Instructional design: a new occupation within the university

On October 15, 2015, Sorbonne University launched its first MOOC on edX: ‘Discovering classical theatre’, created by Paris-Sorbonne University. Take this opportunity to focus on one of the key actors in producing a MOOC, just like in any e-learning module: instructional design. Christèle Goulevant, who fills this position at Paris-Sorbonne University, explains.

What is an instructional designer’s role in developing e-learning?

The role is about assisting with writing the scripts for the content, from conception to implementation, ensuring product quality throughout the entire production process, respecting deadlines, planning and coordinating the stages of conception and implementation and to bring together all other actors, outside of the lecturer, who will be involved in the project. For this MOOC on theater, for example, many different departments at Paris-Sorbonne have been involved: the IT department for the technical aspects regarding the American university platform on which the e-learning is made available (EdX), the law department to deal with copyright issues in particular, the audiovisual department to film the classes, as well as the communication department to publicize the MOOC’s launch. Furthermore, the team is made up of a project manager who is a senior lecturer and manages the MOOCs from Paris-Sorbonne, a second instructional designer as well as a full-time audiovisual technician. A MOOC is comprised of, among other things, a sequence of filmed classes; it is important to have the support of a technical expert to manage filming, video editing, etc. Finally, we have also made an appeal to external participants, in particular to professional theater actors, for the scenes taken from any works being studied. 


How does an instructional designer help with content scripting?

Along with the lecturer, they define how the content of the course is structured and presented to facilitate understanding and learning, which poses the question of what the educational aims are. For the MOOC on theater, the lecturer, Georges Forestier, wrote the course and, paragraph by paragraph, we assessed what was expected of the students: what knowledge do we want to impart on them and which skills do we want to teach them? This is a long process as the answers to such questions must be specific. Understanding the reality of classical theater, for example, is not the educational aim. However, being able to quote 17th century playwrights who were involved in the creation and development of a play is just such an educational aim. There are aims related to knowledge, understanding, application, analysis, evaluation and reviewing, a determining factor in content development.


What were the influences for the MOOC on theater?

Given that the MOOC was aimed at a wide audience, the lessons had to be particularly accessible. To facilitate their appropriation and make them attractive, we heavily supported the lessons with illustrations. We also used graphics and an animation showing how auditoriums have been transformed into theaters from the classical era. Moreover, not all lessons come in the form of a lecture course. We tried to film the classes in locations appropriate for the subject: in a theater, in a library housing works of 17th century playwrights, in front of the Chapel of the Sorbonne, with Georges Forestier’s students in seminar-like classes, etc.


For lecturer-researchers, this is a new approach. How do they perceive this new approach?

It is simply a change in perspective. In general, academics do not have to write their lessons out in extenso. However, as soon as e-learning is involved, this becomes essential for the instructional designer to be able to play a part in scripting and for the production team to be able to create the lessons. For a MOOC, for example, scripts need to be prepared and the lecturer must adhere to them during filming. Furthermore, lecturer-researchers are used to giving their lessons by themselves, in most instances, whereas e-learning takes on a more collaborative approach. With a MOOC, they have to work with an instructional designer who will ask them to give their speeches in front of a cameraman, sound recorder, a student competent enough in the field to answer the audience’s questions on the platform’s forum after each lesson, etc. The lecturers are extremely motivated by this new approach, that is, working with a team and discovering new ways of communicating academic knowledge.


Which other of the Sorbonne University’s projects have you worked on?

I was recruited in 2014 by a panel of representatives from UPMC, Paris-Sorbonne, the National Museum of Natural History and UTC to take part in an e-learning project within the Undergraduate School. It was my job to make the lecturers of the four institutions work together to make first-year students from all disciplines think about science by connecting both literary and scientific aspects. We conducted a course entitled Let’s Talk Science which was made up of five teaching modules. Once again, my aim as an instructional designer was to help the lecturers to shape their content to facilitate acquisition. We chose to follow a different educational approach according to the topics and messages they wanted to convey. For example, fiction on the subject of chemistry with a literature lecturer, scripting about false truths with a history and philosophy of science lecturer or even a type of personality test with a biology lecturer for a module called Are you ready for science? where students have to answer questions and their answers determine the content of the course. It was after this project, which was funded by Sorbonne University, that I was recruited into Paris-Sorbonne’s Tice (Technologies de l’information et de la communication pour l’enseignement - Information and Communication technology for education) team in order to develop e-learning.


What was your career path before coming into the university community?

I have always been interested in education. In 1995, I studied for a postgraduate DESS diploma in multimedia design for education. This was a pioneering program as, at the time, there were only two DESS courses of this kind in France. After I graduated, I was recruited as a multimedia project manager at Onisep. Then, I joined the Accor group’s business university where, for ten years, I managed a team of junior project managers producing e-learning modules, CD-ROMs, simulators and serious games for training the group’s employees. I also taught lessons on education and conducted training sessions for lecturers and trainers.


What are the next projects awaiting you at Paris-Sorbonne?

We have just launched the design for a MOOC on Christianity and philosophy in the first century AD which is due to come out at the beginning of 2016, as well as a MOOC on sculpting techniques, and we have already created a second edition of the MOOC on classical theater which should also come out in 2016.

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