By Ian Craine –

When I get together with ID’s over beverages, the conversation inevitably turns towards sharing “war stories” about working with SME’s and senior academic administration. Invariably, the core issue is that no one really knows what our job fully entails and almost everyone thinks our job can be done in 10 minutes – a frustration probably familiar to many abstract artists, wedding photographers, and game coders.

As a result, ID’s often find ourselves in meetings with people wanting to migrate courses or entire programs online who think that having some draft lecture Powerpoints on hand is 90% of the work. Unless you can step in immediately and reset their timetable expectations, you’ll be in for a very rough ride with lots of angry and disappointed passengers. This is something most of us had to learn the hard way.

I think managing expectations is the real secret to success in this job. Sure, keeping up with research in cognitive psychology, education technology, pedagogy and software licensing is important, but having cutting edge technical skills won’t save you when a project is doomed from the start.

Here are some my “soft skill” strategies for managing ID projects:

Start with a good rapport: It may seem obvious but building a good working relationship with your SME’s and project directors is critical. Each of us does this differently, but make sure you do it. If you can manage it, meeting over an informal coffee is a great way to kick things off after the formal first project meeting. I find gentle humour helps a lot too (but you have to tread carefully!).

Make expectations clear at the start: Be honest about what can be done given the resources allocated for your project, even if that makes you seem unpopular. Make sure everyone knows what the end product might look like and approximately how much time and work is required from everyone on the team to get it done.

Under-promise and over-deliver: This is the universal rule for all consulting projects. It’s way too easy to do the opposite! We all want to portray ourselves as heroes who can achieve anything, but we look a whole lot better in the long run if we don’t oversell ourselves and come up short.

Communicate early and often: Projects can go off the rails because important players feel left out. SME’s might deliver a suite of Powerpoints or PDF’s by email and then either they or the ID “goes dark” for a few weeks or months. Make sure you send out frequent updates on your progress and ask for their input where you need it. If things are taking longer than expected on your end let them know why and show them how the final product will be much better for it.

Use your expertise to guide the project: No one knows your job as well as you. Don’t assume that the SME’s or project administrators will have the same insights as you. Have the confidence to anticipate their design needs and suggest creative ways they can achieve their education goals. However, this can get tricky if the SME is wedded to multiple choice assessments and seems resistant to your ideas for other approaches. That’s where the good rapport really helps.

Let them see some of the “magic” behind the scenes: As with the abstract art piece seen above, the end user enjoys your final product without really being aware of the endless hours of work and design decisions that went into creating it. In early meetings, I try to show examples of how we adapted passive slide show lectures into engaging, active learning experiences for students. And I emphasize the work required and how the SME or content expert can be involved in this process from the beginning.

Ian Craine is an instructional designer and professor at George Brown College in Toronto

Photo credit: Diego Delso,, License CC-BY-SA

By Sarah Wendorf

Imagine you could take content from your textbook and transform it into a whole new personalized, customized online learning experience for your students.

With an Open textbook, you can do that!

Here’s how Carol and I worked together to transform a unit from her Open textbook into a series of modules. Carol is a faculty member in our Academic Upgrading program at Cambrian College.

How It Started

Carol’s students come from a wide variety of backgrounds and abilities.

They are in class working on different subjects at different levels. Often, they are working on self-directed content at their own pace on their own time. This is usually in the form of workbooks and other types of materials.

Due to the format of the way students work in the program, Carol can’t deliver a traditional lesson as she would if all her students were studying the same subjects at the same level (ex: first year English). She does provide 1-1 assistance but with a large group, she can’t spend a lot of time with each student.

She approached me to figure out a better way for her students to have a more engaging and informative experience. She wanted to develop something that would give students immediate feedback and help them learn the content outside of just a plain old workbook.

Open Textbook + Explain Everything App + H5P Interactive Video = Opportunity

Carol decided to try this new idea with her math students. She found they had a lot of questions with some of the concepts in the fractions unit. She was using a textbook called Adult Literacy Fundamentals Mathematics: Book 5 by Liz Girard, Wendy Tagami , Liz Girard, Wendy Tagami; licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted. She found it through a search on BC Campus’ OpenEd Resources library.

Based on her request, we came up with a plan to develop a series of online modules that would take the fractions content from her textbook and make it interactive on any device. We chose to use the Explain Everything app on iPad combined with H5P Interactive Video as our tools. Explain Everything allowed for Carol to draw and narrate a lesson explaining a concept and record it as a video. Then, H5P allowed for us to layer on interactive questions to her video lessons. These allowed her to both deliver a lesson and give students the opportunity to practice.

The fact that Carol had chosen an Open textbook for her course allowed us the freedom to use the content in a way that would not be possible if the content had been protected by copyright. We were able to choose images and examples from her textbook and include them in our videos and interactives. This to me is the essence of Open Education and why I believe it is important for the future of education.

