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Have you ever tried to retell a story, only to get to what you think is the climax, and not have anyone get the point? Instead, your listeners are giving you that look as if you haven’t finished telling the story. Or you try to retell a funny joke you heard and when you get to the punch line, no one thought it was funny? Being able to tell a story is an excellent teaching technique that taps into the affective domain by drawing students into a given setting and circumstance that demystifies complex concepts, fosters empathy for situations beyond our experiences, or promotes be able to handle dilemmas with no apparent right answer. Stories engage us in ways that lists, facts, theories, and principles can’t.books-1015594_960_720.jpg


For this reason, storytelling seem to be a good technique to incorporate into the teaching of publication style guidelines. Since I’m not a natural storyteller, I chose to borrow story elements from a story with which I am familiar, specifically the creation story as told in Genesis chapters one through three. When I learned to use APA publication guidelines, I certainly wondered where all these minute details came from. Who decided how many words constituted a block quote or which words in a reference would be italicized or not? Given the setting of disorder, a fall from grace style plot, and a larger than life god-like character, humor is used to convey the importance of using style guidelines to enhance the perception of credibility. Click to check out the story.


If you’re not good at storytelling, borrow from the best stories you know (notice the credits at the end of the movie). The Scarlet Citation was born from this process and is used to introduce students to the required style guidelines for a specific discipline. By tweaking the setting, plot, and character traits of familiar stories, a short story can be written in a few hours. This is just one way of telling a story when storytelling is not your strength.


-What strategies do you use to tell compelling stories for your learning projects?-

gamification-go-300x200.jpgLike most children, I grew up playing games. My mom loved to play games and many of my fondest childhood memories are of playing games with her. If my mom grew up in today’s game environment, she would be considered a serious gamer. None of my friends have stories of their mom waking them up at 1 and 2am just to play Backgammon, Gin, Spades, Bid Whist, Dominoes, Monopoly, Life, among many others. Throughout my teen years, electronic one player games were available. I remember the handheld football, baseball, and basketball games by Mattel. I would play handheld games for hours just to see the lights on the screen when a touchdown was scored or a grand slam was made.  Because much of our student population are gamers, infusing game design elements into the process of teaching the basics of publication guidelines was incorporated into the learning object.



So what do we mean by game design?

Are we talking about games based on popular game shows like “Wheel of Fortune” or “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” that help review course content? That’s one way to engage learners who prefer to be physically involved in learning activities. In this case, game design elements are those aspects of games that keep the gamer motivated to finish with a high score and even replay the game to see if they can beat a reigning high score.



Game design elements increase the entertainment value of an activity

One New Year’s eve, I remember attending a dinner theatre with great game design elements infused into the evening. The event started with a dramatic scene in which a character is found dead. The scene included several characters, each with their own motive for possibly killing the dead character. Throughout the evening, dinner guests interacted with the characters and other guests to uncover clues and figure out which character was the killer. It’s the game design elements that we wanted to infuse into the learning object to facilitate learning publication guidelines and recalling them as needed.


There are several elements to good games and I have come to realize that not all of them need to be incorporated into every learning experience. At a minimum, a game need to have a context, a goal to attain, challenges, and feedback mechanisms. The Scarlet Citation story provides the context the learner needs to understand the purpose of successfully completing the seven mini quests. With the ultimate goal of learning the style format of their discipline so that they can re-enter the library created by the Writer, students learn proper title page, document, citation, and reference list formatting. To successfully complete each quest, the student has to view a two to three minute video tutorial on each of seven publication style elements followed by a brief.  While completing the activities, the learner will encounter encouraging and corrective feedback along with a summary of the learned content. Instruction is provided throughout the learning object, whether the student answers correctly or incorrectly to support mastery of the learning outcomes. Check out the AbstractQuest.


-What additional game elements might enhance this learning object? What are your favorite game elements and how do you use them to support learning outcomes?-

Why should you be concerned about the way content looks online when presented to students?


The answer lies in understanding the difference between having dinner at McDonalds fast food restaurant, Golden Corral buffet style restaurant, and the Reunion Tower in Dallas, TX that provides a 360 degree view of the Dallas area while you eat. Still not sure why you should care about the presentation of course content that you spent hours, days, and perhaps weeks developing? Consider the differences between driving a Mazda Protege, a Toyota Camry, and Cadillac Escalade.  What about the differences in shopping at a strip mall versus, outlet mall, or a themed mall like downtown Disney?  One of the differentiating characteristics between selecting a restaurant in which to dine, a car to drive, or a mall in which to shop is the experience.




The visual design of content online contributes to the overall experience of learning and influences whether or not a learned experience can be recalled when needed. This is important because learning styles vary among students. Good teachers and good teaching honors the differences in learning styles and strives to accommodate those differences through relevant pedagogy. In the image gallery below, which content page image would you rather view?




Teaching students to apply style guidelines to manuscripts is usually a text heavy experience.

