My DBR Proposal

Statement of the problem and context

I work as an Online Educational Designer at a higher education institution in Australia. My role is to assist staff in the online delivery of courses. The courses are delivered using the Moodle learning management system but the university is open and invested in using any technology that will create more engaging and interactive online courses. Beyond knowledge competence graduate attributes such as communication skills, problem solving skills, critical and creative thinking, collaboration, digital literacy and life-long learning are also required to be embedded in fully online and blended courses.

A sample course review using a student’s point of view has revealed that many courses are content heavy but have little evidence of online student engagement, interaction or knowledge construction. The online environments are teacher-led, didactic and information dense. Conversion from traditional face-to-face approach to online has meant the online environment is used more as an add-on, a tool much like a textbook, augmenting the course at most.

Discussions with the head of school and academic developer confirmed the well documented issues that teachers face in converting their traditional pedagogy to an online environment (Rovai & Jordan, 2004; Torrisi-Steele & Drew, 2013). Current teaching practice can be changed to online if professional development is focussed on academics’ current pedagogy and support from peers using networked learning principles.

Research questions

  • What is (online) learning?
  • What are good teaching practices?
  • What is a good online course design?
  • What is a good course review tool?
  • What is missing/hidden from online teaching?
  • How can academics learn from each others online teaching practice?

Literature Review

Before we can address how online courses could be designed so that students can learn, we have to understand how people learn and what are good instructional methods. Both students and teachers have to adapt to a new teaching method. In How people learn (Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 2000) three core learning principles are described that enhance learning. First, teachers must understand students’ pre-existing knowledge and understandings; second, teachers must have in-depth factual knowledge with many examples; and third, metacognitive skills must be taught all subject areas (Bransford et al., 2000).

The networked learning principles fit well with the three core learning principles. To foster learning in the online environment, network learning principles are useful because they are: (1) learner-centred; (2) facilitate knowledge construction and distribution; and (3) develop connections (Anderson & Dron, 2012; Ehlers, 2013; Siemens, 2005). In networked learning the student is put central as they are able to choose their own learning path based on their prior knowledge and interests. In-depth factual knowledge can be found in various people and tools beyond the teacher, providing many examples and perspectives. Teaching students about connections lays bare the learning process: how to find information; who are the people to connect to; or what tools to use.

Most current higher education teaching is not using networked learning principles to teach students, even though the online environment affords them with the technology and tools to do so. Most traditional education is still focused on teaching factual knowledge in a didactic manner rather than teaching the thinking skills using real-world problem based approaches (Bransford et al., 2000; Cabrera & Colosi, 2012; Putman & Borko, 2000). This is a problem with education in general, not just online education. Educational practices in higher education are still teacher-dominated not learner-centred, thinking skills are not explicitly taught, and courses are still content driven (Keppell, Suddaby, & Hard, 2015; Kirkwood, 2014; Sharkova, 2014).

Academics use learning management systems to make information using various perspectives and media accessible to students. Student interaction is possible but this does not mean student interaction, learning or changes in teaching practice are occurring (Dias & Diniz, 2014; Price & Kirkwood, 2013; Sharkova, 2014). Networked learning principles can be used to transition information output driven online course environments to an environment where the student constructs knowledge via people, tools and connections.

Higher education institutions often focus on the transformational ability of online learning and technologies (Graham, Woodfield, & Harrison, 2013). However, Clark (1994) states that learning outcomes can be achieved regardless of the medium used.

“All methods required for learning can be delivered by a variety of media and media attributes. It is the method which is the ‘active ingredient’ or active independent variable that may or may not be delivered by the medium to influence learning” (Clark, 1994, p. 26)

Clarke (1994) suggests that teachers should focus on the instructional methods regardless of medium to achieve learning outcomes. Bransford et al. (2000) state that “there is no universal best teaching practice” (p.22). In higher education the problem is further exacerbated as academics are not necessarily teachers, their time is divided between research and teaching. “Professors know their content; however, more likely than not, they have not been exposed to the pedagogy of teaching and learning” (Bernauer & Tomei, 2015). Technological, time, design and support are further challenges for academics in universities around the world (Garrison & Kanuka, 2004; Moskal, Dziuban, & Hartman, 2013; Wanner & Palmer, 2015).

