I redesigned the Instructional Skills Workshop Online for launch with 12 participants in summer 2015, and it has since been offered each year.  The redesign focused on

  1. emphasizing mini-lesson creation (by participants) and facilitation as a core component of ISW-O;
  2. facilitating mini-lesson group feedback and reflection sessions in the online environment;
  3. streamlining the lessons to create a more manageable workload for participants; and
  4. modelling best practices in online course site design.

The redesign of the large group activities included the development of two new interactive modules (a collaboration with the Instructional Technology Resource Centre at Western).


My colleagues Drs. Lauren Anstey, Dr. Gavan Watson and Dr. Stephanie Horsley and I have all made iterative changes to the workshop each year.  ISW-O allows participants to take a laboratory approach to improving teaching and learning in the online environment.  The heart of ISW-O is the chance to facilitate and participate in mini-lessons in a mutually supportive small group. By participating in and creating mini-lessons, participants experience what it is like to be a student and an instructor in the online environment over the course of 6 weeks.  Personal development is encouraged through reflection on one’s own teaching practice, and participants have the unique experience of receiving feedback from colleagues on their design and facilitation efforts.

Landing page for Instructional Skills Workshop Online

As with ISW, the face-to-face counterpart to ISW-O, there are no casual observers in the ISW-O – everyone participates fully, including the facilitators who are involved with lessons during the first 3 weeks and direct the small group activities.  During the first three weeks of ISWO, participants take part in lessons centred around three broad themes: Building Community, Building Lessons, and Putting Theory into Practice.  Then, participants take on the role of instructor and facilitate their own mini-lessons for three fellow participants who will take the role as students. During the final week, participants engage in reflective practice and provide feedback to other instructors.  The progression of the workshop is presented in broad brushstrokes below.

6 week schedule features hands on lesson design and facilitation

6 week ISWO schedule with lesson and mini-lesson components

Principles of Design modelled after face-to-face ISW

Constructive approach to online learning

In the constructivist approach, learners construct knowledge rather than acquire it.  For example, participants engage with an interactive module on writing and revising learning outcomes. As they complete the module, they write their own learning outcomes, and follow an individual path within  the module in order to create meaning in a way that is most relevant to them.

In a discussion activity, participants are asked to take what they have learned about the communities of inquiry model and apply it to an example online activity that would apply to their own teaching.

Backwards course design and alignment

I designed ISW-O using the backwards design approach, starting with 5 learning outcomes.  I then designed instructional activities and assessments to align with the learning outcomes.  For example:

Learning Outcome: By the end of the Instructional Skills Workshop Online, participants will develop strategies for humanizing an online course in order to engage online learners.

Assessment: Participants design and facilitate their own mini-lesson incorporating social presence and teacher presence into the lesson.  During the synchronous feedback session, participants reflect on community building in their own lesson and in those of their peers.

Teaching and Learning Activities: After reading about communities of inquiry model and about the importance of building community, participants share their own ideas for building community in VoiceThread, a multimedia discussion tool. Participants discuss community building in the first week module and are also invited to participate in several community building activities, detailed on the map below.

ISWO Workshop Map:


As a result of their experience in the ISW-O, 52 % of participants report being “very” or “extremely” confident in facilitating online instruction compared to only 15 % before the workshop.

Anonymous feedback from post-workshop survey:

What did you value most about ISW-O?

“The ISW-O is a terrific model for teaching any course not just online. However, the focus on putting into practice the theory and ideas, and then receiving feedback on that practice was most valuable. It showed how different the thought process needs to be, but also how much time goes into preparing materials for online teaching that in the end more or less met the expectations. The practice of self-reflection was also very helpful.”

“I really enjoyed the entire experience of ISW-O. I feel I got the most out of the Communities of Inquiry lesson as this gave me many great ideas on how to build community in my classroom. I found facilitating and participating in the mini-lessons gave me great perspective on how to use different eLearning tools in my own classroom.”

“Being challenged to learn and perform so many activities that were new to me.”

What will you change as a result of participation in ISW-O?

“I will spend much more time up front thinking about the overall structure of the course. I realized that once this was done, the course wrote itself.”

“I used to think online courses are something less than traditional face-to-face courses, but I now know that there are varieties of ideas and tools available that can be used to enhance an online learning environment and the benefits of learning through online courses.”

“I will now be much more cognizant about building community in my classroom. I will work hard to ensure that there is social, cognitive and teaching presence in all of my classrooms.”