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DCE Magazine

Reimagining the Virtual Classroom

Fall 2019

DCE's DesignPlus department is an engine of innovation for online learning.

Camille Funk believes the future of higher education will be highly adaptable, high-tech and micro-targeted to a student's individual needs, reshaping the very idea of grades and units. And as director of the DCE's DesignPlus department, this expert instructional designer is on the front lines making this future happen.

Introduced in 2017, DesignPlus is on a mission to advance and standardize cutting-edge course delivery and curriculum for DCE programs, serving as an incubator of ideas and putting UCI ahead of the pack in online education, Funk said.

“Simply put, the DesignPlus mission is to engineer innovative learning experiences,” she added. “Given we're a new department, we have had a layered approach to executing this mission. Our first steps were to provide uniformity to our courses, and we did this through creating and applying templates and style guides. Our next step has been to focus on developing innovative programs, designing for multiple outputs, and creating intentional media that align with learning objectives.”

Her vision focuses on three key elements: Encouraging a culture of experimentation and resilience; developing sustainable and data-driven products and experiences; and by iteration to continuously improve processes and products.

The idea is to brainstorm, test and adapt advanced educational models in new ways to engage students and deliver innovative curriculum, while remaining flexible enough to accommodate individual needs and special circumstances.

“Adaptability is the future of online course design,” said Funk, advisory board member for the DCE's new Instructional Design for Higher Education certificate program. “Determine exactly what a student already knows, and what they need to learn, then targeting curriculum and course design to fill that need.”

A former classroom teacher, Funk knows from experience how traditional education can leave some students behind while blocking others from learning at a more advanced pace. Some would be obviously bored, way ahead of the curve, while others would struggle just to keep pace.

“My teaching experience has greatly influenced me,” she said. “Because teachers face unique challenges when interacting with students, instructional design can plan for the ideal situation, but teaching experience helps you navigate the exceptions, and most importantly the individual student.”

“Anytime I had a lesson plan, it never quite went the way it was intended because every learner is unique and absorbs information in their own way.”

An innovation incubator

An accomplished instructional designer, Funk has developed courses for USC, BYU and George Washington University. Along the way she created the eDesign Shop, a private for-profit enterprise that taps leading course design team members throughout the country who are looking to take on additional projects.

“The eDesign Shop, LLC works with universities and institutions that need help to complete course development projects,” she said. “It's turned out to be a great innovation incubator for course design.”

Funk and her UCI DesignPlus team employ four “major milestones” in their creative process. First is course planning — creating a course map that outlines basic aspects of the curriculum — followed by content creation. The third step is building the course out in the Learning Management System. Finally, there's a quality review to make sure it meets the institution's standards for launch.

Sounds technical, but the key is a combination of storytelling and marketing — getting students directly engaged and involved with content rather than passively listening to a lecture, Funk said. It's a skill she honed as a freelancer writing food reviews for a small newspaper in Utah, and as author of two published books: Table for One and Learning How to Read Using the Book of Mormon.

“Good writing and storytelling, creating a strong narrative, and using marketing principles to appeal to students, are absolutely essential ingredients to the instructional design field,” she said. “With the tools we have to work with today, it goes way beyond just delivering lectures and text. It's a matter of writing scripts that deliver interactive experiences, for instance, that directly engage each student.”

Funk believes that instructional design really boils down to communication, and writing is one very important element. “As I've explored and refined that skill, it has aided me in becoming more student-centric.”

“Adaptability is the future of online course design. Determine exactly what a student already knows, and what they need to learn, then targeting curriculum and course design to fill that need.” Camille Funk
Director, DesignPlus

Designing higher education

Online education today isn't just downloading a syllabus and streaming a queue of class lectures. Although asynchronous learning remains a useful online component, allowing students to access lessons anywhere and anytime, intentional synchronous learning is a dominant trend, Funk said.

She feels it's important for students to experience lessons and interact as a group, “not just passively watch a lecture in bed.”

“There's definitely a trend toward synchronous mentorship,” she added. “It lets students interact with the instructor and each other, like sitting around a campfire. That's a big part of the learning experience. It allows students to network and instructors to recruit, creating future professional relationships.”

Funk and her team aim to not only streamline and standardize DCE courses, but to help define the future of education. And there's a growing need to develop instructional designers who can effectively do just that, Funk said.

That's the mission behind the DCE's new Instructional Design for Higher Education certificate program, an especially promising path for teachers who want to “leave behind the drama and politics” of classroom teaching.

“There are great career opportunities for instructional designers who can address the needs of higher education,” she added. “Most of the IDs coming out of school are trained for corporate education, and they need to be totally retrained. We want to recruit IDs who are already in synch — and we definitely would like to tap into UCI to help fill needs for our department.”