Why don't they get it? A question that many of us educators ask ourselves whenever students don't grasp concepts we think are simple. Are they just not trying, or is there something I need to change? The answer to both of those questions may be 'yes'. Instructional designers can help instructors with the solution to all of these questions.
Recently, I have had an opportunity to work with one of the older faculty members here at our school, we'll call him 'Joe'. Joe has been teaching for decades but is primarily a subject matter expert (SME). His experience in his field dates back to the 1960's when engineering students had no choice but suffer through lengthy lectures that featured professors who talked at students. For a variety of reasons, students then (and now my wife tells me) were just supposed to 'get' the material. If they didn't it was because they were lazy or incapable of learning high level engineering concepts. That may have been true for some, but a majority got through the process and graduated. As graduates moved on, they remembered the ways that they were taught and instinctively think that is the way it should be done. Even if they didn't like it, that's the way they revert to. And why not, it familiar (no matter how painful it was).
Ok, so back to Joe. He inherited a distance learning class this spring that was in disarray. Joe had taught the same class before, but in a traditional face-to-face environment. The online setting was as unfamiliar and intimidating to him. Joe and I had some interesting conversations about the way the course should be constructed and delivered. Joe continued to revert to his days as a student. He insisted that students NEEDED him to provide them with the information. He believed that his old lecture videos and powerpoint slides were the answer. If we could just post those, all would be well. Continually I would explain better ways (ok, I nagged him) to design the course; electing to move away from the 3-4 hours of weekly in-class video lecture that feature all the um's, pauses and technical hiccups a person could stand. Perhaps there was some good information there, but viewers would be asleep by the time it was presented.
As bad as the videos were, the assessments were even worse. They only slightly aligned to any of the 4 hours of video lecture and were poorly designed at best. I suggested that the homework assignments be part of something bigger at the end, and that they align to course objectives. (I've still not seen real course objectives for this class, but I'll address that below). Joe just wanted to give them problems to work out. The problems had little connection to earlier or future lessons. They were primarily given because the students needed homework.
As we limped through the term my nagging began to get through to Joe. He'd say things like, "Maybe we should have the homework assignments build and be part of a final project". I'd reply, "Yes, great Idea Joe."
TIP: Always make it out like it's their idea. Eventually Joe even said, "Looking at my videos was very painful. Sometime before this is offered again we need to edit these and replace them with a concise summary introduction that you suggested." That's when I knew I had gained his trust and respect.
I look forward to continuing to work with Joe and turing this course into an excellent one. We'll start by discussion these overriding questions that everyone should consider when planning a lesson, activity, assessment, or course:
Instructional Design questions to think about…
Focusing on these questions will help you plan a successful course that accomplishes the learning goals for students. It'll even make the class enjoyable!
If you have any 'Joe' stories, please feel free to share how you worked with them.