Designing a Course as an Event

Ok I’m totally nerding out over here! I recently found this promotional video for a MOOC out of the University of Applied Science in Potsdam, Germany on The Future of Storytelling.

The energy and style of this video got me really pumped about this class. So I started to analyze why and I think it has to do with the way in which they’ve presented their course. It’s as though you are being invited to participate in a research event. It almost creates a FOMO (Fear of missing out) effect. Although this piece was designed as a marketing tool to drum up participants for a MOOC, I started to wonder what the implications of such a video would be for registered students within a program.  I think it’s a residue that MOOCs are leaving on distributed learning design. People put so much thought into “marketing” a MOOC. Why don’t we do that with all our courses? If I saw this video and then the other elective option was “ENG101″ with a boring course description and a readings list you better believe I’d take this. I liked the concept of introducing the “team” of instructors, but also that they really emphasized the role of the student’s interests and how that fits with the class. It’s got me thinking about how we design, market, and facilitate. I think if we create courses that have the excitement of an EVENT like this that we would improve student engagement 100%. For our courses at the University we basically rely on students being enrolled in programs. That’s our audience. They HAVE to take courses to finish a degree. In that way, we’ve never really marketed specific classes to them, because they’re already enrolled in a program. That’s where I think this idea is innovative. Using the same marketing techniques of creating an exciting event for core courses, not as a marketing tool to make them TAKE the course (they have to take the course regardless), but as a way to increase motivation and engagement. To get them excited about being a part of the learning experience that’s been designed. I think this approach really appeals to today’s student. We are bombarded with marketing media all day and have an expectation of some kind of wow factor. The way we deliver and design and market our courses does nothing for these senses.

Transmedia Storytelling and Course Design

Transmedia storytelling is something I’ve been interested in for quite a while. Aside from the blending of diegetic and non-diegetic realities in the narrative, I think it’s the depth to which the design needs to be constructed that really interests me. Scattering the pieces of a puzzle across various media formats including text, video, social media, email, text messages, and more, Transmedia storytelling designs a path of experience where the audience feels as though they are at the controls, but where there is only one outcome. Reminiscent of a “choose-your-own-adventure” book, this form of story design is highly motivational and demands interactive engagement. Delivered across multiple platforms and sources, Transmedia storytelling also taps into the way in which we naturally “discover” in informal learning environments. In particular, how we surf the net or how we click our way through information to make connections. It uses our natural sense of curiosity and ability to problem solve to move you through the labyrinth. How then could we use this concept of mapping a path using clues and rabbit holes to engage a learning audience?

This concept is very intriguing to me indeed. What if the objectives of a course could be achieved by planting breadcrumbs of content along a maze of discovery in which the student stumbles upon key pieces of the puzzle. These puzzle pieces would become the rabbit hole which directs them to subsequent learning content and further objectives. Learners may not discover all the same clues nor engage in the same activities in the same way, but in the end they would all find the same conclusive end point or outcome. Take a look at this video on Transmedia storytelling to see an example of how it works in marketing and try to imagine designing a course using the same conventions. It’s not that far fetched an idea and one that I think would create a very motivational model.


Project Tango

Johnny Chung Lee has been on my radar since the Nintendo Wii first hit the market in 2006. He’s a developer that took the technology from the wiimote and allowed us to create projected interactive whiteboards for under $50 and a host of other amazing tools and hacks that blew my mind. So where does a superstar of this caliber go?…Google.

Johnny is now invovled with Project Tango which is looking at 3D scanning technology in a mobile phone. Bringing 3D scanning technology to a mobile device is….well game changing to say the least. I’m so stoked about the furture of mobile computing it’s not even funny. I am the Super nerd fan-boy of this project right now. No shame.

OpenMedia’s Fight Against Mass Surveillance

OpenMedia has been a watchdog for unjust policy and government actions on the web here in Canada for a long time now. Today they are promoting action against the mass surveillance that is taking place in Canada with The Day We Fight Back. Here’s some more information about what’s happening and what you can do to help. has joined with experts to call on Big Telecom to come clean about their role helping government spy agency CSEC collect hugely revealing information on thousands of law-abiding Canadians. CSEC has spied on innocent Canadians, even targeting air travellers at Canadian airports.1

Is Big Telecom both price-gouging Canadians and spying on us for the government?

We don’t know and here’s the kicker. Guess who’s footing the enormous bill for this reckless spying behaviour? Turns out Canadian taxpayers are on the hook for billions of dollars to pay for government spying – yes, that’s BILLION.2

Are our public dollars going to be used to pay Big Telecom to monitor us?

