Publication Announcement

pageHeaderTitleImage_en_USI’m very please to announce that an article co-written by my colleague and fellow Instructional Designer, Jeanette McKee, and myself has finally been published. The latest volume of the Canadian Journal of University Continuing Education, a publication of the Canadian Association for University Continuing Education, is now available online.

Jeanette and I wrote a Report of Practice piece recounting our early work at the Centre for Continuing & Distance Education at the University of Saskatchewan, before the reorganization over the past few years.


This report of practice describes a five-year process to establish and implement quality standards for a substantial portfolio of distance delivered courses at the Centre for Continuing and Distance Education, University of Saskatchewan. The report describes an analysis of the issues and the solutions found that led to our current curriculum design standards and procedures, the implementation of learning technologies, and the identification of issues and solutions regarding copyright law. Lastly, the future prospects of these distance-delivered post secondary courses are considered. Focusing on the issues and solutions for each category of challenges, this report describes the five-year journey of a small instructional-design team that faced roadblocks and barriers common to many post secondary continuing and distance education units.

Read the Full article online HERE.

Skype Translator…um…wow

Soooo here’s something that might change the concept of a global learning community. Now, how fast can we set up a network of global curriculum projects that you can sign your class up for and get these international educators working together?


Kinda speechless right now… more later.

The Medium is the Message: Are We Designing With the Medium In Mind?

Lately, I’ve started thinking more and more about building course materials as a much larger “production”. Perhaps it’s my own background in film & video production that makes me long for the blockbuster distance course. Harkening back to the 1970’s when Televised Distance Education was in it’s hey-day, we were seeing substantial efforts to take the medium of narrow-cast television and produce a pedagogically sound distance courses that took full advantage of a televised format. Today, as written about by a wide range of educational technologists and instructional designers, we tend to limit the online medium we work in by using the LMS (Learning Management Systems). These systems lack the ability to integrate with all the qualities, capabilities and characteristics of the online medium that our audiences have come to understand. Too often we see a template driven readings list crammed onto html web pages in an attempt to deliver a print-based course over the web. Or worse, we see a face-to-face course that has been captured via lecture capture and then “canned” to deliver hours of taped lecture on-demand. Neither of these options take the medium used to deliver the content into account in the design of the course. In fact, they ignore the social core of the internet as a medium and narrow the seemingly infinite access of information to a few pages of curriculum. By doing so I’d suggest that we are forcing learners to expend cognitive load on deciphering these unfamiliar readings of the medium which they must comprehend before they can make cognitive connections with the curriculum.

Televised Distance Education

In contrast, when satellite television began beaming educational programing to regional colleges we did not see television screens of scrolling text. Nor did we see hours of lecture being pumped from the classroom into the TV antenna. On the contrary, at the height of the television age, as we moved into the early ’80’s, we probably saw some of the largest efforts ever seen in terms of production value in distance delivered education. Televised classes, at the time, required a full studio staff including camera operators, lighting technicians, audio engineers, switchers, floor directors, producers and more. Beyond the roles of the production staff during the broadcast there were tape editors, graphics designers, and set carpenters all employed to create, within the medium of television, distance delivered courses via satellite. Unlike many of the live-streamed or lecture captured courses we see today, either still utilizing the narrowcast networks or more frequently now available in on-demand formats online, the televised courses of the late ’70’s and early ’80’s integrated the instructional design of the curriculum seamlessly with the message of the medium. Each course had it’s own format, look, feel, and style. The use of the televised medium was something that was leveraged to outperform the correspondence style alternative of a printed course guide. This was a monumental leap forward for distance education delivery systems. As Marshall McLuhan’s suggests in Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (1964),

“a medium affects the society in which it plays a role not only by the content delivered over the medium, but also by the characteristics of the medium itself.”

Unitel - Continuing Education 1 Feb 1972. U of S Archives A-4779. Pictured are (l. to r.): H. R. Baker, G. Herzberg, J. W. T. Spinks, B. W. Currie.

Unitel – Continuing Education 1 Feb 1972. U of S Archives A-4779.
Pictured are (l. to r.): H. R. Baker, G. Herzberg, J. W. T. Spinks, B. W. Currie.

