Peers, Process and Pedagogy: Sharing Online Modules

Collection of Screen Shots from Module Presentations
Are you interested in (re)developing content for an online audience, but uncertain where to start? This past year a number of instructors headed up project teams to create “modules” projects as part of a new provincial funding program. For many, this toe in the water is just the right place to start.

Online module creation is an effective entry point for content design and development for those interested in providing hybrid or flipped class options but not necessarily fully online course delivery. Unlike a fully online course where all material and interaction is provided online, a module project typically consists of a group of assets (e.g. video lectures, readings, quizzes) or an interactive learning object (e.g. e-authored in Articulate Storyline) on a topic/subject placed online.

Recently, the Centre for Teaching Support & Innovation and Online Learning Strategies Portfolio offered a workshop that explored these newly developed online modules from around the University of Toronto. The workshop provided participants with insight into the processes and challenges of creating an online module, as well as the opportunities for sharing, collaboration and innovation that arise when working in teams.

This “sold out” event explored three major themes:

  1. Working Collaboratively – how does collaboration improve teaching and support your professional development as an instructor?
  2. Pedagogical Innovation – how can designing open educational resources create different kinds of engagement of instructors and students?
  3. Designing, Planning and Sharing – how does articulating design intention and planning for sharing change the teaching/learning process?

If you are interested in learning more about how to create online modules and the insights shared throughout the day you can watch the full presentation.

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New Provincial Portal Launched

This month the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities (MTCU) launched the Province’s new online education portal.  You can visit the site at

eCampus Ontario Portal screen shot

To date the University of Toronto has a total of 9 fully online undergraduate courses on offer through the  new portal. Development of curriculum content for these courses was supported through the provincial Shared Online Course Funding program, which has been available over the past two years.  Recently we have also had the opportunity to create a selection of sharable online module resources from the same funding initiative.

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MOOC Design Day 2015

On June 24th, Online Learning Strategies hosted our third annual MOOC Design Day, which was attended by several teams that have been awarded project funding or are considering proposal development in the coming year. New initiatives are taking shape across several divisions and departments, including Materials Science; Geography and Planning, Medical Science; Social Work; Computer Science and more. In addition to a process overview and practical design activities, we also had presentations from Bobby Glushko, from UTL’s Scholarly Communications Office, and Hedieh Najafi, institutional researcher for MOOCs under the Open UToronto umbrella.

A highlight of the day was a participation of Megan Kollar and Frances Kleven, two colleagues from Coursera who joined the workshop and contributed a segment exploring marketing strategies.

Photos of MOOC Design Day


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New iOS Application Development MOOC Specialization Series

Prof. Parham Aarabi of Computer Science Engineering will be the lead instructor on a new MOOC series aimed at teaching learners iOS application development skills. Congratulations are in order, as the project was successful in an RFP competition for a funding advance from Coursera to support the design and development of a sequence of these four new MOOCs. The development of applications for mobile devices has been identified as a priority area by Coursera.

iOS App Development

Working with a team that will leverage expertise from the field, from the MADLab here at UofT and from the instructional technology team at FASE, this project will be working on a fast track to launch in fall of 2015. Curriculum plans are already well under way! To pull it all together, five members of the development team will be working with Coursera on fine tuning the alignment of the instructional approach to ensure coherence across the four MOOC sessions, culminating in a capstone project.

This specialization series will focus on creating mobile apps on the iOS platform, including Swift language syntax, tools, as well as platform details including building Apple Watch applications. The target audience includes students and professionals who wish to create apps for iPhones, iPads, and Apple Watch devices.

Stay tuned! Coming soon!


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Course Re/Design 2015 – Online Cohort

Over the course of two full days, May 20 and 21, we took part in another successful Course Re/Design Institute. The annual event, hosted by the Centre for Teaching Support & Innovation, includes participation from faculty and staff from across the university community.  Our cohort of instructors who are launching new fully online courses joined with the larger group of approximately 30 faculty members looking to hone their design skills for the first day of the institute. On the second day the online group attending the institute were privileged with planning and design considerations that are unique to online course design in a separate breakout stream.

One week before the event we held a pre-institute orientation webinar that served to introduce the group to each other, model use of online teaching technology and review the theoretical underpinnings that inform the design day.

CDI Webinar Image

Another benefit for our online instructors is the participation of their own course builders or educational technology experts as part of a design team process on day 2 of the institute. The conversations, explorations and considerations of effective course design were very engaging and inspiring, as faculty from across a full range of disciplines shared their ideas and insights.

Religion and Popular Culture Poster

The full list of UofT instructors who are designing fully online courses as part of the undergraduate OUCI initiative or Ontario Online initiative for the coming year include:

Arts and Science
     Religion and Popular Culture Jennifer Harris
     Introductory Sanskrit Elizabeth Mills
     Classical Tibetan Frances Garrett
     Introduction to Statistics Alison Gibbs
     Introduction to Neurobiology Bill Ju and Franco Taverna
Materials Science and Engineering
Introductory Chemistry from a Materials                Perspective Scott Ramsay
     Environmental Politics in Canada Andrea Olive

If you are interested in participating in upcoming discussions or considering applying for OUCI funding, please contact Laurie Harrison.

