Artifact 4: Instructional Unit Design

The essence of what I do is build courses. Here I was able to build something, get input from my fellow students and, by accident, be consulted on setting the future direction for one of Canada's universities.

Why Selected

For MDDE 604 I was required to prepare a small course module, so I took the opportunity to design one on a topic I have been interested in for decades: innovation.


Assignment 4, course MDDE 604 Instructional Design in Distance Education, Instructional Material:

The purpose of this document is to complete the design an instructional unit called “An Introduction to Innovation.” This is intended to be part of a new course, provisionally titled "Innovation, Commercialisation and Entrepreneurship in Technology" to be offered on-line, initially for students in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), Canberra. The first two steps in instructional design (ID): needs assessment and proposal; were carried out in Assignment 1 and next two in Assignment 2: Instructional Analysis and Test Items. This last step is the preparation of one of the instructional units, using the Moodle Leaning [sic] Management System.

From: Instructional Material, 10 April 2015


2. Instructional Design & Development

2.3. Describe and appropriately apply a range of learning and motivational theories to instructional design situations in distance education

2.5. Develop instructional products or learning objects in distance education

2.7. Apply instructional design principles and models in distance education, in your workplace, or in other instructional contexts.

6. Management, Organization and Leadership

6.1.     Analyze the current and future climate of the distance education and distance learning industry, and formulate strategies to respond to that climate


The idea here was to bridge the gap between on-line and hands-on learning. For several years students from universities in Canberra have been able to enter the "Innovation ACT" competition. I had mentored several winning teams for this competition. However, I was increasingly frustrated that while the students worked very hard and learned useful skills, none of this counted towards their degree. By adding an academic framework through an on-line module, I hoped to make their extra-curricular activities curricula (2.3, 2.7). I produced a further module for this on "Entrepreneurship" as Assignment 3 for MDDE 622 "Openness in Distance Education."

An interesting part of these exercises in Instructional Design (ID) was to have fellow students try the material and also learn from their designs (2.7). What seemed very obvious in my design turned out to be difficult for my fellow students. One example, was overestimating the amount of text a student is willing to read. As I wrote in my journal at the time:

"... everyone kept telling me I had too much for a student to read and do in an hour, so I have pruned more this time (I find it much easier to create modules which take a student ten hours than one hour). ..."

From: Journal, Monday, 6 July 2015, 10:21 PM MDT

Curiously, at the same time I was telling my fellow students they had too much text in their ID exercises, but I was blind to the problem with my own. This brought home to me the value of having work reviewed by peers. One area where I was able to help other students, and where my experience with ID showed, was in the restrained use of hypertext links and other formatting features. My fellow students tended to produce materials which are hard to read due to the use of too many colors, fonts and images, so I suggested a more restrained approach.

Having an innovation competition to complement a course was an idea suggested by Philippe Kruchten at UBC Electrical and Computer Engineering, who I visited in Vancouver while at a conference in 2014. UBC's engineering and business students are encouraged to enter innovation competitions, as part of learning in teams to produce a business plan (I could have read about Philippe's work on-line, but talking face to face, over lunch made for a much more compelling experience). On my return to Canberra I suggested this approach for teaching computer students and as a result in second semester 2016 was asked to tutor students students who are working on start-up projects with business students (2.7).

Also while in Vancouver, I found the UBC Irving K Barber Learning Centre, to be a metaphor in stone, concrete, and glass, for combining face-to-face and e-learning. The Main Library of UBC was opened in 1925 and had a modern glass and concrete building wrapped around three sides of it in 2008. It is very evident which is the old building and which the new, but the two have been combined reasonably harmoniously on the outside. Inside there is one modern library, seamlessly providing both paper and e-books. In a similar way, it should be possible to add on-line components, to complement face-to-face education, providing the best of both (6.1). I mentioned the UBC building in several forum posts for MDDE 604:

"Bates (2011), reports on an instructional design workshop at UBC organized by BC Campus and the BC Educational Technology Users Group ...

What first got my attention was the  photo in Bates' blog of the Irving K Barber Learning Centre, at UBC. I spent a few hours in this excellent building during my visit and its physical structure provides a metaphor for one way new educational techniques can be built on an existing bricks and mortar (or in this case British Columbia granite) base. The photo Bates uses only shows the modern glass and steel front of the learning center. However, the architect cleverly wrapped this around an old granite university building, as shown in my photo:

UBC Irving K Barber Learning Centre photo by Tom WorthingtonThe Irving K Barber Learning Centre looks like an old and new building, side by side, but internally they are one. I suggest the same can be done retrofitting existing educational programs with new instructional design techniques, while preserving the traditional structure. Students see new e-learning interfaces, alongside the traditional look of programs, but internally these are all connected up.

Back to Bates (2011), they first report on the ID workshop discussion of teaching innovation and creativity. They point out that it not just the creative arts which have this as a goal for students. The conference I attended at UBC had a stream on innovation in teaching computing, but only one paper explicitly addressed this (Zhang, 2014). Perhaps this is too hard a topic for those of us in the STEM area. Zhang takes an engineering approach dividing the problem of education, including teaching innovation into components, but I doubt it works that way. ..."

From: Teaching Innovation, 1 April 2015, 7:09 PM

"... a cynic might say that UBC's Irving K Barber Learning Centre represents what is wrong about modern education: the the traditional facade remains, but the interior has been gutted and now looks like a sterile airport lounge, with books replaced by computers and a coffee shop. But that is not my view, I would agree with Neame and Lomas (2006) more positive description."

From: Teaching Innovation-People and Place based Inspiration, 9 April 2015, 2:23 AM

One aspect of learning emphasized in the MEd was to incorporate real world experience into formal coursework. I am now doing that in my own teaching, where I am tutoring software engineering students to use e-portfolios in Canberra (2.7). There are only a handful of IT professionals in Canberra with any training or expedience in the use of e-portfolios, which creates an opportunity for .me to teach these skills. However, two Canberra researchers have shown that simple formative tasks might be used to teach students how to peer assess (Caldwell & Gedeon, 2015). This is an approach which might be applied to e-portfolios.

Australian universities are responding to the Government's National Innovation and Science Agenda, with new degrees, such as the UTS Bachelor of Technology and Innovation and the ANU Master of Innovation and Professional Practice. However, it will not be feasible to provide the large number of students undertaking such programs with sufficient trained instructors for hands-on teaching of innovation, nor would such a program be cost effective, even if the staff could be found. This is likely to make the ID skills I have gained in the MEd, in demand in Australia.

UBC Irving K Barber Learning Centre</a>, Photo by Tom Worthington CC-By 3.0 2015

UBC Irving K Barber Learning Centre, Photo by Tom Worthington CC-By 3.0 2015