Working in Brightspace

Working in Brightspace as an instructor is not new to me. However, designing a course using sound instructional design principles was a new experience. As a designer, I needed to format the content and instructional web pages which often required me to learn some HTML and CSS. This is where I encountered a steep learning curve! While I really enjoyed the experience and the end product of Adobe Spark Page when creating more aesthetically pleasing content, I am sure if I continued learning HTML and CSS I may be able to create compelling content pages within Brightspace. I think these skills would be beneficial but as the literature alludes to (see Bates for example) this task can be time-consuming and may take away time spent on other important instructor tasks. Therefore, having an instructional designer on campus to consult with is extremely beneficial.

I enjoyed using Adobe Spark Page to create more compelling content for my prototype. It was a user-friendly product and integrated easily into Brightspace. However, there were some limitations. I found, with the free version of Adobe Spark, there was a bit of clutter at the end of each page that may be distracting to students. In addition, I am not sure how the content would appear on other devices. Unfortunately, there was no app compatible with the trial version of Brightspace to check if the content pages would fit nicely on other screens.

I designed my prototype in Brightspace trial. I found the trial version was slightly more limited in terms of learner functions, such as using blogs, e-portfolios, and accessibility than the version I have worked with in my institution. This limited my options for assignments for my prototype. I have noted that with the Brightspace blogs students can share their work in the open web, which I would have liked to have been able to do in the prototype. When I put my prototype into action using my institution’s version of Brightspace, I will move the discussion assignment into the blog format for this reason.

I was cognizant of equal student accessibility when I was designing my prototype. However, I was not fully aware of all the considerations that needed to be made until I reviewed the literature at the end. It became apparent that accessibility needs to be a priority throughout and not just an afterthought. Brightspace has the capability of assistive technology as illustrated in the video below, including an accessibility checker for designers and text-to-speech for learners. However, I believe it is an add-on feature. I have not seen this in the version of Brightspace my institution has. It certainly would have been helpful in the trial version for me as a designer. Learners would certainly benefit from accessibility features built right into the learning management system. However, using extensions like Chrome Read&Write and imTranslator are great alternatives.

In the end, I believe my prototype is ready for implementation. I am mindful that patience and flexibility will be key – especially with the first run in the blended learning environment.


Summary of Learning

I was excited to be able to take EC&I 834: Blended and Online Learning as part of my Master’s in Adult Education. I have been wanting to explore the concept of a flipped classroom for some time now. I created the online component for this blended learning environment using Brightspace. There were many factors to consider and those are highlighted in my summary of learning.

Video length 5:31. Video Transcript

I used Vyond (formerly GoAnimate) to showcase my learning journey in creating the online prototype. This being my second creative summary of learning, I am convinced now more than ever the importance of providing students with the option of presenting their learning in a variety of methods, rather than text alone. In addition, these learning artifacts can be shared with my students with the intent of demonstrating my own creativeness in the hopes they will be inspired.

This semester went by in a flash! Thank you to Alec Couros and my colleague and learning partner, Colleen Strauch, for your insight and support! Hope you all have a great summer!

Implementing Student Accessibility Strategies

I am proud that Saskatchewan Polytechnic, the institution I teach in, is committed to meeting the needs of its diverse student population. In particular, it has dedicated support to ensure equal access to students with disabilities. This support requires students to self-identify as having an intellectual, learning or mental/physical disability. For these students, and those that do not self-identify, I also have a responsibility that the online learning environment I design is accessible.

Below I have shared student accessibility strategies I have implemented in the design of my prototype and identified areas that need additional work or resources.

Formatted instructional materials for assistive technology

I used a variety of digital media tools to present course content, including text, images and video that includes audio as one of my efforts to create an engaging learning environment. The following are strategies I used or need to consider to ensure the instructional materials in these various formats are more accessible:

Text: Adding a text to speech or speech to text option is helpful for students with physical impairments and EAL students. I found the suggestion of Google Read&Write Chrome extension from a resource my classmate, Colleen, shared on Twitter. There are many possibilities for student support in this extension, including a text to speech player, translator, dictionary, picture dictionary and web search features. Students can also use the talk and text feature when contributing to the discussion board. I found the text to speech player adequate for the text materials within Brightspace and Adobe Spark Page. However, I found the language options for the translator limited and are not representative of the first languages of most of our international students. ImTranslator, a free alternative Chrome extension, translates English to over 22 languages with audio presentation and dictionary. I tested it on my prototype and believe it may be a useful tool for EAL students.

Video: Providing closed captions and/or a video transcript is typically targeted to those who are hearing impaired. However, providing text with videos can also provide greater accessibility to students whose first language is not English and students who have special learning needs. In addition, viewing text with videos can provide greater knowledge comprehension and retention for all learners. To ensure students were aware of these accessibility options, I indicated that closed caption option and transcript below the videos I included in my prototype.

Images: Adding alternative text to an image provides students with an explanation of its contents when using a screen reader. I tested this function using Google Read&Write and found it useful with images embedded in Brightspace webpages. However, when testing with Adobe Spark Page I was disappointed this feature did not work. This is a limitation I had not considered when developing online content using Adobe Spark Page. This is an area I will need to further investigate to make this content more accessible.