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Flexible Learning with Public Health Online

Over the Fall and Winter terms, the Dalla Lana School of Public Health undertook an exciting new pilot project to develop and run a series of four quarter-course credit e-modules (6 weeks in length each). Under the guidance of graduate coordinator Ann Fox with the assistance of the online learning strategies portfolio the school worked with four leading instructors in a course redesign process to bring the modules to life. The instructors and course topics included:

  • Susan Bondy: Representative Sample Surveys in Public Health Disciplines: development and use of population data on large and human scales
  • Paul Bozek: Introduction to Environmental Health
  • Robert Mann: Public Health, Mental Health and Addiction
  • Blake Poland: Building Community Resilience

Dalla Lana School ype on windowBeginning in January 2015 the first two courses ran for six weeks. When they were complete the remaining two opened and ran until the end of the Winter term. The pilot was driven by the need to meet the school’s wide ranging student body which includes students, managers and experts operating across public health related disciplines in various locations in Canada and worldwide. In order to reach these busy professionals, practicum and distance students, the online format and condensed course structure allowed for greater flexibility to fit studies into full schedules.

The e-modules were structured around both asynchronous and synchronous activities and strategies. On their own time students could access readings, videos, assessments and discussions. For a minimum of once a week the instructors also led their students in live webinar sessions where they delivered lectures and were able to field question and answer periods using Blackboard Collaborate. Although there was a balance of activities, a lesson learned was to offer less synchronous sessions structured around a rigid weekly timeslot to offer even more flexibility.

For a first time offering in this format the feedback has been positive, with students expressing interest and support for both the online environment and the quarter course format.

When asked about their experiences with teaching online the instructors agreed that they benefited from the capacity building and even applied the course redesign work to their other courses. They also felt that teaching online was on par with instructing a face-to-face (f2f) class and that the online environment even offered some possibilities that the f2f could not (sharing videos to study at own pace).

This project is another innovative example of how online course design can transform teaching and learning.

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Nursing Project Named Finalist for CUCCIO Innovation Award

CUCCIO awards logoFinalists have been announced for the inaugural CUCCIO Awards, celebrating collaboration, innovation and community building in Canadian higher education IT. Our congratulations to Fareed Teja, the lead on a recent Online Proctoring Pilot Project at the Lawrence S. Bloomberg School of Nursing that was selected as one of four finalists in the Innovation category.

The  project explored online proctoring as a method to protect the academic integrity of online exam taking in an online Master of Nursing – Nurse Practitioner program. Specifically, online proctoring was implemented in online tests to ensure that students adhere to academic honesty policies, exam questions were protected, and student identification was verified. Goals of the project were to evaluate effectiveness of online proctoring to protect the integrity of online high stakes exams, collect and analyze student feedback on the process and experience, and share the results internally, institutionally, and abroad.

Fareed will be participating in the upcoming CANHEIT conference  in New Brunswick, presenting on the process and results of this innovative project. Hats off!



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Grand Opportunities in Global Health and the Inverted Classroom

The Dalla Lana School of Public Health has recently offered, for the first time, a gateway course in global public health, “Grand Opportunities in Global Health.” The course invited first-year undergraduate students from all Arts and Science programs to explore the complex and multifaceted field of global public health, outlining its history, reflecting on key concepts, examining major past and current developments, and looking at the future of this field.

Grand Opportunities Welcome Image

Led by Course Directors Professor Abdallah Daar and Professor Andrea Cortinois, students had the opportunity to meet and interact with many among the most creative researchers and mentors working at the University of Toronto. More than this, the course followed an innovative format that included both online and face-to-face classroom components to promote the inverted classroom model. Contrary to a traditional format, the inverted classroom encourages students to learn content online and practice what they’ve learned in the classroom. In Grand Opportunities, students were able to view short video lectures by leading researchers, complete readings and interact among themselves using peerScholar , all of this online, before attending classes. During the live class, students participated in small-group discussions and other group activities. Early evidence suggests this innovative approach was very well received by students and instructors alike.

We asked the lead instructors a few questions about their experience teaching this for the first time.

1) What were some of the benefits you saw for the learners?

Many of the advantages of the inverted or ‘flipped’ classroom model most commonly identified in the literature have been confirmed by our experience. In particular, students loved the convenience of learning at their own pace and at any time, by watching short online video lectures. Given the complexity of many of the topics covered in the course, this was particularly important as students had the opportunity to ‘stop & rewind’ as many times as they needed.

In addition, the video lectures made it possible for our students to interact with a large number of colleagues  – more than 30 – who work in global health at the University of Toronto. This level of exposure was essential to achieve one of the central goals of the course: to give young students the opportunity to understand the multifaceted nature of global health and stimulate their curiosity and involvement by showing them how many ways are there to contribute to this field from a large and very diverse set of disciplines. Also, each week a new topic was discussed by multiple lecturers, therefore adding critical depth to the analysis.

