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Open Educational Resources

OTL 682: Designing and Implementing User Interfaces for Online Instruction

Jim Thomas's Open Educational Resources Adoption Portrait

Abstract: These open course materials are being utilized in an Online Teaching and Learning course for graduate students by James Thomas at Cal State East Bay. These resources provide students with a variety of ways to engage with free materials that are available through a variety of sources such as Microsoft, Google, Apple, Nielsen Norman Group, and the US Government. The main motivation to adopt free resources is to increase student success. Also, lowering the net costs of courses makes them accessible to much greater numbers of students. Most student access the open these materials or links through our learning management system, Blackboard Ultra.

COOLforED is a service of the California State University-MERLOT program.
Partial funding provided by the State of California, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundationand the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
Questions? Email cool4ed@cdl.edu

About the Resources


Description: My motivation was to develop an online masters course where a greater number of students could have access to their materials without having to purchase expensive software, hardware or other materials.

Formats: Text, video, and web resources provided both long form and short, explainer-style style content for students. Additionally, academic papers textbooks are accessed through the library.

Supplemental resources: N/A

Cost savings: This course is zero cost to students and has saved an average of $36 per student.

Accessibility and diversity statement: All resources were checked for accessibility. Videos captions were at 85% accurate; human -generated captions were generated for those videos that did not meet this standard. All websites and PDF documents are ADA compliant.

About the Course


Course Number: OTL 682: Designing and Implementing User Interfaces for Online Instruction

Description: Use principles of user interface, audience analysis, discourse communities and educational psychology to design online educational sites for teachers, learners and the global community. Use colors, images, animations, and interactivity to facilitate communication with online students. Accessibility issues stressed.

Prerequisites: OTL 601, OTL 602, OTL 603 andOTL 604.

GE credit: This is a graduate level course

Syllabus available here: Here is a link to the course syllabus.

Learning outcomes:
1. Conduct a usability review.        

2. Explain the psychology of information chunking      3. Discover and examine how to make mobile learning work in the online environment        

4. Experiment with conversion to an M interface (Mlearning)

5. Design user testing and reiterative user testing        6. Identify the relationship between metaphors and user interfaces

7. Analyze the experience, motivation, skills and educational needs of learners who will participate in the course.

Curricular changes:The course objectives stayed the same or were only slightly modified.

Teaching and learning impacts:
Collaborate more with other faculty : Yes, I was able to collaborate with other instructors/designers when selecting my materials


Use wider range of teaching materials: Yes, I was able to implement more web tools.


Student learning improved : Yes


Student retention improved : Unsure


Any unexpected results:N/A

Sample assignment: Here is a  sample assignment and rubric. 

OER Adoption

OER Adoption Process

Textbooks are notoriously expensive and obviously increase the barrier to disadvantaged populations. Eliminating this barrier is a very simple and straightforward method of increasing access for everyone, especially in a topic (User Interfaces) in which the best information is provided for free by the companies impacting the industry most, like Google, Apple, and Microsoft.

Student access: Most content was designed to be viewed via the web. Much of the academic content is available as accessible PDFs.

Student Feedback: Students are highly supportive of free materials. I’ve only had one or two students out of hundreds complain about the lack of textbooks.


James Thomas

I am an Online Teaching and Learning professor at the Cal State East Bay. I teach Designing and Implementing User Interfaces for Online Instruction.

Teaching Philosophy: My great satisfaction in life is building things, particularly systems of things. People are systems of attitudes, beliefs, learning, experiences, and more. A system of students, each with their own needs, prior knowledge, personal traits, goals, and other attributes combine to form a rich tapestry as a class. It’s important to me that my classes are available and useful to all students, regardless of our many differences. I’ve had students from many parts of the world in my classes. This diversity has always proven to be a significant asset. Understanding and nurturing each of these systems makes teaching rewarding. My goal is not an “A” for everyone; I want students to master the skills and knowledge the course is designed to provide. 

Memorization of individual facts is mooted by the almost infinite quantity of data constantly generated and the ability to access this information just-in-time. I am a committed constructivist, providing students the skills they need to access information, but more importantly, to synthesize it into usable, applicable knowledge. This requires nurturing of an oft-neglected asset: creativity. I encourage my students to flex their creativity by taking unorthodox approaches to achieve desired learning outcomes.

I find that students learn most usefully by collaborating rather than being siloed in textbooks, lectures, and formulaic assessment. Group projects are often unpopular and not optimally constructed. I provide groups with structure and grade individually, which are the keys to successful collaboration. When groups work effectively, their commonalities form an initial bond, but their diversity is what sparks imagination and progress. A recognition of competencies is a key factor in a successful collaboration between students and teacher. With carefully designed scaffolding, students use their existing knowledge to build new skills and earn the confidence to accompany those skills.

Communication between instructor and students is key is my courses. Questions won’t always arise during a face-to-face lecture, so I employ a learning management system such as Canvas or Blackboard. Students can request help both from myself and others in the class, who often provide extremely timely answers. I will offer other discussions, both on- and off-topic, to aid in transforming a student roster into a learning community and to foster a sense of connection. Socratic method is a key component in most of the online courses I’ve designed.

My research interests are generally two-fold. My primary area of interest has been the use of technology to aid in the remote instruction of musical instruments. However, I have increasingly been working on issues of student satisfaction in online learning course design.