The Online Landscape

November 10, 2019

Problem of Practice

How does incorporating discussion boards and group work in a graduate level online course affect students’ career readiness in the form of written communication, collaboration, and adaptability in Engineering?

Part 1

Since my Problem of Practice is focused on online learning, I spent some time this week immersed in different University online courses.  These courses are at the graduate level and have face-to-face components – meaning both the face-to-face students and the online students are in the same Canvas site.  The number of students in each class range from 10-100.  These courses are managed by faculty and graduate student instructors (GSIs).  The actual course set-up is completed by the online department at the College, but there are no specific standards for how the courses are set-up.

Part 2

Date:  November 8, 2019

Site:  Canvas Site



  • Each online course has a syllabus that introduces the students to the course and includes information such as policies, topics covered, and contact information.  Some of these courses have it as a page, others as a link, and some as both options.
  • Every course also requires the honor code to be linked in the course as a tab on the left.
  • Tools that are not being used, such as BlueJeans or Discussions, are not turned off.


  • The home page is set-up differently in each of the courses.  These include:  announcements, syllabus, or a course outline page.
  • Lectures of the course are posted within 24 hours of the face-to-face class.  These are either posted on a separate page with assignments listed or within a tab on the left hand side of the course.
  • A small number of courses utilize the discussion tool for students to ask questions.
  • Some courses have a time zone converter tool.

Comparing to an Educational System

These courses are part of a larger, decentralized educational system.  Very recently, the online landscape at the University has switched to a centralized center. Like other educational systems, there is a hierarchy at the college that oversee the courses.  Within each course there are instructors, GSIs, students, assignments, and grades.  The set-up of the courses are extremely loosely-coupled.  This is seen by the way how every course looks different and has a different experience.  The registration process for getting into the class is tightly-coupled.  Students must register by a certain date, go through a certain process, and then get added to the course once the course site is built.

Part 3

Sutton, R. I., & Rao, H. (2014). Scaling up excellence: Getting to more without settling for less. Crown Business.


The act of scaling successfully is an art form.  While scaling, there will be moments when everything seems to be going wrong.  Rather than focus on these negatives, stay positive with your goal in mind.  Often times, company leaders want to move quickly to become successful.  But, the most successful scaling attempts take time, it is a marathon, not a race.  As you scale, and teams get larger, it is important to remember that smaller teams are more productive.  However, this must be balanced with communication processes since this skill is essential between sub groups of teams.  When changing processes and implementing changes, it is important to follow-up on the trainings.  Workshops and trainings can inspire pockets of change, but this change can be ruined if there are too many initiatives or if the change is not followed up on.


  • Stay positive, even during the tough times.
  • Be inspiring.
  • Don’t get bogged down in the beaucracy of creating processes.  Create them as they come up.
  • Utilize premortem – pretend you are in the future.  Look back as if you were successful and you failed.  What went right?  What when wrong?  What were you missing?  Begin thinking about all the “what ifs.”
  • The most successful teams are smaller subsets of bigger teams with strong communication with each other.
  • People must be willing to foster the change in order for successful scaling to occur.

Part 4

  • How do we encourage faculty to be willing to change and try new things when they are bogged down with too much cognitive load?
  • We will eventually need processes and design standards, but we should make these as we need them.  Instead, focus on intake proccesses, pipeline documents and how to work with us.  Then, as we start moving the needle to introduce new teaching techniques, we can create design standards.

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