Cracking the Treasure “C-H-E-S-T” of Course Template Design

Concurrent Session 1
Streamed Session Research Leadership

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Session Materials

Brief Abstract

X marks the spot… but how do you get there? All value quality template design, but what makes that happen? Journey with your crew to unveil the secret treasures of the C-H-E-S-T approach. Follow my lead and imagine the possibilities for your own institutional course template.


Like a squiggle maze in a child's activity book, Anna's career led her to instructional design after nearly 10 years of teaching in higher education. She links her diverse experiences with visual art principles, curriculum creation, and online learning tools to support students. In her role as Lead Instructional Designer of Student Learning Frameworks, she encourages learning structures that give consistent, inclusive, and accessible practices. Additionally, she is excited by educational theories that support this work, such as Universal Design for Learning and data-driven decision-making. She has a vested interest in ensuring that her work includes student voices and presents future-focused, relevant experiences in any curriculum.

Extended Abstract

Participants can anticipate a high level of engagement when considering a mock course template design and an associated data-focused analysis process. Inspired in the winter of 2020 by the books Creative Confidence, Mismatch, and The Accidental Instructional Designer, a new approach to developing course template structure was envisioned. This approach blended a student-centered focus with effective teaching pedagogy. Methods for assessing user experience and usability were intentionally selected to ensure that both overt and hidden student motivations could guide the final state of the course template.

Reflective practice and collaborative questioning allowed for an innovative process that sought to identify existing pain-points within the student learning experience in the current state of the course template. Via this brainstorming process, the first iteration of the new template adaptation was produced. Using an A/B testing model, and organizing a future empathy analysis from qualitative research, the instructional design team continues the fine tuning of their institutional course template.    

Five key elements were incorporated into the development of this work. Instructional Design theory and methods to evaluate user experience lay the groundwork for each element.

C - Consistency… Through a student-initiated exploration of effective online course practices from the SGA President’s cabinet in academic year 2019-2020, the need for consistency in the student learning process was revealed. The recommendations of the student body representatives significantly supported the effort to reassess the online learning environment. UDL’s guidelines to communicate with clear language and to support executive function were proposed as consistent features within the course design template. To focus our work, our student demographics and special population groups were reviewed. Further, consideration of the online learning space itself was rooted in learner experience design postulating that by building a consistent experience students would find this space welcoming.            

H - Humanistic… Students are human and humans relate emotional responses, knowingly or unknowingly, to all experiences. Formulating an empathetic means to review qualitative responses into the prototype testing was essential. How are we to grasp the idiosyncrasies of our student respondents without inferring their motivations, worries, and expectations while learning online? Humans need support. Support needs may be expected or unexpected, critical or momentary, and disclosed or undisclosed. By placing the student (human) experience at the center of this effort, and ultimately our template, we follow inclusive design’s aim to be purposeful in our practice to avoid “unintentional harm” (Kat Holmes, Mismatch). To target this aspect, open-ended questions were thoughtfully written to unveil emotions that are linked to online learning for our students.

E - Engaging… as learner experience design has its foundation in visual arts, such as graphic design and game design, we found an opportunity to capitalize on considerations which originate in these fields as applied to our educational environment. Specifically, engaging visuals were incorporated and accessible practices were intentionally applied. When revising the design template, supported by UDL’s guideline to “foster collaboration and community,” clear opportunities for curriculum-focused engagement of several types were spotlighted by structural features, such as descriptive headings and a “Muddiest Point” forum.

S - Student Reviewed… Design Thinking champions that a solution cannot be identified as the right solution unless determined through end user evaluation. Learner experience design promotes that the set-up of a course must focus on the learner’s ability to meet an intended goal, while inclusive design stipulates that individuals on the fringe of the norm must be incorporated into the evaluation process. For all of these to occur, current students must be invited, and encouraged, to interact and respond to the proposed solution. 

