Competency K

Design instructional programs based on learning principles and theories.

Competency Definition

An information professional is always involved in some form of instruction, across all kinds of information organizations. Information professionals connect users to the information that they seek, as well as impart skills and relevant content that develop users’ information literacy (IL) and technological literacy. This notion of IL, as the individual’s ability to recognize their information needs and locate, evaluate, synthesize, and use that information effectively, forms the basis for the information professional’s teaching capacity, as well as the assessment required to ensure that users are able to navigate, evaluate, consume, and participate in creating information (Cunningham & Rosenblatt, 2015). It is essential then that information professionals across all information organizations have some background in teaching pedagogies, instructional content design, and learning principles and theories, to convey concepts as abstract and technical as the research process, as well as practical skills such as learning how to navigate online effectively, use word processing software, and even coding and web design. Such knowledge also helps information professionals in formal educational settings, to ensure that other related library functions such as reference and collection development support students in their research needs and align with faculty’s needs in their curriculum building (Cunningham & Rosenblatt, 2015).

One practical yet necessary consideration in designing instructional content is the actual, formal planning process. Proper, formal instructional design is centered on a specific group of identified learners, analyzes the content and skills to be taught in the context of those learners, develops and prepares materials and delivery mechanisms for the instruction, and involves evaluation of the instruction itself aside from evaluation of the learners’ grasp of the content (Grassian & Kaplowitz, 2009). This focus on students ensures that any proposed instruction is purpose-driven, which has implications in how such design proposals are needed to apply for grants, demonstrate the time and value of instruction to administrators and managers, and to collaborate with other instructors in situations where more than one person will be conducting the instruction (Kovacs, 2015). Grassian and Kaplowitz (2009) discuss seven steps for instructional design as a foundation that applies across all instructional contexts:

  • Needs assessment and instructional goals (Recognize the learner’s need);

  • Instructional Analysis (Analyze the present situation, including available resources);

  • Entry behavior and learner characteristics (Develop instructional goal, objectives, and expected learning outcomes tailored to specific learners);

  • Planning instructional strategies (Design appropriate instructional and assessment methods and materials);

      • Pre-instructional activities (Determine learner motivation),

      • Information presentation (Determine delivery method),

      • Learner participation (Determine how learners will participate in the instruction),

      • Testing, assessment and evaluation of performance objectives (Determine how learners will be assessed on their grasp of the instructional content),

      • Follow-through activities (Determine what steps that the instructor needs to take in order to prepare for the actual instruction),

  • Planning instructional materials/learning objects (Towards implementing the instructional design plan);

  • Formative evaluation (Assessment of the expected learning outcomes, either during or after the instruction is delivered, review of the assessment data, and revision of the instruction as necessary; Kovacs, 2015; Grassian & Kaplowitz, 2009, pp. 112-113).

Though this design template is structured and formulaic, it is also flexible and iterative in response to the changes that may occur in the context of developing the instructional content, as well as the changes that come from assessment and evaluation post instruction. The process is inherently reflective, as the instructor draws upon knowledge on both the content and the target learner population to ensure the effectiveness of the instruction.

The effectiveness of instructional design is also connected to the instructor’s knowledge of learning concepts and theories, arguably best taken from the disciplines of education and psychology. For example, Lepper (1988) argued that intrinsic motivation is a key consideration in instructional activities, proposing the principles of control, challenge, curiosity, and contextualization as ways to promote students’ intrinsic motivation and learning in instruction. Another key concept is scaffolding, the guided, incremental extension of the learner’s abilities with support from an instructor to achieve otherwise difficult tasks in a manageable way (Kapp, 2012). This gradual extension in understanding, coupled with the temporary support by an instructor in determining the focus on tasks suitable to the learner’s initial level of comprehension, allows learners to complete similar tasks with increasing independence in the future (Hammond, 2001). These educational principles are also inherent in many games and the concept of gamification.

Broadly defined, a game can be seen as the sum interaction between players, problem(s), and rules in achieving a desired outcome. The aspects of player, problem, rules, and outcomes vary across each kind of game and its context. Players can comprise of one person or a group of people in relation to other people or entities (which include animals and computers in some instances). Problems can be defined or ill-defined/unclear, based on the complexity of the game, which relates to how rules frame the problems into context, limiting the actions a player can make within the game space (Kapp, 2012). Players may begin games with little to no knowledge about how to play or what to do, and therefore must explore the game space and experiment with the mechanics to discover the rules (McGonigal, 2011). All these factors lead to a game’s interactions between players, problems, and rules, leading to its outcomes.

