Posting Hiatus

We are taking a break from writing blog posts for a little while as we work on writing a book relating to instructional design practices and processes.


Gaming Instruction: Gamification vs Game-based Learning

In instructional technology, gamification is still one the most talked about methods for connecting learners with content especially in online learning. Proponents of gamification believe in its ability to provide a better learning experience because of its “fun factor”. At its heart, gamification is the application of incorporating game playing elements like competition or point scoring to a non-game situation as a way to engage learners. The key to understanding and thinking about gamification is learner engagement. In library instruction this has often been employed through the use of digital badges where an instructional event takes place and a badge may be earned in relation to participation, thus increasing engagement.

Game-based learning however is an instructional design approach that is based on defined learning outcomes in which a game format is used to reinforce educational goals.  Game-based learning is often an authentic learning experience that uses active learning in a game-like format to help learners apply subject matter. An example of game-based learning we use in the UC San Diego Library is the Jeopardy game we use within the Academic Integrity workshop to reinforce plagiarism concepts.

Gamification and game-based learning often times blend harmoniously yet there is a discrete distinction between the two.  Of the two, gamification of instruction is the most likely to go awry in part due to its lack of learning outcomes as a grounding principle. Learners can become distracted by the chase of achieving badges or flashing icons in online learning environments and fail to comprehend presented content. To keep the gaming of your instruction on point, focus on the learning objectives first before considering elements of engagement.

Back to the Drawing Board: When Design Fails

Although a considerable amount of instructional design planning and testing goes into the instruction we provide in the library, not everything goes according to plan. Occasionally we find ourselves having to rework or refine a lesson, activity, or learning object. One recent example of this relates to a library scavenger hunt activity that introduces new freshman and transfer students to the library’s spaces, services, and resources. The activity is in its third year and recently we made a slight change that had unintended consequences for our Information Desk. One of the first stops on the scavenger hunt requires students to locate the Information Desk and input into their mobile devices the activity code they find there. Originally the sign at the desk was temporary and printed on neon paper that looked like Image 1 below. Due to the success of the activity, we moved to permanent signage and in that process we changed the sign to look like Image 2.


The first quarter of the signage change, we noticed that the Information Desk staff put a sticky note on the sign with an arrow that pointed to “help”. The Information Desk was being inundated by students asking for the activity code. This confusion took up staff time and negatively impacted the desk workflow. It was clear to us that the issue was associated to the new sign as we didn’t experience this issue in previous quarters. Our first solution assumed a user issue and we checked the activity instructions for clarity of language. In doing so we changed the instruction language to refer to “activity code” instead of “validation code.” The next quarter, the sticky note was back. Although we had clarified language in the instructions activity for the user, the sign design was still problematic. It was then that we determined that the new sign conveyed to students “come her for activity help” as opposed to “the activity code is help”.Clearly this was a sign design flaw as opposed to a user issue. We then decided to change the code from “Help” to “Desk”, a word that had no assistive meaning assigned to it.

It may be difficult at times for a developer to look critically at the work they have done but it is a necessary part of evaluation. It is all too easy to assign fault based on how others behave as opposed to the design of a lesson or object itself. This experience is a reminder to us that in many cases when something is not working the way it is intended, the issue at hand is most likely a design issue and not a user issue.

Rapid Authoring Tools in Elearning: What Are They and How to Pick One

A lot of the work that I do as an Instructional Technologies Librarian is focused on creating eLearning objects, which refers to the collection of content or assessment items that are used in a virtual learning environment. This includes creating objects that support users in completing a specific task (i.e. performance support) like LibGuides, how-to screencasts, videos, and online tutorials. The most time consuming and robust objects that I create for eLearning are online tutorials that may be imbedded into a learning management system (LMS) or accessed via a link on a webpage. The tutorials are designed to offer students the ability to learn new content and then actively use their knowledge to perform tasks, play games, etc. In order to do this work as a non-computer program, I rely on rapid authoring tools.

A rapid authoring tool is software that helps a designer build self-containing tutorials, much like the online tools that help you create your own website. The software does the background programming for you and allows you as a designer to focus on applying sound instructional design principles to the content you are creating. The rapid authoring tools on the market tend to vary in degree of sophistication. Products like Articulate Storyline have a small learning curve as the framework for the software builds off of pre-existing PowerPoint skills. On the other end of the spectrum are  products like ZebraZapps, that enables the designer to do some amazing game-like simulations but has a much steeper learning curve. My comfortability with rapid authoring tools is somewhere in the middle. I want to be able to create engaging interactions and have the ability to make minor code adjustments but I don’t want to have to write my own java script to create a learning interaction.

Here are some things I look for when shopping for a rapid authoring tool.

