By Nick Noel, Instructional Designer
I started my career in academia firmly rooted in technology. Specifically, I was on the front line support of hardware and software utilized in classrooms. My day was spent thinking about technology, how it could be used, how it could fail, and what would be needed if it did fail. Over the past several years, as I have worked through my graduate program in Educational Technology, and especially over the past year and a half as I have adjusted to my new role as an instructional designer, I have had to re-orient my thinking to be less focused on technology and more on the users of that technology. To illustrate my point, I’d like to briefly discuss two projects, the first project I was involved with in my new position, and the most recent one.
The first project I was tasked with when I started as an instructional designer was to help design a kiosk device for students to check-in to their advising appointments. My approach was in line with my training as a technology specialist. I determined the hardware for the kiosk, found an appropriate housing for the device, and then scheduled conversations with the stakeholders to see who would want one. I had enough experience to understand that we needed to create something that was accessible to the students who may have a physical disability, and adaptable enough to fit into a wide variety of spaces. In this way, we were practicing a sort of human centered design.
The stakeholder conversation process ending up being more challenging than I had anticipated. Every department we spoke with had a different routine for how students checked-in to their advising appointments, and a different set of questions about the cost and maintenance of the device. I had to constantly track people down to find out information, and make adjustments to the product offering in order to accomodate the needs of the various departments. It ended up being very inefficient and frustrating for all parties involved. The main reason, I feel, is while I had thought about people, in a generic way, while designing the product, I hadn’t consulted with the people who would actually be using it.
To use an imperfect analogy, there is a reason why your grandmother’s apple pie tastes better than one you buy at the store. One was made for you specifically, and the other was made for anyone.
Recently, I was asked to help create a resource to support and enhance the teaching practice at Michigan State University (MSU). As I mentioned, I have started to re-orient my thinking since becoming an instructional designer. This is partially due to my exposure to design processes such as Quality Matters, which emphasizes the students experience in online courses, and methodologies like Backwards Design, that places primacy on student learning outcomes. Both of these are heavily employed by my colleagues on MSU’s Learning Design team, and I have benefited immeasurably from their expertise and guidance.
I also learned a great deal from Dr. Carrie Heeter’s course “Understanding Users”, which I took as part of MSU’s Serious Games MA certificate. As part of this course, I did a pretty deep dive into “Validating Product Ideas” by Tomer Sharon and “User Experience Team of One” by Leah Buley. These resources provide excellent guidance for how to conduct user experience research.
As I continue to work on creating a resource for teachers, my approach is dramatically different from what it would have been a year ago. Instead of starting with a product first, my project partner and I have begun to interview faculty members to see what their experience with teaching at MSU has been. While we could have started by looking at existing research, or utilizing our own design expertise, we felt that we would have missed out on the nuances and personalities that are specific to MSU. Now, we’ll have a foundation we can base our literature reviews and research on, that is informed by the needs specific to MSU’s campus. Like the apple pie I mentioned earlier, we’re baking this version just for you.
We have focused on what resources instructors utilize and how they find them, we have also looked for information on what helps them feel supported, and their impression of student expectations. We are just at the beginning of the process, and while it will be daunting at times, I am sure that whatever we come up with by the end, will be more useful to faculty because of it.
Are there similar projects that have been created on campus, or at other institutions, that you’re aware of? Please let the Hub know in a tweet, email or even write a blog post about it. We’re curious to see how it went.