Within these interactions, games also have feedback systems that tell players in a structured manner how close they are to reaching a particular goal, which in turn provides motivation for players to continue playing (McGonigal, 2011). Players have the opportunity to integrate positive and negative feedback presented by a game in achieving that game’s goals (Kapp, 2012). Also inherent to a game’s interactions is a sense of voluntary participation by its players attending to the problem, rules, and hoped-for outcomes. Games are played in a specific context and can generate social exchanges between players, which feeds into the rewards that players may receive when playing games (Michael & Chen, 2005). Voluntary participation is also dictated by complexity. As games become burdensome when the level of challenge is too high, or boring when challenge no longer exists, players may opt out of participation in a game (Kapp, 2012).

From these game concepts, gamification then is the use of game elements outside of gaming contexts (Kim, 2015a). These involve game mainstays such as points, leaderboards, levels, and rewards. Though they first come across as external motivators, over time, they ideally lead to the formation of intrinsic motivators (Mekler, Brühlmann, Tuch, & Opwis, 2017). Game creation involves principles of design such as the MDA framework of mechanics, dynamics, and aesthetics, which breaks down a player’s process of game into the concepts of rules, system, and fun (Kim, 2015b). This framework encompasses the concept of game discussed above, in how the mechanics of a game, from its rules and playing environment, play into how the dynamics of interactions between player and system occur, which in turn result in the aesthetic of the game experience in the form of its outcomes, such as a sense of fun, challenge, and achievement.

The learning concepts described above also apply in the process of gamifying instruction. As Michael and Chen (2005) argue, games engage players to learn something in a specified context, which can allow for simulation of real-life events and outcomes based on their actions. Applied to instructional games, scaffolding helps maintain a player’s interest, as levels increase in difficulty and challenge, requiring players to integrate various aspects of the experiences of earlier levels in order to learn new concepts and progress towards game completion. Intrinsic motivation to engage in such games helps develop one’s sense of competence, the perception of one’s own actions as the cause of desired outcomes, and autonomy, the experience that one’s actions are self-determined and not controlled externally (Mekler et al., 2017). Games can also be a means for social and personal development, contributing to the development of reading skills and other literacies. There is potential benefit for further development of reading skills and digital literacy through computer games, as they combine visual, narrative and game elements in a system of engagement and social interactions (Beavis, Apperley, Bradford, O'Mara, and Walsh, 2009). Games and gameplay can encourage connections with others and foster relationships and personal development in understanding one’s place in a particular culture and the wider world.

Discussion of Competency Supporting Evidence

Instructional design is purpose-driven and a strategic process. It is focused on a specific group of learners and takes the time to ensure that what is being taught fits with the context of those learners and the situations in which they will learn and exercise what they will learn beyond the instruction. The same is true for gamifying information and instruction, in that proper gamification makes sure that information aligns with the goals of its potential players so that it can be a successful learning application (Kim, 2015a). I explored these concepts of instructional design and gamification through the courses INFO 250: Design and Implementation of Instructional Strategies for Information Professionals, and INFO 287: Gamifying Information (a Seminar in Information Science), where I developed a functional instructional design proposal and a beta game build (and supporting proposal document for implementation of gamification into instruction) respectively.


From INFO 250’s learning activities and pointed instructional design exercises, I generated an instructional design proposal for a unit of instruction of personal interest and practical relevance. I focused my proposal project towards a webinar that discusses best practices in writing with an academic voice for consideration and potential publication in our iSchool’s SLIS Student Research Journal (SRJ), taught from my perspective as a current content editor on the editorial team. This would occur in an overall instructional strategy to show SJSU iSchool students how they can prepare their coursework for potential publication in SRJ in terms of topic development and academic writing using APA style and adherence to SRJ’s policies. Using the seven steps of instructional design discussed above, I developed a comprehensive proposal that discussed five advice points based on common themes in feedback that I have given as a content editor in my reviews, alongside other best practices and perspective from my undergraduate coursework in psychology to strengthen one’s academic writing voice.

