Reflective Journal


During my 8 week online Instructional Design for E-Learning course at the University of Wisconsin we were asked to keep a weekly reflective journal.  The purpose of this journal was to explore the learning process, identify goals for my teaching/learning, evaluate my participation in the course, and identify areas that I could actively apply to my work.

 Week 1


I am reminded again about the utility of the icebreaker.  It is a great way of assessing the ability of all students to overcome any technological hurdles, interact with classmates, compose a well thought out post and understand a bit about the experience they are bringing to the course.

“First, because I like animals, tell us if you had to describe yourself as an animal, which animal best matches your personality? Next, tell us your preferred name (like if you want to be called Susan and never Sue), what you teach and where. If you don’t teach, tell us what you do and how instructional design fits into your world.”

Graphic Syllabus

I like the idea of the graphic syllabus but do not find myself referencing it much this week.  I wonder if making it more interactive with active links to content would make it a more useful tool.

Course Design

My initial reaction to the design of the discussion component left me a bit dubious.  Students were given 4 or 5 questions from which to choose one selection for their initial post.  My concerns were centered around the cohesiveness of discussion and the ability to address all instructional objectives fully.

My concerns were quickly laid to rest as week 1 rolled ahead.  The selection of questions generated an engaging and dynamic discussion that investigated the topics of learning styles, instructional design, and pros and cons of online learning in depth.  A quite surprising and welcome outcome for the first week.


Value Added Responses:

-Summarize findings and restate to elucidate new information

-Compare and contrast different elements of the discussion

-Use examples from real world experience

-Bring in outside resources with proper citations

-Utilize elements from readings to support your claims


Instructional Design

We were asked to define Instructional Design as one potential initial post and here is my post:

Instructional Design (ID) is really at the heart of teaching or facilitating. It is a thoughtful process by which the facilitator utilizes learning theory to demonstrate the learning objectives, design and develop practical applications for the learner to gain a depth of understanding and implement that knowledge, and to finally evaluate the effectiveness of the intervention.

The question of whether I believe ID is an art, science, blend, or fairy dust is an intriguing one. The utility of the ID would be mainly based on the quality of the underlying learning theory and objectives, how effective the design and practical applications are at addressing the objectives, and finally the ability of the final evaluation to hone the original ID. As a scientist my first inclination is to look at the research to determine what areas have been rigorously studied and if it is possible to study these questions with the tools at hand. There is a long history of work on learning theory as is described by Martin Ryders site, but only just recently have the tools been developed to generate large consistent data sets to thoroughly evaluate the utility of these theories. The rapid and recent development of eLearning and more importantly Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) has been a boon to researchers interested in creating science based ID. Here learning theories, design and development, and evaluations can be readily tested and altered. Additionally, researchers have become much more interested in studying the “science of learning” and neuroscientific basis for learning. A number of universities including Johns Hopkins have created whole new departments to understand the underpinnings of learning. In summary, I believe that ID is currently a blend of art, science, and yes a little fairy dust but as online education progresses I believe it will become much more science based.


I created an alternative definition as a combination of another students definition and found it to be particularly fluid:

A purposeful process in which an understanding of learning theory and styles is utilized to design and develop practical applications, which support student-centered learning, leading to the successful completion of predetermined learning objectives.

ID can be broken down succinctly with the tags:
Process, Learning Theory, Practical Applications, Student-Centered Learning, Evaluation

Learning Styles

Learning styles are often a topic of discussion in educational circles, however work has been done indicating that the idea of learning styles is not supported by research findings.  I found a video from Daniel Willingham a cognitive psychologist at the University of Virginia that supports the idea that learning styles are a myth.

In one followup article the authors further explain their thoughts concerning learning styles,
“So in claiming that learning styles do not exist, we are not saying that all learners are the same. Rather, we assert that a certain number of dimensions (ability, background knowledge, interest) vary from person to person and are known to affect learning. The emphasis on learning styles, we think, often comes at the cost of attention to these other important dimensions” Riener, C., & Willingham, D. (2010, September/October). The Myth of Learning Styles. Retrieved June 15, 2014, from
We all struggle under limited resources in time, money, attention, etc. and it seems it would be best to focus on the areas with the greatest impact.


