Simplify Your Online Teaching with Learning Frameworks
This content first appeared at APUEdge.com.
Teaching online and developing online courses can be an overwhelming process without limits. Frameworks can keep these processes clear and reduce stress for the online educator. In this episode, APU professor Dr. Bethanie Hansen shares frameworks that help online educators provide quality learning experiences for their students, include a variety of approaches and strategies, and reduce stress through a structured approach.
Listen to the Episode:
Read the Transcript:
Dr. Bethanie Hansen: This podcast is for educators, academics and parents who know that online teaching can be challenging, but it can also be rewarding, engaging, and fun. Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge. I’m your host, Dr. Bethanie Hansen, and I’ll be your guide for online teaching tips, topics and strategies. Walk with me into the Online Teaching Lounge.
Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge. I’m Bethanie Hansen, your host. And I’m here to talk to you today about how to simplify your online teaching.
You know when you’re writing a course, preparing to teach a course, or thinking about that class you’re going to prepare, it can be very complex. There is so much we could include that we want to teach our students, and there are of course many ways to approach designing a class or planning what you’re going to teach. How do you make those decisions?
One of the ways you can make the decisions about what you’ll include in the course, what you’ll teach your students, and what you can expect them to do and be learning in the class as well as what they can demonstrate afterward, is to use a framework.
One of the frameworks I really like that I want to start out with sharing with you today is Bloom’s taxonomy. If you’re not familiar with Bloom’s taxonomy, this is a framework that allows you to use different skill levels. Originally it was designed by some graduate students and Bloom, who put together this taxonomy as a framework to create banks of test questions with specific objectives to share. Those original three domains in Bloom’s taxonomy were the cognitive, psychomotor, and affective domains.
The cognitive domain is the one that we think about the most. What kind of thinking skills we need to be able to do in our courses there. There were six levels from the low to the high side of ordered thinking; that has been revised in 2001 and updated, and we’ve got several different areas.
So that the lowest level of Bloom’s taxonomy is remembering. This would be your basic factual recall where students are going to true or false, multiple-choice. They’re just going to regurgitate information and they are remembering what they learned basically.
The second level of Bloom’s taxonomy is understanding. In this level students actually determine the meaning of what they’re learning. It could be something oral, written, or graphic. And so in all these different modalities they are demonstrating some kind of understanding. Putting the pieces together. Connecting the dots.
The third level is applying. And in applying, students are going to carry out a procedure. Perhaps the use of evaluative tool to check off whether or not something can be used, something is going to be played out in a scenario, we are going to role-play, something like that. Applying can be a lot of fun and gets you away from the basic low-level factual thinking.
The fourth level is analyzing. When you’re analyzing, you can break the material down into little parts. Detect how the parts relate to each other and to an overall structure or purpose. Analyzing is definitely a higher order skill and analyzing is what we do in so many career fields. So this level is important to reach in our teaching.
The fifth level is evaluating. Students can make judgment based on criteria or standards.
And lastly is creating. This is of course the highest order. The students are to put things together to form something new. A complete whole. Or make something original. We love this in the various fields that we teach. When we’re creating or having students create something new it’s also more original. It’s not going to be as likely to hit the plagiarism spectrum. So things that hit the creating level of thinking are especially good.
Now when you’re writing your class and you are thinking about what you teach and how you teach it, Bloom’s taxonomy is a framework you can use from the beginning to the end of the course. When I say that, I’m suggesting that early in the course you hit those lower levels of thinking: remembering and understanding.
If you think about having students demonstrate remembering and demonstrate understanding, even open-book tests are helpful. Open book, small grade, low consequence, or low-stake quizzes can be especially effective to the remembering phase of learning. This is basic. If students cannot remember what they’re learning, they are not going to get very far.
Now once you get a little further into the course, applying and analyzing can happen more regularly because we’ve got the basic understanding down. And now we can move to the next level of thinking. And then of course, as you move into the higher levels of the subject matter and later in the courses, you’re going to have opportunities for evaluating and creating a lot more often. These are good things to remember when you’re thinking about designing a course or teaching specific content.
By the time you’re done with the course, if you look at your course learning outcomes and the way they hit Bloom’s taxonomy, some examples might be that at the basic level students will identify certain concepts, they might analyze the outcomes of certain historical situations, they might design a controlled experiment or design a case study. In this case, they are now creating. That is something we do very late in the course. They might present. They might share their research. They might collect and analyze the research. They might describe and discuss and synthesize the theories of various ideas.
If you’ll take a look at Bloom’s taxonomy it will help you to have a basic starting point for the different levels of knowledge. Learning. And can also help you make your discussions a little deeper.
Some faculty have real trouble designing forum discussions at first, because it seems that we want to stick to that factual or understanding level. The more you can add applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating, the more you’re going to have opportunities to get your students to think more deeply and demonstrate that they’re connecting the dots in higher ways.
The Yale Center for Teaching and Learning offers us several suggestions for using Bloom’s taxonomy. First, they suggest using it to write the intended learning outcomes for your class and for your assignments. This also works especially well if you’re using the backwards design technique. Secondly you can use Bloom’s taxonomy to design the activities and assessments. This will help you align things to your intended learning outcomes. Third, you can consider additional taxonomies that will help you develop learning at various levels. You might consider, they recommend, Marzano’s taxonomy and there’s also Krathwhol’s. I’ve got a link in the podcast transcript notes for the Bloom’s taxonomy download that Yale shares with the world, so check it out.
Student-Centric and Process-Oriented Frameworks
Now, aside from Bloom’s and other taxonomies that help you to think about the different levels of thinking that will be required of students, there are different kinds of teaching and learning frameworks. These are research-informed models that help you either design your course or consider learning goals and how you’ll layout the class and teach it.
