Context & Scale
This pattern is concerned with one of the main problems of teaching at scale, which is the lack of consistency in delivering content.
Online self-paced modules are an accessible and effective form of learning, often used in situations where other forms of teaching and learning might not be feasible (Dhaliwal et al, 2018).
Content will often need to be chunked into smaller bits for online modules. The term “chunking” was introduced by George Miller (1956) who stated that chunking information is easier to commit to working memory than a longer and uninterrupted string of information. Although the way we have utilised this term is slightly different, the main idea of chunking is to facilitate ease of use and reducing the load on working memory.
Chunking into progressively complex sub-topics also provides scaffolding for learning (Schutt, 2003) and can help reduce cognitive load as students have breaks to reflect, ask questions or review.
One of the main problems of teaching at scale is the lack of consistency in delivering content. Too many lecture streams create an unproductive diversity of experience. Many large units have long lectures (synchronous or pre-recorded) where students learn about the core concepts by following the lecturer and taking notes or working through problems and questions in the textbook on their own. This problem is exacerbated by large student numbers necessitating multiple repeat lectures. Each lecture may be delivered by a different lecturer, leading to inconsistency in learning experiences across the cohort. Large lectures also make it difficult for students to ask questions and check their understanding while the content is being delivered.
Reimagine lectures with an alternative online delivery method. This can be done by creating self-paced online modules that teach core concepts in a multi-modal format. Present the content in smaller chunks which can include small case studies, short videos, pencasts, interactive diagrams and images, and self-check questions. This format breaks down the main content into smaller chunks which are easier to interact with and enhances usability of the LMS-based content.
This solution is most useful where the main content of the unit is mostly delivered through a Learning Management System (LMS). Providing the main content via an LMS ensures consistency of learning experience across large groups of students. Large numbers of students can engage with the same content on the LMS at the same time.
Structure the main content in a logical format, which could include the following elements:
- Module overview
- Learning outcomes for the module
- Main concepts/content pages divided into sub-topics
- Review and recap
- Link to and pre-work for tutorial workshops
- Discussion and questions
Decide on which segments of the content could be represented in a more interactive format, such as mini-case-studies, quick questions to check understanding, short explainer videos or pencasts to illustrate concepts.
Make sure the content increases in complexity throughout the module.
Main concepts could be presented in a video, text, tables, interactive diagrams, or mini case studies.
Core concepts should be followed with self-check opportunities.
Finally, provide a review page and link to face-to-face workshops.
Examples of pattern in use
First-year accounting unit
This example was implemented in a large core undergraduate accounting unit of study in Semester 1 2021. This is a first-year core accounting unit of study at the Business School. There are approximately 1,500 students each semester. These students are first year students and the majority take this unit in their first semester. There is an even mix of local and international students with around 60% of students studying remotely.
This pattern was developed and implemented in BUSS1030. We would like to acknowledge the unit coordinators and lecturers closely involved from the Accounting discipline, including Olga Gouveros and Janine Coupe.
The initial online format for this unit included two-hour long recorded lectures each week for students to watch on Canvas. Core concepts were taught in the lecture using pre-made diagrams and charts and students were required to work through the questions in the textbook on their own. The redesign of the unit delivered an alternative format of the lectures using online modules on Canvas. Chunking the lecture content helped in breaking down the main concepts and ideas of each topic into a smaller and more digestible length. Rather than having long pages of text, the content was presented in a more engaging format where students interact with information rather than passively receive it. The content was presented in a multimodal format which included a variety of text, diagrams, short videos, pencasts and self-check in-built interactive elements on Canvas to test understanding of the core concepts. By linking the content, review and practice within the module it assisted in scaffolding the students’ learning.
Canvas LMS: the modules were built on Canvas Learning Management System.
H5P: some of the interactive elements on Canvas were built using H5P. These often included the self-check questions and mini-quizzes that followed the main concepts.