Layout of content is easy to navigate and read

Consistent and logical content layout is important to enhance the user experience, especially for those who have low digital literacy skills and users of assistive technologies. Brightspace provides templates to ensure content is provided in a format that is compatible with assistive technologies, including suggested headings to differentiate blocks of text and colour contrasts to signal new topics. I was pleased with this feature within Brightspace to assist designers in increasing accessibility for students.

Accessibility offline

For students who have limited access to the Internat, each webpage within Brightspace can be downloaded and viewed offline. Currently, Adobe Spark Pages cannot be downloaded in a PDF document. When this course does go live, I will convert these pages into a format that can be downloaded.

Consulting Learners

One of the most important ways to meet the needs of students is to ask them the preferences. Students who are users of assistive technologies or require other accommodations are a great resource to ensure the instructional materials and learning environment is engaging and accessible. While I don’t have this opportunity with my prototype, I will solicit student input when it does go live.

In summary, I grateful accessibility was a suggested topic for discussion. Although I had considered basic accessibility options including offline access and closed captioning and video transcripts, I now recognize there is much more an educator can do to ensure learner accessibility in an online learning environment. Before going live with my prototype I plan to consult with our accessibility office and instructional designers to find a comprehensive solution.

Can you suggest other assistive technologies or strategies that I can implement in an online learning environment? What other benefits do you see for accessibility in online education?

Thank you for stopping by!



Course Profile

Course Profile for Organizational Behaviour in a Blended Learning Environment

Course Overview

Organizational Behaviour is a 64 credit hour course taught within the School of Business at the post-secondary level. The course is designed to provide students insight into human behaviour in organizations and develop the skills needed to collaborate effectively with people at work and in community. The module presented in the prototype centers around team-building skills. The learning objective is:

Demonstrate effective team building skills within your group including group norms, roles, development, and cohesiveness.

Delivery Method and Format

This learning module has been designed for the flipped classroom and will be presented through a learning management system (LMS), Brightspace. In this blended learning environment, students will be required to review and engage with the online instructional materials and each other prior to attending class. During class, students will be required to collaborate in teams to complete a mini-project. As a group, students will then present a summary reflection of their experiences in team building, which will be uploaded to the discussion forum in the LMS. This summary should be centered around the key concepts presented in the learning outcome. Post-class activity includes an online class discussion exploring each team’s learning experiences.

The flipped classroom method was chosen to give students the opportunity to engage, asynchronously, with the content online at their own pace before participating in the synchronous active learning experience in class. The goal is to allow for more time in class to apply the concepts and theories in practice.

This learning outcome has been designed in Brightspace, a learning management system offered by D2L. Brightspace is accessible with an internet connection using computers and is compatible with multiple devices. This LMS is a widely used and supported platform within the institution the course is offered and was chosen to provide a consistent experience for students. In addition, content, interactive activities, discussions forums, blogs, email, student calendars, and assessment options are offered within the LMS in an organized and easy to follow format. To increase the student’s experience in networked learning, blogs can be shared via social media. Learning artifacts created using web-hosted multimedia tools (video, audio, images) and other external resources can be uploaded and shared within the LMS. Together with the capabilities of creating dynamic learning content and experiences within the LMS and externally created and secured resources the student learning experience is designed to be more open than closed in terms of a learning management system.

Course Content

Within the learning outcome stated above students will review five learning steps. In particular, they will be required to define teams, explain roles, role expectations and role conflict, explain how norms are developed and enforced, describe team development and describe team characteristics. The online content focuses on lower levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy where students begin to understand the foundations of team building. This foundational knowledge will allow students to focus on higher levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy where they can apply the concepts and theories in practice and be able to critically analyze and test assumptions.

The action verbs, apply and analyze, are mid-level skills and are typical for an introductory business class at the post-secondary level.


Formative assessments are seen throughout the learning outcome, which includes:

Formal Discussion: During the pre-class preparation, students will have the opportunity to build a community of learning and a personal learning network by participating on Twitter using the course hashtag. The questions prompting student responses on Twitter are designed to explore the meaning of key concepts and promote connections between the concepts and theories with their own experiences.

Self-Assessment: Students are provided an opportunity to self-assess their own ability to build and lead teams using a Likert-Scale type questionnaire.

Informal Discussion: Students are provided an opportunity within the LMS discussion forums to socially interact. This is designed to solicit formative feedback from peers and the instructor, to share ideas, to strengthen the community of learning, and develop skills in creating a personal learning network.

Summative assessments conclude the learning outcome, which includes:

Creation of Learning Artifact – Using multimedia tools students are required to synthesize their team’s learning by collaboratively reflecting on their experience. The product should be 2-4 minutes and will be posted in the LMS’s discussion forum.

Discussion – Students are prompted by open-ended, high gain reflective questions to respond to each other’s learning experiences demonstrated in the learning artifact. In addition, this assessment is designed to prompt students to consider ways in which others’ learning experiences can inform their own functioning within a team.

Students are provided marking rubrics to inform the summative assessments.