Taken from my proposal, I developed the following statements as Step 1 of the instructional design process discussed above that motivated the design, implementation, and execution of my webinar instruction:

  • Needs Assessment Statement: Current SJSU iSchool students who want to publish in an academic journal can benefit from the perspective of a current content editor to make their writing stronger and more competitive for academic publication consideration in SRJ.

  • Instructional Goals Statement: Participants interested in gaining academic writing exposure will learn basic principles regarding how to write with an academic voice so they have a more favorable chance to get published in journals such as SRJ.

  • Expected Learning Outcomes: To increase student exposure to the process of academic writing, promote student excellence through their writing, and increase SRJ publications and readership.

From these statements, I developed a rough draft outline of the main points of my instructional content (Step 2), which also motivated how I created a webinar handout with an outline of my presentation (Step 6). I then reflected on my target learner population characteristics, which were iSchool students who may be interested in publishing their work in academic journals (Step 3). I generated specific learning outcomes in relation to this audience (Step 4), determining that students, after attending my webinar, should:

  • Know more about SRJ as a viable avenue to publish their best work from their courses (Aims and Scope);

  • Know and use SRJ’s submission policies when submitting their work (double blind peer review with ET);

  • Know what the SRJ ET is looking for in manuscripts based on previously reviewed work guided by our internal review rubric (which is very similar to the publicly available journal policies).

I then developed my instructional strategies (Step 5) and chose my learning tools in relation to those strategies (Step 6): a scripted PowerPoint lecture with a facilitated exercise and a Question and Answer session to elicit participation, all taking place on Blackboard Collaborate. [For further discussion on learner characteristics and my planning rationale for using Blackboard Collaborate, see my discussion in Competency M.] My proposed assessment and evaluation strategies then took the form of a post-webinar effectiveness survey, in which I asked participants to rate the effectiveness and quality of my instruction. Finally, I condensed all of this draft proposal information into an easy-to-read letter that I submitted to my managing editor and editor-in-chief at SRJ for their consideration (which they successfully accepted; they also provided support throughout my subsequent webinar development process). [For additional reference on the detailed structure of my proposal aligned with the seven instructional design steps, see my original draft proposal.]

This semester-long endeavor showed me the process and implications of planning in instructional design. Grounding my proposal work using the seven instructional design steps, I was able to think critically about the purpose of my instruction and be particular with how I managed my time and efforts in rationalizing and building up the actual materials of the webinar. In generating this proposal, I also engaged in deliberate reflection on my past experiences with instruction, webinars, information communication technologies, and instructional tools to inform how I would approach drafting my webinar proposal.


During the semester I took INFO 287: Gamifying Information (a Seminar in Information Science topic), I integrated various concepts in gaming, design, instruction, and learning concepts from psychology and education to develop three game builds and a proposal for gamification of instruction for a hypothetical situation that aligns with the goals of a real information organization. I related concepts from psychology based on my undergraduate psychology coursework, as well as my current experiences playing video games, and translated them into applicable units of instruction. The potential of games as learning tools is dependent on the game’s content and delivery mode. When done right, games can increase engagement and motivation in learning new concepts and build up various cognitive and social skills, among other benefits. As shown in the final proposal document for the course, I made a polished beta version of my Scratch game Research Time! for a hypothetical relationship between UC Berkeley Libraries and the UC Berkeley psychology department. Taken from this document, here is my “elevator pitch”:

Research Time! is an online Scratch game that is designed for undergraduate students in psychology who are beginning to familiarize themselves with the structure of scholarly literature and writing in APA format. The game has three mini games that engage with various aspects of scholarly research and 20 questions that align with the ACRL’s new Framework for IL with an emphasis in research and writing in psychology. UC Berkeley Libraries, in collaboration with the UC Berkeley psychology department, will use Research Time! to help solidify psychology IL instruction, as well as assess students’ learning and retention for these concepts alongside other assessment strategies.

This summary encompasses both my rationale for game creation and instructional goals for its implementation. As discussed in the proposal document, I framed my rationale for gamification of basic research skills in psychology and learning how to understand scholarly literature in the context of the new ACRL (2015) IL Framework. This new Framework replaces the former Standards as a new system of understanding and implementing IL instruction.