Students, especially fully online students, expect and require an engaging online learning environment to interact with teachers and peers and receive feedback on their learning (Garrison & Kanuka, 2004). Students “increasingly see a disconnect between the tools they use to learn and the tools they use to live and operate in modern life” (Herrington & Parker, 2013, p. 608).

Designing for learning has often been led by the technology rather than focussing on learning outcomes (Graham et al., 2013; Kirkwood, 2014). Developing the use of educational technology has often emphasised the know-how rather than the why or for what educational goals of using the technology (Kirkwood, 2014). There are some staff who have changed their pedagogy but a new method of teaching such as online learning is not widespread among teaching academics (Bohle Carbonell, Dailey-Herbert, & Gijselaers, 2013; Torrisi-Steele & Drew, 2013). Also the design process is an iterative process that occurs before teaching begins, during and after (Bennett, Agostinho, & Lockyer, 2016). Good practice reports of technology enhanced learning produced by the Office for Learning & Teaching (Partridge, Ponting, & McCay, 2011) are available but “evidence of the widespread awareness and uptake of the reports by educators has remained limited” (Keppell et al., 2015).

Numerous intervention strategies and tools are available to assist academics to move to a more learner-centred pedagogy for blended and fully online learning environments. A plethora of resources are available from the LAMS tool for designing, managing and delivering online collaborative learning activities (LAMS Foundation, 2015) to standards and rubrics for online learning (Online Learning Consortium, 2016; Quality Matters, 2014; University of Western Sydney, 2016) to design templates. Some of these strategies work for some people, but considering the lack of overall improvement in online learning the learning principles that should be in the learning environment are not evident.

The tools are too generic, not contextualised and do not link staff with others in their field. Teaching Teachers of the Future Project (Romeo, Lloyd, & Downes, 2013) made recommendations that each discipline should have their own accessible database of resources, support in how to use those resources, and provide good practice models in the use of information communication technology. Price and Kirkwood (2013) concluded that academics prefer to discuss the use of technology in teaching with their peers and academic developers rather than reading the literature. Bennett et al. “argue that tools to support teachers’ design work are more likely to be adopted if they first seek to connect with teachers’ existing practices” (Bennett et al., 2016). The proposed intervention hopes to build on existing practices, use peer review, provide exemplars, identify leaders, leverage good practice and connect staff in a discipline to practically incorporate the recommendations from the literature.

Guidelines to proposed intervention

To change the dynamic between an academic and online learning, the intervention strategy needs to imbue networked learning principles that could equally be applied when they design their online learning environments. The proposed intervention is underpinned by the following networked learning principles:

  • Learner-centred: the intervention needs to be available at the point of need and contextualised
  • Knowledge construction and distribution: the intervention should allow the creation and self-publishing of content
  • Developing connections: self-regulated collaborations, reflection and peer-networking

The proposed intervention will empower staff to self-review their online delivery of a course compared to others in their discipline. The review tool will make transparent exemplar elements of teaching design and practice by linking to people and online course environments. The tool will allow staff to leverage good practice and identify leaders by making connections because the tool will be created in a cloud-based environment where all responses are transparent for those who use the tool.

Description of the proposed intervention

The creation of an Online Course Delivery Self-Review Tool for academics that allows critical reflection on their own and other’s teaching practice in an online environment. The self-review tool will allow other teachers to access the self-review data and associated online course so that they can view and gain ideas from other teachers in their discipline. The self-review tool enables the designable elements of an online learning environments using Carvalho and Goodyear’s (2014) analytic framework to be reviewed. The design elements are the set design, the look and feel; the epistemic design, the tasks, assessments, learning outcomes; and the social design, interaction, collaboration. The Online Course Delivery Self-Review Tool is also designed using this framework.