T - Tested… Thus, several surveys were constructed to garnish both quantitative and qualitative data from students through an A/B Testing model. These surveys are posted at key points throughout the term - after the first week, following midterms, and the final week of the course. Additionally, our second phase of prototype’s testing will greatly increase our response pool allowing for effective empathy mapping.            

At OLC Innovate, the C-H-E-S-T approach outlined above becomes the focus of this Innovation Studio Design Thinking Challenge. Akin to the urgency of a treasure hunt, the facilitator will encourage quick idea generation, collaboration, and engagement. By answering a series of questions, attendees will be led near to the ultimate goal - X that marks the spot - of creating a prototype for a mock institutional course design template.

As attendees enter the Innovation Studio Design Thinking space for Cracking the Treasure “C-H-E-S-T” of Course Template Design, they will find several resources laid out near their working spaces (or provided through an open GoogleDrive folder). Embracing the pirate analogy within the title of the session, these items are: a treasure map including question prompts, a student persona sheet, and an information request form. Each item will serve to either lead attendees through their prototyping process or provide supplemental information to them post-conference.

To equalize the experiences of those in attendance, small groups of approximately five “crew members” will be asked to quickly form (or be randomly assigned in breakout rooms). Following this, a short introduction will be given for each crew to imagine that they represent the invented Lost Island University (LIU). A treasure map will be provided that presents key “how might we” questions related to the C-H-E-S-T approach as follows:

Question 1 - Consistency: How might you plan a consistent student experience in LIU’s design template?

Question 2 - Humanistic: How might you encourage inclusiveness that meets LIU’s student body’s learning needs? (Consider the LIU student personas presented at your workspace.)

Question 3 - Engaging: How might you create a visual learning space that encourages LIU students to return to it?

Question 4 - Student Reviewed: How might you invite LIU students to give input on your prototype?

Question 5 - Tested: How might you analyze your prototype to confirm or adjust your assumptions?

For the next 15 - 20 minutes of the session, these attendee crews will regulate their journey through these prompts. Each crew will quickly brainstorm, process, and record their initial ideas. Following this swift idea generation, crew members will hone in on one or two suggestions for each prompt that will carry forward as they repeat the process for the next “checkpoint” or question in their journey. Through this intense iteration, refinement, and selection process, crew members are exposed to a plethora of options to consider for their own future application. 

During their collaboration, the presenter will circulate from crew to crew to concisely address questions, provide insights, and prompt new investigations. Throughout the formulation phase, periodic prompts such as “have you arrived at the humanistic checkpoint?” will be asked, along with an audible cue, to continue the treasure hunt theme of this session.

A “call to destination” (the location of the X that marks the end of their treasure hunt) warns crews to get close to or arrive at their destination within the remaining time available, approximately 20 minutes prior to the end of the session, allowing crews 5 minutes to complete their collaboration.

Crews will then share corporately, or with a few other groups (possibly, in new breakout rooms), their prototype ideas. Sharing key points or learning moments briefly will be encouraged to allow most to share in the 10 minutes allotted. The presenter will conclude by concisely sharing her institution’s solution to addressing each element of the C-H-E-S-T approach as well as current data findings.

Additionally, facilitator will prepare a GoogleDrive resource packet that includes: an outline of the C-H-E-S-T approach (CC licensed), an explanation of each element (CC licensed), a summary of how these elements have been applied, as well as a recorded & captioned presentation that shares these features in a video format. By offering these resources, attendees can be in the present moment without concern for capturing the process through their own note-taking efforts. Attendees who desire this resource may log their name and email address on lists pre-arranged at session tables. These lists will be collected and the resources shared at the conclusion of the OLC Innovate 2022 conference.

By processing through these steps, attendees will have engaged with a similar sequence of design consideration analysis and testing planning that benefited the design of our college’s course template. Each attendee exits the session empowered to implement the C-H-E-S-T approach in their respective institutions.