Today is budget day in Ottawa and MPs need to hear from you right now about opposing wasteful and invasive spying on our private lives. Speak out with our easy-to-use tool to tell your local MP exactly where you stand.

What we do know is that Bell has launched an invasive spying scheme to track the Internet activities of all their customers3. The government has also tabled legislation to give them immunity if they hand over our private data to the government.4

If you speak out today you’ll be joining people around the world to stop dragnet government spying on law-abiding citizens.

Today is an international day of action called the ‘Day We Fight Back’ and it’s our best chance to turn the tide on one of the most crucial issues of our time:

Join with thousands of your fellow Canadians and tell your local MP to stop out-of-control spying on our private lives.

We know from experience that when tens of thousands of Canadians join together it has a powerful impact. Today, we’re sending Parliament a message they can’t ignore – stop wasting our tax dollars on reckless Big Telecom spying for the government. The more that take part the stronger our voice – so join us right now, Jordan.

Thank you for being a part of this,
Steve, Josh, and David, on behalf of your team

P.S. Thanks to brave whistleblowers, we know just how far CSEC spying has spiralled out of control – they’re recklessly invading our privacy while dragging Canada’s international reputation through the mud. It’s costing billions and you’re the one picking up the tab. Had enough? Don’t miss this chance to tell your MP where you stand – speak out right now.

[1] CSEC used airport Wi-Fi to track Canadian travellers. Source: CBC News
[2] Inside Canada’s top secret billion dollar spy palace. Source: CBC News
[3] Canadians react to Bell’s latest affront to citizens. Source:
[4] Lawful access is back. Source: Michael Geist

Apple’s deceptive marketing misses the point of their own message

I love all my Apple products…most of the time. I mean what’s the alternative? Exactly. So when Apple turned thirty they put out this beautiful video, 1.24.14, shot entirely on an iPhone with the message that 30 years ago Apple promised to put technology in the hands of the people and that 30 years later it really has done just that. Generally I would agree, although I wouldn’t give Apple sole credit for this. I mean, 30 years is a long time and a lot of advancements in technology and economics have made computers, smart phones, and other devices ubiquitous. Apple has played a big role, no doubt, but…I digress. Have a look at the video at this point and take in the fact that these images all came off of the same phone you probably have in your pocket right now.

Beautiful, no? Yeah it’s amazing. But my background is in film making so I’ve basically been turned into a technical analyst every time I sit down to enjoy a piece of cinema. So I started to think about all these shots and how they would have been created and it didn’t take long to realize that although the technology may technically be in my hands, it takes far more than just a phone to create video like this. It wasn’t until I watched the making-of video that I realized how much more it took. HOLY CRAP. Seriously! Watch this…

Yeah. In my hands…oh wait…except for that command centre, the hundreds of professional production people, the tens of thousands of dollars in supplementary production equipment and hundreds of thousands of dollars it must have cost to produce. But otherwise…right in my hands.

I don’t know about you, but I’d have preferred a video that was ACTUALLY shot with only the iPhone. Heck, maybe even a customer sourced montage of footage. So here’s the challenge. With technology you ACTUALLY have in your hands, what can you produce? How amazing can you make a video look using only the phone’s footage and say, iMovie or another simple editor? I’m hoping to try something like this soon if I can get a few hours of time to work on it. I think Apple really missed the point of it’s own commercial here and it’s kind of a shame. Oh well.

University of the People and The Town and Gown Relationship

You’ll have to forgive me for another “local topics” post related to the TransformUS proceedings here at the University of Saskatchewan, but a recent staff meeting here at the Centre for Continuing & Distance Education (CCDE) has led me to question “the business” of post-secondary education and to reflect on the historical path of “Town and Gown” relations here at the U of S. The University of Saskatchewan has played a major role in defining the city of Saskatoon since it was granted a provincial charter in 1907 (Avery, C., Hayes, P., 2011). a-6267-800_600The city of Saskatoon was only 24 years old then, but it would take another 5 years before the University would open the doors of it’s first building. However, before students were setting foot on U of S soil, the Extension division was already two years into it’s service to learners. The U of S was the first University in Western Canada to establish an extension division and did so, in part, to support the notion that the University’s role was one of service to the people.

