Satisfy the Cat – Student Centered Course Design

If you’re like most educators who have the pleasure of designing your own course before/while teaching it, you probably do something like this:

  1. Identify the topics/standards to be covered
  2. Sketch out a general course outline
  3. Step back and figure out how you want to teach each topic
  4. Spend hours creating lessons, activities, PowerPoints, etc. that make up your lessons
  5. Teach the lesson
  6. Reflect on the effectiveness of the lesson and (maybe – if there’s time) revise it for the next time you teach it

The problem with this is that by the time you figure out if the lesson was effective or not, you’ve already invested a whole bunch of time and effort into designing it. In fact you may have already designed the whole course – or at least large chunks of the course – before you find out if it really ‘works’ with your students.

Take a page from User-Centered Design and Agile Software methods. As you’re planning a course or designing lessons, create some ‘prototype’ content that you can share with actual students. If there’s 2 or 3 ways to teach a concept, show of all of them and see which students react to most positively. Then run with that design.

For an easy to digest explanation of UCD, watch Satisfying the Cat:

This means that you’ll need to plan ahead and have a set of students you can fly this stuff past. Won’t make it easy – but it’s certainly doable, even if you’re planning for the next time you teach the course. You could get feedback from your current students.
Think this would work for you?
Have you tried it?
Comments welcome!

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When lock down browsers are not enough: Increasing Academic Integrity Online

In a previous post, I pointed out that, due to the increase of mobile internet-connected devices and multiple computers in student homes, lockdown browsers are a security blanket at best when it comes to academic integrity in online learning. And I promised to share my thoughts on what you could and probably should do beyond the lock down browser.  So here’s my list:

Use Deep Question Banks
Kids share the questions that were on the online and offline tests they’ve taken, and their answers to those tests.  And they don’t just share this information with their friends and classmates.  They share them online and make them publicly available on sites like and others. If you are using the same tests and questions over several years, you are putting the integrity of your test severely at risk. Develop deep question banks, as well as banks of distractors for multiple-choice questions.

Use Open-ended Questions
Well-crafted open-ended questions not only assess students’ higher-level thinking skills, but are harder for students to cheat on, especially when paired with…

Use Plagiarism Checkers
Plagiarism checkers take the electronic text-based assignment your students submit and compare them to indexes of web pages and against the every other submission ever sent to the service. The result is typically a score indicating how much of the submission is likely plagiarized and a report showing the sources in which a match was found. Just knowing that their submissions are being checked for originality can be enough to prevent plagiarism by students.

Make it Okay to Fail
Students cheat because there is some value to the assessment they are taking that, if they do not attain, is felt to be damaging to them in some way. But what if failing the assessment wasn’t just okay, but expected? This is how video games work. They expect you to fail and try over and over until you get it right. You might try giving grades for effort rather than results on formative assessments.

Stop Using Tests
I’m not saying you don’t assess students. I’m saying you stop testing them. Move to a project-based assessment system in which students have to create original works and to show you their evolution along the way. That last part is important: if you just accept a final polished PowerPoint as the project, there’s a higher chance that it was “borrowed” from someone else. Oh, and plagiarism checkers only work with text-based files.

Use Proctoring Services
When you must use tests, consider using online proctoring services. They run the gamut of cost, technology and methods. Some simply watch the student’s desktop and face on webcam, others record both and watch the recordings several times, reporting issues after the test has ended.

Use Identity Verification
Several online services confirm student identities before and during tests in both manual (showing their school ID on webcam) and automatically (analyzing keystrokes patterns while typing pre-set phrases)

Have any other ideas? Post them in the comments, or continue the conversation with me on Twitter and Google+ @robletcher.

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