Target student population and demographics

Organizational Behaviour is a required first-year course in the Business diploma program at a post-secondary institution. At this level, the student population is considered to be traditional ranging in age between 18-22. However, there are students in the group considered to be mature students. Approximately 30% of the student population are international students with English as an alternative language (EAL). Typically, students are enrolled full-time in the Business program with face to face attendance requirements from 8:30am to 3:30pm each day, five days a week.

Student considerations

Students may face barriers to learning in varying degrees while engaging in the blended learning environment. The following identify these barriers and provide possible solutions.

Potential Barriers Possible Solutions
Access to technology and/or internet connection Pre-Class work

  • Students who do not have access to technology or the internet will be encouraged to use the computer labs at the institution (open passed business hours), borrow devices from the institution’s library or local community library.
  • Students can download the content pages from the LMS to their local devices.

Post-Class work

  • Students will be working in teams to complete the group activity. There is a high likelihood that at least one to two students will have access to their own devices.
  • Where teams do not have access, they will be encouraged to work in the institution’s computer labs or borrow a device.
Computer/Digital Literacy This course requires students to navigate a learning management system, Twitter, and create a learning artifact with multimedia tools. As such, students will be provided with instruction and/or tutorial in how to navigate the LMS and Twitter. In addition, suggestions may need to be made with respect to possible multimedia tools. This will be a joint responsibility between the instructor and the students.
Accessibility and Accommodation Students who need accommodation to view and interact with the online content will be provided the following:

  • Closed captioning on videos or a transcript provided
  • Online content can be downloaded and viewed offline
  • Student Support Center can be consulted for possible assignment of tutors or readers.
  • Accommodation for time to complete the online course content and assignments can be assessed by the instructor and/or the counseling office.
EAL Students whose first language is not English will be provided support in the following ways:

  • the instructor will be mindful of potential struggles to understand course vocabulary and will provide support accordingly.
  • Peers will be encouraged to provide support in person and via the informal online discussion forums.
  • Institutional supports will be available through Learning Services and Student Support Center.
Cultural Considerations A significant portion of the student cohort is expected to be international students. Students may encounter language and cultural barriers when interacting with each other. This course is designed to introduce students to the significance of how values, attitudes, and diversity inform organizational behaviour. It is anticipated that through this unit and being face to face for the majority of their time together students will have the opportunity to build a sense of community to strengthen their learning as a cohesive group. In addition, students are provided with and expected to follow a Netiquette policy while engaging with others online.
Time Post-secondary students have many demands on their time, academically and personally. To ensure students are motivated to engage with the coursework the following pedagogical strategies have been considered while designing the online learning experience:

  • Informing students what they can expect in a flipped classroom.
  • Setting clear expectations for student participation
  • Creating value and connection between the pre-class work and the in-class activity.
  • Managing cognitive load by providing only the necessary information in bite-sized chunks using different instructional techniques.
  • Ensuring the assessments are relevant to their current and future experiences.
Attendance and Participation The online portion of this learning outcome will be available from the beginning of the course and is structured for students to work through at their own pace. It is anticipated that students will engage in the course content 4-7 days prior to the in-class activity.

While the team-building exercise is designed to be completed in-class, accommodations can be made at the team’s discretion if a member cannot participate at that time. Students will be given sufficient time to complete the exercise and produce the corresponding learning artifact.

Course Toolset

LMS: Brightspace

The following are course tools are integrated with Brightspace

Tool Rationale
Adobe Spark Used to provide a more dynamic experience in terms of course content delivery.
Twitter Students will have an opportunity to engage with the course content, their peers and practitioners/experts to grow their personal learning networks with this user-friendly platform.
Multimedia presentation tools Students are encouraged to explore multimedia tools that utilize video and audio to create a presentation of their team-building learning experience. This method is designed to enhance students multimedia communication skills.

The use of video, including audio, to present course content is a pedagogical strategy to meet students’ diverse learning styles.

Discussion Forums Discussion forums within Brightspace prompt students to reflect on their own and others’ experiences, provide peer feedback and create a sense of community.
Google Docs Certain information as it pertains to the course is provided as a Google Doc linked within the LMS. This exposure provides students experience with using alternative methods to view documents and discover its potential uses. Eg) collaborating with peers
Google Read&Write and imTranslator Students can access these Chrome extensions to support their need for greater accessibility to the online learning environment. In particular, students can convert text to speech, translate English to their preferred language and talk and type, to name a few features.

Unpacking Authentic Learning in Open and Closed Spaces

This blog post contemplates authentic learning in various degrees of openness. To what extent does openness affect a student’s authentic learning experience? To ground this discussion I searched for a definition of authentic learning. Audrey Rule’s review of the literature provides a comprehensive description. The four common themes of authentic learning involves:

  1. Real-world problems and presentation of findings to audiences beyond the classroom
  2. Open-ended inquiry and higher order thinking skills
  3. Social learning in a community of learners
  4. Student-directed

It is clear by this definition that for learning to be authentic students must venture beyond their classroom walls and immerse themselves in real-world problems. I can appreciate this and feel it is a superior quality of education to what might be more common occurrence – review content, write a test, repeat. However, I question the notion that authentic learning is also qualified by sharing findings outside the classroom walls. What degree of sharing (openness) is required to meet the criteria of presenting the findings outside the classroom walls? Is authentic learning less significant if findings are shared within a community of learners or town hall meeting (narrow) versus sharing with the world via social media or blogging (broad)? I may have more questions than answers, but I will attempt to address them going forward.

