Responsive Instruction

I’ve spent the past three months doing instructional design and curriculum development for HackerYou’s full-time web development program. The experience was tremendously rewarding for many reasons, one of them being that I learned a lot. The course kicks off at the end of January and I am convinced that it will be HackerYou’s best course yet. Before you think I’m an egomaniac…I don’t say this because I helped design and build the course. I say this because the instructors are excellent and they will be practicing “Responsive Instruction”.

One of the things that I learned recently is that no matter how much planning you do, it’s really hard to anticipate how students will react to the lessons. Students in almost all settings are very diverse and especially so at HackerYou. Trying to build a course that works for each individual student is no trivial task.

“Responsive Instruction” in the education sphere means using data to guide instruction although a lot of the time it’s constrained to students who have learning disabilities. I personally believe that continuously monitoring all students and adjusting instruction to meet their needs is simply the best instructional practice.

This makes me think of “Responsive Design”, a mainstream practice in website design. Since users view the web on screens of all shapes and sizes, designing for all of them is impractical. Responsive design involves using powerful browser features to continuously adjust the page in response to the user’s behaviour and their environment (screen-size, orientation, etc.).

“Responsive Instruction” works in the same way: the instructors collect data from many sources and adjust the course appropriately. By “data” I don’t necessarily mean test scores. Collecting data means knowing the student and building an awareness of their strengths, weaknesses and needs. This data can come from the projects/work that students build, from surveys and/or self-assessment, or you know…from talking to them.

Of course responsive instruction doesn’t work unless students are fully involved. Students have to know that providing the instructors with data will improve the course. When they see the instructors responding to their needs, they are more likely to give honest “data”. Combine this with a flexible curriculum, lots of choices, lots of feedback from instructors and you’ve got a great learning experience.

HackerYou’s full-time course will involve a lot of “doing”; students will be building something everyday and will have a major project to work on every week. Students will get personal one-on-one feedback from instructors for almost all of these weekly projects. There are learning objectives for each day and dedicated time at the end of the day for reflection and self-assessment.

Three super smart people and I are working on a web application that will make the “Responsive Instruction” easier to do. CURRI allows teachers to clearly communicate learning expectations, students to monitor and report on their learning, and teachers to visualize what expectations students are having the most trouble with and take timely action. CURRI will be piloted at HackerYou’s full-time program and we’re looking forward to improving the app based on this experience. If you would like to try out the app then please get in touch.