We can read the book on style guidelines for our discipline. We can read web pages about style guidelines on the internet. However, there are very few visually oriented resources for learning publication guidelines. Learning experiences with a variety of media to teach an aspect of the publication guidelines, such as the one on plagiarism developed for Lycoming College, are limited in number and scope.  Because content area teachers have tried using text to teach, reteach, and tutor students on various aspects of publication guidelines, my assistant academic dean and I thought we’d try a more visual approach to the topic. In The Scarlet Citation, learning object, images, video, graphics, and animations serve three purposes. The first is to elicit an emotional response, specifically laughter. The second is to explain the content. The third is to maintain engagement throughout the experience. Lets look at how these purposes are achieved visually, and how the visual elements support the learning outcomes for apply style guidelines in an academic paper.



"Why do I have to know this?"

The learning object begins with a story that establishes a context and explains the most asked question of any teacher, “Why do I have to know this?” White, faceless, 3D stick figures provide a light-hearted humorous tone that contrasts the seriousness of applying publication guidelines.  Why is a light-hearted humorous tone important? As the parody of the biblical creation story unfolds, the over-the-top exaggeration of the impact of not using publication guidelines will facilitate the recall of the importance of using them in academic and professional settings. The context of the story ends with the readers being exiled from the library and forced to do research online. To keep with the theme of doing research online, a desktop computer is used to house the video tutorial and the instructions to the interactive activities.  This brings us to the third purpose of the visuals, which is to maintain student engagement throughout the learning object. The Scarlet Citation story has a variety of images, graphics, and animations that change every few seconds or less. The change in visuals helps to maintain visual interest. The eyes are constantly scanning the computer screen for information. The senses are not dulled by viewing the same visual for extended periods of time. Visuals are also part of the interactivity of the learning object. Images can be used in drag and drop, hot spot, matching, fill-in-the-blank, and multiple choice activities that contrast the short audio and reading messages. For example, an image of the title page to a manuscript, although not to scale, supports the learning outcome of the proper placement of required elements. The image of the Microsoft Word ruler allows for the designation of a “hot spot” where a learner indicates the spacing required for a hanging indent. Many people can learn from text alone. For the rest of us, a visual design is essential.



How do images in your learning object support eliciting an emotional response, explaining content, and maintaining engagement? Are there other purposes that your images serve, not discussed in this article?


-Questions and comments welcome-



     When providing feedback on formal written assignments, what would you say are the most frequently made APA style guideline mistakes? Perhaps not including a running head on the title page of the manuscript. Or not using a hanging indent for references. Or any combination of errors seen in providing in-text citations or quotations. Are these errors so frequent that you have created a numbered list of style guideline feedback comments, provided the list of numbered comments to students, and when grading, made reference to the comment number next to student errors in the manuscript? I have known instructors to use this technique to manage the frequency with which they repeat the same comment. In fact, as a student, I have been the recipient of such numbered comments on graded written assignments.


     With mixed results, instructors tend to make the resources of the publication style guidelines of a specific discipline available to students and then hold them accountable for proper use of style guidelines by awarding points. Many high school, undergraduate, and graduate instructors have stated they’ve made resources such as the style guideline book, quick reference guides, or links to style guideline websites available to help students. And still, students are not able to apply style guidelines to the title page, the abstract, in-text citations, reference list, use of quotations, or to avoid plagiarism. As instructors, it’s easy to question whether or not students are reading the references made available to them. I am fairly confident that some of our students access the reading materials we provide them on style guidelines. However, I’m also confident that the written text is not always understood as intended.


     Based on Universal Design for Learning Principles, Active Learning Framework, and Multiple Intelligence theories, we know that students have varied learning styles and preferences. While there are some YouTube video resources available on aspects of a specific style guideline, most references I’ve seen for manuscript formatting are text-based. To provide online learners with an alternative resource for learning APA style guidelines, I was invited to collaborate with a colleague on the design of a learning object that would integrate a variety of media to teach APA style elements with which students frequently erred. What is meant by the term “learning object?”  For this discussion, the term refers to a self-contained file of interactive instructional content that is responsive to user input. The goal of using a learning object like this is to increase access and consumption of the APA style guideline resources through varied learning preferences.


     Other than knowing we didn’t want the primary format of the resource to be text-based, we didn’t know exactly what we wanted the resource to look like. So we searched for learning objects we liked and found a model of video instruction and interactions we might want to integrate into a learning object. The elements of the models we found and wanted to employ included:

  1. Story elements
  2. Game design elements
  3. Visual elements – images, graphics, animations


     Because this project is believed to be a solution to the challenges students face in producing an appropriately formatted manuscript using APA style guidelines, this series of four posts will describe our efforts to produce the learning object. This learning object is a work in progress. Currently, a draft of the project has been produced. A pilot of the learning object will be shared with a limited number of students for feedback. Revisions based on student feedback are expected, with the hope of making the learning object available to the larger student body no later than fall 2016.



Below is a sample of the learning object. The next post will highlight the story elements of the learning object. The third post will highlight the game design elements and the last post in this series will focus on the visual elements selected for the learning object.  Here's a link to the demo version of the learning object. Hope you’ll join me!


-Questions and comments welcome-