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Educational Design and Engagement

Educational Design and Engagement

Enriching the student learning experience & supporting development of on campus and online courses.

Shadowing the CAIeRO – learning design and storyboarding

I did not just accidentally hit the caps lock key; that beautiful hieroglyph CAIeRO is part of the NILE-CAIeRO set from the University of Northampton. The business of learning design is not a shadowy dark art, as the mythical sounding name for the workshop suggests, but a transparent, openly shared method, beginning with demystification (when you’re ready, De-mystifying the CAIeRO leads you through the whole acronym) of what is also known as the Course Design Retreat. After a thorough research project and scoping exercise, CAIeRO was the framework identified as the best one to model our own developing learning design service. Leading on this, Fiona Hale had invited the Northampton learning designer, Julie Usher, to run a few of CAIeRO events for some of our developing courses at Edinburgh.

Neil Lent from IAD attended, offering his perspective on assessment and feedback. I tagged along too, since my role in the MOOCs team has entailed many aspects of course design. Our storyboarding workshop for academic teams creating new courses has evolved over the last two years and we see this exercise as crucial to effectively designing for an engaging learning experience. I was most looking forward to stage 2 of the CAIeRO; making a storyboard. I wanted to see if it was different to design a credit-bearing masters course, what I could take from it, and reflect on my own method.

A week after the pre-CAIeRO skype call, we convened for the workshop. The first post-coffee objective for the course team was to write a blueprint.

Writing the brief (the blueprint)

Part of the new online MSc Public Health programme is a 10 credit module called Introduction to Public Health Promotion, which is coordinated by Rosemary Geddes. The MSc programme director, co-director and learning technologist (Ruth, Niall and Cristina) completed the course team. Rosemary had already planned and researched what she wanted to teach in the module, but the plan for how to deliver this teaching hadn’t yet been firmed. This was a great point for our guest learning designer from Northampton to get involved.

From a design perspective, the blueprinting part of the CAIeRO is essentially writing – or rewriting – the brief, the agreed goals of the course. It’s hugely important to get this straight before leaping into the design.

DNA Molecule Display, by Christian Guthier on Flickr [CC BY 2.0]

DNA Molecule Display, by Christian Guthier [CC BY 2.0]

We needed a 25 word statement of the course mission. The constraint ensured that no words were wasted on hedging, and we all had to bandy about different options for terminology, debating which language would set the right tone. Clarifying the difference between multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary (whether or not the subjects are merged) they quickly identified that whichever was most important to the teaching approach, the aim would be to equip students with an interdisciplinary approach to their professional lives. The focus was very much on how the course would enable the students to be effective in their future careers and to give them the confidence to approach health promotion planning in new and different contexts. So here is the agreed course mission:

The programme aims to equip students with evidence-based conceptual and practical tools, to take an applied interdisciplinary approach to public health challenges

This felt like a really good result. It wasn’t just the words that got pinned down, it was the debate around priorities that guided the decision. Each member of the course team participated (and some of us observers too). That’s how this started – an exercise in consensus building.

OU (Open University) learning design cards which identify course features are used to help define the look and feel of the course: what kind of learning experience will the student have? The terminology of the cards is fairly expansive and intricate, and the task of examining each of the forty or so options is a little daunting.

On that Monday in January (the beginning of the final week in the longest month before payday) my learning design colleagues and I witnessed a lengthy, involved discussion between the team members about this collection of pedagogical terms and activity types – what they mean, what they’re for. Is it suitable for this course? Is it even implicit – or too important not to mention? After dividing into yes/no/maybe piles, the challenge was to whittle down the choices to six defining must-haves. Confronted with this multitude of pedagogical facets and the variety of similar but distinct options, it seemed like a really tough discussion, and I found the questions, tangents, and debates fascinating (the subject of health promotion is a particularly interesting case for this application). Reaching consensus was gradual but steady, and once achieved, the features selected were photographed as part of the course design record on the CAIeRO planner. There followed another involved discussion, about learning outcomes:

  • Who they’re for (enrolled and prospective students)
  • The institutional and national policy frameworks (for example, the SCQF descriptors for level 11 and the University of Edinburgh’s strategy regarding that)
  • How the course learning outcomes relate to those of the MSc Public Health programme

As the wording and structure of these evolved, the team reflected on how these would be most accessible and transparent. They wanted to make this debate count, so that the defined learning outcomes would be meaningful to both students and teachers.

Making the storyboard

I was keen to see how the course storyboarding would work. Until I got into MOOCs I’d thought of storyboarding in terms of planning a movie. Working with Louise Connelly (then IAD) on storyboarding sessions with the MOOC course teams I came to understand what it meant in the context of course design.

Storyboards, by Peter Morville on Flickr [CC BY 2.0]

Storyboards, by Peter Morville [CC BY 2.0]

It’s not a plan of the visual sequence of learning materials – layout of the course pages and navigation would be determined later. In course design, it’s about considering the learning journey through the course, and breaking down the sequence, ordering the course activities and mapping onto a schedule of events. The result is an articulation of the learning experience of the course as a whole. I think storyboarding is a good term for this, because it reflects the concept of narrative, the contextualisation implicit in any sequence. A good design for a course needs to embody an engaging narrative.