Benefits of Sharing in Open Spaces

I believe that there are many benefits for learners to engage in real-world scenarios and/or problems and to share the product of their knowledge and understanding in broad open spaces. Building and strengthening a personal learning network through social media and blogging can open students to countless learning opportunities. Take Danielle’s experience, a former EC&I 834 student for example. She was contacted by the author of one of her education textbooks as a result of her blogged response to his work, which opened a dialogue with him. Talk about strengthening your personal learning network! However, I would argue that even if she were not contacted by the author her learning would not be any less authentic. Her insight and knowledge could have benefited other current or future learners and practitioners that came across her blog.

Benefits of Sharing in Closed Spaces

On the other hand, I do believe there is an opportunity to foster authentic learning where sharing is more narrowly defined. As an example, I experienced transformative learning while engaging in an Indigenous community outreach program as a requirement of one of my recent graduate classes. Through this experience, I became very self-aware of how socially constructed racism impacted my beliefs about and interactions with Indigenous peoples and the complex nature of my own ethnicity and the privileges it affords me. This self-awareness was not a solo endeavour. Through conversation with the Indigenous community and my fellow classmates, I was able to uncover many of my hidden assumptions. More importantly, my interaction with this community of learners has provided me with language, skills and resolve to address social justice issues in my teaching practice.

While I believe this was an authentic learning experience, by Rule’s definition, it may be missing a key component. The evidence of my learning (or findings), a ten-page critical reflective journal, was not shared outside the classroom. If I were writing my reflection for a broader audience I have no doubt I would have censored myself. I was writing about deeply rooted social justice issues and my role in it. I believe the expression of my learning was more authentic knowing I was sharing in a safe space.

What is an Appropriate Degree of Openness? It depends…

For me, the question then becomes: What is the purpose of sharing more broadly? According to Steve Revington, a self-proclaimed authentic learning pioneer and leader, the purpose of sharing the authentic learning product or outcome is for community consumption or betterment. Had I shared more broadly I would like to think my reflective piece, as I wrote it, would inspire others to consider their own assumptions about and relations with Indigenous communities, it may have just as easily offended or alienated others. Here in lies the balance between the rewards and risks of being vulnerable and sharing our learning experiences.

With respect to my students, I am mindful to carefully consider the effect various degrees of openness will have on their authentic learning experiences. If the learning experience prompts students to critically reflect on sensitive or controversial topics it may be prudent to find a space, either in class or online, that is safe and receptive to sharing. I believe safe spaces are fertile ground for students to practice critical introspection without fear of judgment, thus has a greater potential to foster genuine reflection. On the other end of the spectrum, if the learning experience goal is to reach out to experts for insight or feedback then it would be appropriate for students to more broadly. In all degrees of openness, I would also argue it is the responsibility of the educator to ensure students are prepared to share responsibly.


Promoting a Community of Learning: Student/Student – Instructor Interactions

Being a member of a strong learning community, which has been facilitated by Alec Couros, has been a rewarding learning experience for me. He provides his students with an excellent example of how a learning environment can become a learning community whereby students are motivated to learn, be mutually supportive and contribute in meaningful and positive ways. In particular, Couros introduces learners to media tools, such as Twitter, Google Plus and weblogs, that can facilitate these qualities in their interactions with each other. In creating a student-centered and engaging blended learning experience, I have been inspired and informed by his example and the review of the literature. In this blog post, I will discuss how I plan to foster a strong community of learning through student/student and student/instructor online interactions.

Student to student forms of interaction

To promote peer interaction in building a community of learning to share ideas and insights I have included two forms of student interaction in the online environment.

Formal Spaces

First, I have included two embedded questions within the course content whereby students are required to Tweet their answers using the course hashtag. The questions are designed to prompt students to explore the meaning of the key concepts in the learning outcome. In addition, the questions are relational in that it asks students to compare the concepts to their own experiences. Research has shown that with the user-friendliness of Twitter student engagement and learning is enhanced. An added benefit of using Twitter is introducing students to the experience of building their own personal learning networks that can serve their learning needs now and beyond the course.

Second, in response to their in-class team building exercise students are required to reflect and collaborate to synthesize their learning in a 2-4 minute summary using digital resources, which include audio and visual components. To bring their learning into open spaces, students will post this summary to the discussion board in the learning management system and on Twitter. Prompted by reflective questions, students are then required to respond to two other groups’ learning summaries. These questions are designed to solicit peer feedback. For example, students are asked: “What, if any, hidden assumptions did the other group have that may have influenced their team’s behaviour?” Questions are also designed to be future orientated. For example, students are asked: “What takeaways do you have from the other team’s learning? How do you see implementing them in your future team assignments?”

Informal Spaces

In addition to the formal discussions, I have also provided an informal space for students to socially interact in the discussion forum. This informal space is designed for students to experience a virtual hallway where they can support each other academically and socially. On a technical level, I also included a space designated to bring to my attention any broken links, content questions and questions for clarification.

