Building a strong foundation: Scaffolding instructional design for non-teachers

Concurrent Session 4
Streamed Session

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Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Imagine you have come up with a plan for teaching complex content to students studying an unrelated field - and then you are required to teach it in a completely different learning environment than you had been planning for. Soon. This presentation will explore one such story’s process and results.


Dr. Kurzweil is the Director of the ETI and has worked at USU since 2006. In this capacity, she provides strategic direction for the ETI, instructional and educational technology support for faculty, supervision of ETI personnel, and management of the ETI office. Prior to that, she worked at the National Defense University providing direction and vision of the instructional team supporting the Center for Educational Technology. She also is a faculty member in the Health Professions Education program at USU. She has served on numerous committees and task forces examining a wide range of topics including educational technologies, interprofessional education, professional development for K12 and higher education faculty, learning management systems, program assessment and evaluation, instructional design, and teaching/faculty support paradigms. Dr. Kurzweil has presented at international, national, and regional conferences, including American Educational Research Association (AERA), multiple conferences offered by the Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education, The Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation & Education Conference (I/ITSEC), the Open Apereo (Sakai) Conference and AAMC.
Dr. Marcellas has more than fifteen years of experience in designing instruction for classroom-based, DL and blended learning environments. Her main role at the ETI is ensuring that the team understands faculty members’ needs, and that the team designs and develops products that meet those needs. Her work at the ETI has included front-end analysis, content design, course evaluation, and conducting research on instructional interventions. She has led professional development sessions at USU on topics including the development of effective learning objectives, the use of Bloom’s Taxonomy to guide assessment, and techniques for creating an effective learning environment. Dr. Marcellas has been involved with many instructional and educational technology initiatives at National Defense University (NDU) as well as USUHS. Dr. Marcellas is the co-author of "Instructional Designers and Learning Engineers", a chapter in the book "Modernizing Learning: Building the Future Learning Ecosystem." She has made presentations at numerous national and international conferences, including the American Educational Research Association Annual Meeting, the Association of American Medical Colleges Annual Meeting, the Online Learning Consortium Accelerate Conference, the Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation, and Education Conference, the Open Apereo (Sakai) Conference, Educause, the IC Industry Consortium on Learning Engineering Conference (ICICLE), and the Association for Advancement of Computing in Education's E-Learn and EdMedia Conferences.

Extended Abstract

Session Outcomes

By the end of this session, participants will be able to:

  • Discuss ways to apply principles of the ARCS model, andragogy, and instructional scaffolding to plan engaging learning activities for students unfamiliar with a topic

  • Identify topics they teach for which instructional scaffolding can help support learners.

  • Explain at least three considerations when planning to transition content designed for a classroom environment into a distributed learning environment 


Imagine you have come up with a plan for teaching complex content to students who are studying an unrelated field - and then, as you are refining your plan, you are told that you need to teach it in a completely different learning environment than the one you had been planning for. And soon.

This presentation will tell two related stories. The first is that of a faculty member developing a way to teach medical students how to teach others - and help them see why they should want to know how to do that. The second is that of a faculty member engaging with instructional principles to revamp a learning activity planned for the classroom so that it will work in a distributed learning (DL) environment. 

Key elements of the first story include providing instructional scaffolding to engage the students as they build their skills from the ground up, emphasizing the relevance of those skills to the students’ chosen field, and providing effective motivation. Key elements of the second story include prioritizing instructional goals and identifying the appropriate tools to meet them, and ensuring ample time to rehearse the use of technology. This session will use a case based exploration of the instructional decisions made in the course of developing a lesson and transitioning it to the distributed learning (DL) environment as a springboard to an exploration of application of principles of engagement and the effective use of instructional technology.

Description of Project

In early 2020, a faculty member in the Military & Emergency Medicine Department at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences began developing a plan to help first-year medical students at the University start to develop the teaching skills that they would need to draw upon throughout their careers. 

Recognizing that these students were not likely to be familiar with teaching and learning theory, and that it was not likely to be something they saw as relevant to them, the faculty member knew, based on the ARCS model (Keller, 1987) and theories of andragogy (Knowles, 1984),  that he would have to provide a well-structured, engaging activity. He opted to introduce them to the Systems Approach Model for designing instruction (Dick, Carey & Carey, 2015) because it is comprehensive and foundational to many other models. In order to help increase the students’ comprehension of the material, he designed an activity that would enable them to practice using the model immediately by working in small groups to develop a lesson plan on a medical-related topic. 