Pros and Cons of Online Learning


I have always thought of the benefits of online learning in terms of flexibility.  Students can decide when to take courses, which are offered much more frequently than in traditional settings, and are free to work on the material at their convenience during the day.  This allows many more people the freedom to take courses.  However, additional benefits to online learning are the ability to frequently review materials, to access a variety of multimedia to provide different perspectives on the same topic, the ability to thoroughly compose thoughts prior to engaging in discussion, and actively participate in the outcomes of the course.


I am a proponent of online learning but a few students pointed out potential pitfalls as they had experienced them in other courses.  These mostly centered around the amount of engagement they experienced from the other students and professor.  Indeed, I found a few articles this week that emphasized how important it was for the facilitator to respond within a day or so to requests for information, to have a quick turnaround on assignments, to post news updates frequently, and to utilize audio and video when interacting with students.  Having the facilitator’s buy-in is one major way to motivate students in the course.

Week 2

Core Concepts vs. Course Content

The topic of Core Concepts vs Course Content yielded a stimulating and thorough discussion.  I felt as thought it was especially relevant to my online Biology course design, which focuses more on real world problems and drills down into content from that higher level perspective.  In this course, we will not touch on all the content of Biology, nor would you in any Biology course for that matter, but what would be emphasized are the skills or core concepts needed to move onto upper level courses and/or to be a scientifically literate citizen.  These core concepts are things such as:

-Evaluate the evidence supporting a scientific argument

-Identify and utilize credible online Biology resources

-Summarize and explain key Biological concepts

-Develop hypotheses and design experiments to test them

Vs. the core content:



-DNA structure

Below I have added my post on the topic of how you determine what content to include in your course:

Boettcher’s 2007 article on “Designing Effective Learning Environments” is a great resource for understanding how to implement instructional design and principles of pedagogy based on the neuroscience of learning. Core Learning Principle #8 states:

All Learners Do Not Need to Learn All Course Content; All Learners Do Need to Learn the Core Concepts

Boettcher states that the course content is the “means of learning” and the core concepts are what is to be “acquired and developed by individualized students”. The ultimate goal is for the student to be able to master the core concepts at an ever increasing level of complexity, similar to moving along Bloom’s Taxonomy.

Students may encounter just a slice of course content that will be determined by their own “zone of personal proximal development”(See Principle #6).

The question is then really what course content do you utilize to make up this “slice” and what content do you leave for students to encounter through other courses or experiences. In my mind the answer has a lot of different factors involved:

  1. Does your institution have certain core content requirements? If so, it would make implementing this type of structure difficult and makes me question the new common core standards being developed in public schools, but would also facilitate your decision.

  2. What types of content lend themselves well to addressing the core concepts? One of my core concepts would be scientific literacy and more cutting edge topics such as the genetics of disease may yield more current studies and newspaper articles than more established content such as photosynthesis, but there is definitely some flexibility here.

  3. What content fits well into your students’ zones of personal proximal development? Depending on the maturity level of students some content may be more of a stretch than others.

  4. Are your students training for certain disciplines that would lend well to tailoring the content? Nurses may be more interested in human biology rather than ecosystems for example.

  5. Perhaps, certain topics are considered main principles while others are subtopics of less importance? Tough to say about any content really and very subjective but perhaps a starting point.

  6. Which topics readily illustrate your point? Resources available in certain topics may far outstretch others, for example I can think of a great site for exploring seafood sustainability but perhaps resources in rare diseases are less prolific.

The question of what content to incorporate is a very poignant one as I consider, which topics in Biology I would include in my course design. Biology is an ever expanding field and increasingly the feasibility and utility of addressing this vast amount of information is questionable. I believe, as suggested by Boettcher, that utilizing a “slice” of content in various topics and exploring each in depth will yield better life long learners and an overall more efficient and enduring learning process.


