablets) with keyboards and mice that are stored within the classroom, whiteboards lining the walls, and a large monitor located in the front and along the sides of the room.

NOTE: The back wall and door are not present in my design in order to provide a better view of the interior learning space.

21C classroom design - back view

The walls are painted using neutral color tones with additional color incorporated into the classroom through the use of furniture, “yellow furniture to elicit feelings of liveliness, energy, happiness and excitement.  Red and orange in small quantities can also demand attention and attract learners’ attention to detail – a great way to lead students to a certain part of the room for an engaging activity.” (Smith Systems, n.d., para 11)

21C classroom interior - close up view

The furniture within the room will include ergonomically designed chairs on wheels for easy movement and comfort, two comfortable lounge chairs, colored chairs on wheels, round tables on wheels that seat 4-5 students, tall standing tables, small storage cabinets, and a standing instructor station on wheels. The furniture design will promote mobility throughout the classroom allowing for group work and collaboration.

Close up of side wall with furniture and cabinets.

Lighting options will include dimmable lighting and small round windows near the ceiling that will allow outside light into the room. “Lighting influences concentration, mood and interaction. Lighting controls allow the teacher and student to select lighting that suits the learning style of the moment.” (Thorn Lighting, 2009)

Necessary Resources for Implementation, Timeline, & Funding

Fortunately the building that I work in at the college will be renovated this year and the whiteboards, new furniture, monitors (fully implemented during the second stage of renovations), and new lighting are all included as part of the renovation expenses making implementing portions of this vision very feasible.  The tablets have already been purchased and are currently available for student use. The small, round windows that are part of my vision, may not be feasible depending on the room location within the building. If additional equipment is needed to implement my vision outside the scope of the renovation, it can be requested through Perkins funding available through the college. Funding requests are presented to the advisory board in the Fall and Spring of each calendar year for approval.

The timeline for the building renovation is from May – December (2016). The new building will open to the students and public at the start of the Winter 2017 semester in January. The community, faculty, and students will all benefit from the renovation and the newly designed rooms. The learners will have a more personalized, updated classroom environment that will allow for more collaboration and the use of 21st century technologies with the intention of also promoting student engagement.

References

Edutopia. (2013, March). Remake Your Class (Trailer) [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jXjEcnaYAmc#t=54

Smith System. Colors in the Classroom Learning Environment – Color Your World. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://smithsystem.com/resource-library/article-library/color-world/

Svokos, A. (2015, April 22). Sir Ken Robinson on What Makes An Effective School. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/04/22/ken-robinson-personalized-education_n_7121700.html

Thorn Lighting. Applications in Focus Light for Education. (2009, September.). Retrieved from http://www.thornlighting.com/holding/microsites/education_microsite/Main_ED_brochure.pdf

Vanhemert, K. (2014, January 18). Study Show How Classroom Design Affects Student Learning. Retrieved from http://www.fastcodesign.com/1671627/study-shows-how-classroom-design-affects-student-learning