For the last two years I’ve attended the OLC Emerging Technologies for Online Learning Conference (#et4online). It was during a pre-conference workshop at last year’s #et4online that this story begins. I attended a workshop by Kevin Kelly entitled “Fostering Inclusion in Online Courses with Universal Design for Learning”. I went into the workshop with a pretty negative view of Universal Design for Learning (UDL). Previously, It had been presented to me as designing with consideration for accessibility – but, that to me, was a method of design that stifled innovation. It meant that I was limited to using media in my classes that didn’t align with full accessibility compliance, even if none of my students needed it. I saw it as a waste of time and money. Kevin’s presentation helped me see UDL from a completely different angle. He showed me how learning could be designed in a way that allowed for flexible activities and flexible assessment. It was the first time I saw the link between UDL and gamification, and it changed how I taught this semester. For more information on this approach, see Kevin’s presentation in the OLC archive or check out his upcoming book chapter (Donohue, P.J.; Kelly, K.; & Wilcox, S.P. (est. 2015)).
Fast forward to September, as I’m preparing to teach a Masters of Education class on “Design and Instruction of Online Learning”. Influenced directly by Kevin’s workshop, I added a set of activities that my learners could chose from each week. Learners had to accumulate 100 points per week, but could do that from their choice of activities, which included things like: (1) summarizing optional readings, (2) learning a new tool and reporting back on how it might be used in the online classroom, and (3) participating in my hour of code experiment. As the course progressed, I was able to add additional activities that aligned with the various course learning objectives.
This flexible design meant that I could take advantage of teachable moments. When the opportunity became available for my students to participate in the OLC Annual International Conference (#olc15) as virtual participants, I was able to add it as an optional activity for my students. Several of my students took advantage of the opportunity, attended virtual seminars, and wrote summaries for their classmates. Some of the sessions they attended include: (1) transforming the learning experience through flipped learning, (2) Get flipped with interactive video assessment tools, and (3) I am a real person in this time and space with you. My students commented that the OLC conference sessions provided them with a wealth of information that will help them become the next generation of online educators.
For anyone who teaches online learning, I would encourage you to look into the OLC conference virtual participation as a way to bring your classroom into the conference (our institution had open seats, so my students were able to join without any additional fees). Each of the times I attended #et4online in person, I brought back many new ideas that directly influenced how I teach. My students were grateful for the opportunity to participate in virtual conference sessions. I was glad that my course design allowed for them to participate for course credit, increasing the number of students who took advantage of the opportunity – a design decision that goes back to my attendance at #et4online last year.
Donohue, P.J.; Kelly, K.; & Wilcox, S.P. (est. 2015). A Co-Evolution Story: Lessons Learned by Gamifying Two Online University Courses. In J.R. Corbeil, M.E. Corbeil, & B. Khan (Eds.), MOOC Case Book: Case Studies in MOOC Design, Development and Implementation. Ronkonkoma, NY: Linus Books.
About the Author
Rebecca J. Hogue (Becky) is an ePatient blogger and flexible scholar. She is co-founder of Virtually Connecting, and Associate Lecturer at the University of Massachusetts-Boston and PhD Candidate at the University of Ottawa (Canada). Professionally, she produces self-published eBooks, and teaches Emerging Technologies and Instructional Design online. Her research and innovation interests are in the areas of ePatient storytelling (pathography), blogging, and online collaboration.