Instructional Objectives

A couple methods for writing Instructional Objectives:


  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Realistic
  • Time Frame

ABCD Method

  • Audience-ex.student/learner
  • Behavior-ex.construct objectives
  • Condition-ex. following presentation, in writing
  • Degree-ex.that show all 4 parts

Week 3

Authentic Assessment

Authentic assessment is an invaluable tool that really gets to the heart of whether the learner is able to complete relevant tasks.  Taking a multiple choice test on fixing a car is an indirect assessment that may not actively reflect a students ability to actually fix a car.  Additionally, the authentic assessment engages learners and may actively facilitate learning in a way that less authentic assessments are unable to do.

Below I have included my posting from the week on authentic assessments.  This was my first time recording a posting using Audioboo and I enjoyed using the tool.  I did end up having to re-record my posting many times as Audioboo did not have an editing function, but I realized eventually that simply pausing my recording prior to moving on to a new section was very useful in the recording process.

listen to ‘Authentic Assessment in a Science Course’ on Audioboo

Here is an outline to help visualize the structure of an example of authentic assessment in my course:

Prior to Course Starting:  Students would receive a detailed rubric outlining the parts of their final project; introduction,hypothesis, experiment, data collection, evaluation, conclusions

Module 1: Choose a topic of interest from a preapproved list or get a new topic approved

Module 2: What is a hypothesis?

Module 3: Generate a hypothesis.

Module 4: How do you design an experiment?

Module 5: Design an experiment.

Module 6: Collect your data/ What are some basic methods for evaluating your data?

Module 7: Evaluate your data.

Module 8: Bring it all together.

This assessment would be running through the entirety of the course, at the same time they would be working through problem based work each module that would allow for the examination of each part of the assessment.


Week 4

Absorb, Do, Connect

In this week, we focused on the work of William Horton; his work on E-Learning by Design was extremely useful in designing activities that would align with our objectives.  By utilizing the schematic of passive absorb activities, followed by practice do activities, which are then summarized by comprehensive connect activities learners are being fully engaged with the material and encouraged to incorporate their personal experience or previous knowledge to facilitate long term learning.

Week 5

Graphic Syllabus

I can now reflect back on my week 1 posting on the utility of the graphic syllabus.  Having completed a syllabus for my course I am struck by how useful it was for me as the instructor to visualize the course and how including information about the goals for each week generated a highly informative document.  I can envision making this work interactive through the use of image maps or to translate the work into a google slides document, which other students found to be an engaging and interactive format.

Week 6

Cognitive Load

In regards to cognitive load we discussed three types; intrinsic, germane, and extraneous.  Intrinsic load reflected the learners previous experience with the material and would be greater for beginning students than more advanced.  Germane and extraneous load reflected how closely aligned the material being presented was to the objective.  In introductory courses it seems to be imperative to keep the extraneous load to an absolute minimum, whereas more advanced courses may incorporate extraneous load to allow users to personalize their learning experience.

Week 7

Useful Design Tips

Smith “Design with Content in Mind”:
Keep chunks doable in 20 minute pieces (10-15 min segs)
-Use Visual and Verbal in Concert
-Decrease Extraneous Load: Only show relevant materials
-Short passive segments followed by active learning
-Explain context of materials and give clear directions
-Pausability, Repeatability
-Include reflective journal
-Use audio whenever possible instead of text
-Utilize alternative text for images
-Every 10-12 slides take a break
-Provide transcripts
-Provide graphic syllabus and highlight where we are going each module
-Learning Guides
-Provide examples of well done finished product

Week 8

Final Thoughts

In summarizing my thoughts on the course, I first think about how grateful I am to have had such wonderful instructors, classmates, and a well organized class design.  Dr Manning and our intern Kristen were excellent facilitators who only stepped into the discussion on occasion to ask insightful questions or corroborate our thinking.  My classmates were of the highest caliber from all walks of life, K-12, higher learning, business, and the medical profession.  Everyone brought invaluable experiences to the table and a level of professionalism that was outstanding.  Finally, the class was designed in such a way that made it challenging, stimulating, and yet achievable.  Dr. Manning utilized chunking in a highly effective manner and gave excellent feedback and communication using a variety of resources, screencasts, videos, audio, new posts etc.  I found that having Dr. Smith’s textbook as a guide throughout the course was highly effective and kept me on track.  In conclusion, this course was excellent and has prepared me to design and teach online courses.

Maria Guillily, PhD