Branching Activities – Planning and Building

Last month, I touched on the concept of branching activities, specifically focusing on the why and the when. Now that you’ve got a solid foundation and understanding of their practicality, it’s time to look at how we may plan and build out a branching activity.

Planning

Planning is the most crucial part of the branching activity process. In some cases, you’ll have a good idea of starting points for your activity but may not be sure where it will go from there. This could just be having a topic and understanding of what you want to accomplish with the activity without much content. To plan through a situation like this, we recommend identifying decision categories that students may need to work within and building out content from there:

In other cases, you may have an idea of where you want students to end up but aren’t sure how they will get there. You’ll have to plan backwards in this situation:

Either way, it’s important to think about every possible landing point that students may reach and map out every possible way they may get there.

While thinking about these things, there are multiple processes you may use to plan content for your activity. You may use pencil/paper or Dry-Erase, drawing boxes to represent each page. You may use notecards or Post-it notes in the same way with the added flexibility of being able to move things around. You may also use mind-mapping if you would like to plan digitally.

Building in Carmen

Once you’ve planned, the hardest part is over! It’s now as easy as building out your planned pages and connecting them. We’ll start by walking through this process in Carmen:

  1. Within Carmen, we recommend you start by creating a module specifically for your activity. You can move the activity into another module with the rest of your content later, but it’s easier to keep everything for this one activity contained during the building process.
  2. Within this module, create each page that you planned out. Think about it as a page for each notecard/Post-it note or each box if you used the pencil/paper or Dry-Erase method.
  3. When creating pages, naming convention is extremely important. Using “BA” (for branching activity) or some other recognizable naming structure at the beginning of each page puts every page for one activity next to each other in Carmen’s “Pages” list, which makes bulk publishing/unpublishing and/or editing much easier to follow.
  4. After all pages have been created, you’ll need to connect them together. Go to any one of your pages and list any other pages that can be reached from that page. Then, highlight text that want to turn into a hyperlink and use the “Links” tab to the right of the rich content editor to link to additional pages.
  5. Once everything is finished, you’ll need to decide whether your students should only see the beginning page of the branching activity or all pages within the activity, which you can toggle by adding or not adding pages to a module. Either way, every page in your activity needs to be published for students to see them, and all modules that hold any pages within the activity need to be published.

I’m guessing that this may have been hard to follow without any visuals, so we’ve created this step-by-step video to walk you through the process:

Building for Other Systems

There are other tools that will may be able to produce something a bit more robust than what Carmen can provide or produce something more specific to your needs. One alternative option is Twine. Twine is an HTML-based, mind-mapping software that is easy to use and produces basic scenario/decision-based activities.

Larger software programs like Articulate Storyline or Adobe Captivate are specifically made to create rich interactive projects with multimedia elements, but these tools are pricey and require a steep learning curve. Also, Twine, Storyline and Captivate are not OSU-supported.

Hopefully you now have a better understanding of branching activities and how you may plan and build one for your course(s). Over the coming months, be sure to revisit this blog for updates on our multimedia efforts. I will be sharing monthly updates, presenting easy-to-use tools that can improve your course(s) and sharing up-to-date research and developments from the eLearning world.

If you have any questions about branching activities or anything related to multimedia elements of course design, feel free to reach out to me at tamburro.5@osu.edu.

Webinar Recording: Keeping It Together: Coordinating Multi-Section Courses (11/9/2017)

Webinar recording available at: http://carmenconnect.osu.edu/p3ko8c9bcak/

six plates are spinning on top of six tall wooden rods, as a man in a chef's toque tends to them and a child (also in kitchen costume) signals to stage right

Plates spinning at the circus by bwstock

The struggle is real.  It takes a village to provide quality education to thousands of students, and that effort only becomes more complex as education becomes hybrid and even fully online.  How to ensure that students learn what they need regardless of which section they enrol in (without squelching the opportunity for variety and specialization)?  How to provide an ever-rotating cast of instructors with the training and support they need?  How to gather and manage data and information about how it’s all going and make sure that other departmental stakeholders know about it?  While it rarely leads stories about the impact of the Digital Revolution on universities, this layer of the puzzle is crucial for making sure it all works and that the fancy new tools and opportunities the future is making available help students and do not just become a fog of chaos.

