James Park, Design Manager

Rebecca M. Quintana, Learning Experience Design Lead
@rebquintana

During our team’s work on the Storytelling for Social Change course with University of Michigan (U-M) faculty member, Anita Gonzalez, we recognized a need to really bring to life a tool that would allow learners to share their text- or image-based work for the course with other learners in an easy and open manner and to also receive robust feedback on their work from other learners. Because of the nature of our learners’ work in the course, and because of the different expectations and experiences we wanted them to have, we sought an alternative to the course platform’s peer-review tool. This alternative had to be one where work and feedback could both be shared more freely and in a way that prioritized high-quality interactions (especially dialogue) over numerical scores and one-way assessment. Ultimately, we ended up with a Gallery that would facilitate this sort of learner interaction and empower learners to share work—or multiple works—without fear that criticism of their work or the particular “rules” of the peer-review tool would impede their  successful progress in the course.

The Gallery tool is not only being used in the Storytelling for Social Change course, but also our Python Basics course, which introduces the basics of Python 3. For Python Basics, we wanted learners to have an opportunity to practice their Turtle programming skills and to submit their work for peer feedback. We wanted a lightweight option, something that would allow learners to share their work in a “low-stakes” environment, without the formality and restrictions of peer-graded assignments. The Gallery Tool allowed us to create a forum for learners to upload their drawing(s) and create prompts, which ask their peers for specific feedback about their drawing. We set the tool up to allow learners to filter on type of drawing, such as abstract, animal, building, logo, and nature.

We are already seeing a tremendous range of subject matter in the Gallery, including spider webs, pyramids, U-M logos, nature scenes, and many, many abstract drawings. Learners are asking for feedback on topics such as how to create color effects, how to create specific shapes, and areas for improvement. Interestingly, learners are also asking questions of other learners that relate to skills they have demonstrated in their drawings, such as “How do you fill a shape?”

Abstract drawings of turtles and a multi-colored spiral
Figure 1: Two Turtle drawings, published in the Python Basics course using the Gallery Tool

 

What does the Gallery Tool do?

Submission page for gallery tool
Figure 2: The Upload Submission screen learners see before submitting a piece for peer feedback.

Learners can upload a text- or image-based artifact, or a link to an artifact in another medium, to the Gallery, where they will be able to also provide a synopsis of the artifact and some relevant questions they would like to pose to a potential reviewer. In turn, they will have the ability to browse other learners’ work and provide feedback on it, taking into account the very questions that their colleagues have posed in association with the work. The Gallery is very much a place of reciprocity, and it thrives on learners contributing and receiving meaningful thoughts and reactions from others.

A collaboration across Academic Innovation teams

The creation of this tool was very much a joint effort across Academic Innovation teams, namely the Online Tools Team, who did the heavy lifting of designing and building the tool, the Design Management team, and the Learning Experience Design team. Our former colleague Steve Welsh provided a lot of early guidance on the tool’s design from a learning-experience perspective, and Anita Gonzalez also contributed helpful ideas about its purpose and execution, as well as a thoughtful early critique of a prototype. Together, members of all of these teams met regularly to assess the Gallery’s features, design, and future efficacy when employed in the context of our courses.

One personally eye-opening aspect of the development process was the careful balance of designing a robust tool that would be truly effective in Storytelling for Social Change—which was natural, since it was the impetus for the tool in the MOOC context—but easily adaptable for other courses and contexts from both the pedagogical and programming perspectives.

What’s next for the Gallery Tool?

We can see lots of potential for use of this tool in future projects. Essentially, this tool is a forum for learners to participate in a “show and tell” of their work, because it allows them to share creative artifacts and receive feedback from peers. Some courses ask learners to complete a final project. The Gallery Tool would be a great place for learners to share sketches and drafts, and receive responses to questions about their work before they submit their project for summative evaluation. Learners can also browse through previous examples, before beginning work on a challenging project. Some of our courses are hosted on two platforms simultaneously. Since the Gallery Tool works through Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI) integration, the tool could be a bridge between both versions of a course. Learners on Coursera would be able to share work and interact with learners on edX, and vice versa. In sum, Learning Experience Designers and others at Academic Innovation are excited by the flexibility that the tool affords, and are eager to use the tool in situations where learners would benefit from the opportunity to share and showcase their early work with a receptive and constructive audience.