As my prototype is designed for the flipped classroom, my students will have the opportunity to build a sense of community when together synchronously (in person or virtually). Building a sense of community in this way has been shown to lead to higher student learning outcomes. I would argue that this sense of connection can promote a strong learning community.

Student and instructor forms of interaction

Instructor presence and interaction have been cited as a predictor of student satisfaction (Brookfield, 2015) and student outcomes (Yuan and Kim, 2014). Providing a highly supportive learning environment, such as sharing resources, providing clear instructions and timely feedback on student inquiries and assignments are activities I endeavour to do as an educator in any learning environment. However, what I have often struggled with is the appropriate level of instructor involvement in student interactions on Twitter or in the discussion forums. Logistics would prohibit me from responding to every Tweet or comment on the discussion board. Even if it were possible it would create student dependency on the instructor’s comments and approval (Brookfield, 2015). In addition, I believe the power position of the instructor would influence the degree to which students participate freely in this learning space. Which brings me back to my dilemma, what is the appropriate degree of instructor/student interaction in online discussions that promotes student satisfaction and learning?

In my own practice, I assure students I am reading their posts but will only post a summary of student comments at the conclusion of a student discussion. I will typically post my comments outside of the discussion forum in the News Feed of the LMS to ensure that students are the central focus of the discussion forum. My comments are designed to prompt further reflection, clarify misunderstandings or introduce new perspectives students had not already considered. While I believe I am providing sound feedback, perhaps it is not timely enough. I believe doing it daily as Brookfield suggests is unrealistic and may promote dependency on what I think. What do you think is an appropriate level of instructor involvement in student discussions?

Guidelines and assessment practices 

Netiquette: I have implemented a Netiquette Policy to promote meaningful and supportive student interactions and have tied this to student interactions in online spaces. Although I teach adults, it is not fair to assume that they understand proper etiquette when interacting with others online or the impact of unfavourable or controversial interactions may have on their digital footprint. What I did not consider until reading the Resource Guide for Mastering Online Discussion Board is having students do online research and decide as a group what netiquette rules they will adopt for themselves. This would facilitate the likelihood of student accountability and buy-in when they collaboratively bring their own values to their interactions.

Marking Rubrics: To facilitate relevant online discussions I have given students prompting questions tied to the learning content and student experiences. In addition, I have designated online platforms such as Twitter and discussion forums within Brightspace to provide a collective space in which students can communicate. In order to assess if students are contributing in a meaningful and relevant way to the learning community, I have provided a marking rubric. The rubric is designed to assess the quality of the student posts as well as the quantity. My marking rubric can be found here.

Question for Consideration

What do you think is an appropriate level of instructor interaction in student discussions to promote student satisfaction and learning?

Strategies to Influence Student Motivation to Engage in Pre-Class Work: Flipped Classroom

As I am working to create the online portion of my flipped classroom prototype a little voice in the back of my mind keeps wondering, “But what if the students don’t take the time to prepare for the in-class activity?” Given that my students are adult learners, albeit typical aged college students, they have many demands vying for their time and energy requiring them to make choices. How can I structure the online portion of the pre-work course to ensure it is an easy and viable choice for students?

In this blog post, I will explore pedagogical methods that influence a student’s motivation to engage with the online pre-class coursework, and with their peers, in preparation for the in-class active learning experience.

To start, I might clarify the goal for pre-class learning in a flipped classroom model. As Honeycutt (2016) points out, pre-class work is generally focussed on lower levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy where students begin to understand the foundations of the key concepts in the course. In my course, the pre-class work requires students to interact with online content and each other via social media. It is with this foundational knowledge that students can focus on higher levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy in the in-class active learning experience. Here, students can start to make connections between theory and practice and be able to critically analyze and test assumptions. This illustrates the importance of students coming to class prepared to engage in active learning with their peers.

In my readings, I have found three pedagogical methods that have the potential to increase student motivation to be active participants in the pre coursework and in-class activities. These ideas have helped to inform how I designed my prototype.

Creating value and setting clear expectations

The assigned pre-class work must be valuable and, further, applicable to the in-class activity; otherwise, the motivation for students to engage with the pre-class work may be dismal at best. Indeed, students will soon realize that they can ‘get by’ just fine by putting in minimal to no effort in preparing for class if there is no perceived value in the pre-class work. This puts the onus on the educator to make clear connections between the content and the learning activities. In addition, students need to be aware of the educator’s expectations in terms of what specific information, terminology or theories need to be studied to help facilitate the active learning experience.

Setting these clear expectations may be seen by some as “spoon-feeding” students. It may also be construed as putting constraints on what is to be learned. However, being clear in what information is important does not prevent the student from exploring beyond the provided material. In my view, providing quality online content and setting clear expectations reduces ambiguity and aims to set students up for success when engaging in the in-class active learning experience.

My takeaway from these readings has led to the following questions about my blended learning prototype: What specific information will be used for the in-class activities? How will it be used? How will I make that clear to students?