In this webinar, Dr. Melissa Beers and Dr. Kristin Supe discuss their experience coordinating the exemplary Introduction to Psychology course at Ohio State.  Ranging from the philosophical to the logistical, they shared useful insights about things like how recent LMS features simplify creating the dozens of course shells, the importance of training, and the importance of research. Bonus points for the Harry Potter references.  It was a fun time!

AccessEDU Episode 4 – Jessie Male

Find all AccessEDU episodes

Subscribe to AccessEDU on iTunes

Episode 4 – Jessie Male

“I used to never allow computers in my classroom. Now that I’ve become integrated into disability studies. I’m ashamed of that former teacher who didn’t allow computers in her classroom. I’m embarrassed for her because that’s so important to allow that kind of technology into the space.”

In the fourth episode of AccessEDU, your host interviews an OSU English professor who is new to teaching online and has a unique (and exemplary) philosophy on access and inclusion in her classroom spaces.

Referenced in this episode:

Read a transcript of episode 4 

Branching Activities – What, Why and When

Why interactivity?

Interactivity is an essential course design element in online learning. Interactivity could be defined in many ways, but let’s think of it in the context of passive vs. active learning. Passive learning environments contain little to no interactive elements and can be thought of as having stereotypical, “traditional” methods of content delivery and comprehension checks.

In these environments, students may go to class, take notes on everything that they see on a slide deck and take a structured weekly quiz, but they aren’t actually learning or retaining anything and aren’t able to regurgitate or apply the information in a practical setting.

In an active environment, the content may be the same as what is presented in a passive environment, but it’s interactivity that changes everything. Student learn by doing rather than just listening, and traditional methods of content delivery and reinforcement are replacing with hands-on, collaborative multimedia activities and assessments. Presenting content in more meaningful and engaging ways can lead to more effective learning experiences for students.

This is where branching activities come in.

Branching activities

If you aren’t familiar with the concept of a branching activity, think of it as a choose-your-own-adventure flowchart of choices that is based on scenarios and decision making. You may remember choose-your-own-adventure books from your childhood, where you would make decisions along a storyline that led you down certain paths and ultimately an ending point based on all of your previous decisions.

In the context of online learning, branching activities are one of the many ways to bring more interactivity into a course. A well-planned, well-thought-out branching activity can transform a passive learning activity into a rich, active learning experience, one in which students are immediately able to reinforce and apply the information that they just learned.

When should I use branching activities?

Branching activities are applicable in many learning situations and have been used successfully by instructors in a number of ways:

  • Scenario/decision-based activities
    • Nursing simulations where students make decisions on how to deal with a patient
    • Interview simulations where students have to react to certain question/reactions from the interviewer
  • Activities to guide students to resources/other activities
    • Asking students to “see where they are” before a new topic is started to point them towards specific resources
    • Asking students to participate in certain alternate discussions, activities or assignments based on their responses to topic-related questions
  • Reinforce concepts with optional branching activities that can be revisited
    • Study guides that aren’t just an outline of topics to be covered in an assessment (Gamification, etc.)

There are many other situations where a branching activity could be useful. Try to think of a project or idea in your course(s) that could take on a branched format.

Over the coming months, be sure to revisit this blog for updates on our multimedia efforts. I will be sharing monthly updates, presenting easy-to-use tools that can improve your course(s) and sharing up-to-date research and developments from the eLearning world.

If you have any questions about branching activities or anything related to multimedia elements of course design, feel free to reach out to me at tamburro.5@osu.edu.