In light of the new Framework, new instruction and assessment strategies are arguably necessary. These new strategies must tap into knowledge about the technical aspects of the scholarly communication system while being cognizant of the social nature of how scholarly information is constructed, as well as discuss the practicalities of APA style citation and formatting. I argued that such learning can be gamified, to generate active interaction with concepts and facilitate overall learning. Research Time! attempts to integrate various concepts grounded by the idea of mapping psychology IL instruction onto the Framework (namely the Frames “Research as Inquiry” and “Scholarship as Conversation”) and provides opportunities for assessment of these concepts. It was a culmination of work from three other games created over the course of INFO 287, in which I experimented on aspects of mechanics, dynamics, and aesthetics to inform how I approached this beta game build.

I used freely available resources to create the game such as Scratch, an MIT maintained education initiative and McMullin’s (2016) IL assessment questions that use the new Framework as a guide. The instructional goals of Research Time! are to gamify undergraduate students’ practice of their growing knowledge about differentiating between scholarly and non-scholarly resources and writing in APA style. Tapping into knowledge about the scholarly communication process in psychology in this way also provides a unique means of assessment of psychology that aligns with the new Framework.

I further framed these instructional goals in the context of Berkeley Library’s strategic goals of contributing to the overall development of information fluency, digital literacy and research skills that can allow students to succeed in their academic work and to enable lifelong learning (Berkeley Library, 2017, point 3 under “Help develop emerging areas of scholarship”). I proposed that Berkeley Library librarians can contribute to the overall education of scholarly communication practices to encourage future generations of Berkeley generated scholarship (Berkeley Library, 2017, point 4 under “Help develop emerging areas of scholarship”). In this process, collaboration between librarians and psychology faculty can both promote and transform the ways in which librarians and faculty across libraries can come together to build a strong, organizational culture aimed at student success and IL proficiency (Berkeley Library, 2017, point 2 under “Grow as an adaptive learning organization”). And for the purposes of assessment, Research Time! can add to a suite of library-wide assessment strategies that inform decisions on services and operations that cater to students’ IL development (Berkeley Library, 2017, point 3 under “Grow as an adaptive learning organization”). I concluded my report hoping that the game could be used to augment IL instruction in the classroom and in the library, as well as provide an avenue for communication and collaboration between librarians and psychology faculty.

Future Directions

What I gained from these experiences in instructional design and gamification can form the basis for both my future instruction and research aims. The seven steps of instructional design are structured and formulaic, yet also flexible and iterative to respond to changes in the ongoing context of developing, deploying, and evaluating one’s instructional content. The process is inherently reflective, as the instructor draws upon knowledge on both the content and the target learner population to ensure the effectiveness of the instruction. Gamifying information also incorporates all of the principles of instructional design. Making games is inherently a design process that involves preparation, execution, and reflection on the process towards future iterations (akin to the seven steps of instructional design).

I know I will be able to take away the concepts of gamification and instructional design and apply it to an institution’s goals. The instructional design proposal process in INFO 250 contributed to the moment when I actually and successfully presented the webinar. [For the actual webinar recording and related discussion, see Competency M.] My newfound familiarity with Scratch will hopefully also allow me to work with my future attempts at self-taught and self-paced learning of other coding languages. I loved being able to discuss how games work, and would definitely bring the mechanics behind that into my future academic goals in pursuing a PhD in psychology (I could also find myself researching the psychology of video games as a focus of future research interests after I finish my hoped-for PhD in psychology). I had fun coding and developing game mechanics in relation to relevant instructional content in INFO 287. I applied my love for psychology and video games towards creating and assessing games. I had already learned many of the various concepts discussed in INFO 287 during my undergraduate BA in psychology, and I was able to bring that into all of my assignments and rationale for the games that I built and assessed. On a side note, I was also happy that I was also able to use and discuss my own gameplay for an assessment in this course (for the game Overwatch), merging what I do for fun with my coursework.

Thinking to other possible futures, I could see myself open to implementing games in an instructional librarian/liaison position in a context of an instructional design plan for targeted IL instruction for a particular population of students. I do wonder, however, how I will be able to make these kinds of games in a short span of time – making these games requires lots of preparation (scripting, question building), coding (if done in Scratch or any coding language), and actual availability and concentration without interruptions. Yet it is crucial that information professionals across all information organizations have this openness to engage and experiment with a variety of teaching pedagogies, instructional content design, and learning principles and theories, to ensure that what they teach to their users and communities can help them grow in their ongoing information seeking and learning endeavors.


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