The University of Saskatchewan has had a proud history with distance education and televised classes more specifically through the Department of Audio Visual Services (DAVS) which later became the Department of Media and Technology (DMT) and then Educational Media Access and Production (eMAP). Each course considered the medium of television as a key component in the instructional design. Familiar television program formats were followed to enhance the message through the medium. For example political studies courses may have included a political debate component to the program episode similar to that of it’s contemporary programs such as CNN’s Crossfire.

In this way, the design of the course was driven by the medium and therefore having followed certain conventions understood by the audience were better able to communicate the content or message. Again, by leveraging the audiences preconceived understanding of the medium itself, these courses were able to capitalize on how students “read” the messages through the delivery design. The language of television was well understood by it’s audience by this time just as the the language of the internet is understood by students today. Just as the audience had expectations of production quality, program formats, and shooting styles for the televised medium, so to do our students have expectations of their online experiences. By not following contemporary conventions of web design, graphic design, and by ignoring the social web we not only fail to leverage the strengths of the medium, but we place barriers in the path of a student’s ability to learn by not speaking the language of the medium understood by our audience.

The DAVS staff at the University of Saskatchewan knew their medium well. They were trained professionals who were given the freedom to experiment, model, and enjoy making their medium part of the message. Network Television was also transitioning at the time in terms of program formats as well. The Second City stage show, for example, took the sketch comedy concept in new directions by creating their own mock television network SCTV. The medium of television at the time was changing and being explored in dynamic ways.

Today, budgets have limited the narrowcast productions to a staff of around 3 or 4 employees and a handful of student camera operators. The studio is dressed with the same wicker shelves, plastic fig tree and lectern for every class. Gone too is the idea that the medium of television itself had something to offer in the instructional design. It is no longer financially viable to produce this type of satellite television on such a grand scale and as changing television formats (reality TV, etc) and production values go up, it becomes difficult to model course material on the contemporary language of television.

Today’s Medium

Today the medium of choice for distance delivered education seems obvious. Our growing online presence is beginning to seamlessly blend with our physical identities and the time we spend online blends with our offline activities. Whether we identify it individually or not we have heard the medium’s message; we speak the language of the internet. So how do we begin to leverage the medium to better serve our students at a distance? How do we design curriculum to fit the models already understood by our audiences. To begin with I’d suggest an analysis of what “program formats” already exist. Much like the televised program formats were adapted to suit curriculum delivery in the 70’s, our courses today could try and follow some models prescribed by what exists now. For example the Social Network sites like Facebook or hi5, Curated News sites like Reddit or Digg, Personal Blogs and even dating platforms all present unique features and functions to help deliver the message. What are these site formats providing in terms of the message? How are these formats helping to deliver the content? If we could use these formats to construct pieces of a course using the language that our audience already speaks we could leverage the message of the medium to better deliver the content. The real advantage here as compared to the television days is that part of the literacy we understand about the internet is the concept of “surfing”. Although “channel surfing” became an understood part of watching TV once the remote control became a standard option, the internet age has all but perfected the concept of “surfing” from one site format to the next. The advantage for designers is that this too can be leveraged so that the entire course need not be a Facebook style interaction, but the course could be made up of many formats depending on the content and activities the students are to undertake. Beyond that today’s medium does not require us to mimic a program like CNN Crossfire, instead we can use the actual formats as they are. We can use Facebook and Reddit and Blogs as they exist to deliver the content through our medium. As I wrote in a previous post (The Digital Classroom is a Sham) we need to stop creating single spaces for “classroom” activities on the net. These online classes should not be designed as shoe boxes full of images, articles and assessments. Instead they should be a connected web of activities that make use of whatever contemporary formats (websites) that make sense to use. Developing these curated webs of content from contemporary sources and formats allows the medium to help deliver the message.