Building the Modules

I set Carol up with the Explain Everything app and a stylus on one of our Hub iPads. She went to work creating lessons for each of the sections of her unit on common fractions. She was able to combine her narrated audio with a visual presentation. You can see how we did that in the H5P interactive video above.

After all of the lessons were recorded, we uploaded the videos to YouTube. Next, we went into Moodle and added a series of H5P interactive videos that pointed to the videos we uploaded to YouTube. Based on the plan we developed for the modules, I inserted exercise questions at various points along the timeline. This way, students would be introduced to the content, practice some questions, listen to more of the lesson, complete some additional questions and so forth. Each unit culminated in a “self-test” which consisted of a sequence of questions to test the students’ understanding of the content.

Screenshot of Carol's Moodle Page
Screenshot of Carol's course showing the H5P modules

I involved Carol throughout the whole process. From conceptualizing to training on how to use Explain Everything to how to develop interactive elements using H5P. The screencapture video tutorials below were developed to help familiarize Carol with the features of H5P interactive video. Feel free to use them in your own work should you find them valuable:

With a bit of training and the right tools, Carol was able to learn some new technology and develop additional videos and interactives on her own.

We credit Jeffery Tranchemontagne, our Multimedia Specialist who helped us enhance the videos with higher quality audio and some editing to make them more concise. Thanks Jeff!

Next Steps

At the moment, we’ve developed one unit in her textbook and Carol is working on building additional units to deploy to students in the near future.

Want to Learn More?

We welcome you to reach out to us! Carol and I are happy to discuss our project planning, workflows, successes and challenges and share our work:

Sarah Wendorf is an Instructional Designer at Cambrian College’s Teaching and Learning Innovation Hub

By Nada Savicevic

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

When I was a kid, I loved to do dot-to-dot puzzle activities. I would try to imagine what a hidden picture would reveal before starting with the first dot. A moment of revelation, when the mystery picture started emerging from the dots, was so thrilling that I became an expert in guessing the patterns just by looking at the way numbers were positioned. I wonder if my professional soul searching is somehow a result of always looking for the next dot and guessing what it might reveal for me.

My current job title is Instructional Designer. I consider myself an accidental instructional designer, which I learned happens more often than not with my fellow IDs. This makes sense since it is hard to imagine a 17 or 18-year old excitedly announcing “I want to study instructional design!” Being a lover of anything design since an early age (my mom claims that she couldn’t get me out of the house as a toddler if all my clothes, from socks to the bow in my hair, didn’t perfectly match), I started my professional career as an architect eager to conquer the world of a space design. Alas, I soon discovered that a major part of my job was on the construction site under a safety helmet (a hair bow was hidden and often squashed), rather than letting my imagination fly on the drawing board. I started looking for the next dot, shifting my interests to a fast and quickly emerging field of a “new media” and multimedia design. Interactive design led to the user interface design, which connected me to the user experience dot. Architecture and UI/UX design have many similarities. At the core of both are people and empathy. With the explosion of connected devices that are becoming a part of a physical environment, architecture and UX design are a natural fit that can holistically consider both the digital and physical user experience. Following the UX dot was Learning Experience Design (LXD), which led me to my current role in instructional design.

Thus, the words “design” and “designer” have been in my title for a long time. Each one meant something different, but in all of these roles I was expected to be a visual thinker, problem solver, I needed to create, innovate, think outside of the box, and push boundaries. Reflecting on my dot-to-dot professional path, I now realize that design thinking is the shape that all these dots form. The process was always the same—the ability to empathize with users or learners, guide them to identify the problem, then come up with a design that meets their needs. All of that is at the core of design thinking. Design thinking brings together what is desirable from a human point of view with what is technologically feasible. (IDEO) Design thinking as a human-centered iterative process for creative problem solving, is one of the most valuable strategies that I was able to add to my ID toolbox. It encompasses concept development, applied creativity, prototyping and experimentation. As a method, it loops back and forth across the following key modes: empathize, define, ideate, prototype, test, share, as defined and popularized by Stanford’s How do we put design thinking to work? Start by framing a driving question to search for creative problem solving; discover what your learners really need to be inspired, so you can push past obvious solutions to get to breakthrough ideas; build rough prototypes to gain insights on improving concepts; gather feedback to refine them; share a story to inspire others.

Design thinking and instructional design have a lot in common—both strive to meet user/learner needs while searching for solutions to a variety of problems. Therefore, my fellow instructional designers, let’s embrace design thinking process and techniques that have provided so many compelling solutions to a range of human needs, so we can create superior learning experiences for our students.

I am thrilled with anticipation as I wonder what my next dot will be!

Image: Ultimate Dot to Dot Picture by Karen Roe on Flickr shared under a Creative Commons CC-BY 2.0 licence.

Nada Savicevic is an instructional designer with the Office of eLearning, Ryerson University. She also teaches Graphic Design and Design for Mobile Devices at The G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education, Ryerson University. You can find her on Twitter @nadaTOs