NICK ALECK

SENIOR USER EXPERIENCE DESIGNER | PHOTOGRAPHER

Over ten years of experience designing usability solutions for brands like Blue Cross Blue Shield, Groupon, Allstate, DePaul University, Sony,  Vitamin Water, Atlantic Records and Northwestern University

Master of Science degree from DePaul University's Human-Computer Interaction program

 

DePaul University eLearning Strategy

Education is going through some major growing pains. Students are expecting engaging, collaborative learning experiences enriched with all kinds of multimedia. The classroom instructor has morphed into more of a master of ceremonies than a professional skilled in the art of pedagogy. Chalkboards and erasers are being replaced with technology that takes the students through a physical experience to help them better understand the topic at hand.

While working at Chicago’s DePaul University, I had the unique opportunity to work closely with tenured faculty to both develop new online programs and transition existing face-to-face programs to an online space. Empathy took over for me while working on this project because I knew that this was, in many ways, a feeling of handing over courses that instructors had nurtured from inception to the actual delivery phase. I took it upon myself to find a way that both delivered a modern learning experience for the students while still allowing the faculty to remain captain and helm the direction of the course.

Avoiding a “one size fits all” approach, I took the time to research the courses with the faculty that knew them best. We worked through the exercises and activities in the classroom to find a way to produce the same results online. Using methods like gamification, discussion boards and group work spaces and incorporating video presentations of the instructor helped to make the transition seamless. When working with faculty who were less inclined to be a talking head in a video, we incorporated audio to produce a podcast for the course where students could collaborate and respond through audio with their opinions and points of view. On occasion, the technique that was put into motion online would find its way into the classroom as the instructor found the activity’s worth high enough to replicate in a face-to-face environment.

Going one step further, I felt it was important for each course to have its own branding and organizational system. Prior to working with the faculty, I often saw online courses overpopulating themselves with PDF reading-overload. Students were greeted with a seemingly endless list of readings they needed to complete at some point during the course. Week one may require reading two PDFs, whereas week two had no readings and only an activity needed to be completed. The problem was that students had a hard time deciphering this and would drop the course because they were overwhelmed but what they perceived as the course readings. Using CSS stylesheets, I was able to create a web template for the faculty to incorporate into their courses to welcome the online students as if they were on campus at DePaul. Simple things like fonts, colors and bulleted lists helped to organize the course and streamline the amount of clicking necessary for the student to complete a single task. From within the template the faculty could link to the discussion area where the students were required to post their opinion on a topic or they might embed a YouTube video that shows an example of a certain teaching technique. Formerly, these would be separate links in a long list of tasks. Now they were organized and housed in an appealing UI that the students responded to.

Most importantly, the proof was in the course reviews the faculty were receiving. Comments such as “I felt like I had a personal connection with the instructor because of their use of video presentations,” or “I liked being able to talk with other students through the podcast. We never misinterpreted the message because we could hear each other” were being delivered to the faculty and helped to rejuvenate their trust in delivering an online course. Best of all, faculty would contact me following a successful course and ask “Ok, what else can we do next time I teach the course?”

An example of one of the first modules students review in an online course.

Using CSS, information is able to be displayed in a uniform style with a clean UI that provides links to tools internal to the learning management system or to external sources.