By Jon Kruithof

Am I an instructional designer? I work in educational technology, talk to people about using tools and help people design better learning, but does that make me an instructional designer? Educational technology is a place that can often drive pedagogical change, and it’s strange how often it goes unacknowledged as an accomplice in converting people to better pedagogy. How often do you as an instructional designer have a conversation about a piece of technology that forces the person you’re working with to rethink what they’re doing, and how they’re doing it? It may not be the great revelatory exclamation of “Oh my, this is going to change my life!” – but sometimes drastically, sometimes subtly, a change is made.

EdTech forces change.

It’s change that is opted into, by selecting the tool or technology, but it is change nonetheless. I can hear the counter arguments; “that’s not change, it’s choice!” I’d counter, that it’s a choice to change. Often in the adoption of a new tool, you have an opportunity to make large scale changes; most people don’t do that, but they make a smaller, incremental change. Sometimes change stops there. Sometimes, it pushes further, changing assessment strategies, approaches to instruction, facilitation techniques. That’s where you (or I) are able to help.

My role has been traditionally to help people with the how of things; how to set up a gradebook in the LMS, how to use classroom response tools to do things in the classroom – and early on I realized that lots of people really were looking for how-to, but never thought much about the why they were doing things. Sometimes the answer to why was simply, “the department asked me to go online” – but the people who did think about the why ended up much more satisfied. Looking to help in a more productive way I’ve become somewhat annoying in consultations, asking things like “why are you doing this?” and “what do you hope to accomplish with this change?” Those questions are less about technical details, and more about design of learning. It’s been interesting to note how instructional design intersects with media development, technical support, systems administration and of course, teaching. Each of those intersections can be opportunities to talk about how that particular learning experience can be improved. Creating a video? Why, what can that help you accomplish? The questions open up a rich conversation filled with the proverbial box of chocolates. In some ways, that make me, a (looking at my work badge) Learning Technologies Analyst, an Instructional Designer.

It’s unfortunate, that I didn’t know that until six or seven years ago. Honestly, it would’ve made my early career make a lot more sense. So those of you who are working in educational technology, supporting the use of a tool and putting in tickets to bug vendors to fix things, you might be an Instructional Designer.

Jon Kruithof is a Learning Technologies Analyst at McMaster University

By Maureen Glynn

I participated last week 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 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 the 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 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?”

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….

Feature Image: Desire Path by Metro Centric on Flickr

Maureen Glynn is an instructional designer with Digital Education Strategies at The G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education, Ryerson University.

By Mariam Ahmed

This is the third post of the IDIGOntario #9x9x25 Challenge!

As instructional designers, an important part of our role is to provide professional development to faculty and instructors (though how it can be received varies). This faculty development can take many forms, e.g., it can be one-on-one or in a group; it can be done in person, over the phone, via webinar, via email, via blog-post, via tutorial, in a handout, etc.

Below are some suggestions based upon our experiences designing and facilitating a faculty development workshop called Let’s Connect!:

  1. Ask faculty which topics they want to learn more about – Instructors will be more invested in learning about topics that matter to them. At the end of each of our workshops, we ask for participant suggestions on future workshop topics.
  2. Consider topics that are important to your institution – A couple of our recent topics have been accessibility and open educational resources. Since the introduction of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), our team has created a number of processes and guidelines to help ensure that the course materials we develop meet the standards of the AODA. A workshop like Let’s Connect! helps us share such guidelines.
  3. Invite guest instructors to share their experiences – We’ve had positive feedback from sessions where guest instructors shared their practices with their peers; instructors attending such sessions reported this as “a great source of motivation.” Part of the success of our professional development course for new or seasoned online instructors, Teaching Adult Learners Online, is that it is facilitated by an experienced online instructor.
  4. Carefully plan out the workshop – The more interactivities you have, the more important it is to carefully plan all of the details. A lot of people and steps are involved in making just one two-hour workshop run smoothly.
  5. Offer it in different formats – Don’t assume that all instructors can come to campus on the date/time you’ve selected. Let’s Connect! started as an in person offering, but it evolved into being simultaneously offered both in person and via webinar, which opens it up to more participants.
  6. Make it an active learning experience – Rather than ask faculty to watch a presentation or a demo, ask them to try out a tool or engage in guided discussion with their peers. In feedback from our early sessions, instructors told us they wanted hands-on experiences. Even better, let your faculty leave the session with something tangible, such as a communication plan or a toolkit of open educational resources.
  7. Select the most convenient timing – In the early years, we received feedback from instructors saying that the workshop should be offered before the semester starts. Unfortunately, this is hard to do, as some of our instructors aren’t hired until very close to the semester start, so we run this workshop during the second week of classes. We also try to make the offering convenient for our instructors, i.e., offer it right before evening classes at our school begin, so that any classroom instructors can attend in person before they teach.
  8. Connect faculty to other services at your institution – Invite experts or representatives from other units (e.g., the library, computing services, etc.) to co-facilitate your workshop or let faculty know where to find them and the type of support they can provide. Try to break up the silos.