Learning curve. I first look at the learning curve. I don’t necessarily need a short learning curve but I do need a product that offers tutorials, how-to instructions and a community of support. It is likely that your technology department will not support the rapid authoring tool you select so you’ll need to have access to external help.

Functionality. I need the tool to enable me to upload a package to a LMS or send out web links. I need it to work on all browsers and devices, flash or no flash, and ideally help me with 508 accessibility standards.

Compatibility. I also look at the tools compatibility with other software our department uses or built in functionalities like audio editing features. Captivate, Storyline Articulate (depending on version) and Lectora by Trivantis are examples of rapid authoring tools that are compatible with other software packages.

If you are thinking about adding active learning elements to your e-learning, a rapid authoring tool can make it possible for you to do so. Educational content becomes more engaging, students are able to apply what they learned and elements of assessment can be added through the use of quizzes and test scores. With some creativity the possibilities for engaged student learning are endless.

Motivated Learners: ARCS Model of Motivation

The ARCS Model of Motivation, developed by John Keller, is an instructional design approach used to engage learners.  It systematically outlines ways to gain a learner’s attention and then keep it through out a lesson.  ARCS stands for Attention, Relevance, Confidence and Satisfaction. Using instructional design practices like the ARCS model is one of the techniques used in Learning Services to create engaging online tutorials.  Here’s a look at the model in action.


Generally, gaining a learner’s attention is done through stimulating a learner’s perception or inquiry about a topic.  Keller refers to this as perceptual arousal and inquiry arousal.  Perceptual arousal grabs a learner’s attention through surprise or disbelief while inquiry arousal captures a learner’s interests by creating a need to solve a problem.  You are likely already familiar with how perceptual and inquiry arousal is stimulated as it is often the goal behind capturing a viewer’s attention in TV commercials.

There are a variety of ways to gain a learners attention and as an instructor you should feel free to experiment with and employ a variety of methods.  Some options include: active participation, use of humor, conflict, various media, and real world examples.

In the plagiarism tutorial, we used a variety of attention getters and placed them throughout the tutorial.  Initially the tutorial begins by testing the students on their knowledge through a short quiz.  If students get the quiz correct, they can move on.  If they get the quiz incorrect, they are forced to complete the tutorial.  This technique is unique as it can stimulate both perceptual and inquiry arousal.  Some learners will be surprised that they didn’t know as much as they though they did.  Other learners will see a challenge in figuring out why they received a wrong answer.  Another way attention was created and maintained during the tutorial was the use of animated characters that added a slight humorous feel to the lessons.


Relevance pertains to using analogies, stories, and other strategies that enables learners to relate to the material.  This includes linking material to current or previous experiences, showing learners the worth of learning the lesson by answering the “what’s in it for me” question or illustrating the usefulness of newly learned skills.

In the plagiarism tutorial we create relevance by relaying the message up front that this lesson will help you avoid plagiarism and its consequences.  It also uses case studies, written from the student perspective of possible real-world scenarios and their answers.  This helps student recognize their own misunderstanding about plagiarism and provides relevance.


Confidence is about helping a learner feel good about their ability to succeed.  If a learner feels like they will never “get it” or that the material is too hard, it puts up a mental block of discouragement and saps learner motivation.  Suggested ways of building confidence include: providing feedback, communicating objectives so that a learner can recognize when a goal or objective has been achieved, and taking small steps that show immediate success.

We build confidence in tutorials by presenting information in baby steps and building as we go.  We also provide positive feedback.  Even negative feedback is worded in a positive way that explains what the better choice would be.  Also built into the tutorial are what we call “You Try” activities that enables learners to practice new skills and test their understanding in a non-graded, low-risk environment.


At the end of a lesson, learners should feel satisfied that they have achieved a lessons objects, goals or gained new knowledge or skills.  Some strategies for increasing satisfaction are praise and rewards as well as immediate application.  Learns should feel the new knowledge or skill that was learned is immediately applicable and that the time spent learning was worth it.

Each of our tutorials end with praise via a congratulations message.  Satisfaction is also increased by a call to action that is given through a reiteration of what the learner can now achieve or do.

Embedding Online Instruction into Learning Management Systems

Recently I was asked my thoughts on how to go about embedding library instruction into learning management systems (LMS). Questions ranged from is it doable to is it sustainable? The answer to these questions and more is yes!

Embedding library instruction into an LMS can be as simple or as complex as you want to make it.

Strategy: Create a library page within the LMS


At the very least, you should talk to your LMS administrator about creating a library page that is accessible in the system regardless of the course. It serves as a resource page that when clicked links students to library resources. Once the link is embedded into the LMS, the issue is one of webpage creation and maintenance. Often times this page is a general information page from the library’s website. The LMS administrator will just need the URL.