As the foundation of the small group work, the faculty member provided instructional scaffolding that was crucial to allowing the students to learn a complex process by engaging with the tasks and each other. The heart of the activity was a group activity that laid out key elements of the Dick and Carey model and setting a specific task for the students related to each step of the model. Facilitators, in teams that paired a medical faculty member with an education-focused faculty member,  would circulate in the rooms while the students were working to provide guidance and feedback. 

The faculty member also introduced an element of competition in that the Department would incorporate the best instructional plan into the curriculum for future medical students.

Change in Plans / Choices in Use of Technology

When the COVID-19 epidemic forced the University to move all teaching to the DL environment in March 2020, it required rethinking the structure and delivery of this lesson. 

When transitioning this lesson to a DL environment, the faculty member focused on the following considerations:

  • What were the instructional goals?

  • What were the priorities of the instructional goals

  • What tools were available?

  • What were the benefits and drawbacks of different tools?

  • How many faculty were needed to teach the lesson?

  • How comfortable were faculty with the content and the technology options?

Many elements of the lesson translated easily to the online environment once the instructional team identified tools that were appropriate for the instructional goals. The biggest change was in the nature of the scaffolded activity; since the faculty member knew students would have to do the activity without as much faculty supervision, he provided much more information and guidance in the document, creating a detailed worksheet rather than a more open-ended activity. 

While choice of technology was an important element of the transition to DL environment, the planning for faculty involvement was equally important, and even more complex. The number of facilitators needed to support the implementation increased since it was no longer possible to have multiple small groups working in the same location. 

Moving to a DL environment  also required additional technology training for the facilitators. The faculty member in charge put a great deal of effort into this preparation, distributing the materials in advance and requiring facilitators to participate in a technology run-through. The value of this run-through was reinforced when it identified issues with the planned structure of the DL activity and led to changes.  

Results and Conclusion

The results of the required evaluation survey indicated that the students were engaged in the task. 80% found it relevant to their needs and interests and 77% were moderately, quite, or extremely satisfied. 70% of the students who completed the required survey were satisfied with the learning.  Only 12% of the students indicated any difficulty participating virtually, though a few mentioned that it seemed harder to get feedback from facilitators in the online environment than it would have been in the classroom.

An after action meeting with facilitators was held after the lesson was taught. Facilitators generally found the students receptive to feedback but also discussed how the worksheet gave the students so much support that they did not necessarily appreciate the amount of time it takes to create instructional materials. They suggested some useful modifications to help enhance student understanding of the instructional process.

The instructor who developed the lesson believed that the DL version met all the instructional goals, and that the student presentations indicated that they had taken the task seriously. He believed that having a detailed worksheet, which the students had to submit at the end of the lesson, required them to remain engaged in the task throughout the session despite the fact that they did not have faculty members monitoring their participation. Given the opportunity, he would not hesitate to use DL methods to teach the lesson again in the future, though he would like to find ways to increase the engagement with facilitators throughout the activity. He also found that developing a DL version was helpful because it generated a number of digital artefacts that could be revisited later. This “emergency transition to DL” led to re-envisioning of the activity in a way that could allow for the use of either a blended or a DL model in the future.

Plan for Session and Engagement Strategies to be Used During the Session

This session will open with a discussion of the approach used in planning a lesson to teach instructional design basics to medical students. We will discuss the specific ways that instructional design principles were applied in this work and engage the audience in  a conversation about how teaching principles are relevant to medical students.  We will then discuss the pivot to DL delivery of the material, share the rationale for the choices made about how to deliver the lesson in a DL environment and ask for audience feedback and suggestions for future use by the authors or other audience members.


This session will be led by the presenters but they will engage participants in discussion throughout the presentation as described above. Other topics for discussion will include:

  • Large Group Discussion:

    • What are some other techniques that can support teaching complex content to novices?

    • What are some benefits and drawbacks you have found with different tools you have used to transition classroom content to the DL environment?

  • Small Group Discussion (if in a face-to-face environment; these will be large-group discussion questions if the session is presented virtually)

    • What lessons are you teaching that would benefit from using scaffolding to support learning?

    • How would you structure a learning activity that incorporated scaffolding or one of the other techniques discussed for an DL environment? 

      • How would it be different in a face-to-face environment?

    • How to use motivation and the ARCs model to develop learners in unfamiliar content they might not see an initial value in learning.