In the recent few years we’ve seen MOOCs taking a lead role in breaking the mold for online courses. And although there is much debate over MOOCs in general, one has to agree that the dollars spent by institutions such as the U of A to produce courses like Dino 101 have opened some very tired eyes as to the possibility of online courses that go beyond the correspondence style reading lists we so often see. But is it necessary to spend tens of thousands of dollars on  a production like Dino 101 or a Network Television show? Today’s technology and DIY movements allow us to produce high quality video and other media content that can easily be shared, embedded and linked to within your curated web course. Armed with little more than a smartphone camera and free editing software you can publish your media on the highest rated “network” in the world, YouTube, and be seen in any home with internet access. The real challenge is the literacy of the SME’s and instructors to produce their program pieces and curate others into a cohesive web of navigable content. It’s understanding the message of the medium well enough to know when to use it and how it will help deliver the message. Without the aid of a full time television studio staff, once again, it’s up to digital literacy training within our institutions to develop those skills within our instructors and curriculum developers.

Here are a few words from Marshall McLuhan that you may find are pretty relevant today despite being recorded decades ago.



CAUCE Webinar: Quality Standards for Distance Education

I’ve been asked to speak on a panel on the topic of Quality Standards for Distance Education for a CAUCE Webinar Series, Valuing Continuing Education: Programs, Promotion and Processes.  I’ll be discussing some of the templates that have been developed by the ID team I work with at CCDE, U of S as well as some of the new considerations for what quality means to today’s students when looking at the web learning environments available.

Join us if you can.

Quality Standards for Distance Delivery

Description:  The session will focus on quality standards for the delivery of distance education courses. It will address: course design and delivery, rubrics for measuring quality in design and delivery, development models, intellectual property, faculty support and buy-in, other aspects of standards related to distance delivery.

Date:  November 18, 2014

Time: 1:00 – 2:30 P.M. EDT

Presented by Natalie Giesbrecht, Manager, Distance Education, Open Learning and Educational Support , University of Guelph, Lynette Phyfe, Interim Director/Instructional Designer, Distance and Online Education, University of Manitoba and Jordan Epp, Instructional Designer, Distance, Off-Campus and Certificate Programs, Centre for Continuing & Distance Education, University of Saskatchewan.

Register here

Owning It!

Well this is exciting! My first Ed Tech in the 306 blog post from my own little piece of the internet. That’s right I’ve moved the blog over from the third party to my own WordPress install on my newly acquired Reclaim Hosting space thanks to Jim Groom and Tim Owens! I’m only a few days into the process of learning to manage my own server space and already I’m feeling the power surging in my veins! No longer shall the IT department lord their install privileges over my head! No more shall I be denied plugins, themes, or open source application sandboxes! I and I alone will rule my destiny online!!! MuAhahahahahahha!!!!!

In all seriousness though I don’t know why I didn’t do this ages ago. It really is great. Already I have a WordPress multi-site platform syndicating content most of my online entities, I have a Moodle platform waiting for me to play with, I’m exploring Vanilla Forums, a few social networking platforms, and will probably install Drupal just for giggles later this week. YES! Lovin’ it. I don’t know how Jim and Tim are doing it, but for $12 I’ve got all this power, a registered domain which I can build sub-domains off of, and Jim has already been in contact a few times and been there to answer some real newbie questions. All for the price of a up-sized fast food dining experience. Amazing.

My motivation for making the plunge comes from a few places starting with my anti-establishment skater/punk childhood that had me questioning every cop and security guard that ever chased me off a set of concrete stairs at a very young age. In short I was born to question those who lord power over us. I spent a good amount of time in the hallways of my elementary school for asking how assignments were relevant to what we were supposed to be learning (actually I was usually in the hallway for being lippy or disrupting the class, but it was all the same to me). In this case IT departments, web hosting services, and now more than ever, the giants of information like Google and Facebook. We click “accept” on terms and conditions screens like they weren’t even there. For all the time I spend on the internet each and everyday, for all the information I pump into the “series of tubes“, I have little more understanding than Ted Stevens himself. Simply put, I need to understand more about how this information is used and take back some control of how and where it exists. I took a CS100 course back in 1996 as part of my undergrad and to be honest that’s probably the most I ever learned about how the internet worked. We built a GeoCities style webpage with a few links on it and signed up for a yahoo email account. Since then I’ve been letting the internet drive. A few months back The Hour of Code campaign was really ramping up and it got me thinking more and more about digital citizenship and literacies.f8b8079e2c0a6d5d3e60f6c1f3aad1bc I completed my hour of code (kind of a useless exercise) and resolved to be a more informed digital citizen in 2014. After some very frustrating conversations with our IT department around the installation of plugins for our under supported University WordPress install I decided it was time to pull the trigger. Glad I did. You should too. Own IT!

