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Instructional Design Tips

AISR and Blackboard believe that instructional design plays an important part in developing online education. Not surprisingly, a critical element contributing to the success of an online learning experience is the role of the instructor and the instructional design of the course. "Materials themselves do not teach but provide a medium that with appropriate use can support learning," (Oliver, Herrington, and Omari, 1996). Accordingly, the instructor must incorporate the organization, presentation, and integration of materials into the online environment.

All Jefferson faculty may take advantage of working with AISR Education Services and our instructional designers. There are no charges for consulting on educational technologies in the classroom or for most of our course support services.

Blackboard offers the following instructional design tips to help you develop an engaging and instructionally sound Pulse CourseSite:

  • Focus on organization of online materials.
  • Provide transition between learning components.
  • Encourage opportunities for knowledge acquisition.
  • Encourage student participation.
  • Provide ample opportunities for feedback.
  • Provide methods for assessment.
  • Follow proven instructional design techniques.
Focus on organization of online materials
In traditional classroom-based education, students are presented with assignments coordinated to lecture materials. The instructor distributes required activities as appropriate and can answer student concerns/questions in the classroom environment.

When distributed online, students may be exposed to an entire semester's worth of materials all at once. As such, they must be provided with clear, concise instructions regarding navigation within a CourseSite and organization of the materials.

When developing online components, be sure to provide students with:

  • An overview and/or an orientation of the entire CourseSite.
  • A clear explanation about how the course materials are organized.
  • A list of priorities, deadlines, and responsibilities.
This is, most often, the same type of information included in a syllabus. Providing this extra organizational information can prevent students from feeling "lost" or "overwhelmed" by the materials, as disorientation can significantly limit instructional outcomes. (Oliver, Herrington, Omari, 1996)

Try and create CourseSites with explanations, descriptions, and cues about goals and accomplishments, as students "prefer clearly defined learning outcomes, or tasks, and recommended sequencing, from which they can orient themselves at any time," (Campbell, 1997). Guide students through the CourseSite by including elements such as:

  • Weekly announcements listing priorities and deadlines.
  • Reminder emails (to both individuals and the entire class).
  • Downloadable syllabi, checklists, or task-lists students can use to monitor progress through course materials.
Provide transition between learning components
Since the instructor is not physically present during the online learning process, it is important to explain exactly WHAT materials are provided and WHY they are important in the scheme of the course. Indicating relationships between materials helps students develop bridges, see associations, and recognize the relevance of content elements. Without this, instructors run the risk of presenting fragmented information "that appears to the user as a series of discrete rather than coherent information elements," (Oliver, Herrington, Omari, 1996).

You can easily add transitions into your Pulse Course sites by providing:

  • Clear explanations describing what each file is, what programs are necessary to access it, and how the file fits in with the overall goals of the lesson.
  • Comprehensive descriptions with each online assignment indicating the relevance to the classroom-based course component and corresponding materials.
  • Placement cues directing students to the "next" related assignment, reading, or course document.
This does not mean that each step and learning activity be spelled out for the student. While this may be appropriate for some content-based exercises, advanced concept integration is better served when students are gently directed to a goal. In such cases, "it is more appropriate to guide the students towards expected end-results and let them organize their learning on their own," (Duchastel, 1997).

Explaining how each new module builds on previous knowledge helps students remember and understand relationships more effectively.

Provide Ample Opportunities for Feedback

Communication and feedback provided throughout an online learning experience facilitate social interchange, build relationships, and increase student motivation. Your feedback is important to insure students feel their contributions are an important priority and contribute to the overall educational experience of the class.

Consider checking class discussion lists and responding to student email on a daily schedule to provide your students with ample feedback. This helps build positive interpersonal relationships with your students and increases instructor credibility.

Instructor feedback in discussion forums is also critical to maintain the focus of the activity. Monitor student discussions to insure students remain "on track" with the assignment. If necessary, provide guidance and suggestions to the group or to individual students. "The teacher's role in coaching, observing students, offering hints and reminders, providing feedback, scaffolding and fading, modeling, and so on, are powerful enhancements to any learning situation," (Oliver, Herrington, and Omari, 1996).

Provide Methods for Assessment
You can help students check conceptual understanding and evaluate progress through materials by providing assessment opportunities. In addition to assessing student progress, assessments:

  • Confirm student understanding and recall of information.
  • Serve as advanced organizers to the student, indicating what core content is important and suggest ways it may be applicable in the workplace or "real world."
  • Increase student motivation and interest in the course when proof of achievement and performance are reflected.
  • Provide quantification/proof that the student took the course and can gain credit.
  • Report to the instructor if the pace and material developed is satisfactory or indicate areas where course content needs revision or further explanation.
Follow Proven Instructional Design Techniques
Although the instructional medium can change from paper based to classroom-based, to online delivery, all effective course materials need to maintain basic elements that support solid instructional design. Keep in mind that all course content should contain:
  1. Preinstructional Activities (prerequisites & objectives),
  2. Information Presentation (content),
  3. Learner Participation (practice),
  4. Testing (based on objectives),
  5. Follow-Through (summary, review).

Campbell, Katy. The Web: Design for Active Learning. Academic Technologies for Learning. Alberta, Canada 1997.

Duchastel, Philip. A Web-Based Model for University Instruction. Journal of Educational Technology Systems, 1997. Vol 25, No. 3. Pp 221-228.

Oliver, Ron, Herrington, Jan, Omari, Arshad. Creating Effective Instructional Materials for the World Wide Web. AusWeb 97 Conference. 1997.

For more information about Blackboard Pulse, please contact:

Blackboard Inc.
1111 19th Street, NW
Suite 608
Washington, DC 20036
(202) 463-4860

© 1998 Blackboard Inc.