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Author: Hannah Digges Elliott, Audrey Anton, and Andrew Swanson

Many online courses still use static content such as readings, PowerPoint presentations, and the like. Students are not “doing” anything other than consuming the information. We wanted to buck this trend by providing more interactive and engaging content. We did so by creating the Conversations with….Aristotle learning module (http://bit.ly/1QQjVNx), an interaction that allows students to have a “conversation” with a philosopher and answer a question about it afterward. Students work in an animated environment where they can compare their answers against the philosopher's and express themselves in a fun and interactive way that resembles the video game and role-playing scenarios they so often use recreationally. When students enter the interaction, Aristotle greets them and asks whether they are familiar with his Nicomachean Ethics. If they indicate that they are, he then asks them to explain his Doctrine of the Mean (feigning to have forgotten it himself, since it's been so long since he wrote it!). The students then type in an essay response explaining the doctrine of the mean. Once this is answered, Aristotle declares that he's found his manuscript! He asks the students to compare their answer to his (the answer is actually Dr. Anton's summary of the topic). Finally, Aristotle asks how similar the two responses were, and makes suggestions of what to review in the event that the responses weren't terribly similar. Creating the module We wanted to do a number of things in this module:
  1. Give students the opportunity to practice answering essay questions.
  2. Present students with a model of a good essay question.
  3. Allow students the opportunity to evaluate their answers against the sample response.
  4. Take the students outside our learning management system to make the module feel less like a practice test.
  5. Give students a low-stakes way to be wrong.
  6. Give students a practice opportunity without creating more grading work for the faculty member.
Before designing the activity, the faculty member first identified areas in her lessons in which students struggled. For example, students in her face-to-face courses have had difficulty grasping aspects of Aristotle's Doctrine of the Mean. Typically, she spent an entire day discussing examples of this principle, with students working in small groups tasked with discerning the appropriate virtue called for, its corresponding vices, and how to determine the “relativity” of the mean to the situation. Indeed, if the concept is usually part of in-class group work, or if the discussion in class is crucial to a student's ability to write an upcoming paper, that might be a good topic to select for an assessment. Since Dr. Anton's online students were not going to have the luxury of in-class discussion to work through such exercises, we decided to create a formative assessment that gave students the opportunity to answer potential essay exam questions, “get their wrong in,” and see what a model answer to the question might look like. These interactions were ungraded, and students had unlimited attempts to practice. What's more, the assessments were designed to be fun. The assessments allowed students to “interact” with philosophers through a simulated conversation, thereby creating the impression that the student is participating in a sort of online game. Basically, students enter the interaction and Aristotle begins speaking to them. As they move through the activity, they respond to his prompts either through written text or button clicking. We created the interaction by combining Adobe After Effects with Articulate Storyline. After Effects is a program that allows users to create moving animations with audio, and provides the flexibility to create a wide variety of animations. We used it to create features such as a talking philosopher head and an arrow shooting at a tree. Take a look at the After Effects Animation Demonstration (http://bit.ly/1NJvpvK) to see how instructional designer Andrew Swanson created the interactions. Once we had the animations, we turned to Articulate Storyline to create the interaction. Articulate Storyline is an interactive e-learning content development system. The developer creates slides that utilize interactions and can branch to other slides depending on what the user does. The developer can also create complicated motion paths, embed animation and video, overlay audio, embed quizzes, and do many other things with Articulate Storyline. Plus, it can retain student answers to be used in other slides, and can record information such as attempts in our learning management system (Blackboard). Combining After Effects and Articulate Storyline allowed us to create an engaging interaction that met all of our learning goals. Hannah Digges Elliott is an instructional designer, Audrey Anton is an assistant professor, and Andrew Swanson is an instructional support specialist at Western Kentucky University.