Thoughts from an Instructional Designer

So grateful my instructional designer friend Amanda Chablani took the time to write this guidance up for those of us looking at fall semester — parents, teachers, students:


“I’m an Instructional Designer in my professional life and a parent to two kids in D97 (one rising K, one rising 4th). I was asked by Carollina Song to put together some notes for parents to consider while we’re all discussing the plan for hybrid instruction in the Fall. I’ll do what I can. Please note, I’ve focused my work on adult learning and mostly in higher education. I do think some things are generalizable but, more importantly, we have a lot of teachers in this group who can speak to the issues that are K-12 (and grade level) specific. Teachers, please weigh in! You know what’s possible and you know our kids.

The first thing I think parents should know is that I work with instructors for at least 3 months, more often 6, and sometimes up to a year in advance of a new course going online. I provide the instructor with a course template, I explain and support the technology, and I walk them through best-practices several times. I build the content into the platform (so Canvas or Google Classroom in D97) for them because they don’t have the tech background.
None of that support is being provided to teachers right now. Much of it should be, or at the very least, they should be fully trained so they can do what teachers do best – figure it out 

(With that said, I don’t know how much teachers can be asked to do over their summer according to their contract. I am absolutely sure teachers are trying to learn what they can, but the district may not be able to mandate 40 hours of training in July.)

Short recorded modules of 5-minutes or less can be used effectively to deliver specific lessons. Teachers will need some technology support (mic/headset, computers with cameras, and, most importantly, the lecture capture platform).

– This type of recording can be super time consuming. I’ve had instructors complain it takes 4 hours to record 5 minutes of content. That seems excessive, but let’s be honest, a lot of educators don’t want to produce less-than-perfect recordings. Keep in mind, too, that Khan academy does this type of thing very well as does Zern and other vendors that the district already uses. These external tools do not increase instructor presence in the same way that a teacher-recorded video does. They do provide students with very effective modular (and Common Core aligned) online learning.

An important element of an online or hybrid course is interactivity, and this is something parents had serious complaints about in Spring. All courses should offer opportunities for students to interact with each other and with their instructor. With that said, not all interaction should be synchronous. Live Zoom calls make for exceedingly poor instruction for so many reasons. Many students cannot comfortably or effectively participate in live discussion (this is true in classrooms, too, which is why teachers use so many other face-to-face techniques). Live synchronous online sessions can effectively be used for questions/answers, check-ins, office hours, small group discussions. Students tend to tune out during online lectures and presentations. The average attention span for online delivery was traditionally estimated to be 10-15 minutes. Research suggests it is more likely 3-4 minutes.

Engagement in synchronous classes can be increased with the use of breakout rooms and polls, but at that point, facilitation by a teacher becomes far more difficult and, again, teachers will need tech training to use these more advanced tools. A lot of the security problems occur in breakout rooms and shared documents, too.

Also – Offer students the opportunity to respond to their teacher or another student in a discussion forum, a chat room, or to collaborate with classmates on a paper or project. (Obviously this isn’t going to work for the K-2 set, but perhaps teachers can weigh in on shared drawing apps or other tools that build community online with the littles.)
I’ve seen teachers make recordings to give feedback. “You all did this thing great but here’s something a lot of you missed that I want to discuss”. Those more casual recordings can be both useful and will bring teachers into contact with students in a low bandwidth way. Reflecting on assessments is also a great practice for students, generally. Allowing students to retake a quiz after listening to feedback or discussing model answers with teachers – that’s a gold standard. Most online quizzing tools allow for retakes any specified number of times.

Teachers should focus on clarity. What is lost from classroom learning is the ability for teachers to physically see if the students understand instructions. Making sure that instructions are extremely concise (not a lengthy email; no one reads their emails anymore) in an accessible place, where students can view the instructions repeatedly while completing the work.

Each lesson should be outlined in a straightforward and familiar way. A daily bullet list works! Then, give each lesson’s objective (After you complete this lesson, you should be able to articulate why, compare how, explain who) the activity (read this account) and the assignment (answer these questions/write a response to). Students often benefit from knowing how the assignment meets the objective – reiterating why they’re doing this can be helpful.

It should be mentioned that hybrid is often considered the hardest mode to teach. Figuring out what content to do in-person and what to do online is really tough. Scaffolding learning across multiple modalities is challenging and can take years to perfect. Most often, instructors use the flipped classroom model which works pretty well (again, we use Zearn this way in the district). A flipped model allows teachers to use the online instruction for the codified materials and the face-to-face instruction for active learning.

However, what we’re doing in the Fall is not that. We’re doing something called hyflex. Teachers will have to teach one group of students who are at home but will be in the room later in the week, another group who are in the classroom but will be at home later in the week, AND some students who are choosing entirely online. This is new, pretty much untested, and certainly not great. There is no real literature we can go to what works best with this setup and so we’re borrowing from what we know about hybrid and online and sort of mushing it together and crossing our fingers. But, because of the whole global pandemic thing, this is the plan for a lot of universities and districts.

And finally, I realize that none of this addresses the child care needs of working parents. I think it is vitally important for us to decouple education from child care and then work as a nation to find workable and safe solutions to both.

Same info in a doc file, with some useful links embedded:

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