Strategy: Become a “TA” in a course


A library webpage accessible in an LMS system is great but it doesn’t really hit the mark when it comes to embedding yourself in terms of instruction. Another easy step, is to talk to your faculty about gaining TA access that would allow you to create a content page within an individual class. This content page could include basic contact information, maybe a few databases that would be specific to the course or an introduction to you and a link to your course guide. This type of content page within a course would need to be spot-checked every couple of years to ensure the information is accurate and relevant. Keep in mind that links to webpages are not as permanent as we would like. The more links that you include, the more maintenance you will need to do to ensure that the URLs are still working.

Strategy: Create a lesson in a course


With TA access, you can build upon the easy step above and actually create a lesson. This type of content creation is usually connected to or presented as a homework assignment and generally takes the form of “reading lectures”. You can make them more engaging by including links to videos and other multimedia. This type of content creation is usually connected to or presented as a homework assignment. It can include quizzes that are created inside the LMS itself which can be connected to the gradebook to provide credit/no credit or a grade for completing a homework assignment. If you are going to this level, you need to be sure that you are creating content in conjunction with the faculty. Remember you are a guest in their classroom and you would need to make sure that the content you create is meeting the learning objectives/goals of the faculty. Maintenance at this level is generally a yearly spot-check to make sure your content is still current, relevant and that links are still working.  Additionally you may be contacted at anytime if students run into technical problems when accessing your content.

Strategy: Create tutorials and embed them within the LMS to be captured in the gradebook


If you are tech savvy and have the time and resources, you can actually use rapid authoring tools to embed a library tutorial inside a learning management system and connect it to the gradebook. This may take the cooperation of your LMS administrator as well as TA access.   When thoughtfully designed, a tutorial could take the place of in-person instruction. This option is similar to the one above only the material presented in a tutorial can become interactive and engaging in a way that “reading lectures” do not. Generally a library tutorial will be connected to or presented as a homework assignment as well. These types of tutorials take time to develop and are done in partnership with the faculty. The workload is front-loaded and because the faculty is an active participant in the design, it is unlikely they will want to make changes to it regularly. Our online tutorials are on a 2 year review cycle.  Additionally you should plan on being the technical support contact in the event student runs into technical problems or user issues.

Whether you want to just get your feet wet by adding a contact page to a class with a link to your course guide or jump right in and create a tutorial, there are many ways in which you can become a part of the online classroom environment. The key is building a relationship with your faculty so that s/he is comfortable with you becoming a part of their online classroom much like you would do for the traditional classroom.

If one of the strategies interests you, feel free to contact us through the Learning Services Consultation form.

Engaged Learners in the Lecture Hall

Incorporating active learning into large lecture halls can be challenging. How exactly do you split a lecture hall into groups? If you did a think-pair-share would you even have time for the pairs to share?  Do you use polling with a show of hands? Crystal Goldman, the Instruction Coordinator at UCSD, shared a technique that encourages engagement in large groups called the Cephalonian Method during a recent Lunch and Learn workshop.

The Cephalonian Method was created by librarians Linda Davies and Nigel Morgan at the Cardiff University in Wales.  It is a technique that uses colored index cards with questions written on them to stimulate a guided conversation about a topic in the place of a traditional lecture. The best way to explain the method is to walk through an example.

Prior to my lesson, I would create a series of questions about the topic we will be discussing that are designed to illicit the information I would want to present.  I would write these questions on colored index cards using different colored cards to provide topical groupings.  I would also include a starting question on a card of a specific color as well as questions that help me transition from one topic to another, again using a different color.

On the day of the lecture, I would pass out these cards randomly to participants informing them that when called to do so they will need to stand up and read the question on their card aloud.  If they are unwilling to do so, I kindly ask them to pass the card off to someone who is.  After an introduction to start the lecture, I would ask for the first question that is identified by the card in orange (there should only be one orange card).  The orange card holder stands up, reads the question and the conversation begins.  Next, I would ask for anyone with a green card to stand up and read the question on the card.  There can be a number of green cards that represent a topic.  When I have exhausted all of the green cards, I would then ask for the yellow transition card (there should only be one) and then move on to the purple cards which identify the next topic.  In this way information is shared with the audience in a question answer conversational style that calls for audience participation.

What is nice about the Cephalonian method is that it can be used in any instructional setting but typically works best with a group of at least 20.  It is flexible and can be used to cover a variety of topics and concepts, answers could be simple verbal responses or require demonstrations, and cards can be modified to included numbers so that questions can be asked in order instead of randomly.  When using this technique with your audience, consider whether or not your topic can be approached in a non-linear format.  If not, you may want to stick with numbered cards.  Another tip is to actually write the color of the card on the card for members of the audience who may be colored blind.

Do you have ideas about engaging students in a large lecture hall setting?  What has worked for you?