Managing Cognitive Load

In addressing these questions I must also consider the learner’s ability to digest the information provided without risking cognitive overload. Providing too much information (valuable or otherwise) can cause strain on a learner’s working memory and lead to faulty judgment or errors and reduces the student’s motivation to fully engage in the course.  Pappas (2014) and Guyan (2013) provide the following tips to keep in mind while I finalize my prototype design.

  • Keep it simple and remove non-essential content

I strived to include aesthetically pleasing graphics as recommended in A Guide to Quality in Online Learning, but need to find that balance between a positive learner experience and unnecessary content that is distracting.

  • Use different instructional techniques

I strived to include aesthetically pleasing graphics as recommended in A Guide to Quality in Online Learning, but need to find that balance between a positive learner experience and unnecessary content that is distracting.

  • Present learning in “bite-sized” quantities 

I tried using a variety of digital tools (print, audio, and video) to allow the “learner to better absorb information using different processing methods, which will reduce cognitive overload” (Pappas, 2014 para. 16). Although I certainly tried to use a variety of tools, I feel I may have relied too heavily on print (text and visuals).

In addition, I intuitively recognized that placing the entire content for my learning module on one AdobeSpark Page was turning into a long scroll of death. Breaking it into bite-sized chunks will allow students to digest small pieces and check their understanding before moving onto the next learning step, thus reducing the risk of overloading their working memory.

While it is my responsibility to work toward setting clear expectations, creating value and balancing cognitive load in terms of instructional design, it is the student’s responsibility to complete the pre-class work. Is this a case of “You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make it drink.”? In part, yes. However, I have come across educators and consultants in higher education who suggest educators need to hold the students accountable for the pre-class work.


The learning environment I aim to create with my flipped classroom prototype is active and student-centered. It has been argued that student-centered learning environments naturally shift the responsibility and accountability of learning to the learner. However, I am sure there will be some that do not take responsibility. In either case, I believe the following two strategies for student accountability can prove to be helpful in their learning.

Student Collaboration

Student created cheat sheet: The students in my class will be in groups to complete a team-building exercise as part of the in-class activity. As part of the pre-class work, the team will collaborate to create a cheat sheet of the key theories and concepts that will guide them in their debrief discussion exercise.

Ticket to Enter: This ticket is proof the student has done the per-class work. There are two interactive activities embedded in the online content. Proof that these activities have been completed could be their ticket to enter. I am a bit skeptical about this one though. Even if I make this expectation very clear, what if (scary words) a student does not have a ticket?? I do not think I could, in good conscience, deny a student entry into the classroom. What are your thoughts?

These methods to increase student motivation are, in my opinion, a great starting point for creating the opportunity for an engaging and fruitful learning experience. However, it would be helpful to gauge student reaction to the flipped classroom model by conducting an end of week or course survey.

Questions for consideration: What methods do you find helpful to motivate your students to complete the pre-class work? Would you use the Ticket to Enter option for flipped classrooms in higher education?

Personal Learning Preferences with Digital Resources

This week we have been asked to reflect on our own preferences as it relates to learning with digital resources such as print, audio, and other forms of digital media. I have encountered learning with a variety of digital resources in formal, non-formal and informal learning environments. In this blog post, I reflect on these learning experiences to gain insight into my own preferences using digital resources in learning. As well, I decided to venture out of my comfort zone to explore a digital option I had not previously considered was in my learning wheelhouse.


In a formal education capacity, I have only completed one online course offered by Alec Couros, EC&I 831, at the University of Regina. This course offered a variety of digital resources to deliver content and interact with peers that capitalized on the different ways media can communicate meaning. What I appreciated the most was how students conveyed their own learning through text or print in our weekly blogs and tweets via Twitter, which included colourful graphics and photos. For me, synthesizing the academic knowledge I gained from reviewing the assigned content in a text format allowed me time and space to critically reflect and formulate my own understanding in a linear and coherent way. While I recognize communicating knowledge in a linear way, especially using text, can be viewed as a Eurocentric way of learning, I appreciated it as I most familiar with this method. What I appreciated the most, however, was the social learning our blog posts and tweets facilitated. It allowed me to broaden my understanding and appreciation of others’ perspectives.

Despite my preference for social learning through blogs and social media messages as described above, I am reminded of Bates‘ (2015) argument that learning/academic blogs do not necessarily replace the value of an academic book (digital or print). These larger format text resources have room for a wider representation and exploration of the issues at hand and thus can make a more comprehensive argument than what can be expected in a blog post. This argument is a reminder that while other learners’ perspectives are valuable, a learner must be careful to consider that there are multiple ways of understanding and knowing one topic.

Video featuring Audio

In a non-formal capacity, I reviewed a course offered by the University of Alberta called Indigenous Canada, which focuses on Indigenous history and contemporary issues. As a visual learning, I appreciated the audio and visual way this course was delivered. The following promotional video provides a preview (running time: 39 seconds).

This introduction showcases an authentic Indigenous painting depicting traditional teachings and is accompanied by traditional Indigenous music. As a learner, I felt the music and artwork were colourful and powerful symbols of their culture. I would not have had as much of a positive and lasting learning experience had these teachings been presented in text alone.

