By Daniel Lake, Blackboard ECP Director, and K-12 Technology Integration Specialist, OCM Board of Cooperative Educational Services (Syracuse, NY)
Last year I joined the august group of professionals supporting the Blackboard Exemplary Course Program (ECP). Moving from the role of a reviewer to that of a director was both an honor and a challenge for me. The challenge was that I represented a new player in the world of online course delivery: the K-12 classroom.
I wondered, "How could I bring my new role into line with the rest of the group?" After all, in my world “course design” is often considered to be that part of computer-delivered instruction that motivates students with colorful icons and animated images, the provision of slideshows and movies, and a use of varied font colors and sizes.
The ECP rubric easily moves one beyond that limited view. (You can download the rubric here.) Section by section the rubric lays out what one looks for when determining excellence in course delivery. So how does one choose the BEST models of design to reward, and to share with the world?
I found the REALLY exemplary courses chosen by our group of volunteer reviewers DID have something motivational in design that caused them to stand out. Using the ECP rubric enabled me to observe various aspects of these designs that helped learners.
Let me outline two submitted courses in which design was a major factor in their being chosen as exemplary: one course in higher education and one in K-12.
Exemplary Higher Education Course: Jill Pickard, University of Northampton
The ease of navigation and appeal to multiple learning styles is very evident in Jill Pickard’s course at the University of Northampton (UK) that she submitted to the 2008 Blackboard ECP.
Jill’s course, formally titled the "University of Northampton Plagiarism Avoidance Course" (and simply called “UNPAC”), is, as you might guess, meant to teach students to avoid plagiarism. Her goals, her approach, and her overall design contributed to a site so easy to navigate and self-motivating for its participants that hundreds of people outside Jill’s institution now use the site as a self-learning environment. Starting from the premise that she wanted her site to offer POSITIVE aspects of writing that reflect academic integrity, Jill created a course design that uses forward movement to lead learners toward acceptable writing practices.
When Jill and I sat down to discuss her course during an enjoyable lunch, I learned that, yes, she did have the support of a professional designer, and, yes, she did suggest the road-sign paradigm used throughout her course. But she joyfully imparted it was a REAL picture of her little yellow Mini Cooper that course participants used to move from one topic to another within her course. And the caution signs that appear within the course were REAL English road signs she encounters daily in her community, adapted to visualize the points in her course.
Exemplary K-12 Course: Kelly Cua, Kamehameha Schools
Representing her own ancestral, ethnic community, Kelly Cua from the Kamehameha Schools (KSBE) in Hawai’i submitted to the 2008 Blackboard ECP her course, titled "Hawai’ian Culture," that she designed for young Hawai’ian children.
Kelly used her own voice and face within her course to introduce new goals to participants. While I usually dislike the “talking head” approach used in many online courses, Kelly’s short and targeted video clips very effectively reinforce the written goals of her intercultural site.
Using Wimba voice tools (view Wimba’s own blog here) and linking to uniformly designed pages that contain many audio and visual elements, Kelly consciously appealed to “multiple intelligences” – as was a stated goal of her ECP program submission application. What better way to experience and learn about Hawai’ian culture than to hear its language spoken and see its imagery!
Reviewing Kelly’s site even revealed to me a new practice that I now suggest to other teachers. She included a unit in her course that requires students to engage family members in a cultural game activity. This really pulls participants into the course. The students report back to Kelly on their respective family activities, part of the assessment features Kelly uses extensively throughout her course, and she then links the family activities to her classroom in ways that my K-12 teachers needed modeled for them. Kelly gave me a very effective model to show them.
What I Learned as an ECP Reviewer
As a reviewer during the 2008 Blackboard ECP, I first read these two and other rubric submissions and considered what the teachers SAID they were doing. I then was able to look at their sites and experience what they, indeed, actually were delivering to their students. I was not disappointed.
Each site I reviewed taught me something about design – both how best to design and, sometimes, how one shouldn’t design a couse. Not every course submitted to the ECP presented a winning design, but every view I had of these courses was a learning moment for me and my partner reviewers.
The ECP also has enabled me to connect with creative professionals around the globe, all of whom take seriously their charge to learn and then teach. Being able to meet some of them virtually AND in real life was a bonus for me. I hope many of you will be able to connect with these professionals, as well, and perhaps in person at Blackboard and user group conferences you might attend during the coming year. I also encourage you to evaluate for yourself the two exemplary courses I linked to above. (You can download archived copies of all the 2008 ECP winners here.)
Good design carries across all levels of education, and learners and teachers benefit from sharing good practices – no matter what the level of your students! And from my experience as a reviewer during last year’s program, I’ll bring more than my own observations back to my local constituents. I will bring effective and modeled 21st century practices that are informed by exemplary design and active engagement!
If you’d like to be a reviewer for the 2009 program, you can find information and answers to your questions here on the Blackboard ECP wiki.