Applying Design Thinking To A Problem Of Practice



Defining the problem
There is a discrepancy between the face-to-face TE 150 class and the online TE 150 class. Students in both sections are not getting the same experiences. Both classes have their advantages and disadvantages, but there needs to be more harmony between the two in terms of content, assignments, course goals, type of course management system used etc... The online TE 150 has not been updated since 2008 whereas the face-to-face section has undergone major updates.
My plan is to re-design the various aspects of online TE 150 class to make it more comparable to its face-to-face equivalent.
Approaching the problem
Since I am not responsible for the course, I think the best approach is to meet with the online TE 150 course coordinator and compare the contents from both course modes. We will then decide on the content as well as on the organization of the course to match the updated content. From there, I can work on updating the syllabus, assignments, and other course material.
The main way I plan to approach this design problem is by communicating with the various stakeholders.
Researching the problem
In terms of research, since I am already a TA for both sections of the course, I have the resources for the face-to-face TE 150 course which I have been teaching for the past three years. However, since I have been a TA for the online section for less than a semester, I would like to speak with previous online TE 150 TAs to get their opinions on how they would improve the course. I am also planning on talking with the other (new) online TE 150 TA for her input and perspective. I can also get in contact with previous TE 150 students (from both the face-to-face and online sections) and get their input on the most meaningful/memorable lessons and assignments from the course.
Currently, the student-student and student-instructor interactions are occurring on Moodle discussion forums. These interactions seem ‘artificial’. I would like to include more technology use in the online course that goes beyond discussion forums. Therefore, I will need to research the tech tools available that will provide the students with a more meaningful experience.


Themes, ideas, and insights
I had a very brief, preliminary talk with the coordinator of the online TE 150 course, Dr. Ralph Putnam, about this problem of practice design project. Before I had a chance to go further than informing him about my intentions, the first thing he mentioned was the need to reconcile the content of the online class with that of the face-to-face class. My thinking was right on target as Dr. Putnam also thought that was the main problem that needs to be addressed.
I think that the best approach to take would be looking at this problem of practice from a student’s perspective. As a student in the online TE 150 class, how is my learning different or similar to that of a student in the face-to-face TE 150? What is needed/should be changed in order to make my learning experience wholesome, enjoyable, and meaningful? As such, if this problem of practice is to be told as a story, it will be told from a first person point-of-view with the protagonists being one typical student in the online TE 150 class and the other from the face-to-face section. I need to turn these two perspectives into a coherent one.
I also think that the other approach to take would be to start from scratch with the content covered in the face-to-face class and translate the lessons and activities into online modules. The face-to-face course is set and is being adopted in 20-something sections; whereas there are three online sections.


Description of idea and rationale
Currently, the online TE 150 class is housed on Moodle and has been since the conception of this course.  However, Moodle does not allow multiple sections for a course – every section should be its own course. This becomes problematic when course instructors need to make changes to course content – they need to make the changes for each section. This is an unnecessary constraint that can be easily avoided on other platforms. MSU is moving from ANGEL as a CMS to desire2learn (a completely new system) soon therefore, I decided not to host design a course on either. I decided to develop the content of the online TE 150 class on a website but keep the discussion conversations on Moodle – creating groups for each section.
The decision to segregate the course content and discussions is a logistics decision. Content is static and I wanted to house it on a static platform that allows for easy editing; whereas discussions are dynamic and I wanted to house them on a platform that affords to sustain their fluid nature. The website will have direct links to the Moodle discussion forums where necessary to make it easier on the user to navigate between the two platforms.
Description of course website
See brainstorming notes pages 1 and 2.
Horizontal navigation bar (main):
  • Home: news/announcements
  • Calendar: shows due dates for assignments/discussions/milestones
  • Assignments: shows all the major assignment + their description/guidelines/rubric. Each assignment on a subpage/
  • Module 1, Module 2 …. Module 7: Content pages with main page showing intro to module and subpages within a vertical navigation bar
  • Contact: page where students fill out a form to contact their instructors
Vertical navigation bar (within module n):
  • Part 1 … part 4: each module is divided into four parts
Approaching the prototype
I am planning on developing the prototype of the course content on Wordpress either as part of my own website or as a separate one. There are advantages and disadvantages to both – I want the flexibility that my own website affords me, but I want the course content to be housed on a site that can be accessed easily by all present and future instructors and TAs. I am planning to talk with a few of my face-to-face students about the course content and ask them about the lessons (so far) they most enjoyed/found important/interesting etc… and will use the existing online TE 150 content as a starting point and add to/remove from its content accordingly. After setting up a few working modules, I will ask a couple of the face-to-face and online TE 150 students as well as another face-to-face and online TE 150 TA to go through them and give feedback.


Before starting to develop the website, I compared the lessons from the face-to-face class to those from the online class and primarily decided on which lessons to keep from both sections. See brainstorming notes 3 and 4.  I then showed the list to the other TAs for both the face-to-face and online course as well as a few face-to-face students. They validated my choice of lessons.
I initially wanted to develop the course website on Wordpress but ran into several issues. Therefore, after experimenting with different website-building tools, I decided to use Google Sites.  In fact, I decided to incorporate several of the Google applications into the website. These allow the instructor to have one repository for all the course information: a folder in Google drive that can be shared with other instructors. Also, the instructor can give permission to certain students to access to specific files or documents. This comes in handy since there are several sections for the online course.
To view the website prototype, please follow this link here. See brainstorming notes 5, 6, 7, and 8.
Google calendar: this is used to place assignment reminders for students. If they choose to, students can add the TE 150 calendar as their own calendar and set up email or text alerts to receive reminders of when assignments are due.
Google groups: this is used to set up the forum discussions. There is a Google group for each section in this course: 730, 731, and 732. The instructors will add students to their respective sections and give them permission to post to the discussions in their section’s Google group.
Google spreadsheet: this is used for students to submit certain types of assignments; e.g., submitting the title of the book they want to review.
Google forms: this is used for the quiz assignments.
Google document folder: this is used as a dropbox for students to submit some assignments. The instructors will add students to their respective section folders to give them permission to upload documents into those folders.
Google presentation: this is used to present content as a presentation.


At first, I wanted to include more working modules in my prototype to showcase its use. However, I felt that what I have as a prototype shows the different Google apps and their use and it also gives a clear picture of how the Google site course website could look like if work on it is continued.
Next steps
One: Showing the prototype to the online TE 150 course coordinator and working with him and the other course TA on expanding the website over the course of the Spring semester.
Two: Making sure that it is easy for others to edit the website and working on expanding it. Hopefully, the Google applications used are easy enough to work with.
Three: Running a trial module in the Spring. For two weeks in the Spring semester, the students in the online course would test the Google sites website as they switch to using it for two weeks as they work through a module. This would help in test driving the functionality of the website and allow us to get feedback from the major users (i.e., the students) on what is working and not working for them.