The intended outcomes are that staff are able to build on their existing knowledge, share and reflect on their own teaching practice and consider the examples from their peers. The tool could become part of their design repertoire. Staff could use the tool to discover leaders, exemplars and form groups in interest areas.

Networked learning principles are particularly useful in the design as the tool is learner-centred in that it has the user’s knowledge in it and connections with others’ knowledge. Knowledge may reside inside someone else’s course and/or creators can be contacted for further explanation. Peer learning and co-creation is possible by using the tool. The more academics use the tool to self-reflect on their course, the more data is available for others to access and be informed by.

The Online Course Delivery Self-Review Tool:

  • is dynamic so that we can learn from the change
  • is collaborative and social – co-created by all those that use it
  • is using technology so that access to information is just-in-time/just-for-me facilitating the iterative design process
  • is networked which fosters mentoring, site visits, and learning by seeing
  • allows external feedback & peer review for validating and improving the online learning environment
  • allows you to link and leverage existing knowledge and people by creating a peer network. (Adapted from Flipcurric, 2016)

Plan for implementation

The implementation plan consists of the following stages:


Consult – In the first consulting stage, the basic course review that was conducted as part of the peer-review problem analysis process will inform the design of the Online Course Delivery Self-Review Tool. Consultation with the academic developer, head of school/discipline and identification of a pilot group of academics to finesse the tool.

Create & Distribute – The new cloud-based Online Course Delivery Self-Review tool will be created by the educational designer using a Google form. The form and responses will be accessible to the identified pilot group. A use guide for the form will also be created and distributed. Users can review entries via a graphical representation, qualitative comments, and a link to the Moodle course site is included.

Review – The review phase will be conducted after the pilot group have all reviewed their courses. The data will then be analysed and interviews with the academics to identify problems, effectiveness of use, and ideas on how to promote the tools to a wider audience will be incorporated.

Amend – The form, use guide and promotional resources will be created by the educational designer based on the review phase, including the data from the pilot group so users can review responses before doing a self-review or to get ideas.

Distribute – Tool will be distributed to a wider audience using a variety of methods (email, meetings, forums etc).

Consult – The responses will be reviewed periodically by the educational designer, head of disciplines and academic developers to identify strengths and weaknesses. The data can be used to contact staff and/or provide targeted support using a variety of methods (training, one-on-one meetings, peers etc.). Academics will have the opportunity to contact peers or simply review other people’s courses, perhaps looking for sharable design elements, these could be technologies used, tasks, teaching practices, assessments or even look and feel. Ultimately, interest groups or communities of practice might be created.


  • How to make the tool robust? Is Google form the best tool?
  • The responses might have to be cleared out periodically to stop it from getting unwieldly and to enable courses that have changed to be updated. Does a new form get recreated/designed on a yearly basis?
  • How can the data already entered be changed at a later date?
  • Can some elements of the tool be automated? e.g. data flows from the learning management system
  • Can automatic flags be created? e.g. emails/rss feeds for usage alerts/highly rated elements
  • How to incorporate the tool into the existing reiterative design repertoire of an academic?
  • Other uses? e.g. educational designers could ask academics to use tool prior to meeting with them
  • How to creating interdisciplinary links?
  • How to create accessible connections to other disciplines’ reviews?

The design of the Online Course Delivery Self-Review Tool should be refined with each iteration using the principles of networked learning. The tool could be redesigned at any stage and should be continuously evolving. Ultimately the academics have to collectively take ownership and incorporate it into their course design methodology. If successful, the tool could be rolled out to other disciplines. The tool should be contextualised to a discipline and re-designed to suit that discipline. The tool can be measured as successful if:

  • there is a positive impact on practice
  • there is widespread awareness
  • disengaged staff become engaged
  • a cultural change from ‘why don’t you’ towards ‘why don’t we’ happens
    (Flipcurric, 2016)


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