Genial.ly: some text-based content was restructured as diagrams for greater clarity and Genial.ly was used to make these diagrams interactive. This also scaffolded learning and helped lower cognitive load because the students could click on certain parts of the diagram to view more information, which helped with the staged release of information for the students.
Pencast videos: some of the core concepts and accounting formulas required further explanation. Pancast videos made it possible to visually illustrate to students how to break down a problem and work on solutions.
The new unit structure with smaller chunks of content presented in a multimodal format was very popular with the students and we have very positive feedback from students to our surveys and focus groups. The students believe that this format is much better than the way the unit was taught previously with one students stating “I did buss1030 last sem (semester 2,2020) and it had nothing to do with this semester. I’m really enjoying it and the modules are so much better. Last sem we had huge 2 hours videos and it was just so boring and hard to keep up. 150 times better the way it had been reconstructed”. Students in the focus groups found the short pencast videos and the accompanying self-check quizzes “much more motivating”, “way more interactive” and “the best you’re going to get” when studying online.
Postgraduate marketing unit
This example was implemented in a large postgraduate marketing unit of study in Semester 2 2020. There are approximately 300 students enrolled each semester, with a majority of international students studying the unit.
This pattern was developed and implemented in MKTG6007. We would like to acknowledge the Unit Coordinator closely involved from the Marketing discipline, Dr Christina Anthony.
The initial format for this unit included two-hour long lectures each week. These lectures were redesigned by chunking weekly topics into subtopics, each presented on separate Canvas pages. The pages included short, teacher-generated explainer videos to introduce students to core concepts. These were augmented with interactive activities for students to check their knowledge, as well as interactive diagrams, imagery and opportunities for students to share their responses through polls or virtual pinboards. The modules were designed to be rich in contemporary examples of marketing and advertising to help students relate theory and concepts to real-world examples. The modules were each concluded with a “Thought of the Day” page, where the coordinator shared a more informal example to encourage students to reflect on the weekly topic in a different way. A module navigator was included at the bottom of each page so students could see the whole module structure in a glance and easily jump between pages, rather than being restricted to the linear navigation of the LMS. Each week was bookended with an overview and summary page, and included a weekly Discussion forum for students to ask questions.
Canvas LMS: the modules were built using the Canvas Learning Management System. Teacher-generated videos were made using Canvas Studio.
H5P: some of the interactive elements on Canvas were built using H5P. These included the self-check questions on key concepts with question formats such as drag and drop, true and false and fill the blanks.
Genial.ly: some of the marketing theory frameworks were presented as interactive diagrams using Genial.ly. This allowed students to interact with the information in a more visual/spatial layout, reducing cognitive load as information could be revealed incrementally through students clicking hotspots for more explanation.
Padlet: students were often invited to share their responses or the outputs of activities they had completed via Padlet. The aim was to create a more student-centric experience and for students to get a sense of the whole cohort studying the unit. For example, one of the popular activities asked students to re-design the Starbucks logo and upload their design.
Opinion stage: polls were used extensively throughout the online modules for students to vote and see the results from the rest of the cohort. As many of the marketing concepts taught in the unit related to perception, the polls were often used in playful or gamified ways to test students’ perceptions and experiences with existing advertising campaigns.
The new delivery model was evaluated using student surveys and focus groups. The feedback from students on the quality of the online learning materials was highly positive. A large majority of students agreed that the chunked videos helped them to learn core concepts, the online modules were easy to use, and that there was a good connection between the Canvas modules and the workshop (tutorial) activities. All respondents in one survey agreed that the interactive activities on the Canvas site helped their learning, with two thirds indicating that it helped them a great deal. Overall, students reported enjoying the variation and mixture of different formats, interactive elements, videos and text. They also reported positively on the use of examples and summaries of key points at the end of each module. While students like the chunked sub-topic structure, some students requested a slide deck of the overall content summery in order to support their revision.