Online course design for humans

Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

My colleagues and I are in the midst of launching an online course development pilot at our institution. For the next year and a half we will be providing pedagogical and technical support for the development (or in some cases, re-development) of eleven, fully online courses across ten disciplines.

While reflecting on what might be most helpful to share with faculty participating in this pilot, I realized that many of the “go-to” tools, resources, and templates I’d encountered in my past practice as an Instructional Designer did not fully or effectively address the vital human elements that can make or break a learning experience, particularly one that is entirely online. Instead, I found that these considerations were often touched upon more incidentally or informally through conversation while collaborating with course developers. As such, depending on the working relationship, or myriad other constraints, it seemed it was not always possible to foreground these ideas when supporting the design of an online course.

With this in mind, I was fortunate to find a deep well of inspiration, ideas, and information in my travels in and around the open education community. Learning from those working in open ed naturally led me to some of the leading voices in critical digital pedagogy. Having listened to these voices, I decided to combine my learning and experiences to begin crafting a workbook called Online Course Design for Humans.

Happily I was working through the beginnings of this project around the time that I attended Digital Pedagogy Lab in Toronto. The keynotes by Jess Mitchell @jesshmitchell and Rajiv Jhangiani @thatpsychprof helped confirm for me that I might be on the right track. The encouragement, support, and feedback of my fellow creators in Sean Michael Morris @slamteacher‘s Writing Workshop at DPL also bolstered my nerve to move forward with my ideas.

Last week, I kicked off my work with a number of the course development pilot participants and together, we are making our way through the workbook. It is very much a work in progress, and I would welcome and appreciate any feedback, questions, criticisms, or ideas. If all or some of this piece are of help to you in your work, all the better! You can find me at or @MGtheID. Here it is – please take a look below or download here Online Course Design for Humans. For a tagged PDF version, feel free to drop me an email or DM via one of the channels above and I’ll happily send one along.


Looking Back on a Year of True Fellowship – Reflecting and Reporting on the eCampusOntario OE Fellow Experience

Collage of group shots of OE Fellows

You may have noticed recently that eCampusOntario has introduced the 2019 cohort of OE Fellows: Bill Ju (@NeuroscienceUT), Tricia Bonner(@triciaB67), Xinli Wang(@xinli_w), Krista McCracken (@kristamccracken), and Marnie Seal (@MarnieSeal). Having met with and followed the work of each of these exceptional educators I can say with confidence that some great research and insights are in the forecast for anyone interested in open education in Ontario.

As the 2019 group of Fellows energetically ramps up for a year of learning and advocacy, my own work as a member of the inaugural team of OE Fellows is drawing to a close. It was such a pleasure and an honour to work alongside Laura Killam (@NurseKillam,) Jessica O’Reilly (@Cambrian_Jess,) James Skidmore (@JamesMSkidmore), Helen Dewaard (@hj_dewaard), and Aaron Langille (@aaron_lucs ) as we discovered the meaning of this unique opportunity and shared out our learning as widely as we could, using all the ways and means we could find. Whether we were communicating through conference panels or professional development workshops (OE Global, CNIE, TESS, OEO Summit, ), collaborating on MOOCs (Making Sense of Open Education), facilitating webinars (Fellows Fall 2018 Series), or tweeting and re-tweeting everything in between (#OE Fellows), we were keenly aware that our intrepid gang was part of a much larger and determined group of educators.  The work of the fellowship introduced me to an educational community unlike any that I had ever encountered and encouraged me to bring the voices of that community back to my colleagues and collaborators. In my efforts to advance awareness of open educational practice, I found myself forging new and different connections within my own institution, as well as more widely across the province and beyond.

While it sounds cliché to say “What a difference a year makes”, the phrase rings clear and true when I reflect on my role and my work now, compared to 12 months ago. I have recently taken on a new role at Trent University – a growth opportunity that I may not even have considered without the deepening of perspective that was encouraged by the OE Fellowship. I know that a quick check-in with my “fellow fellows”, would, in most cases, yield stories of comparable, unexpected shifts in direction, whether it be professional, academic and/or personal pursuits.

I owe many, many thanks to @ecampusontario for their support of the OE Fellows. The work I began as an OE Fellow continues and will be an important part of my efforts in instructional design for many years to come.

I have compiled a report of my work and findings as an OE fellow, which I will introduce with a short excerpt from the report itself:

Now is the time for me to share my findings, not only from the action research that I committed to pursue at the outset of this adventure, but also from the many events and collaborations in which I participated over the past months. As such, this report offers a mix of reflection, results, and work products, which I hope might be embraced and re-purposed by the community in the spirit in which they are offered.

