From the other side of the webcam: Perspectives of a professor as online student

Related articles: Installment #2 from June 16, 2020 and Installment #3 from July 13, 2020

I started with a keyword search on Google. I wanted to find a professional, accredited online graduate-level certificate in user experience design (XD). I found several and did my research. I reviewed course information, course structure, instructor bios, and program cost. I weighed options for timing, pacing, and feasibility of how I could fit it into my already packed schedule. I decided to pursue Oregon State’s Learning Experience Design Certificate. I registered for my first class: UI/UX in Experience Design with instructor Caesar Wirichaga, Head of Design at Kickstand. The class launched on Monday.

The tables have turned. I am now an online student. I have so much to learn.

Oregon State University

In 2019 I was the recipient of the Muriel Oaks Academic Technology Award for innovation in teaching sponsored by Washington State University Academic Outreach and Innovation. In addition to a lovely glass sculpture plague, I received a $3,000 professional development grant. I took time to ponder how I wanted to use it – a conference, workshop series, or continued education. I chose continued education and have begun a new journey as a 100% online student in OSU’s Learning XD Design Certificate – a 5-course program I plan to complete by December. Each course is 6-weeks long and taught by expert professors and industry leaders. Here is my course line-up:

  1. UX/UI for Experience Design
  2. Lifelong Learning Engagement Strategies
  3. Advanced Tools and E-Learning Trends
  4. Elements of Learning Experience Design
  5. LXD Practicum: Applications in the Wild

FYI – WSU does not offer a certificate in user experience design. But – I actually think this is a good thing. I am already highly integrated into online teaching processes at WSU. Attending a different institution will show me how others approach distance education. I will learn how to be a better instructor by literally sitting in the chair of the student.

The courses are all taught in Canvas (by Instructure) – the learning management tool WSU is in the process of transitioning to as a replacement for Blackboard. Like classes at WSU, there is a standard structure with collaborative discussion forums, announcements, graded assignments, rubrics, and application of additional tools like Google Drive, peer evaluation, video conference, and team projects. Classes are primarily asynchronous but offer students the opportunity for occasional live virtual class meet-ups. My first meet-up is June 11.

I have five things to accomplish in Week 1

(all due by Sunday at 11:59p):

  1. Introduce myself (2pts)
  2. Review readings and resources (5pts)
  3. Contribute to the all-class discussion forum 3x (4pts)
  4. Complete a small-group assignment (6pts)
  5. Complete an individual assignment (5pts)

Step 1: Get Organized

To keep track of my to-do’s I use a tool called Microsoft 365 To-Do List. It is one of the many features in WSU Microsoft Office 365-supported tools. There is a web-based version and mobile app and it is my lifeline. It is VERY user-friendly. In this tool you can create a series of lists and tasks, assign deadlines, and select tasks that are most critical. You can create a “My Day” list and collaborate with others as well.

So the first thing I did once I reviewed the course space, course intro video, and syllabus was get my to-do’s on my To-Do List – making sure to set deadlines throughout the week, as well as account for the fact I need to post to the discussion board 3x and participate in peer review. This means I can’t leave everything to Saturday and expect to be successful.

Side note: things I liked about their introductory materials…

  • I like the way they organized the Canvas home page. There are a series of tabs under the banner image for “Start Here, Week 1, Week 2, etc. with a Q&S at the end.
  • The “Start Here” is simple – just a quick note orienting students on the course space and how to navigate.
  • The course overview video is clean and easy to follow with voice over and good visuals. It also includes a “by the end of this class you will learn” which I really liked.
  • Each Week landing page includes an introduction, weekly learning outcomes, and a task list.
  • Modules are logically organized beginning with the “Start Here” info and continuing with Modules for each week. Links within the modules take the students directly to the 5 tasks we need to complete including an overview page describing “what is UX/UI for Learning Experience Design.”
  • With each assignment, the instructor includes a note for “anticipated time spent.”
  • The instructor included single pages for program definitions and program resource library.
  • There is a “conclusion” page at the end of each module that summarizes what students just did and prompts them to move forward to the next module.

Step 2: Self Intro

I decided to tackle the self-introduction first. I have created many self-intros in the past – but not as a student. We were given a series of prompts and asked to record the intro versus writing it out. My first attempt was an epic fail. I thought it would be nice to record myself on my phone with my handy portable tripod – sitting outside in our backyard on a sunny morning.

Enter bugs, truck nearby beeping as it perpetually backed up, wind, car noise, and terrible lighting. As a good stubborn German woman, I persevered and recorded anyway. Then I reviewed the footage. Oh no. This would not do. So 1.5 hours lost and I started over.

I decided to use Adobe Spark – a free web-based tool used for digital content creation (social graphics, web pages, short videos). It’s free and therefore limited in scope and sometimes clunky – but it’s easy to use, has a phone app, and once you get oriented, you can create professional materials quickly. The video I recorded was unusable so I decided to go into my vault and select images, past video clips, and use voice over with the script I wrote out to answer the prompts. It worked much better. Here is the final result:

Rebecca Cooney self intro created in Adobe Spark
Self-intro created in Adobe Spark

The self-intro prompts were nice. Much more original than the standard “tell us your name, where you work, and what interests you most about the course” line of questioning. The prompts were:

  • “What inspired your interest in this course and or the LXD certificate program?
  • What is your profession? What software or products do you interact with as part of your daily workflow? In one sentence explain what the software or product helps you to accomplish?
  • What aspect(s) of user experience design do you think are most interesting or relevant to your life?”

I liked that the questions made me think. They went beyond the top layer.

Step 3: Review readings and resources

There is no book for this class. Instead the instructor created a single page of “required” and “optional” resource. They are a mix of article links and videos. The instructor also noted that students should not spend more than 90 minutes with the reading materials so we can instead focus our energies on the assignments instead.

Step 4: Contribution #1 in the all-student discussion forum

I have worked in Canvas since last summer so I am familiar with the structure. But again, the instructor indicates we should spend no more than 60 minutes on our three contributions to the forum. Also noted are guidelines and parameters for contribution noting students should “engage in the discussion by always replying to the most recent post.” What a great idea! The instructions go on to say “after posting, please waiting until at least 3 of your peers have contributed to the discussion before posting again to allow the discussion to evolve naturally.”

This was an ah-ha moment for me. I now have a new model to try out for future discussion forums in my online classes.

The prompt was simple and referred back to the readings. I was the first to post and now more or trickling in. I will submit contribution #2 in the next day or so.

Next up…

Back to my To-Do List. I still need to complete the small-group assignment and individual assignment, as well as continue with two more contributions to the discussion forum – all by Sunday at 11:59p.

The act of writing about it gives me a place to store notes and ideas while they are fresh. I share them with you so you can gain insights as well. More to come!

This post is part of Rebecca L. Cooney’s Online Teaching Tips series. Check out more tips in the “Online Teaching Tips” category.

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