DCMOOC – Digital Citizenship MOOC

Well I’m jumping into the DCMOOC a little late, but I just got caught up with the recordings this morning and you can too. I’m really excited that the Ministry of Education thought to provide this PD opportunity to the people of Saskatchewan and beyond.

A key component of Saskatchewan’s Action Plan to Address Bullying and Cyberbullying is the support and promotion of digital citizenship instruction for K-12 students in Saskatchewan schools. The Ministry of Education is pleased to support this professional development opportunity for educators.

And who better to lead the charge, but our own Alec Couros. Very Cool.

I’ve actually been thinking a lot about digital citizenship lately and how there is an ever widening gap in our understanding of information usage and how companies like Google and Facebook are using our information. Jim Groom’s A Domain of One’s Own project and other whistle blowing warriors of the open web like Audrey Watters have been really pushing me as an instructional designer to subversively insert Digital Citizenship skills into course developments here at the U of S.

Large web companies are getting better and better at exploiting the information we share for their own profits and under the guise of serving you better. But if we don’t understand how our information is being used, if we click next next next on every terms and conditions screen we come across how can we be responsible digital citizens. Multi-billion dollar companies are researching and developing new ways to harvest and use this information and yet we keep using the internet like it’s our own personal computer.

I don’t mean to sound like a conspiracy theorist or a propaganda pusher, but the gap between their knowledge and ours as average users of the net is exponentially widening and that is a real issue.

I’m really hoping that DCMOOC will open some eyes and encourage a much deeper focus on digital literacy and citizenship skills to grow in all curriculum and help promote an attitude of informed internet users in our kids, teachers, and administrators. This is a great start to the conversation and I can’t wait to see all the resources and conversations that emerge. Thanks to everyone involved in this great project for making it happen!!

AR is getting interesting

Just saw the Metaio Showreel for 2013. I’ve always loved the concepts behind position based information systems. It’s the ultimate in just-in-time training which I think we need to invest more thought in with regards to faculty and student training. But this Augmented reality company is really starting to think (in a very commercial and capitalist way of course) outside the box with some of their developments. Take a look. The vehicle inspection piece particularly caught my eye. imagine this in a poly technique institution with an auto mechanics program. Fantastic

Here’s another one for the polytech’s and engineers.

The Digital Classroom is a Sham

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the way we “deliver” online learning. Spurred on, most recently, by Jim Groom’s Sloan-C keynote I’ve come to the conclusion that the fundamental flaw in how online learning is designed is the preconceived notion that we need to create a “digital classroom“. From copyright policies to access and privacy to the structure of course materials we almost always refer to the “digital classroom”. But what is this fictitious construct? In a face-to-face class the classroom serves as a meeting place for a social network of learners engaged in making connections through their interactions (at least in a well facilitated classroom). But how do we translated this to online learning?

A huge part of the projects that come through my door as an instructional designer at a post-secondary institution are translating f2f courses into online versions. The success of this process always relies on the SME being open to not just PDF’ing their lecture notes or worse yet lecture capturing a semesters worth of lectures and posting them online, but actually stripping the course down to it’s core objectives and building meaningful online interactions and activities that take advantage of how the online world works.


The Digital Classroom via the LMS

I attempted to illustrate how we often construct the digital classroom within a locked LMS (warning I am NOT an accomplished illustrator hahah). We have a large box into which we pour our content, some readings, assignment drop boxes, and host discussions for ultimately anonymous students to interact with. But students come to this “digital classroom” through their own portals and peer into the box to see the lecture show. Assignments they complete and interactions they have all take place within the box and are sealed there until the end of the term when the digital classroom doors are sealed forever.

We need to stop thinking of the online course as existing in an online classroom. No other activities we partake in online is confined like this. We hop around the world wide web like fleas on the back of a great dane. We create content and publish it here and there and wherever the most relevant space is, we bookmark articles and websites on a variety of topics and organize them to suit our own personal learning needs, we curate content and make web posts to synthesize and articulate our own understandings of things. The World Wide Web IS the digital classroom. It is large and expansive and messy and personal and powerful and a web of learning networks that can connect ideas and students and teachers and content and industry and scholarly activity and research and your mom’s Facebook page and that’s all really great!

