Casting a Wider Net — Fulfilling a Passion for Teaching through Course Design

When Carmen Beck was working at Lincoln University as a history teacher and archivist, she saw the value education can bring to a person.

The instructional designer’s passion for education is just one of the reasons she received the Outstanding Online Course Design Award at Mizzou’s 2017 Celebration of Teaching award luncheon.

“It was really great to see how empowering education could be [for students], even just in their own confidence level,” Carmen said. “If they just knew and realized what they are capable of, how valuable they are, they would choose different things, they would act differently.”

“Helping faculty improve their teaching is a way to empower them,” Carmen said. “And then they, in turn, teach their students better. Honestly, it’s a way to reach more people than I could by myself.”

The Outstanding Online Course Design Award, sponsored by Mizzou Online, promotes high-quality online courses at the University of Missouri. Heather Hunt, associate professor in the Bioengineering Department, nominated Carmen for the award after working with her in Spring 2015 to transform a traditional undergraduate class into an online summer class. The course, BE 3075: Introduction to Material Engineering, was opened in summer 2016.

In her nomination letter, Heather wrote that she “learned so much about best practices in educational technology as well as teaching in general” by working on the course design with Carmen and Angela Jeffrey, a former instructional designer with Educational Technologies. “I became a better teacher, a better listener, and a better self-evaluator, because of [Carmen’s] work,” Heather wrote.

Online vs. In-seat

Before becoming an instructional designer Carmen taught undergraduate history at Lincoln University and Columbia College in face-to-face, online, and blended formats. Her experience as an educator shaped her teaching philosophy: education is empowering, but it must be engaging, relevant, and memorable in order to be effective.

According to Mizzou Online’s statistics, 46% of MU students took at least one online class in 2017, and that number is expected to grow in the coming year. In response to that trend, Mizzou’s focus now is on the quality and outcomes of online education.

Carmen also teaches Educational Technologies’ Online Teaching Foundations, a six-week course designed to help instructors examine how they can better engage students in their online teaching. She said she told the participants in the course that one of the characteristics of being a great teacher is deciding what can be taught online and what can be taught in-seat. Because, Carmen said, not everything is taught best online, and vice versa.

“But that’s ok. There are some benefits of teaching face-to-face. For instance, if you’re explaining an equation, being able to see students with a blank stare is a good thing when you are teaching. You can say to them, ‘Yeah, none of you got that. Let’s do that again.’ But online offers a similar benefit, in that individual students have an opportunity to review the video of your explanation over and over again, even if they are the only one that didn’t get it.”

Fortunately, an online modality worked for BE 3075. Yet, Heather said her class presented a particular set of challenges to instructional designers.

“First, the class is very heavy on media and equations; second, I am not interested in performing the typical online format of voice-over PowerPoint; and third, the live class has a lot of active learning components that are difficult to mimic online,” Heather explained.

Carmen attended some of Heather’s lectures to get a sense of her teaching style. They met regularly to identify each module’s learning components and discuss the best way to translate those activities to the online course.

“One of the most important things of being an instructional designer is to listen to the instructor,” Carmen said. “Because in listening we can figure out what the pitfalls of the class are, where the class excels and how we can enhance that, and the purpose of the course and how it fits into everything.”

One Hundred Videos

BE 3075 covers many complex concepts and techniques in materials engineering. By the end of the course, Heather’s students are expected to be able to identify different types of materials by their properties and make appropriate materials selections for their design projects.

After thorough deliberation, Heather and Carmen worked with Brad Mitchell, Educational Technologies’ media production coordinator, to record 112 lecture videos for this course.

At first glance, the number of videos sounds daunting. But the truth is, Carmen said, “We broke down a traditional 55-minute lecture into 10 to 15 short videos.” Mitchell explained that breaking the lecture videos into smaller segments keeps students engaged.

“The current literature1 suggests that a median engagement time of six minutes or less led to nearly all learners engaging completely with a piece of instructional media, with engagement decreasing as videos became longer,” said Brad. He says the ideal maximum length for a piece of media is between six and eight minutes.

Amid the planning and design of Heather’s course, Brad had just finished building a 400-pound, eight-foot wide Lightboard — a device that allows instructors to draw highly visible diagrams and equations, annotate graphics and write on the glass surface while facing and speaking directly to their audience. He encouraged Heather to experiment with this new tool.

Heather said the Lightboard proved crucial for delivering quality lectures. Her students said the Lightboard was effective in that it helped them understand the key concepts of the course. She said even her in-seat students wanted to watch the Lightboard videos.

“Putting this all together was very complex, and [Carmen and Brad] did an amazing job of creating an online class for engineering students that was functional, practical, beautiful, and mimicked all the things I do in class online,” Heather said. “The end result was that I received the highest course evaluations from my students in the summer 2016 term for this class that I’ve ever received.”

As an instructional designer, Carmen said she enjoys working with experts from different fields and thinking about different ways of teaching. She said there are many good instructors at Mizzou who really care about their students and want to teach better. It’s so great to get to work with them, Carmen said.

1 Guo, Philip J., Kim, Juho, & Rubin, Rob. (2014). How video production affects student engagement: an empirical study of MOOC videos. L@S: Fourth Annual ACM Conference on Learning at Scale. Retrieved from https://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=2566239.