Student-Centered Design

All of the instructional design work that I do is for higher education coursework. The courses I coordinate with faculty on will be taught within a semester of development, so what I do in terms of directing that design or affecting it in some way has a direct effect on what the students will see in the iterations of that course.

This is sometimes daunting, but I love the challenge because I really believe that student-centered design is a logical approach.

With student-centered anything, we are asking ourselves how students will be impacted or affected by what we're doing. With design, especially, these are important questions. We have to consider how a student will view, navigate, access, and submit to the end product. I could have some of the coolest ideas for the visuals and organization, but if a student can't intuitively--or with limited direction--get to where he or she needs to go, these ideas aren't, in fact, "the coolest." They are neat, perhaps, but ultimately useless.

I am not in the business of creating useless things, nor do I ever want to be. (I mean, really... who wants to be useless?)

When we look at a course, we first have to examine at the outcomes.

  • How do we help students understand the relevancy of our formal course description and its list of outcomes?
  • How do we help students understand what they already know that directly connects to this course?
  • What can students do--in practice or as an action--that will clearly demonstrate a proficiency in a particular skill or an understanding of a particular piece of content?

Clearly, then, when we're designing assessment elements, we have to find ways to visibly connect what students will do in this assessment with transparent fulfillment of the course outcomes. Students don't inherently connect the dots! 

In distance education, it is especially important to connect the seemingly separate activities, resources, materials, projects, assignments, etc. because students don't get that face-to-face "sidebar" sort of chatting. These connections have to be explicitly discussed somewhere

When we're deciding where to house things or place them, we also have to consider what students are already familiar with. If I know that students are used to having "folders," let's say, in a repository of sorts, and I choose to use a different organizational method for course readings, I should expect that my students will likely experience some confusion. A quick explanation or description--or a course navigation video, like I always encourage people to use--will go a long way toward lessening the confusion and creating a more comfortable environment.

If we're really focused on what students need, they need a comfortable learning environment where they're aware of how to get what they need. Education is all about getting what we need! 

Student-centered design is tough. It can be hard to prepare for all of the possible questions students might have. Our attempts, though, will only help us hone our skills in predicting what students might struggle with. Questions from students, too, are not the enemy. Why are we constantly trying to create educational environments that don't foster questioning? Questions are good. Students asking questions mean that they're thinking about what's been done, discussed, read, and/or processed and they're trying to make it fit into a package they can understand--or they're attempting to alter a current knowledge package to contain this new piece.

This--the design method, the way of thinking--will go a long way toward helping education continue to be an attainable goal.