Here, for your review is a copy of the report: From the Side of Our Desks to the Centre. I welcome questions, comments and feedback anytime through the channel of your choice –, or Twitter @MGtheID.

Inspiration and Intention – Life and work after Intro to #digped

Desire Path by Metro Centric on Flickr

This is a re-post of the reflection that I submitted as part of the IDIG Team posts for Ontario Extend’s 9X9X25 Challenge.

I’m still processing some of the learning from the session described below, and look forward with enthusiasm to the possibility of learning more at Digital Pedagogy Lab Toronto in March 2019.

Here’s my original post:

I participated earlier this month in the Introduction to Digital Pedagogy with Sean Michael Morris @slamteacher and Jesse Stommel @jessifer,  sponsored by @eCampusOntario and @RyersonU – Office of eLearning.

The all too brief workshop, along with my review of the preparatory materials, represented some of the most impactful hours of professional development that I’ve experienced so far in my career – truly changing the way I think about my work as an Instructional Designer.

Here are some of my initial reflections on how I intend to evolve and hone my practice as a result of the sessions, and to have greater faith in some of my gut instincts –which I have occasionally questioned over the years in the name of “best practices”.

Allowing for “Desire Paths”:  I recall once looking at a well beaten stretch of soil between some shrubs in my daughter’s school yard. A friend with a background in landscape and urban planning described it as a “desire line” or “desire path”. It was a trail that the children had instinctively chosen and created over time in spite of the many manicured and carefully placed walkways that had been called for by the yard’s architect.

After #digped, it seems clear to me that, like the young creators of those desire paths, students will always find unanticipated and wonderful ways to enter, exit, and navigate through the learning events and environments that we design, and these alternately carved-out tracks should naturally contribute to our own learning and growth as designers and instructors.

Planning for the actual rather than the imagined:  More often than not, I might begin my course development work with an instructor by asking them to tell me about the learners they expect to be in their course.

After #digped I will intentionally, rather than incidentally, encourage instructors to consider their plans to discern and understand the needs of the learners who arrive in their course.

Set the stakes aside (when and as possible): Over the years, it has been common for me to find myself in spirited exchanges regarding the grading of discussions in an online course – frequently wrapping up with the establishment of an assigned participation grade in order to create a sense that something is “at stake”.

After #digped, I will intentionally, rather than incidentally, focus these exchanges on opportunities for and ways of inspiring, rather than requiring dialogue, when planning to foster community in an online course.

(Side note – So many thoughts still simmering in my brain re: the antagonistic relationship between grades and community….)

Span out rather than rein in:  Rubrics and exemplars, along with the phrase “let’s show them what ‘good’ looks like” have long had a place in my conversations with instructors.

After #digped, I look forward to exploring more extensively, alongside the instructors whom I support, ways to inspire students to answer the question “what does ‘good’ look like for me” or “what can I share as an example for my peers and, possibly, the wider world?”

Consider the “being” in the “space”: After years of work in the digital learning space, it is easy to fall into the habit of seeking out digital equivalents to analog/in-person experiences. In other words, if the digital is possible, the digital is necessary.

After #digped, I will intentionally, rather than incidentally, encourage myself and my collaborators to consider the human beings and spaces that encompass the online community of learners.

Why let the fact that a course is online distract us from the fact that we inhabit a world where a physical artifact or tool (a notebook, a canvas, a candle, a bell,) can often be as easily at hand, and better serve a pedagogical purpose, than its digital equivalent (not to mention requiring less data…)?

Tools and transparency: After having designed and launched an online course, many instructors ask me, “How do I know that my students are reading my content/logging into my course shell/using the learning objects I set up”?

My responses to these queries often point them to any/all analytics or reporting features of these tools, with, at best, a note of caution or disclaimer regarding the type of information that might be gleaned.

After #digped (and also following up on themes of #OpenEd18), I will promote among my faculty collaborators a deeper reflection on what they will do with this information, and how they will communicate with their students about the availability of this data and their intentions regarding its use.

Beyond the “Welcome” Page:  Sure, I regularly encourage instructors to open their online course content with a “welcome”, and to use a voice that directly addresses and engages the student, but have I encouraged them to truly sustain that sense of “welcome” throughout their course?

After #digped, I find myself increasingly examining what @slamteacher calls “hospitality as pedagogy” – in other words, the kinds of interactions that are “invitational” rather than “contractual”  or prescribed between instructor and learner.