“But if my course is scattered all over the internet how will students know what is expected of them and how will they know where to find the content?”

Ah, the voice of the masses. It’s actually a really good question, but one with simple and logical answers that many educational technologists and instructional designers have addressed. In my own explanation of how this works there are two basic components; the Syllabus and Syndication.

The syllabus template that has been developed for our own use here at the U of S was a collaborative project between the campus wide Instructional Designers Group. It not only fulfills all the legal requirements within the Universities policies, but is a VERY comprehensive map of the requirements of the course and the core learning outcomes, objectives, materials, and assessments. This syllabus should provide the students and instructor the necessary direction for their activities. The activities and content for the course, however, is the active participation part of the learning process that takes place in the open web. Making use of any online tools, networks, and avenues is fair game for both the instructor and the students.

But how do I keep track of all this crazy internet traffic to make sense of it as a cohesive course?

Web Learning Network

Course-Based Learning Network

Syndication. The Domain of One’s Own project at the University of Mary Washington has developed and mastered this process like no other at this point and if you wish to see how to implement syndication on a large scale I’d recommend starting with “Considering Running Domain of One’s Own on Your Campus?” on Jim Groom’s blog. For many individual ed tech’ers or ID’s we’re just trying to get this done in small controlled successes at this stage so that we have some samples of innovation to show the next SME and begin changing philosophies one course at a time. For us, it can be done through simple systems such as hashtags and social bookmarking. these two tools alone will allow students to curate, create, and network in a way that they’ve never had the opportunity to do in an LMS. A course homepage in the form of an instructors blog can act as a hub for activities and announcements and provide a space where students can keep up to date with the activities week by week. Ask students to tag their work with a class hashtag wherever they publish it and also link to it using a social bookmarking account that the class has accounts for. In this way students are given control of their own content and activities, but can share it with their peers and, if they choose, the public. Each student can maintain their own level of privacy and participation and those who learn best by lurking will still have plenty of content to help them achieve the designed objectives of the course.

We need to move beyond our paradigm paralysis of this traditional classroom model being “translated” into an online “space”.  The Digital Classroom is a sham. The internet doesn’t work like that. We don’t work on the internet like that. Start thinking of the grand world wide web as the classroom, or a field trip or let’s stop thinking of it in traditional forms all together.


Designing a Course as an Event

Ok I’m totally nerding out over here! I recently found this promotional video for a MOOC out of the University of Applied Science in Potsdam, Germany on The Future of Storytelling.

The energy and style of this video got me really pumped about this class. So I started to analyze why and I think it has to do with the way in which they’ve presented their course. It’s as though you are being invited to participate in a research event. It almost creates a FOMO (Fear of missing out) effect. Although this piece was designed as a marketing tool to drum up participants for a MOOC, I started to wonder what the implications of such a video would be for registered students within a program.  I think it’s a residue that MOOCs are leaving on distributed learning design. People put so much thought into “marketing” a MOOC. Why don’t we do that with all our courses? If I saw this video and then the other elective option was “ENG101” with a boring course description and a readings list you better believe I’d take this. I liked the concept of introducing the “team” of instructors, but also that they really emphasized the role of the student’s interests and how that fits with the class. It’s got me thinking about how we design, market, and facilitate. I think if we create courses that have the excitement of an EVENT like this that we would improve student engagement 100%. For our courses at the University we basically rely on students being enrolled in programs. That’s our audience. They HAVE to take courses to finish a degree. In that way, we’ve never really marketed specific classes to them, because they’re already enrolled in a program. That’s where I think this idea is innovative. Using the same marketing techniques of creating an exciting event for core courses, not as a marketing tool to make them TAKE the course (they have to take the course regardless), but as a way to increase motivation and engagement. To get them excited about being a part of the learning experience that’s been designed. I think this approach really appeals to today’s student. We are bombarded with marketing media all day and have an expectation of some kind of wow factor. The way we deliver and design and market our courses does nothing for these senses.