So how would the CAIeRO version compare with the kind of storyboarding sessions I’d been running with the MOOCs teams? From the demystification blog, the process sounded very similar, but watching it in action, I was impressed at how much the team were able to cover and make decisions on.

Julie asked a few questions to get the first few ideas down – on paper, in multi-coloured post-it note. The course team had already established that “communication and influencing” was a crucial feature of this course, as was collaborative learning. Rosemary outlined some of the key themes and concepts. With input from Ruth, Cristina and Niall they came up with ideas for engaging students early on, for activities which reflection on personal experiences, progressing on the broader understanding and critical exercises.

It was clear from early on that fitting group activities and reflection into the five week course would be difficult, and the course team were careful to consider what would be achievable within the schedule. The 10 credit masters module would need to be achievable in about 100 hours’ worth of effort – so 20 per week, with additional flexibility allowed by setting the assessment deadline a week after the end of the course. The team agreed each stage in the course together, at first a skeletal outline of main events, then iteratively reviewing this structure to flesh it out, do a bit of rearrangement, prioritising where it became obvious that workload would be unmanageable for the students.

It took a couple of hours of calm discussion, where everyone in the group had input, guided by Julie’s queries and gentle nudges to help them stay on track. The result was a neatly organised, readable sequence of course events and articulated learning experiences; itemised content pieces and resources, discussion activities and assessment stages. As a basis on which to build the course, it was a solid foundation.

Reflecting on storyboarding tactics

Throughout the learning design process so far, I had initially felt very reassured that our treatment of course design for MOOCs had evolved to a similar shape (though miniature size). At first it didn’t seem that we had any big gaps in our process, but as an observer of the consensus-building exercises throughout the blueprint stage, I started to realise where we’d been skimping in our support. One key difference here was in the preparation for the storyboarding session. Because of the carefully considered goals of the course, from pre-CAIeRO through extensive blueprinting and learning outcomes; because of all the discussion of options, priorities and terminology, the storyboarding worked better. It was easier to reach consensus about the big things, and there was still time to address things in more detail, like the practicalities of discussion board setup options.

Typically we ask each MOOC team to provide learning outcomes with their course proposal, but with our courses being firstly, open to anyone, and secondly, not credit-bearing, it’s quite challenging to state the level of outcome intended, and we haven’t been strict about alignment or language for these. I’ve started to see that as a false economy though – and we’re beginning to attack these challenges ahead of storyboarding sessions. I’m wary of taking an approach which could seem overly formal, so it’s got to be transparent about how intended learning outcomes can help define the activities.

Another difference to do with preparedness I would put down to scale. Although the MPH team had scaling up in mind, it’s not going to be MOOC massive. Seeing how they approached the course design seemed to illustrate that although they were facing a challenge, they weren’t quite so out of their comfort zone as a standard first time MOOC creator. In MOOCs, we’re used to course teams coming in with misconceptions and a certain amount of naivety or at least inexperience when it comes to adapting their approach for the scale and diversity of the learners. Supporting the design process is our way of helping them understand this qualitatively different medium. Hence we use storyboarding sessions to present the course team with inspiration, about the different kinds of activities which are possible at scale; indeed the kind of interaction which works better at – even requires – the massiveness of a MOOC to function well.

So there is quite a lot for the teams to take in. Some of what we do in MOOC design should be concertinaed in small from the big credit-bearing treatments… but some of it bears closer attention. I think we’re bundling too much into our storyboarding sessions, and we might get a better story plan, if we separate out some of the experience, into additional sessions or at least in discussion over email.

Finally, there was what happened the day after. Rosemary and her team finished storyboarding on day 1 of the CAIeRO. On day 2, their first task was to review the on-paper storyboard structure, as Julie had them talking through each item, finding out whether the ideas captured still made sense. The discussions of the day before were still fresh, so it was a useful check to see if anything had been missed, and an ideal point to launch into the build.

Here are my three take-aways from my shadowing experience:

  1. Attention to the learning outcomes before storyboarding,
  2. More time for discussion during,
  3. Considering a follow-up session soon after.

Overall, I was inspired in different ways – by seeing this carefully constructed, tried and tested process in action, and how effective it could be. Seeing the calm competence with which Julie directed and facilitated each of the sessions across the two day workshop, skillfully intervening to ask the right questions and knowing when to give the team some space to explore ideas – and our Edinburgh Learning Design colleagues offered lots of helpful guidance and opinion too. Watching the course team collaborating throughout creative and critical decision making, to produce a functioning design. They constructed a fantastic design that I believe will be a hugely engaging, supportive and collaborative learning experience, giving students the abilities to deliver their own health promotion plans and the confidence to grow their understanding of how, throughout their careers.



1 reply to “Shadowing the CAIeRO – learning design and storyboarding”

  1. Alex Burford says:

    Thanks Imogen – really interesting.

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