Boldly Awakening the Ordinary: Visual Design for Human-centered Learning

Workshop Session 2

Brief Abstract

In this DIY-style workshop, you’ll leverage visual design tools and the collective genius in the room to reimagine and remake your learning materials. Come explore fundamental design considerations you can use to create engaging learning experiences, and get a treasure trove of resources and tools to take home!


It turns out a bunch of nomadic-yet-related experiences and some determination to overcome imposter syndrome and some bourbon with friends make for an interesting life and career path. Ben is the Lead Design Strategist in the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University, where he and his team are partnering with local community schools and organizations to reimagine and redesign K12 education. A veteran K12 educator and higher ed instructional designer, Ben is fascinated with what happens when smart and curious people get in a room and work really hard at thinking about and taking the next step toward what could be - and trying to make that happen more.
Angela Gunder serves as Director of Instructional Design and Curriculum Development for the Office of Digital Learning at The University of Arizona. Angela came into instructional design rather circuitously, helming large-scale site designs as webmaster for The City College of New York, the honors college at ASU, and Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA).  Her over fifteen year career as a designer for higher education informs her instructional design practice, where she leverages her expertise in usability, visual communication, programming, and standards-based online learning. Angela holds a B.S. in Computer Science and Fine Art from Fordham University, and a M.Ed. in Education Technology from Arizona State University.  Prior to her position at UA, she was a member of NOVA’s instructional design team, supporting over 23,000 students in 550 unique courses.   Angela is an Associate Editor for the Teacher Education Board of MERLOT, and a Quality Matters certified peer reviewer and online facilitator.  Her research interests include technology for second language acquisition, open educational resources, and emerging technology to promote digital literacy. A voracious culinary nerd, Angela spends her free time composing, cooking and photographing original recipes for her food blog.
Adam Croom is a faculty member in the Strategic Communication area of the Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication. Croom also serves the university in a separate capacity as the Director of the Office of Digital Learning. Croom completed his Masters at Pepperdine University where he studied education and learning technologies. His research focused on networked approaches to online learning in public relations design courses.

Extended Abstract

In this session, we’ll explore how leveraging design fundamentals can make a big impact for students through experimenting with contrast, repetition, font and color. Moreover, we’ll show how instructors can craft a unique brand and style that allows them to stand out or just feel good about what they have created. And we’ll share what we’ve learned and our favorite resources, neatly hosted via the Squad Goals Network, a 2018 OLC Effective Practice Award winner!

When we think about how we design our learning materials, whether they be for a course we lead or as a module inside a comprehensive online program, we face a plethora of choices, challenges, and constraints. What information do we want to convey? What do we want students to learn and do with what we create? How do we get them to engage with and wrestle with and synthesize the concepts and ideas and prompts in the ways we plan? And how do we do all of that within the constraints of the available tools and capabilities we have?

We have a few answers, and mostly some more thoughts. And, perhaps more importantly: we have each other! And we want to share this with you in this come-as-you are workshop on visual design for human-centered learning.

Japanese designer and theorist Kenya Hara (2007) has offered that design “is the energetic acknowledgement of our own living through the making of things and through communication,” where our making can be understood as our attempt to “boldly awaken our everyday existences, which seem ordinary” (p. 411). From an educator’s lens, we see Hara’s words as a challenge to enliven our intentional acts of design push learners to see beyond the mere interface of the LMS or the text of the presentation slides - and to awaken new experiences, connections, and possibilities for their own learning, and ultimately, for their own lives.

Building on this, we believe that visual design has important implications far beyond attempting to make things beautiful, including how we learn and process information. The way a course looks or even feels can impact how people engage with it as a part of their everyday. Embracing teaching and learning from a design perspective - or even just honing in a few elements of visual design - offers rich possibilities for engaging students and helping to make the often implicit elements of a course more explicit, and thus more effective for teaching and learning.
And because this work happens in and through our everyday existences, as Hara suggests, we face real constraints: most faculty have enough to do beyond worrying about how to hire or find a graphic designer to create professional designs for their courses. Moreover, few institutions have support staff in place to scale branding and design for every instructor and/or every course. Even so, instructors who aren't design professionals can still create unique and engaging learning content, DIY-style.

We'll spend most of our time in this session doing hands-on work to help you practice and play with building good visual design elements. Bring your own materials to work on, or use some of the prepared materials we have provided! We'll also unpack some of the research supporting visual design considerations for learning, as well as share a plethora of our favorite open resources for visual design!

Source: Hara, K. (2007). Designing Design. Baden, Switzerland: Lars Muller.