For more ideas on designing and delivering effective faculty development, check out the tips from Patty Phelps in her article Five fundamentals of faculty development.

Mariam Ahmed is an instructional designer with Digital Education Strategies at The G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education, Ryerson University.


Phelps, P.H. (2018). Five fundamentals of faculty development. Faculty Focus.

Photo CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0 likeaduck via Flickr

By Terry Greene

This is IDIGOntario‘s 2nd post of the #9x9x25 Challenge

When I signed up to be on the IDIG team I very vaguely said I would like to write something about the “Front End Analysis” phase of Instructional Design. Also known as the “What are we doing and why” part.

If you do this part well you can avoid making big mistakes down the road. You might even realize that you shouldn’t even do it at all. You also tend have that “come on, come on, let’s get going!” feeling buzzing around you. I am feeling that right now as we prepare to try a new way of delivering Ontario Extend in January. But no matter how many angles you try to anticipate, something will surprise you when you implement it.

A good example of this came from the scholarly project I worked on to complete my ID Master’s. I created an instructional Alternate Reality Game (ARG). It was designed to help youth identify problem gambling behaviours and know how to reduce the harm of them. I completed a lengthy front end analysis in which I tried to anticipate who the learners were and what their needs would be to complete the game. I never really considered that some kids might not be up for suspending their disbelief in what was meant to be a fun way to learn.

English mastiff Tyra aka Chance the “missing” dog

The first test went great, with a group of ninth grade students who were asked to participate and agreed of their own accord. They had fun and were successful in taking the story to its conclusion. The final test run, however, was a different story. In working with the program facilitator for the gambling awareness group, we were able to bring the game to test it out on an entire class of (I think) 11th grade students at an “alternative” high school. I don’t recall too much about the makeup of the class or the reasons they had enrolled in a “different” kind of high school. In general you could say that the students were rightfully kind of pissed off about how their education was going so far.

They didn’t want to pretend. They didn’t want to make believe. They didn’t give a damn about rescuing a fake dog. They did the game activities, but it would have probably served them better to give them a list of problem gambling behaviours to look out for and harm reduction strategies to use and to just have a discussion about how these things have affected their lives. I remember clearly the look one student gave me when he realized I was trying to trick him into playing along. It was utterly deflating. The results of the test run were that yes, the students reached the objectives. Learning was measured. But the feeling in the room was not the fun buzz I was working toward in the back of my mind. It was a stark opposite.

I’m going way over 25 sentences by digging in to that anecdote. My point is that I did not anticipate, at all, that this idea of learning via a game would resonate so poorly with these students. I didn’t ask the right, or enough questions in my front-end analysis. JR Dingwall’s post in which he did ask the right questions to help bring about a great result, is what got me thinking about what questions to ask in the beginning.

So I ask you, what questions do you ask yourself and others when you first sit down to analyze an ID project? How can you avoid making something that leaves students feeling flat and misunderstood?

Terry Greene is a Program Manager at eCampusOntario, seconded from Fleming College where he is a Learning Technology Specialist. You can find him on Twitter @greeneterry

“Question?” flickr photo by spi516 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

By Joanne Kehoe

For this first post in the IDIG team entry in the Ontario Extend 9x9x25 Challenge, I decided to post a random-order, grammatically-incorrect-but-trying-to-keep-it-to-one-run-on-sentence-each “25” cents worth of tips that have served me well in my work as an instructional designer. I noticed many of these align with attributes of Ontario Extend’s Empowered Educator, which was a nifty revelation! Those that didn’t I would consider “slippery” as they are difficult to nail down into any one of the six, but are threaded through.

Develop and Tap into a PLN – The absolute, no holds-barred, critical importance and boundless benefit of cultivating a PLN – or Personal Learning Network, or People I Lean oN (okay that doesn’t really work, but you get the drift).

Build team rapport – with any project, but in particular course design, where you’re bringing a bunch of diverse people together, it’s critical to take time at the start to get to know a bit more about each other prior to digging into the work (working with educators, I use these visioning exercises and encourage them to take the Teaching Perspectives Inventory).