Conversation in a world of compliance: So many of us, in our respective roles in higher education, work within systems that require observance of multiple requirements, policies, and standards – beyond our discretion or control.

After #digped, I will regularly remind myself to not only dialogue with instructors regarding their perspective on the requirements that impact their work, but also urge them to actively include their students in the conversation regarding the many factors that shape their obligations to their institutions and to one another.

Inspiration, and intention, these are the gifts that I take away and hope to share out — after #digped….

Instructional Design in the Open – Reflections on OE Global 2018

Welcome to the inaugural post for my first and long overdue I.D. blog. I can’t think of a better way to kick things off than to share some of my initial reactions the OE Global 2018 conference – an event that has renewed my passion for instructional design and reminded me of the importance of the work that we do every day.

The theme of the conference was “Transforming Education through Open Approaches” and my participation in this gathering was supported as part of my role as an eCampusOntario Open Education Fellow – So my objective for the event was to leave with a clear sense of how I, as an instructional designer at an Ontario university, can actively contribute to this important transformation. I’m still digesting everything that I saw, heard, and felt, at OE Global, but here are some beginning thoughts on what I learned (along with some invitations to any/all who might read this):

Little things can lead to big change

As Instructional Designers working in higher ed, our impact is often achieved through regular, focused micro-interventions with faculty and colleagues. We share out our knowledge and encourage practice through any/all channels available to us – social media, email, conversations, and, when possible, workshops and group engagements (both in person and virtual).

Open Educational Practice is a lens that we can and should bring to each and every one of these micro-interventions. This became clear to me through multiple presentations at OE Global 2018, including those by/about SUNY and CUNY OE Services, CCC Online Education Initiative, and the Australia OEP Special Interest Group. After all, faculty, even those with a passion for teaching and learning, will always have competing demands for their time, energies, and focus. Transforming teaching and learning should be the only focus of an instructional designer – yes?

In an ideal world, all of our educational institutions would be building towards a clear policy in support of Open Education, but for a host of reasons, we are not there yet. Isn’t it worth equipping ourselves and our collaborators with the knowledge and resources to be ready if/when this happens? (Not to mention, pointing any decision makers with whom we interact to the exemplary work of institutions like TU Delft – the host site of OE Global 2018)

Invitation: Think of three ways that you can build support for open educational practice into your instructional design work. How soon can you start?

Search out and amplify the voices that make a difference

As instrumental as our work as instructional designers might be, we know that our messaging really gains traction when faculty hear it echoed and see it reflected in the work of their peers – particularly those within their own discipline. At OE Global, Professor Jasmine Roberts (@ProfJasmine), shared a highly resonant observation that in some (if not many) academic environments OER and OEP has been stigmatized – even in the face of a burgeoning body of research supporting their quality and benefits. This message reinforced for me how important it is to seek out and create opportunities for our faculty collaborators to share their open stories – perhaps through forums and events that are not necessarily on their day-to-day “radar”.

Some great vehicles for these voices were shared at the conference, including the Open Pedagogy Notebook, an initiative kicked off by Open Ed heroes, Rajiv Jhangiani (@thatpsychprof) and Robin DeRosa (@actualham), and the Open Faculty Patchbook, the brainchild of eCampusOntario’s own, amazing Terry Greene (@greeneterry).

Invitation: Find two (or more!) faculty in your network who have used open educational resources or practices (whether they realized it or not :)). Encourage them to share their stories!

Open is part of a bigger and critically important puzzle

Top of mind for many, if not all participants at OE Global was the role that OER and OEP play in the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Goal #4 – Quality Education – has set targets to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all. As instructional designers, we can surely contribute to this goal by moving our work, and that of our colleagues and collaborators, towards the open. Isn’t removing barriers to learning our raison d’être?

Invitation: Take some time to review all 17 of the sustainable development goals and find ways to integrate them into the work that you do.

With time to reflect, (and a chance to fully recover from the jet lag!) I’m sure that I will appreciate even more of the key insights shared through OE Global 2018 and by the amazingly supportive Open Ed community of which I now feel a part. Will post any ongoing epiphanies in the weeks to come!

P.S. Haven’t specifically called out here the amazing work of open librarians that was showcased at OE Global, because I could fill many pages describing their awesomeness. They represent a huge part of the wind behind the sails of open education and I hope to share more reflections about fruitful librarian/I.D./faculty collaborations soon!

(Photo by Angelina Litvin on Unsplash)