Some of these models are really focused on the student. They are student-centric. They help you to create motivating and inclusive environments and integrate all kinds of assessment into the learning process along the way. One of those I’ve mentioned already is backwards design. If you are going to use the backwards design framework, this was made popular by Wiggins and McTeague in their book Understanding by Design (2005), the backward design process is three main parts.
First, you’re going to decide what you want students to do at the end of the class, or we call this “identify desired results.” Second, you’ll design the assessments. You will determine what evidence will really show that they have learned this. And only after these two things have been completed, then you’re going to back up and plan the learning experiences they will need to have to get there and the instruction you’ll need to provide as the instructor. This is the kind of learning that I like to guide, backwards design. I like to start with the end goals and then determine what kinds of activities will help students get to those goals. It’s also what I wrote about in my book “Teaching Music Appreciation Online,” which I hope you’ll check out.
There’s also another method which is called integrated course design, Integrated course design was developed by LD Fink in 2003, and it’s a sort of expanded backwards design. It is sort of an expanded backwards design framework that has a little bit more detail specific to higher ed. The main feature of integrated course design is that it’s a simultaneous planning strategy.
You don’t have to sequentially start at the end and move backwards. You can think about environmental and contextual factors as well. This means first, think of your situation and then you’re going to look at the integration between learning goals, feedback, and assessment, and teaching and learning activities, and you’re going to keep moving between those until you’ve planned the course.
Part of the methodology is that it is simultaneous so it sort of a holistic approach for those of you who really like to think big-picture. It also guides you through a 12-step process to create outline your learning outcomes, the activities, rubrics, assessments, and the syllabus, in light of whatever context you’re in and the challenges you might be facing.
A third framework you might consider is 5E. This model was developed by a biological sciences curriculum study in 2001. This is an interesting model that seems to go round and round, and it’s about “engage, explore, explain, elaborate, evaluate.” And evaluate is really happening all along the way during the engage section, the explorer section, the explain section, and the elaborate section. At the end of the class students are going to assess their own understanding and the instructor might also evaluate the learners on key skills or concepts.
This model is super good if you’re interested in scaffolding and prioritizing student learning rather than just what you believe needs to be taught. It’s got a lot of flexibility and it’s an interesting one to check out.
Another framework for learning is accelerated learning cycle developed by Alastair Smith in 1996. And, a lot like the 5E model, it can be used to structure single class sessions. So accelerated learning comes from Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences and it builds classrooms that acknowledge prior knowledge and learning habits.
This model is based on stages. You create the safe, welcoming environment. You build on the background knowledge of your learners to create a bigger context, and you describe what’s intended to be learned. Then you give some new information or content, facilitate an activity, enable discussion or a demonstration, or some kind engagement, and then you review and reinforce the information. So of course you do that for single classes and you can also think about it on the big scale of how the whole class is set up.
Another framework you might consider is called universal design for learning (UDL). This was developed in the 1990s as a model for meeting the needs of all learners, diverse learners of all kinds, and it can be applied to a course or a single class session, just as the accelerated learning cycle as well. So UDL operates under three principles.
The first one is the “why” of learning. You provide multiple means of engagement. And then the “what” of learning. You provide multiple means of representation. And lastly the “how” of learning, which is that you provide multiple means of action and expression.
The idea is that you’re going to be engaging different parts of the brain. Engagement, the representation, and the action and expression each hit these three different big chunks of the brain. They’re going to help people engage fully, deeply, and really reach people that think in different ways, learn in different ways, need visual, auditory, and all those different modalities, and designed to be flexible so that depending on the learner there are choices where you can balance the needs of the learner and give appropriate challenge and support.
Where to Start with Teaching and Learning Frameworks
One of the tips that I have for you today as we wrap up this discussion about learning frameworks is that using a framework can make planning your online teaching a lot easier. When you use a framework, that helps you to keep things within limits. It gives you structure for what you’re doing, and it helps you stop getting overwhelmed by all that you could do. I’ve seen some brilliant instructors design entire classes with one modality and one approach, missing a high number of learners. If we use a framework, we are more likely to integrate various approaches, because the framework suggests them. (See, for example, Frameworks for Digital Information Literacy.)
One of the bonuses of doing this is that using a framework is going to help make sure you don’t miss a lot of students. It’s also going to help you consider relevance. Some of these frameworks work for some subjects and styles, and some work better for others.
As you’re looking over frameworks and thinking about which one might suit you, consider which one really does suit the subject matter. This is not a one-size-fits-all experience. Then, create a course alignment map. As you design a map of what you’d like to teach, what you would like to assess, what students need to learn, what their prior knowledge is, it’s going to suggest to you perhaps one of these frameworks might fit a little bit better. It’s also going to give you insight into the variety that you need to include, both in terms of what and how you’re teaching, and also the different levels of thinking from Bloom’s taxonomy and other taxonomies I’ve mentioned.
Lastly, think about inventorying your practices. We can get stuck in teaching and learning through one channel or one avenue. The more we broaden our practices to include a lot of different approaches, the more we really are going to meet students needs in the best ways possible. So think about not only how you can use frameworks and taxonomies in planning your course to make it a simpler, less overwhelming project, but also how you can inventory yourself and what you’re bringing to that teaching. There’s always room to grow. But when you create an inventory for your own teaching and course design, you can just target one thing at a time and keep your own development simple as well.
Thank you for being with me today. I hope you consider using a teaching and learning framework, or taxonomy at the very least, in your teaching, and I wish you all the best this coming week in your online teaching.
This is Dr. Bethanie Hansen, your host for the Online Teaching Lounge Podcast. To share comments and requests for future episodes, please visit bethaniehansen.com/request. Best wishes this coming week in your online teaching journey.