Webinar Recording: Metacognition Online (10/17/2017)

Webinar recording available at: http://carmenconnect.osu.edu/p5517xb3ik4/

To update the old adage: teaching a person to fish is great and all — certainly better than giving them fish — but what if we could do better?  What do you call it if you teach them how to get constantly better at fishing?  How to judge their own fishing skills honestly and make intelligent choices about where to focus their efforts?  How to make use of research about the feeding patterns of fish populations to avoid wasting effort and maximizing returns?

Ok, that’s probably enough with that metaphor. 🙂

In the DELTA webinar hosted on October 17, 2017, Dr. Matthew Stoltzfus (Chemistry) described the cutting-edge practices he has adapted from research-driven guides (like Saundra McGuire’s Teach Students How to Learn) and developed to intervene effectively with the mostly-lower-level students in his Introduction to Chemistry courses.  Beginning with the simple (but oft-overlooked) recognition that there are different levels of understanding and proceeding through an array of proven strategies, Dr. Fus helps students understand precisely what new ways of thinking college will demand of them (that high school did not) and how they can take concrete steps to grow those new wings.*

 

*The growing of wings being the ultimate goal of learning, according to Plato’s Allegory of the Chariot.

Multimedia Innovation: Our Plan

Educational innovation is a top priority at Ohio State. Across our campuses, we strive to be at the forefront of a better and more modern student experience. Here at ODEE, we are no different. The Distance Education team works hard every day to make sure that our course design and development processes will lead to positive experiences and effective learning for online students.

A new wave of innovation has come into focus for our team in the form of multimedia advancement. Although we feel as though our multimedia efforts are already strong, we have developed an initiative that identifies some important work to be done in the next year (and beyond) that will allow faculty to present more dynamic and engaging course content to online students.

One of our bigger goals in the coming year is to get multimedia innovation integrated into our course design process. This means that there will be a section of each of our course designs that focuses solely on opportunities for multimedia advancement. Faculty will have conversations with our team to develop plans and identify possible work to be done in this area, which may include replacing a few traditional assignments with interactive, click-through activities, for example.

To go along with this, on our end, we will be developing a clear project management system that makes multimedia innovation easy for our faculty. A clear planning system will be drawn out and faculty will have the opportunity to complete clear and reachable goals surrounding multimedia improvements to their course(s).

Additionally, we are in the process of developing an ‘innovative tool guide’ that will help our instructional designers and online faculty identify tools that meet their innovative needs. Whether faculty are brand new to the multimedia game or have an idea that they are not quite sure how to execute, the guide will be there to provide answers. We are also piloting a storyboard that will be used to easily build out interactive projects.

We also have plans to explore the relatively new field of virtual reality, which has the potential to play a very interesting and impactful role in the world of online education. Additional new technologies will continue to challenge the way we do things on a daily basis.

All of these measures are being taken to ensure that our online students continue to receive the most dynamic and rich learning experiences possible. A few tweaks to traditional learning methods with an open mind of the advantages of multimedia learning can go a long way in greatly enhancing the student experience.

Over the coming months, be sure to revisit this blog for updates on our multimedia efforts. I will be sharing monthly updates, presenting easy-to-use tools that can make your courses better and sharing up-to-date research from the evolving world of multimedia eLearning.

Webinar Recording: Collaborating Live in an Online Environment

Male student studying with computer at 11th floor Thompson libraryWhether you are teaching an online, hybrid, or face-to-face course, at some point during the course you may want to engage with your students synchronously via the Internet.  You may have a remote guest speaker, a need for students to meet in groups, student presentations, you name it.  All of these experiences and more can be done through two OSU supported tools: Collaborations within CarmenCanvas and CarmenConnect.  On September 20th, Jacob Bane and Marcia Ham presented different ways each of these tools could be used to engage with students live outside of the traditional classroom.  Click the following link to view and listen to the recording of the 1-hour webinar: http://carmenconnect.osu.edu/p1poexawu4r/.

