The following guide introduces the concept of narrative and provides advice on how to write engaging narrative structures in relation to online learning.
- What is Narrative?
- 9 Steps to write the narrative structure to introduce the weekly topic
- 10 steps to write the narrative structure for a specific event, activity or resource
- How do I make the narrative structure engaging for students
- Further support
What is Narrative?
As most online learning activities are delivered asynchronously, this means that you will not be physically present to guide and add context to your students learning journey every step of the way. The narrative you include is the structural scaffolding (in the form of a descriptive guide) that makes your module and weekly content flow and make sense. Think of the narrative like updating a class on what is happening in a session, what is happening in the next session and the ‘corridor conversations’ you have with your students.
You will find you will need to include much more information and detail than you think you need online for someone to understand what you want them to do. Narrative also plays a key role in motivating the students to engage with the activities, i.e. to see why it is worth their while to engage in the activity.
How is adding narrative beneficial to my students?
- The narrative will guide them through their learning and give the learning activities a purpose.
- It enables a student to understand what they need to do with a task, activity or event.
- Signposts the students to relevant links, attachments and live events they need to engage with.
- The tone of the narrative can be friendly, so students feel happy about engaging with a task or activity. Especially if it’s tricky or will be new to them.
- You can write the narrative in your academic voice so the students feel that they are not losing contact with you even when you cannot be with them.
- It motivates the student to engage so they can learn, as they will understand why they are being asked to complete an activity or task and how it relates to other activities or tasks they have been asked to do.
- It can help build 'tutor presence' online, so that students feel close to their tutor(s), and supported by them and that relationship'.
How is adding narrative beneficial to me as an academic?
- Time Saver - Time spent making the content make sense now is time saved later on if you want to redefine existing content next year. Adding narrative can save time later in several ways, e.g. reusability and less student queries.
- Integrating narrative into your activities means that all the information about a week/activity will be in one place.
- Students will not have to ask so many questions if they know what is being asked of them.
- It makes sure that you do not forget to include any information.
- A well-designed week or activity structure can be copied and reused.
- You can explain how the variety of learning activity types and resources used during the week link together.
- Consider the pace, spacing and integration of structured learning activities and assessment, to reduce assessment load towards the end of the module.
- It allows you to sense check the use of tools is aligned to the activity type you want to achieve.
9 Steps to write the narrative structure to introduce the weekly topic
- Create a heading for the weekly topic
- Write an introduction to the what the weekly topic is about and an introduction to your video introduction if using.
Main descriptive information - Can be written or you can create a short (5-10 minute) video.
- Explain how the topic relates to the overall module aim or how it builds upon previous knowledge, to get students interested.
- Consider how the learning activities will help them with their work for their assessments? Very important for motivation as 'what gets assessed gets learnt’.
- Outline what the students should expect from the week.
- Add in a section outlining what you want the students to be able to do (i.e. learning outcomes) by the end of the week, by doing the following synchronous and asynchronous learning activities - and give a summary outline of all those key tasks that they are expected to do that week, to help them achieve those outcomes. This is very important for the student to understand why they are doing something and what the payoff is for completing the week.
- Tell the students to have an enjoyable/productive week and that you will see them at the webinar.
- Do you need to include a reminder about any important info/events for the week?
- Create any links to general resources you may need to signpost them to explaining what they are and what the student needs to do with them.
10 steps to write the narrative structure for a specific event, activity or resource
Introduction to activity
- Create a heading of the event/activity/resource.
- Write an introduction to the what the event/activity/resource is. Consider how the learning activities will help them with their work for their assessments? Very important for motivation as 'what gets assessed gets learnt’.
- Add in a section outlining what you want the students to be able to do (i.e., learning outcomes) by the end of the week, by doing the following synchronous and asynchronous learning activities - and give a summary outline of all those key tasks that they are expected to do that week, to help them achieve those outcomes. This is very important for the student to understand why they are doing something and what the payoff is for completing the week.
- Explanation of what the student will achieve by completing this task to create engagement. This is important if the task is different to what a student is used to or slightly outside the comfort zone.
- Explain what the students have to do. (Attend a meeting, click a link, read/watch something).
- Give them any information that they will need to be able to complete the event/activity/resources (Times, dates, staff etc).
- Give them any links to resources that they will need to complete the event/activity/resource (Briefing doc, stream link).
- Create calls to action – Signposts to clickable links to documents or Teams events, pages, etc.
- Any information to help students manage their workload and complete the task. Eg. How long the task should take to complete, Word count, number of slides/sketchbook pages to complete, length of video, who and how many peers to respond to/comment on/give feedback to (e.g., in discussion forums) etc.
- Do you need a reminder to bring anything or complete something?
How do I make the narrative structure engaging for students?
- Using your narrative explanations across the design to add context to learning activities and resources.
- Make sure the students can clearly see how the activities you are describing will help them achieve things.
- Descriptions before and after each activity or resource to help students understand what, how and why they need to complete these.
- Show how the activities tie into assessment and how, by completing them, they will understand new processes to gain marks for assessment.
- Students value peer and tutor approval so demonstrate how this can be included in your activities and what the students will gain from joining in – This is important to engage students in forums.
Narrative Voice and Tone
- Students' first impression may be from the module before meeting you in person. What tone would you like to convey and what kind of tutor presence would you like to make them feel?
- Create an academic presence and personality. I.e.; Use a friendly and conversational tone by blending informality with more detailed concepts.
- The more of your ‘academic voice’ the students engage with the more you will start to build a relationship with them online.
- Make an emotional connection with your students by creating introductory videos to yourself and the main topics of the module or course.
- Practice by reading your written text out loud or to another person.
- Avoid ambiguous instructions for activities and use verbs such as read, watch, write, listen. Use bullet points if appropriate.
- Ask questions that you may ask in a physical setting to encourage discussion.
- Use bridging sentences to link activities and weeks.
- Using headings for activity and resource titles only. Use other styles for emphasis e.g.important… or sources
- Give your students an idea of how long an activity should take them.
- If they're being asked to do a written activity, give them a word count to work to.
- Tell them how long a video is by putting its length in minutes in brackets after the title.
How much information?
- 1 - 2 sentences are fine for activities.
- Where possible keep sentences brief for minimal scrolling.
- Give them as much information about what you're expecting from them as you can, in as succinct a way as possible.
If you have any questions, please email firstname.lastname@example.org to book in a learning design session with a Learning Designer.
Alternatively, please refer to the numerous help guides found on our Knowledge Base.