Media, Technology, and Education
Cluster PedagogyIntegrated ClustersOnline Learning and TeachingProject-based Learning

Moving From File Repository to Narrative Journey

On May 18, 2020, The Journal of Applied Learning and Teaching published a timely article that I am finding helpful as I begin my thinking about teaching Tackling a WIcked Problem (TWP) online this Fall: “Introducing the Tri-layered Student Online Experience Framework: Moving from file repository to narrative journey,” by Eager, Lehman, and Scollard. I’m writing this summary of the article to deepen my understanding of the ideas presented.

The thing that jumped out at me immediately on discovering this article was the subtitle: moving from file repository to narrative journey. This is related to something I said in my previous post: “I need to think about the tools I use for the class not just as places where I put stuff for the students to consume. Instead, these tools represent sites of activity, sites for community building.” Another way I could have said this is that I need to think about the tools for the class as more than just a repository of files. Instead, I need to think about the journey that students will take through the class using these tools.

Eager, Lehman, and Scollard start with a literature review through which they postulate that students view the online educational materials of a class as a “value-added investment in exchange for their time.” In other words, students ask themselves “Why should I engage with this online material?” The literature review tells us that students will engage with course materials when the content is relevant (meaning that it is interesting and the student can see how the content will help them achieve the goals of the class), the content is aligned with their aspirations (which may include aspirations that are outside of the immediate academic experience), and the content is easy to find (meaning that the cognitive load required for understanding which content should be accessed when has been minimized). These feel like common sense findings to me but I am sure I haven’t given enough attention to them in the past. Luckily, this article provides a framework for how to think about these issues.

The Tri-layered Student Online Experience Framework (TSOEF) helps us to design online courses so that students understand why they should be engaging with the online content and what they will gain by doing so. Not surprisingly, TSOEF has 3 layers of design: course level (the authors, being Australian, call this unit level), module level, and assessment level.

The course level design provides the student with signposts about moving through the course, module by module. The signposts explain the details of each module in the course. In particular, each module has a welcome message that introduces the materials of the module and lays out engagement expectations for the module, an explanation about how engaging with the module helps students meet the course learning objectives, the required educational materials (which are organized as specified below in the module level design), optional educational materials, a discussion board of some sort where students can ask questions, discuss content, and so on, a progress tracker to help students monitor their progress through the course, and a module summary that details what the students should have accomplished by the end of the module. Each of these signposts helps students navigate their journey through the course.

Each module is comprised of a consistent set of components: the required educational materials, each of which has a justification of how the material (reading, video, etc.) will help the student progress in the course, an explanation of how engaging with the material will help the student achieve the learning objectives of the course, and additional educational materials for students who might want a deeper dive with an explanation of what the material (reading, video, etc.) contains.

The authors go on to say that they designed the assessment level of the framework with a recognition that many students engage with course content for the sole purpose of completing the assessments. Therefore, they suggest that all required learning materials have an explanation of how engaging with them will help students complete an assessment. They also suggest that students be provided with prompting questions for students to think about when engaging with each of the required learning materials.

The authors used this framework in a junior level Business course. The end of semester course evaluations showed that student satisfaction increased by ~30% to 99.2% for face-to-face students (i.e. flipped learning environment) and increased ~40% to 90.9% for the online cohort (fully asynchronous delivery, with no face-to-face classes). The authors are careful to note that they did not eliminate other variables in this preliminary analysis and so they don’t want to claim a causal relationship. But the framework shows some promise for improving student satisfaction.

I really like that this framework prompts us to think of our online classes in terms of narratives, the story we want to tell students about the course and their engagement with the content. I also like that the authors propose that we give instructors freedom in their course design but that this framework can help students find consistency among the online classes that they might be taking. I plan to use this framework as I begin to develop the modules for TWP. The thing I am struggling with at the moment, however, is how I can “modularize” the course in a consistent manner while also maintaining the flexibility that will allow students to participate in at least parts of the course design. I have some ideas beginning to perculate.


Image Credit: “One of these blocks is not like the others.” by aplumb is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Article written by:

I am currently Professor of Digital Media at Plymouth State University in Plymouth, NH. I am also the current Coordinator of General Education at the University. I am interested in astrophotography, game studies, digital literacies, open pedagogies, and generally how technology impacts our culture.

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