Please join the Office of Distance Education and eLearning’s DELTA team on October 17th when Dr. Matthew Stoltzfus will present a webinar discussing the topic of metacognition in an online course.

Webinar Recording: A Beginner’s Guide to the Ohio State eLearning Toolset (8/31/2017)

View the recording at http://carmenconnect.osu.edu/p458d5horg7/

You know the old saying, “When all you have’s a hammer, the whole world looks like a nail”?  Back when I started with ODEE (before it was ODEE), that was nearly true of the tools available to instructors at Ohio State: there was Carmen and there was CarmenWiki.  Since then the toolset has grown like the pit crew for a NASCAR team, and there is no longer just a single way to do most things.  To help sort through the options and provide a high-level map of what-all systems are available for free to every instructor at Ohio State, our colleague Valerie Rake stopped by the studios at Mount Hall on August 31, 2017 to present a basic explanation and illustration for each system, as well as details about how to get help getting started.

Accessible Teaching: Start Now

Another semester has rolled right up to your door and started knocking. You’ve thrown on a robe (whipped up a course plan) and opened the door. But every semester is a bit different and our goal here at ODEE is to make sure you’re fully dressed before the knock sounds. But before you consider yourself fully dressed, it’s time to talk about accessibility, the hat to top it all off.

Accessibility is the assurance that all students, no matter their ability, will have access to your educational materials and learning experiences. There are many things to consider when making a course accessible, and many issues are eliminated by using an accessible learning management system (Carmen). But for the remaining considerations, when should you get started?

NOW.

David Gooblar writes that now is the time to think about accessibility. And I agree. We have always desired to empower people to be proactive about accessibility rather than reactive. Any preparation you can do to accommodate your diverse student body will save you time in the end and make students feel more welcome across the board. Gooblar argues that thinking about accessibility isn’t much different than thinking about how you will deliver a lecture powerpoint, notes, or give a review session before an exam. These are all accommodations you make as educators – to help students learn. Therefore, modifying assignments to make them more flexible for diverse learners, is no different than going out of your way to produce a study guide.

“We’re wrong to think of accommodations as exceptions that detract from our normal way of doing things. Accommodating students is our normal way of doing things.”

Build accessibility and UDL into your teaching, allow the possibility of a diverse student body to inform the way you plan activities. Slowly but surely, embracing the language of accessibility and inclusivity will not only make you a better educator, but will also set you up to learn the technical ins and outs to practice what you preach.

Add language to your syllabus that reflects your approach to accessibility and accommodation. Inside Higher Ed recently highlighted an OSU English professor, Jessie Male, who added the following language to her syllabus:

“I assume that all of us learn in different ways, and that the organization of any course will accommodate each student differently. For example, you may prefer to process information by speaking and listening, or you might prefer to articulate ideas via email or discussion board. Please talk to me as soon as you can about your individual learning needs and how this course can best accommodate them.”

Male made an effort to bring personalization and empathy to the boiler plate language we copy and paste into our syllabi. Read through our introduction to universal design for learning to plan how you will incorporate accessibility into your teaching. Begin to familiarize yourself with the language of accessibility, both in the physical world and the online environment. Gooblar’s article links to an excellent resource developed by Anne-Marie Womack called Accessible Syllabus. It gives a general overview of everything an instructor should consider about their teaching practice as it relates to accessibility. Read up, attend our accessibility workshops, and tackle every semester fully dressed.

Webinar Recording: Make and Use Open Resources with Tools and Support from the Affordable Learning Exchange (8/17/2017)

View the recording at http://carmenconnect.osu.edu/p855az27160/

“The [textbook] rent is too damn high!”  Learn what you can do to help your students avoid unpleasant dilemmas, such as needing to choose between textbooks and food.  ODEE colleagues from the Affordable Learning Exchange initiative stopped by the DELTA studios to discuss how elearning tools and collaboratives can enable you to reduce this burden on your students’ learning.