Whether the work of the University be conducted within the boundaries of the college campus, or throughout the length and breadth of the province, there should be ever present the consciousness that this is the University of the people, established by the people, and devoted by the people to the advancement of learning and the promotion of happiness and virtue. (University of Saskatchewan, 1909, p. 12)

- The founding president of the University of Saskatchewan,
Dr. Walter Murray

Historically, it is common for the relationship between a University and it’s host community to be an adversarial one, but as Glenn Klein points out in a 2008 article for the local Saskatoon newspaper, the Star Pheonix,

The U of S and its host community always have had a close relationship. Saskatoon has benefited by having a much more vibrant and innovative population than most cities its size, and the city rewarded that relationship by becoming Canada’s first municipality to make significant contributions to a research facility on a campus.

I hope I’m not spouting conjecture when I suggest that the efforts and diversity of programs and audiences that many Continuing & Distance Education units, such as the CCDE, offer contribute to maintaining these Town and Gown relationships. Through professional development opportunities, community programming, and supporting credit based distributed options for course delivery, a centralized Continuing & Distance education unit provides the bridge between those invested in a degree program and those who are looking for access to expertise and instruction on a smaller scale. Extension programming at the University of Saskatchewan has consistently evolved to meet the changing social and economic conditions of the city and province as described in Scott McLean’s publication, Reaching Out Into the World: A History of Extension at the University of Saskatchewan, 1910 to 2007.  Today, the ability to evolve and innovate is as strong as ever. CCDE provides a wider range of credit and non-credit programs than any Extension office the U of S has ever seen supporting not only the Colleges and Departments on campus, but the professionals, seniors, youth and citizens of the City of Saskatoon at large.

For over 100 years, the University of Saskatchewan has been dedicated to bringing its resources to rural and urban communities. We carry that tradition and add new traditions of internationalization, children’s programming, and community engagement.

We use a variety of delivery methods to deliver credit and non-credit programs to people unable to attend university full-time or on-campus and international students who need to improve their English to attend university. From art to leadership, educational travel to learning a new language, we offer programs for people of all ages and interests.

- CCDE web site

A widely expressed criticism of the TransformUS reports identifies a theme where community service takes second fiddle to more profitable and research based activities. This inward thinking is what fed the adversarial relationships of Universities in the middle ages and throughout history. It is through community engagement and service to the host community that keeps relationships in check and harmony between town and gown. Though I don’t expect a St. Scholastica Day Riot on the horizon, I would respectfully ask that when PCIP begins’s determining programs and services to receive support or be phase out that the value of community engagement and the relationship between University and City not be valued in dollars and cents alone, but for the historical significance it has played in the University of Saskatchewan’s success in the city of Saskatoon. After all, Dr. Walter Murray said it best,

…there should be ever present the consciousness that this is the University of the people, established by the people, and devoted by the people to the advancement of learning and the promotion of happiness and virtue. (University of Saskatchewan, 1909, p. 12)


Avery, C., Hayes, P. Walter Murray: The Lengthened Shadow Retrieved Jan.15, 2014, from

University of Saskatchewan. (1909). The president’s report, 1908-09. Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada: Author.

McLean, Scott. (2007). Reaching Out Into the World: A History of Extension at the University of Saskatchewan, 1910 to 2007. Saskatoon: University of Saskatchewan, Extension Press.

Related Posts

An Open Letter to the University of Saskatchewan re TransformUS Recommendations

56 in 2013

SPUI grants anyone the right to use this work for any purpose, without any conditions, unless such conditions are required by law.

Ok, so I’m not winning any awards just yet for my pithy comments or insightful wit here on EdTech in the 306. But this past year was my most productive blogging year yet with 56 posts (hey, like I said, not winning any contests). Although the numbers are somewhat underwhelming, I believe I can declare my renewed commitment to the blog and how I’ve used it for my own collecting and curating purposes to be successful. Beyond the whopping 56 posts I managed this year I also built a modest e-portfolio of my work that I’ve kept up-to-date and built a few other pages linking my online presence together. As I continue building this blog I’ve started to see a progression towards a centralized hub of activity. In that vein I hope to continue to link my profiles, research, and activities here. I also hope to experiment with what else a blog may be useful for in terms of content delivery. Perhaps an open-course is on the 2014 horizon? As for the blog posts themselves, I hope to not only increase the number of posts, but begin to develop my short rants into more thoughtful and reflective writings around the world of Educational Technology and Instructional Design. By making my predictions public at this time last year I was forced to fulfill my commitments or eat crow so I’m hoping it will work 2 years in a row. We shall see…