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Curriculum Design: Parent's Guide to American Admission System

Updated: Mar 27, 2023

Online class for Chinese parents who want to help their children getting into American colleges.

Title: Online Class "Parent's Guide to American Admission System"

Tool: WeChat's Duanshu platform

Time in Development: 40 hours

Developed for: MSTU 4083 Instructional Design of Educational Technology

Collaborators: Nori Negron


There are many pieces of work that I did during this Fall semester that I am proud of. One of those comes from a beautiful coincidence that I was interning at the right place and enrolling in the right course at the right time. The place I was interning at was called Harmony Plus, an Educational Technology startup in Silicon Valley aiming to serve Chinese students who want to come to study in the United States one day. As for the course, it was the core course of my degree, called MSTU 4083 Instructional Design of Educational Technology.

The final project of the course called for a design of educational technology that we can either create from scratch or develop from what is currently available. I chose to develop from a project at Harmony Plus called "Parents' Roadmap for College Prep" online class. This course was created to answer an unmet need among Chinese parents who want to send their kids to study in the US. As American college admission system is inherently different from Chinese one, parents need to familiarize themselves in this new system in order to support their children. However, sources of information on this new system are almost always in English, which some parents might not be comfortable using. As a result, Harmony Plus created this online class consisted of 6 modules, each of which features 15-minute video. The course is hosted on Duanshu, which is a plugin for paid video on WeChat, a popular Chinese communication application.


After Nori Negron, my teammate, and I decided to settle on this course as our final project. We investigated how and why the course was not as successful as it could be, since there is an enormous market whose important problem can be solved with this course.


We started by pinpointing the crux of the problem and we found out that Chinese parents believe good grade and high standardized test score alone can get their children into top universities in the US. This is because Chinese college admission system only look at students' standardized score. This became a problem as parents will prioritize school and standardized test tutoring, while ignore factors such as strength of schedule and extracurricular activities, when it comes to designing their child’s school schedule.

To change Chinese parents’ attitudes, we have to familiarize them with the facts that American Universities are looking for students that are well-rounded, which means students must have both extracurricular activities and challenging courses on their schedule. Students who take easier classes where they can get higher grades are not valued as much by American Universities as students who take higher-level courses.

Learner Analysis

The learner in this case are affluent parents of Chinese children attending private school who wish to have their children admitted to an American University and feel at a loss with the process. One concern we have to keep in mind while designing this course is that these parents might have varying level of English, so having translation and transcript will be key to this course's success.

Based on this analysis we have come up with learning goals. At the end of our course, we want our learners to demonstrate that they can do the following:

  • Parents will show that grades aren’t the only important factor by allowing their children to explore extracurricular activities that interest them.

  • Parents will be able to discern between easy classes that result in easy grades and more challenging courses that will show Universities strength of schedule by designing a class schedule for their children that has one or two higher level/challenging courses in it.

Design and Assessment

The course will begin with a pre-test to determine what misconceptions the parents have, as well as give parents a bit of an understanding of what they will be working towards in the course. Parents will be asked to fill in a schedule for their child with all the courses they feel are important and why. A drag and drop method design will be used in order to engage learners.

Design of the pre-test from our storyboard

Once they have completed the task their course will be “graded” by a rubric based on goals previously stated (strength of schedule and extracurricular activities).

After the parents receive their grade, the course will continue with a five-minute video lecture to disseminate the facts. Parents will learn the criteria colleges use and explain what types of extracurricular activities colleges look for in students, as well as the types of school schedules they look for. During the lecture, the video will stop at certain points to ask parents to look at the schedule they made, and compare it to the information from the video. As we are aware that some parents may not speak English, each video will have the option of including Mandarin or Cantonese subtitles. A transcript will also be available for parents to download for future reference.

Stories help parents grasp facts from the lecture

After the lecture, the video will use the next five minutes to employ the use of storytelling to help the parents grasp the facts from the lecture and see them put into practice. Stories will include examples of students who did not have extracurricular activities or challenging courses in their schedule, as well as stories of students who did and how their experiences applying and being accepted to American Universities differ.

The last five minutes of the video will summarize the facts, ask parents to go back in, and design a new schedule for their child. It will bring up the previous schedule and ask parents, based on what they have learned, to go in and make changes. This part will act as a post-test for this course. Lastly, after parents receive their second graded schedule they will be directed to a link to make an appointment for a video conference with one of the professionals at Harmony Plus to go over any questions they may have.


The most challenging part of this project for me is that we have to incorporate theories and frameworks that we learned into our design decisions. It is usually easy for me to come up with new designs that is seemingly good enough and probably solve issues at hand. I feel that it comes quite naturally for me to use creativity and my kind of logic. However, when I have to develop a design step-by-step according to what frameworks say, as well as integrating other theories into our design to support our decisions, I felt constrained and struggled to enjoy the process.

In the end, I feel that frameworks and theories that we integrated into our design have made the design much stronger and more grounded. I will still need to work on many more of these instructional design projects to be able to instinctively think this way, though.

If you are interested, please see our full paper, complete with citation and full storyboard here.


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