Before each class, students had the opportunity to ask questions on concepts or examples they found particularly challenging or confusing. These ‘muddiest points’ were then discussed in class with the help of some of the faculty who had previously contributed a video lecture. The majority of face-to-face time, however, was spent discussing the weekly topic in small groups. This approach made students feel that they were right at the centre of the process, actively involved, and themselves an important resource for the course. Learning became a truly interactive process based on the complementary contributions of students and faculty.

In addition, the use of peerScholar to answer a reflective questions related to the topic of the week was a useful starting point to stimulate the critical thinking process that is essential to sustain a rich small-group discussion session. Also, students had to peer review some of their colleagues’ responses. This was a way to further enrich the reflective process while at the same time building a community of learning.

 2) Were there any surprises or unexpected outcomes you witnessed?

A very positive surprise was the truly wonderful level of enthusiasm expressed by virtually all students who completed the course. While we were hopeful that the course content and approach would stimulate a positive response, the feedback we received from students during the course and through a final, internal evaluation greatly exceeded our expectations!

Another surprise was to realize how much many of the colleagues who contributed to the course enjoyed the experience. Some of them were so inspired by the ongoing class discussions and the level of enthusiasm shown by students that they decided to attend additional sessions. Over time, the course became a sort of ‘Thursday evening club’ for friends passionate about global health!

3) What advice would you offer to instructors who wish to try an inverted classroom model?

When learning and experimenting with the use of technology in the classroom, it is important to constantly invite students’ feedback and react to it in flexible and creative ways.

In particular, video lectures should be kept short, 12-15 minutes being the upper limit. If more material needs to be presented, it is definitely preferable to break it down into multiple, shorter videos. In general, video lectures should play an introductory role and present students with an overall frame of reference that can then be enriched through the careful choice of appropriate weekly readings and class discussion.

It is also very important to facilitate face-to-face activities so that the time spent in class becomes a real opportunity for students to contribute and lead. The role of instructors should become a facilitating one.

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AERA Poster Session Presentation

April 19, 2015

Recent research on MOOC learner activity was presented at the American Educational Research Association (AERA) conference held in Chicago. This study extends earlier analyses of aggregated data from the University of Toronto MOOCs. The title and abstract for the project are as follows:

How Do MOOC Learners’ Intentions Relate to Their Behaviors and Overall Outcomes

The match between learner’s intentions and their learning behaviours is missing from the majority of discussion on learning outcomes in MOOCs. The present study tackles this challenge by investigating the relationship among intentions, behaviours and outcomes in six Coursera MOOCs. Grounded in a rich MOOC dataset that included pre-course surveys, learners’ click logs, and course completion data, we integrated statistical analysis and data mining techniques to address research questions from different angles. Results from cross tabulation and a chi-square test of independence implied an impact of learning intentions on behaviors. Frequent Sequence Mining showed promise in detecting different frequent sequences in different learner groups defined by intents and outcomes. The research is the result of collaboration among the following team members:

Carol Rolheiser: Principle Investigator, OISE – University of Toronto
Bodong Chen: University of Minnesota
Stian Haklev: Researcher – Online Learning Strategies, University of Toronto
Laurie Harrison: Director, Online Learning Strategies, University of Toronto
Hedieh Najafi: Researcher – OISE – University of Toronto

AERA Research Image

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Ontario Online Updates

Exciting news! The MTCU has approved ten nullUniversity of Toronto collaborative project proposals for the 2015 round of their province-wide Shared Online Course fund. Each of the following will receive ~$75,000, with a deadline of Sept 2015 for completion of development:


  • Introductory Chemistry from a Materials Perspective  (Scott Ramsay – FASE)
  • Introduction to Neuroscience (Bill Ju – FAS)

Learning Modules:

  • Statistics for Research  (Alison Gibbs – FAS)
  • Instruction in Neuroscience (William Ju – FAS)
  • Cognitive Psychology & Cognitive Neuroscience for Designers & Engineers (Mark Chignell – FASE)
  • Electromagnetic Physics and Electric Circuits (Belinda Wang – FASE)
  • Ethics in Engineering (Brenda McCabe – FASE)
  • Introduction to Programming Language Structures in C (Andrew Petersen – UTM)
  • Mathematics Skill Development (Zohreh Shahbazi – UTSC)
  • Digital Labcoat: Virtual Lab (Steve Joordens – UTSC)

Photos of design day activities

In this context, a “Module” is a set of shared curriculum resources that can be re-used in multiple courses or across different institutions. Given the tight timelines, in order to get these projects up and running quickly, we held a Module Design Workshop Day for lead instructors and their teams on Wed. Feb 18. All teams were in attendance to discuss design plans, production strategies, media integration, accessibility, packaging and hosting, and more! We are following up with additional webinars on key topics.

UofT’s success in securing funding for 10 new projects will allow us to continue to participate in the shaping of the broader provincial Online Learning landscape.

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