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New Member

What are your top 5 design must-haves?

Hi all! I hope you don't mind me popping in, I have instructional design experience, but only briefly, at my previous job. I'm now working for a tiny liberal arts college and as I was researching the trend in instructional design I encountered an interesting article on the importance of instructional design, but also the role in such positions in widening the gap between high and lower budget and sized schools. 

My current school has no instructional guidelines at all and no one on staff to officially create them. My position is as close as we have, so I'm looking into it. I've stumbled upon two others on staff in different (non ID related) roles who have previous experience in this area, and as we're about to launch a curriculum overhaul, it seems the perfect time to pitch adding at least a baseline few elements. 

So here's my question: for a school that is likely years away from a single dedicated instructional designer (much less a full instructional design team), what are your top 5 must-haves in a course before it goes out the door? Where is the highest impact in instructional standard or design that will get us thinking about the most important things and seeing an impact sooner rather than later? 

I can't launch into a full one on one ADDIE analysis with each faculty member on every one of our nearly 300 courses, nor would I get any support from the faculty or dean in doing so, but if I can pitch a few specific, high impact practices, and ask that they be included in the redesigned courses, I think I might be able to find traction. 

What are your thoughts? To be clear, we currently have no requirements for course elements at all other than a basic template for the syllabus. Courses are not yet required to have any online presence. 

Here are some of my initial thoughts for instructional and general design, in no particular order, after a day or two of thinking casually about this:

  • Incorporate a branded (or at least on-brand-ish) home page for the new courses based on if they are core or specialization to give the new curriculum a unifying theme and connection to the new branding and initiatives
  • Prioritize at least one activity per course (could be flexible, based on course objectives) emphasizing social learning to make the most of our small size, on campus classes and close community
  • Require the basic learning modalities be present in all new courses 
  • Encourage (or require?) some competency based elements to allow for individualized learning
  • Assist building faculty in doing a backwards analysis of each new course in the early stages
  • Standardizing a few key course components to assist in ease of use, especially for later in life learners (we're a brand new Canvas school), thinking course navigation, a few set of set up options such as modules or a home page or both, etc

Basically, I just need your thoughts of things I can promote to a culture that doesn't see the importance of instructional design (and won't require a full support staff to implement) but can make small, high visibility/impact changes. 

What are your top five in a class before it goes live, if you could only have five? Assume you're starting at a baseline of word documents on a professor's PC (MAYBE dumped into the Canvas files, if we're lucky) that are often printed or emailed to the students, and in-person lectures and discussions with traditional papers and tests. 

46 Replies
New Member

amandabass‌, this is going to be a very helpful discussion.  Our large K-12 school district has adopted Canvas teachers and administrators at all levels will be building content to be shared with students and staff.  One thing our district did was provide templates to help users get started.  The templates include several of the elements you listed: district branding, outline of suggested components, resources in Commons. 

You also had the good idea to suggest elements to allow instructors to make choices that make sense for their instruction.  Our district is recommending that teachers include calendar items, a syllabus and one posting (discussion, quiz, link, etc.) to begin the first quarter.  (It will be different for higher ed.) 

When I build a course I like to have checks for understanding that are self correcting - even when I can monitor, participants get the feedback needed.

I'll look forward to seeing what others recommend here.

Community Champion

What a great discussion topic! I would like to second what Nancy said: feedback. In addition to feedback for learners about their learning, I would add that having ways to gather feedback ABOUT THE COURSE from learners throughout the course is essential; don't just wait until the end of the semester to find out how things are going. Think of ways to get feedback from the students continuously in order to be ready to make improvements to the class when the re-design moment arrives.

After all, re-designing is the key: you design once; you re-design many times.

I just shared a blog post yesterday (written at request of another online instructor at my school) about one simple way to gather student feedback at any time during the course: 

That's a great thought, can you tell me who created those templates? We have our communication people who cover branding, are they the ones in your district who helped with that? I didn't mean to leave out the K-12 folks, I know lots of small Canvas K-12s are in the same boat! You may not be able to share, but if you are, can you share a screenshot of one of those templated pages to give me an idea of how and what was customized?


That is a great one-word tip, and I'm hoping something that will easily resonate with faculty and administration. We *are* a google school, so I'm thinking (hoping?) the google form integration could be even easier. That's a brilliant idea, especially while doing a curriculum re-imagining. Thank you!

