The 12 Days of Course Development

magic, doves, sky, ring

What is Instructional Design?

When Christine B. shared with us Aesthetic principles for instructional design, it was like walking in a magic forest with fairy tales hopping from tree branches. Could we have said it better ourselves?

The instructional designer “sometimes acts in a role similar to that of the Greek chorus, commenting on the dramatic developments from a privileged standpoint.” 

And sometimes he/she “functions as a companion character  who is confidant to the protagonist and who might also act as provocateur or mirror, as Sam does during Frodo’s quest in The Lord of the Rings trilogy.”

“Instructional designers are also in the business of creating “refined and intensified forms of experience.”

In the spirit of the magic, and as a final blog post for this year (!), we are offering a collective effort at the season’s cheer and whatnot, with an aside note that some of us can even sing and/or play music!

The 12 Days of Course Development

sung to the tune of The 12 Days of Christmas

On the first day of course-dev my ID said to me –
“Make a timeline for your deliverabllllllles!”

On the second day of course-dev my ID said to me –
“Use Bloom’s for the course objectiiiiiiiiives.”

On the third day of course-dev my ID said to me –
“Let’s double-check those objectiiiiiiiiives.”

On the fourth day of course-dev my ID said to me –
“Align assignments with the course objectiiiiiiiiives!”

On the fifth day of course-dev my ID said to me –
“DON’T USE Comic Saaaaans!”

On the sixth day of course-dev my ID said to me –
“Build rubrics to assess student performaaaaaaance!”

On the seventh day of course-dev my ID said to me –
(Deep breath): “Curate readings and multimedia for your students from the library and the weeeeeeeeeb!”

On the eighth day of course-dev my ID said to me –
(Deep breath; ⅔ the way there!): “Check for new editions and obsolete information in the resources you proviiiiiiiiide!”

On the ninth day of course-dev my ID said to me –
Record some new lectuuuuuuures!”

On the tenth day of course-dev my ID said to me –
(Cough…hack…wheez): “Make materials accessible to all students with transcripts and image descriptiooooooooons!

On the eleventh day of course-dev my ID said to me –
“Check the course one last tiiiiiiiiiime!”

On the twelfth day of course-dev my ID said to me –
“Congratulations! The course is ready to laaaaaaauuuunch!”

Happy Holidays!


Parrish, P. E. (2009). Aesthetic principles for instructional design. Educational Technology, Research and Development, 57(4), 511-528. Retrieved from

The Twelve Days of Christmas, an English Christmas carol

What Happens in Those Writing Support Appointments Anyway?

The paper you’re reading has lost you: the commas are out of control, the word choices are weird, and that last paragraph doesn’t seem to have a point. It can be hard to know if lack of time was the culprit or if the student has not yet mastered the writing skills needed to express their ideas at the graduate level. Either way, a referral to online writing support is something you may have already done after struggling through a confusing piece of writing. Sometimes the paper comes back greatly improved; other times you may have wondered what exactly was discussed in that appointment.

Students contact us for a variety of reasons. Often it is because an instructor has suggested or required it, but some students are aware their writing skills aren’t that strong and their papers would benefit from some feedback. Even very capable writers can learn from having an objective reader check for clarity, so writing support doesn’t have to be remedial.

Once a student does reach out to us, what happens?

We set up an online web conferencing appointment and ask them to send their assignment description, draft, and specific areas of concern ahead of time. We read the draft, note suggestions, and then meet with the student to have conversation about their paper. By replacing the previous method of providing written feedback and sending the paper back, these conversations have allowed deeper explanations and hands-on practice of revision (making major improvements, especially focusing/ developing ideas) and editing (fixing mechanics).

Most students, and sometimes instructors too, want to focus on mechanics because those errors are the most easily identified and can be addressed with specific corrections. However, a better starting point for improving thinking and writing is working on answering several questions. Does the paper address the prompt? Does it have a thesis? Do paragraphs have topic sentences and supporting evidence? Are transitions used to show the idea relationships? Once these higher order of concerns are tackled, the grammar, formatting, and citation issues are next in line.

Writing tutors make it clear to students we are not proofreaders and editors.  Instead, we help them identify the sentence error patterns in the first part of the paper: this is a comma splice, and here are a few ways to fix it; these word choices could be more academic; this type of citation needs a signal phrase for better source integration. After practicing a few corrections with them, we ask students to apply what they’ve learned to the rest of the draft on their own.

Usually they do; sometimes they may not. Most, however, are pleasantly surprised at how helpful it is to talk through the basics of writing a good paper and better understand the difference between revising and editing. They are learning the vocabulary needed to discuss good writing and how to use the writing process more effectively. Hopefully, on your end as an instructor, you see are seeing the positive results as well!

Lori Rand is an Online Writing Specialist for the Student Academic Success Center.

Think pen and paper are obsolete? Think again.


In distance education, many students type lecture notes on their computers, rather than writing on paper. After all, students use laptops to watch lectures, answer assessment questions, and participate in class discussions. It’s only natural to use the same device for taking notes, too, right?

Not so fast.

Last year, Pam A. Mueller and Daniel M. Oppenheimer, researchers from Princeton University and the University of California, studied how the two note-taking methods affect student assessment performance. The results? In short, they found that taking notes on a laptop can “negatively affect performance on educational assessments.”

If you’re reading this, perhaps you’re already nodding your head in agreement: Of course computers can harm learning—think of all those tempting and distracting online games and Facebook memes! But what’s really fascinating about Mueller and Oppenheimer’s experiments is that they relied on computers that were disconnected from the Internet. Without even a working web browser, students were free to focus on the lecture content. Nevertheless, those who took longhand notes consistently outperformed their high-tech peers when tested for conceptual recall. But why?

Mueller and Oppenheimer found that, when people type notes, they tend to write as much as possible, almost to transcribe every word. Those who take notes by hand are forced to summarize main points, and that process strengthens their understanding. Even when Mueller and Oppenheimer specifically told participants not to take verbatim notes, they still wrote far more words than longhand note-takers. The old quality-over-quantity standard strikes again.

So, how does this apply to distance education? Online instructors might encourage their students to grab a pen and sit back, away from their computers, to watch a full-screen lecture video. At first, students probably won’t like being separated from their keyboards and trackpads. But who knows? Maybe they’ll be pleasantly surprised when they see their next quiz scores.


Mueller, P. A., and D. M. Oppenheimer. “The Pen Is Mightier Than the Keyboard: Advantages of Longhand Over Laptop Note Taking.” Psychological Science 25.6 (2014): 1159-168. Web.