Posted by: Eileen McMahon | December 1, 2009

Instructional Development in the DLS

As an instructional designer, I work with faculty on designing appropriate uses of technology for their courses.  I’m happy that the instructional designers have now moved up to the 3rd floor of Healey and joined forces with the media support staff in the Digital Learning Studio.  The joint space is open and it makes us more accessible to each other presenting more opportunities for collaboration. Plus it’s a lot easier to keep tabs on what each of us is up to.

Another advantage to our move is that we’ve been able to work more closely with student assistants who are in the trenches with us helping to support faculty who use the new Web 2.0 tools we’ve launched in the past couple of years.  At the start of the fall ’09 semester we hired four undergraduates to assist faculty building digital course materials. This new arrangement has freed us up to spend more time in instructional design and less on everyday production tasks. We’ve trained these Instructional Design Assistants on a wide range of educational tools ranging from Blackboard to Wikispaces to Xythos so they are very knowledgeable.

Until recently our instructional design support has focused mainly on the basic building of courses in Blackboard.  For a variety of reasons – the major ones being the explosion of web 2.0 and the assistance of undergraduate students, we are shifting our focus away from production-related tasks to the design of digital curricula materials. I’m now able to sit down with faculty, help them think through their project, and, in the process, identify  an educational  technology  that best supports  the learning outcomes they have in mind. So the new process works like this: Faculty approach us with an instructional problem or an idea for a new learning activity. Because we have our finger tips on a wide assortment of instructional technologies we’re able to help them step back and help them think about what they want to accomplish apart from the technology, match those outcomes to the best tool and help them design it. Once the design is fleshed out the Instructional Design Assistants help them build it.

Currently we’re involved in building “learning objects”–discrete interactive learning modules    that students can use independently to explore new concepts.   If they are designed right, learning objects offer students the opportunity to explore a concept on their own time and at their own pace. Learning objects are also media independent so they can be imbedded in PowerPoints, document files or pdf’s, or uploaded as files on BB or to a wiki or blog. 

Right now we’re working with Catalin Zara of the Math Department to create 3D models in Mathematica. He’s planning to use them in the classroom for interactive presentations in his classroom and afterwards make them available as downloads so students can play with them and see how different mathematical variables change the 3-D model.

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