Each video in a module showcases Indigenous artwork as a visual introduction. It is not until the end of each module that the artist explains the significance of the artwork. This is an excellent use of video that brings authentic interpretation from the primary source of the creation (Bates, 2015). While artwork can be appreciated on its merits, learning from the artist the story it tells made it more meaningful to me. Here is a preview of this in action (running time: 1:09 minutes).


I do not typically listen to audio alone to learn, formally or informally. However, like my classmate Colleen, I enjoy listening to CBC radio to learn about current events and issues in our country. However, when I do not have a visual to grab and keep my attention my mind seems to wander. Therefore, I never considered audio alone a viable learning tool for me. I realize now that this firm belief about myself has limited my curiosity about the growing popularity of podcasts – another learning audio tool Colleen mentioned.

I decided to venture out of my learning comfort zone and have found some very interesting higher education podcasts that would certainly qualify for professional development. In particular, I enjoyed the way the podcasts were used to interview subject matter experts about flipping the classroom or ways to overcome cognitive overload. I see a lot of value in learning with Podcasts, provided I am dedicating my full attention! In other words, I cannot multitask with other higher order thinking tasks!

In summary, I have come to really appreciate my own learning preferences through this reflective activity. I believe I have also proved, to myself at least, the power of social learning. Had I not reviewed my colleague’s blog post regarding her learning experiences and preferences I do not think I would have ventured outside my comfort zone to discover that podcasts are certainly a viable learning option for me! Finally, this reflection and interaction with others have motivated me to keep students unique learning preferences top of mind while I continue to work on my blended learning prototype.

What are your thoughts?

What have your experiences been with discovering digital resource learning options you had previously discounted? Did it become a preference or prove once and for all it was not for you?






Flipping the Classroom with Adobe Spark

This week I have been exploring the quality of Adobe Spark programs as a multimedia tool to create instructional materials and showcase student learning. In this blog post, I will discuss the need for a modern multimedia tool for my prototype, provide a brief description of each Adobe Spark program including an example of what I have created within it and, finally, conclude with a discussion of its strengths and limitations.

The need for a modern multimedia tool

I am using the concept of the flipped classroom for my prototype blended learning course, Organizational Behaviour. In the flipped classroom environment, the students are required to review the course content in Brightspace to prepare for class in which they will apply their learning with an interactive activity.

As mentioned, I am using Brightspace as a learning management system to house content and facilitate student interaction with other learners and the learning materials. According to Bates’ extensive review of educational technology literature, sound instructional design is a quality indicator of online learning, which includes the following four key principles:

  1. Consistent layout and design;
  2. Clear organisation and presentation of information;
  3. Consistent and easy-to-use navigation; and
  4. Aesthetically pleasing design and graphics.

While I believe that Brightspace can be utilized in such a way as to achieve the first three principles, I personally do not believe learning content can be presented with an aesthetically pleasing design and/or graphics using the tools within this LMS. However, course content can be designed and developed with more modern platforms elsewhere and uploaded or linked within Brightspace. This week I was investigating other digital media to accomplish this.

Review of Adobe Spark programs

I reviewed Adobe Spark which is a free app and web platform that enables users to create and publish images, webpages, and videos with Adobe’s three programs called Spark Post, Spark Page, and Spark Video.  Here is a brief explanation of each program:

Spark Spark Post

Spark Post allows users to create images with text to convey meaningful messages. Posts can be custom designed or users have access to templates. Posts can be sized for use in Spark Video and social media platforms such as Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn or Facebook. Below is an image I created with Spark Post to accompany a recent tweet.

Adobe Spark Page

Adobe Page is a web-based method for storytelling that accommodates images, links to outside sources, videos, and text. There are creative alternative layouts within this product including a glideshow, which puts content into fluid motion as the user scrolls through the page. As an educator, I found this to be a more visually appealing method to present content than what comes standard within BrightSpace. This past week I have been experimenting with creating content for my prototype module. I invite you to click on the Team Building Skills image below to view what I have so far.

Team Building Skills

Adobe Spark Video

Through Spark Video users can incorporate photos, icons or other video clips to create a compelling or engaging message. Users can easily add voiceovers and free or personal music. Although the video maker itself does not allow for animated slides or frames, users can upload their own videos clips to offset this limitation.

I envision my students using video makers like Adobe Spark Video to demonstrate and showcase their learning to other groups of learners and practitioners via social media. This way, students have the opportunity to move beyond the closed spaces and institutional barriers of the LMS (Bates, 2015).

To motivate students to be creative in their learning, Stephen Brookfield (2015) in his book The Skillful Teacher argues that educators must build a case for such creativity. This can be done, in part, by the educator modeling such qualities. To demonstrate my own creativity, I produced the following short video explaining what students can expect in a flipped classroom.

Discussion of strengths and limitations

As I worked with Adobe Spark products this week I noted several strengths they can offer educators and learners along with a few limitations.


