Making your eLearning Assignments More Interactive

History is rich and vivid, and it shouldn’t be presented in a way that students see as dry.  As an adjunct history instructor, I am always looking for ways to motivate students to explore history and to look at it from different perspectives. I’ve discovered that infusing a scenario-based assignment engages learners and encourages them to think outside the box.

Interactive Assignments in Practice

In my Black Experience in America class, we do a scenario-based assignment using a Discussion Forum. I plan to make the assignment interactive by converting the scenario to Captivate to showcase the branching options. Students will receive immediate feedback on their decisions.

According to Csikszentmihalyi, flow occurs when one reaches the state of total involvement and that they can cope with the challenges facing them. Once this assignment is converted, I am confident that learners will be able to achieve a Flow state to aid their learning.

The Scenario

In the Black Experience in America class, the scenario-based assignment asks students to put themselves in the shoes of an African American in the South between 1820-1861. Students are asked to consider if they’d:

  • Stay in their current location or go?
  • If they leave, how will they leave? Where will they go?
  • Will they go to a different part of the country or migrate to another country?

This assignment isn’t just a regular scenario; it involves extensive branching. Each learner must make the same tough decisions of real life problems that people actually faced.

The scenario is in Week 3 of the course, so learners understand the complexities facing a free or enslaved black person at this point in our nation’s history (e.g., slave uprisings, Compromise of 1850, Kansas-Nebraska Act, etc.).

For this assignment, learners know what they must do (i.e., decide whether to stay or leave), and they currently have control to choose their destination. Once they make a choice, they’ll learn the consequences of their decision.

So, what’s involved in converting an assignment of this scope into an interactive space?

Step 1: Storyboarding The Interactions

First, I’ll need to storyboard the various branching scenarios in order to provide feedback.

Originally, I wanted to use an interactive tool so I downloaded Twine. It excited me because I could use the tool to interactively show the story as I developed the branch of a free African Americans going  West. But the free version of Twine doesn’t have connectors so, unfortunately, I had to try something else.

I switched to Lucidchart, a flowcharting tool similar to Visio. It includes limited space for writing within the selected symbols, so sometimes the text can get a bit cramped.

As each branch is developed, spacing becomes an issue and it becomes hard to get a clear picture of all of the branches.

Thankfully, Lucidchart allows you to separate items by ‘layers’ and toggle the visibility of different items. You can see a small snapshot of the flowchart I’m creating below:

Screen Shot 2018-03-13 at 9.01.55 AM

It’s important for students to share the story they discover during this process. So, I plan to have students still interact with peers in the discussion forum so that they can reflect on the choices they made.

By engaging with peers, students will question their decisions. This should help students identify risks they hadn’t considered and open students up to possibilities that could have been taken. Based on the feedback from peers, students should be able to gauge if they’d taken into consideration all the elements needed to make it to their destination.

This post outlined the first part of my plan to convert one of my existing assignments into a branching scenario. Storyboarding the various branching possibilities was my first step, and I mapped one branch using Lucidchart. In my next post, I’ll discuss how to convert the assignment using an interactive tool (such as Adobe Captivate) as well as the lessons I learn throughout that process.

How do you strive to make your online courses more interactive and engaging? Let us know in the comments.


Author: Tara McCoy, Lead Instructional Designer

Tara is a lifelong learner and recovering Type A personality. She loves to read and help others learn. A mighty Spartan and Tartar, she earned her BA from Michigan State University, and MA and EdS in Instructional Technology from Wayne State University. She’s an active member of Toastmasters International, having held various chapter-level leadership positions.

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