Community Participant

Hi Amanda,

This is a great post and I think your starting ideas sound like good ones. I wanted to weigh in with my own thoughts, but these are not so much five things a course should have as it is five things that will help your faculty get started on the right foot:

  1. Provide a Canvas course template – you can browse the commons for these or make your own. But I strongly recommend you try to establish a consistent structure that makes it easy for faculty to create an online element that allows them to flip the classroom or go hybrid or online later. We have templates that my department created for our school and it’s standardized to meet Quality Matters standards.
  2. Strongly encourage a modules/pages structure for Canvas – you’ll get this if you use somebody’s template, but I think the biggest mistake of newbies is not understanding why this structure is better than just dumping into course files area and making disaster of a digital filing cabinet available to students!
  3. Introduce Quality Matters or some other information re designing and teaching quality courses, especially as more technology gets leveraged– like I said, we reference QM in everything we do, but you can use some other rubric like QOLT rubric or something else. The idea being that it introduces faculty to the idea that when they do decide to leverage Canvas and other educational technology, it’s really important to do so in a way that employs universal design strategies, addresses accessibility, and hopeful fosters active learning. Collect a few basic documents on best practices on a webpage somewhere and link to those in your template. John Martin, however, has started compiling some good stuff in this thread. Make sure to check out his Google doc on this, maybe you can share that. Even though your school doesn't require using Canvas, people will start using it and I think it's important to avoid people getting started off on the wrong foot.
  4. Import a Canvas training course for faculty from commons – instructure has created one with videos already embedded and Kona Jones created a good one (you’ll need to edit out the references to her school). This is a great way for faculty to get excited about all the things they can do with Canvas and start adopting things.
  5. Create an accessible syllabus template – You indicated that you have a template that says what elements all syllabi must have, but we've found providing a pre-formatted one that is fully accessible is a good idea.

Thank you Bethany, I'll review those resources. Right now I'm just building a case, without institutional support it'll continue to be piecemeal, but I'm hoping!

Community Champion

Amanda great conversation starter. Thank you. We are just starting out with Canvas and will be watching this conversation develop.

Community Champion

 @asatkins  --  great topic!  My top five would include many of the ones already mentioned by you and others but here they are:

  1. Definitely create an accessible syllabus template and go one step further to explain to faculty how simple it is to create a Word document that "looks exactly like their syllabus" but by making some easy changes become accessible and help them to understand why accessibility helps not just those with disabilities but all students. I've attached a sample Word document that I've annotated for our undergraduate faculty to guide them in creating standardized, branded, accessible syllabi.
  2. Strongly suggest Quality Matters, something like it, or implementing some of the sound principles they recommend such as providing a home page in Canvas that introduces students to the course, the instructor, where to get help, and where to get started in the course. While it often seems perfectly clear to us that -- you start "there" -- students often flounder.
  3. Strongly encourage instructors to use the same Canvas tool set (when it makes sense to meet their learning objectives) and to keep the tools in the menubar in the same sequence. Our faculty always like to keep all the tools exposed, but I encourage them to think of Canvas tools like building blocks -- they can use as many blocks as they want/need to create a good learning environment for their students, but just like a carpenter doesn't leave all her tools around when the building project is completed, put the tools in their correct places in the Modules tool so students can move through the "house" without unnecessary impediments.
  4. Read up on Mary-Ann Winkelmes's work on creating transparent assignments  - this is a study that faculty can choose to be part of, but take the time to explore the site. I've attached one of her samples to show you how she fleshes out the assignment. Winkelmes has done some fantastic research on assignments and how students often think of assignments as busywork. By building assignments showing the purpose, the skills the learners will build and the knowledge they will gain, the steps for completion and what it will take to be successful it serves two purposes. Students understand there really is a purpose to the work and how it will further their knowledge in their field. It also helps faculty to focus their assignments, to see how they fit into the goals of the course, and occasionally causes them to realize that something really is just busywork. Students reportedly love the transparent assignments and it's something faculty can implement with, say one major assignment, and get some feedback from students then gradually work on others. Not to say that every assignment needs this much, but the "big ones" will benefit.
  5. Start slow. Don't try to get faculty to use all the cool tools that Canvas has or can link to. Pick out something that you know will help that faculty help the students to reach the learning goals and implement that well. After that flies for a while and lands without a bump, pick out another one (or encourage the faculty to choose something). From the baseline you described. I think setting up an (a) accessible syllabus, (b) creating a template home page introducing the course, faculty, technology and course navigation (I've attached a screenshot of our model page), (c) dropping those files into Modules, and (d) creating a transparent assignment for the course's biggest project will make an amazing difference and not be particularly arduous to implement.

Hope you find these helpful. Feel free to chat sometime if you have questions or want to bounce ideas around.

The  @johnmartin ‌ recommendation was great. I found through his references the James Paul Gee video on Gamified course design and put it into an annotation software that I'm going to send out to my faculty. Anyone else who would like to do so is welcome as well!

Does anyone have any other really good video resources like this, espeically if given by faculty members? I can't figure out who produced this video and how to find more Smiley Happy