Be adaptable – to move projects along, I’ve learned it’s easier to be flexible in response to how others like to work, track and communicate rather than decree the use of a particular communication tool or the always crowd-pleasing project management software.

Teach a course – nothing better in understanding how a course design actually works in a real-class situation that acting as both designer and teacher (plus you have complete control which is also fun once in a while – see the Digital Literacy for Learning modules I co-developed with fellow ID Devon Mordell as part of our DL course).

Take a course – if you’re lucky, you’ll pick a well-designed one that you can get good ideas from rather than a poorly-designed one (although you can get ideas of what not to do out of those!)

Stretch your technological muscles – this can feel daunting, but if you come across new tech that is intriguing, take the time to try it out a bit – Ontario learners and educators have free access right now and there’s a shirt-ton of tech tutorials to take advantage of.

Read Terms of Service agreements – yeah I know it’s something you usually scroll at break-neck speed by to click the “Agree” button, but it’s pretty damned important to figure out what you’re agreeing to (I love this blog post by Adam Croom which breaks it down)

Sprints for projects – I read and recommend this book (not open boo) and have been involved in various sprints, and can attest to its formula in getting things done faster – perhaps a framework to consider for trudging course (re)designs?

PD for ID – it’s easy to get caught up in a tangled web of ‘to do’s’ but it’s always great to take time out and expand your skill set – IDIG keeps an updated PD channel on our Slack workspace (join us!)

Research – even if your job doesn’t require you to do research, get in on a project – you don’t have to be lead investigator – a small role as a contributor to the project affords great learning opportunities.

Handwritten Notes – who among us doesn’t open the hand-written envelope in the batch of mail first? The small gesture of a penned note to those who have helped you in your professional life goes a long way (I easily make my own cards using my own pics or openly-licensed images such as those by Unsplash!)

Curate as you go – it’s hard to keep track of, or backtrack looking for, all the goodies you come across, are sent, or hear about, so make sure you have a way to curate them away (I personally like and use diigo).

Experiment – Going big or teensy, if there’s a way to try something new and see how it goes, go for it – nothing breeds innovation more than a little experimentation.

Don’t worry when you don’t know things – ‘fess up, ask questions and never bluff.

Practice inclusive design – the more you practice, the more ingrained it will be in your work (as it should be!) – and I’ve found the stellar work out of OCAD’s Inclusive Design Research Centre a true gift.

Hang in the back (of class) – if I’m tasked with redesigning a f2f course to an online one, I ask the instructor if it’s okay if I sit in the back row and watch them in action – even though it’s getting harder to ‘blend in’ with the twenty-somethings, I get a lot out of this observation.

Consider design aestheticsDon Norman says “attractive things work better.” As ID’s we need to pay attention to the impact the design of interfaces have on student learning (restricted paper but you likely have access through your library!)

The importance of empathy – I wrote about this in a blog post, and often refer people to this short clip by the amazing RSA Animate – and when searching for that found this clip by the same fantastic folks on the 21st century and the importance of outrospection.

EAT (Email Avoidance Time) – one of my mentors swore by this practice – instead of starting the day by opening email, start it by setting aside an hour to complete one or two small tasks (such as writing a 9x9x25 blog post!)

Set a Pomodoro Pace – feeding further into time management, this tomato timer helps me focus, take breaks and complete tasks – no easy feats (now if it could just help me with the laundry).

Laugh – I’ve always been lucky to work with people with superb comic timing (Terry Greene anyone?) and sharing a belly laugh has proven to be the number one bonding mechanism (according to my completely unsubstantiated but highly-enjoyable research).

Careful of the criticism –  giving (and getting!) honest feedback can be sweat-inducing if it is in the form of criticism – tips like these have helped me stay aware of the motivations and focus on the situation and not the individual.

Presenting is a present – whether it’s a conference, meeting or group of peers, presenting not only offers a way to share your professional work, I find the process of pulling it together, thinking, reflecting and sequencing ideas, offers many side benefits.

Small win parties – okay maybe a party for one, but it’s important to do a quiet victory dance every time one of your ideas comes to fruition, especially if you had to go to the mat for it.

Design is everywhere – I took completed accessed this Udacity course, “Intro to the Design of Everyday Things” a while back and it provides a ‘big picture’ of the role design plays in all of our lives, and helps you think about design decisions you make.

That’s it- definitely more than 25 sentences here but I’m thinking I can bank the extras and write a 15 sentence post next time around as an adapted 9x9x25 entry, right?

Photo CC-BY Thomas Hawk via Flickr