University of Colorado Boulder
Description Design for Interactive Learning Resources
University of Colorado Boulder

Description Design for Interactive Learning Resources

Taught in English


Gain insight into a topic and learn the fundamentals

Taliesin L. Smith
Emily Moore

Instructors: Taliesin L. Smith

Beginner level

Recommended experience

41 hours to complete
3 weeks at 13 hours a week
Flexible schedule
Learn at your own pace

What you'll learn

  • Define what description is, the multiple forms of media that are described, and what auditory display is.

  • Illustrate an understanding of the non-visual experience for web-based interactives.

  • Recognize, examine and evaluate how State and Responsive Descriptions come together to tell an interactive story.

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There are 5 modules in this course

In week 1 we introduce ourselves, the field of description, challenges for description design for interactives, and most importantly give you a quick walkthrough of the Description Design Framework we have created (and use) to design descriptions for highly interactive learning resources. Before moving on to module 2 you need to decide on what screen reader is appropriate for your use, install it if necessary, and choose an interactive to work on throughout the course. Choose a PhET Interactive from our list of suggestions, choose one from our website, or choose an interactive of your own. Make sure it is relatively simple. Let’s start small and learn big! Description design for interactives is both challenging and fun.

What's included

9 videos11 readings5 quizzes3 discussion prompts

This week we define and explore the framework’s State Descriptions: Static States (the descriptions that do not change) and Dynamic States (the descriptions that change to maintain an accurate current state). Inclusive design and web accessibility concepts are woven in as needed as we begin to focus on access for non-visual learners. We cover design patterns 1, 2, 3, and 4, and share examples from our work. You will gain an understanding of the different ways we use State Descriptions to frame and encourage interaction. This week we will also focus on the static side of State Descriptions, defining Static State Descriptions (the descriptions that do not change). The Design Tasks this week focus on analyzing the visual design and using the design patterns and examples to get you drafting Static State Descriptions. You will draft names for interactive objects, draft an introductory summary (or scene summary), decide on the best navigation order, and draft hints and help texts. We have Interactive Description Design Templates that you can use to organize your descriptions, so you are able to share your design ideas with your peers in the course and elsewhere. You are encouraged to use the discussion area to engage with others taking the course, and to submit examples of your descriptions for peer review, so you can get feedback.

What's included

7 videos10 readings6 quizzes2 discussion prompts

This week we focus on the dynamic side of State Descriptions, defining Dynamic State Descriptions (the descriptions that change to maintain an accurate current state), and cover State Description design patterns 5, 6, and 7. We introduce “Qualitative Scales” and provide examples on how to design and document dynamic parameters for dynamic state descriptions. We use examples of the scales we have already designed and encourage you to explore, reuse, and adapt these in your own designs. The Design Tasks focus on analyzing different states of your chosen interactive. You will draft dynamic state descriptions and the associated scales needed for them in the Design Tasks. In the second half of the week we begin to discuss strategies for refinement starting with Design Pattern 7, and then outline aspects of the writing style we embrace in our work. We encourage you to keep your design doc up-to-date and organized as you iterate and work through your ideas. You are encouraged to use the discussion area to engage with others taking the course, and to submit examples of your descriptions to get feedback. In week 5 and 6 we cover more formal evaluation methods.

What's included

7 videos11 readings7 quizzes5 discussion prompts

This week we change our perspective to what happens when a learner takes action. We define and explore the framework’s Responsive Descriptions: the descriptions that communicate changes to interactive objects as they happen (Object Responses) and communicate simultaneous changes happening to the surrounding context as a result (Context Responses). Taking an interactive perspective is key to learning how to describe "what's happening as it happens". Through demonstrations we highlight how Object and Context Responses come together to capture the “relevant changes”. The design tasks challenge you to carefully analyze what changes happen in your interactive as you interact with it, then ask you to draft Object and Context responses. Be sure to review the learning goals of your interactive, and we recommend starting with simple or standard interactions that may even be secondary to the interactive’s learning goals. Once simple interactions are clear focus on the primary interactions - the interactions that are required for exploring concepts that may lead to achieving the learning goals.

What's included

5 videos7 readings5 quizzes2 discussion prompts

This week we begin to evaluate how the State and Responsive Descriptions work together to create an interactive story-like experience. We want our designs to support learners to intuitively interact, ultimately enabling them to freely explore the learning concepts presented in the interactive. We will cover two specific evaluation methods that are particularly useful for evaluating description designs without a working prototype. We encourage learners to evaluate and iterate on the description designs for their chosen interactive and to organize them in such a way that the ideas can be shared with others (reminder: we provide templates of our Description Design Documents). In addition, we cover some things that description designers may be asked to do once the description design is implemented and being prepared for publication (e.g., sharing with an intended audience).

What's included

5 videos8 readings4 quizzes3 peer reviews1 discussion prompt


Taliesin L. Smith
University of Colorado Boulder
1 Course368 learners
Emily Moore
University of Colorado Boulder
3 Courses17,234 learners

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