  • User-Friendly: These programs allow users to create quality audio and visual digital products without prior experience in digital media design. These programs are adaptable for viewing on mobile devices.
  • Free! With a username and login, users can create digital content with access to quality images and fonts facilitated by creative commons. Alternatively, users can upload their own photos.
  • Community of Learning and Practice: Adobe Spark has created a community of learning specifically for educators through Education Exchange. Here, educators can access and share educational ideas and lesson plans, discuss sound pedagogical methods using digital media, and can access several digital media tutorials relating to the Adobe suite of products.
  • Inspiration: Users can be inspired by existing digital media products and have access to templates customizable for their own purposes.
  • How-To: Adobe Spark provides webinars, tutorials, and text instructions to support users when creating digital products.
  • Sharing on Social: Collaborative and networked learning can be facilitated by the ease in which completed Adobe Spark projects can be shared via popular social media platforms and embedded within other web platforms including LMSs.


  • Accessibility: If a student can only access technology and/or an internet connection on campus this restricts their mobility in terms of accessing instructor-created materials or creating digital media using Adobe Spark.
  • Linear: While Adobe Page can present a modern web-based design of instructional content, it is very linear and does not provide a visual big picture of where student learning is headed within the presentation. See Prezi as an example of a concept map type approach.
  • Searchability: Creators of multimedia instructional or learning projects can share their work through social media platforms or by providing links.  However, these same projects are not easily found when using search engines. This limits the ability for those outside of our social media networks to access our digital media and educational artifacts.
  • Time: Adobe Spark programs are user-friendly, but still take time to learn and use. Educators may view this as a limitation and not venture into using such multimedia platforms.
  • Quality Content: Adobe Spark may be user-friendly with aesthetically pleasing images and design, but this does not guarantee high-quality educational content.

Overall, I am very pleased with the potential that Adobe Spark programs have for educators and students to create meaningful content and demonstration of learning. I have decided to continue using these programs to develop my instructional materials for my prototype.

I am interested in your feedback with respect to the Adobe Spark Page I created to deliver student content. In addition, do you see any other potential strengths or weaknesses with using multimedia programs such as Adobe Spark?




Extending Brightspace Borders: Creating Networked Learning Experiences

My goal for my blended learning prototype is to be practical and applicable to a course I teach called Organizational Behaviour delivered to first-year diploma students in the School of Business. While I was hoping to explore the many possibilities of open source learning platforms and other types of media, instructors in my institution are required to use Brightspace offered by D2L to deliver online and blended courses. The features I have used in this learning management system (LMS) are uploading content, student discussion forums, formal and summative assessments tools, and the student gradebook. While I have some experience, which seems ideal, my initial thoughts on being restricted to using a LMS were bleak. Let me explain.

Considering the Closed Borders of a LMS

I have found most LMSs I have had experience with both as a student and educator, while useful, were not entirely user-friendly, clunky, and worst of all once the course was over all the evidence of learning was no longer accessible. Delivering a blended learning course strictly within a LMS closes the learners off to networked learning using the open web. As Audrey Watters from Hack Education ponders, as do I,  who really owns the learning and why is learning locked-in and locked down? Watters emphatically urges educators in higher education to move beyond the LMS and into the open web. It is unclear to me whether she is advocating for the abandonment of a LMS, or if she means that educators must expand the borders that surround the LMS to include the use of many multi-media platforms available in the open web? What is your interpretation of her closing argument?

Expanding the Borders of a LMS

Bates, in his textbook Teaching in the Digital Age, argues that while core technologies such as the Internet and LMSs are important tools for education, it is digital media (text, graphics, audio, and computing) that promotes interactions between educators, learners, and content whereby learning becomes meaningful. LMSs such as Brightspace provide opportunities for this interaction, but for me, expanding the borders of the LMS and including digital media tools available in the open web is important to facilitate networked learning. These multi-media artifacts are student created and owned and are typically housed in the open web then shared within the LMS. For example, creating a YouTube video and then embedding it in Brightspace. Another example may be blogs hosted externally and linked within the LMS. This media can create exposure to a wider networked learning experience. And, ultimately, where learning has infinite possibilities.

There is one other important issue I wanted to address regarding LMS platforms, including Brightspace. I have always found that these platforms have awkward text and visual design, do not convert well to handheld devices and are not as user-friendly as widely used social media platforms. This can sour the user experience, as it had for me while I was a student, and was a major reason I was shying away from using a LMS. However, I recently discovered that Brightspace has a new user interface called Daylight that has a more modern look and can adapt to smaller devices. It is my hope it addresses these aesthetic and functional issues.

In conclusion, I feel much more confident in using the Brightspace LMS as a central hub for my course prototype. With multi-media artifacts created and stored in the open web yet shared within Brightspace, it is my hope students will feel more of a sense of ownership and can take most, if not all, their learning artifacts beyond the course end date. In addition, the presence this will allow them in the open web can lead to a wider learning network.

My next steps in exploring the capabilities of Brightspace to create a networked learning experience that extends its borders:

  1. Are there apps compatible with Brightspace to make the learner experience more meaningful. For example, is there an app that allows access to the LMS?
  2. Look further into the capabilities of the new user interface, Daylight, with respect to sharing learning created in the open web.
  3. How can social media be linked or utilized within Brightspace? Similar to linking a Twitter feed to a blog.

Thank you for following along. I am interested in your thoughts on my plan so far. Is there anything further I could consider when using a LMS that may enhance the student experience?