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Punya Mishra & Danah Henriksen

CEP917: Knowledge Media Design
Best Blended
“Design lies at the heart”
- Punya Mishra & Danah Henriksen -

CEP 917 is a course about design. Throughout the semester students spend a great deal of time reading about and discussing a variety of aspects of design. The subject is considered from many angles and perspectives, and students work on creative design and pragmatic design for learning projects. With design as the intellectual/academic focus, this course was a unique opportunity to cover a wide variety of related topics (such as: knowledge/thinking processes of designers, design and technology, evolutionary design, research, learning by design, creativity, and much more), while also making the course itself an example of design in process.

There were several transformational aspects to making it a hybrid/blended course. These included:

  • To make the course available to both traditional doctoral students in the EPET program, and to hybrid doctoral students who typically work as full-time educational professionals outside of campus (often out-of-state or even out-of-country).
  • To purposefully and effectively use technology and instructional approaches that fit with and enhanced course content, communication, and learning. Regular synchronous sessions included a mixture of lecture, demonstrations, facilitated discussions, collaborative small-group work, and mini-design activities.
  • To involve students in discussing and thinking deeply about design in the context of their teaching, learning, and research interests; and to involve them in design practices in the scope of their projects and assignments – both at smaller and larger scales, in creative work and pragmatic/problem-solving ways. Such activities that highlight creativity, with authentic and real world contexts, are essential to meaningful learning and understanding

Everything, from the design of the flow of the assignments and readings, to the design of the course website – from the design of the physical space of the classroom to the “in-between” space navigated through technologies like video conference and cloud computing, were given a great deal of thought and detail.

Deep Integration

A key part of the design of this hybrid, blended course involved the integration of technology, pedagogy and content – specifically to further the goals of the course. Technology was used as a tool to achieve course goals, not simply for the sake of trying the newest tech innovations.

What is interesting is that interesting innovation did occur – emerging organically out of the needs of the course. Taken individually, the innovations or ideas from this class may not appear revolutionary (the multi-camera use, the “tripad”, videos introducing the readings, GoToMeeting, EtherPad, course website features like cartoons on design or random images of participants, etc.) but taken together they form an integrated whole greater than the sum of the individual innovations.

The instructors also attempted to ensure that content and approach to the content dovetailed to made one coherent package. That is to say, it was a course about design that also modeled design for the students, through the iterative process of adjusting technology and pedagogy to serve the needs of our learners.

Bringing Online and F2F Students into the Same Classroom Space/Time

A key goal of this course was to go beyond traditional notions of “blended” learning (which often involves some traditional f2f learning, along with some online learning). But we aimed to bring all students, both the traditional on-campus students, and the online/hybrid doctoral students, into the same “learning space”. This was done with a combination of synchronous and asynchronous approaches. Thus, while the course did have a vital component that was purely online, we also wanted the free-flowing face-to-face discussions that are integral to doctoral coursework.

Half the students were physically present in class (as in a typical doctoral course) while the other half connected across locations and time zones using a variety of media and networking technologies.

Through combinations of video and text-based technologies, we were able to cross the miles that separated on-campus students in Erickson Hall from students in Idaho, Utah, Texas, other Michigan locations, and even the Netherlands. Students engaged with each other in the classroom and across distances, in a mixture of whole class discussions/lectures, smaller group discussions, and mini-design tasks and activities during the course meeting.

Small Group Design Activities

The instructors often alternated between whole group discussion or instructor lecture, and smaller groupwork during class sessions. And while much of the students’ larger project work throughout the semester focused on design, some mini-design activities were included for small groups to be involved in. This could involve anything from “55 Fiction” (designing a short fictional story in exactly 55 words), to design-themed, computer generated haiku.

As an example of this small group work, for example, the haiku project required that each group come up with 5 or 7 syllable phrases that encapsulated themes/ideas from the semester’s readings. These phrases were uploaded to a random haiku generator (designed by the instructors, available at: http://punya.educ.msu.edu/haiku/), and viewed a range of design haikus that students created. This activity introduced a discussion about the readings/themes that students had found relevant, as well as the notion of designing with constraints (5 or 7 syllables, design-themed content, etc.), and issues of authorship in new media (Who’s writing the haiku? Is it the students or the program?). For little activities like this, EtherPad was again an invaluable tool for collaboration/brainstorming.


Dr. John Bell, Adjunct Assistant Professor, Technology Advisor

William Cain, Student Assistant, Technology Assistant