Friday, February 16, 2024

This fall, the Office of Teaching, Learning, and Technology asked students to nominate their favorite ICON course sites for the first-ever ICON All Star Awards, an award that recognizes an instructor’s use of technology to enhance teaching and learning at Iowa through ICON course sites.

Sixty-three nominations were collected from students across the university, and a diverse panel of judges reviewed each ICON site for organization, ease of use, accessibility, content materials, opportunities for interaction (peer to peer and instructor to student), and communication (announcements and assignment feedback).

While all the nominated sites were stellar examples of how academic technology can promote student engagement and learning, three stood out as all stars:

  • Cindy Farthing, associate professor of instruction in the UI Department of Math, was nominated for MATH:1550.
  • Greg Hall, lecturer of accounting in the Tippie College of Business, was nominated for MBA:8140.
  • Kashelle Lockman, clinical assistant professor in the UI College of Pharmacy, was nominated for PHAR:8502:0001.

Farthing Uses Announcements and Weekly Overviews to Support Student Learning

Students wrote in the nomination form that the ICON site for MATH:1550 was, “Well organized and easily accessible, with weekly overviews that provides direct instructions on how to succeed in this class. I was able to easily access practice quizzes and review videos without frustration of having to navigate the site. I was able to easily see what needed to be done (and when) and access the resources that would help me get each assignment done!”

Farthing inherited the ICON site from Ryan Kinser, associate professor in the UI Department of Math, who had previously collaborated with the Center for Teaching, the Office of Teaching, Learning, and Technology, and Distance and Online Education to redesign the course.

“My goal is to make it easy for all students to find the information they need about the course,” explains Farthing. “The template they developed was a great foundation, and I learned techniques to make the site more appealing and engaging.”

She uses announcements to post general reminders of upcoming assignments and other important notices and to address students’ questions.

“If I’m receiving the same question from multiple students, I find it easier to post to ICON,” remarks Farthing. “I think an ICON announcement has an opportunity to stand out more than one of dozens of emails students might receive in a day.”

In the nominations, the students highlighted her organization and communication. Farthing explains her strategy:

“The most important part of the site is the weekly overview pages, which outline everything students need to know about what happened in the course that week—a play by play of what they need to do before, during, and after class. I list learning objectives, provide outlines of notes for students before class, copies of my notes after class, and links to lecture recordings. I also provide a list of all the assignments students have for that week and when they are due. If students need to reference another part of the ICON site or another resource, I try to provide links to make it easier. It certainly takes more time when creating the ICON site, but I think it reduces the total number of questions I receive from students.”

Announcements and Videos Help Hall Boost Student Engagement

A student from Hall’s course wrote, “His ICON site is clear, easy to use, and set-up students up for success. I do not have to hunt for which area to click on for assignments, tests, or communications. It is very intuitive, and I've learned not all ICON sites are as user friendly. His template should be the gold standard for all classes, not just MBA classes.”

The site Hall uses was initially designed by two accounting faculty members, Paul Hribar and Dain Donelson, with support from an instructional designer. He has adapted the site to meet his teaching needs.

“The flow is consistent, so once a student has been through one week’s module, they understand the structure for the remaining sessions,” says Hall. “A key is to keep the modules updated with relevant materials. After each session, I send an announcement that I’ve posted material covered in class, the class recording, and reminders of upcoming due dates.”

The student’s nomination also discussed their appreciation for his welcome video, and Hall shares why he includes it:

“It’s a way for students to feel like they know their instructor before the class begins. I think that is most important for courses conducted in an online format. The video gives a quick rundown of course objectives and any course material that needs to be completed before the first session. I also introduce each weekly module with a new video that captures the main points of the week’s material.”

Lockman Creates Inviting Course Homepage to Foster Student Success

A student from Lockman’s course wrote, “She always provides comprehensive modules for each day of class, including pre-class work, descriptions of the plan for the week, class slides and descriptions of activities, and post-class work and supplemental resources. She also provides a helpful description and purpose statement about the course on the homepage, with helpful links explaining first steps and showing the class calendar for ease of use. Even someone that has never used ICON before could easily follow the website and how to use it thanks to her design and care she put into this website.”

To create her ICON course site, Lockman used many of the principles she learned during Distance and Online Education’s Design 4 Online program, including teaching approaches from other faculty in the cohort.

Her goal is to create an inviting, inclusive, and engaging space that fosters learning and community. She describes her strategy to accomplish this:

“I include links to each learning activity or assignment for a lesson on the module page to make it easier for students to find everything, and I add one- to two-line descriptions to provide context for each hyperlinked resource or learning activity. I use infographics, icons, and multimedia to make the site more engaging and less impersonal. I have orientation/overview pages for each major course learning activity or resource. I also integrate concepts from the Transparency in Learning and Teaching framework, so students can better understand the purpose of assignments and how to successfully complete each assignment. “

Lockman also highlighted her use of the Syllabus Tab:

“I post a link to the full, official syllabus on the ICON Syllabus page, but I pull highlights of key information from the syllabus onto the ICON syllabus page. For example, this course uses ungrading, which students may not have experienced, so I feature information about that. I also post a color-coded things-to-do list and the course meeting schedule. “