Dear Colleagues,

We’re planning intensively now for a return to campus this fall – and we’re looking forward to the campus environment, the open spaces, and yes, our buildings, many of which are new or newly renovated.  Some others are, well, On A List.  In trying to decide the value of an existing building, they talk about the best ones “having good bones” – their internal structure makes them easy to maintain, flexible to use, and able to be renovated to suit new needs.

The same is true of our curriculum, and in how we design our courses.  Good structure plays a crucial role in how students learn, in how much work it is to teach well, and in how flexibly the learning outcomes can be achieved.  I also note that good structure need not hamper creativity – there are several ways to put a keystone in an arch, and different instructors can adapt well-designed course structures to their own styles, and need not become arch enemies. (Groan now please.)

This need for structure stood out in students’ responses to a recent survey; students emphasized the difficulty of navigating Canvas course sites whose organizational logic wasn’t clear.  A thematic analysis of 600+ responses concluded that students can get exhausted navigating different platforms and disorganized Canvas pages with mislabeled videos, while hunting through syllabi and course schedules.

As we develop the fall curriculum with fresh eyes, looking to add much more remote and hybrid opportunities for students, we want to take every advantage of the additional tools that the educational technology gives us to provide useful structure.  We don’t want to end up like Louisiana, where every building is either new or leans.

You can build your Canvas course site by using best practices to facilitate navigation, so that students spend their energy studying, rather than searching for course materials. To help you do that, we’re providing the following tools:

  • The CSU Canvas Template (formerly Canvas Common Cartridge) will be loaded into most FA20 Canvas courses on 6/22/20 to help standardize how content is organized. Most AY20-21 Canvas courses will include the CSU Canvas Template.
  • The UDOIT Validation Tool assesses the accessibility of a Canvas course and offers suggestions to fix issues related to course organization and navigation. Instructors in all Canvas courses have access to UDoIt
  • The Quality Matters (QM) DIY Rubric helps instructors review their completed Canvas course to ensure a course has met pre-determined quality standards before being launched. Please use the QM DIY Toolkit with all courses except online courses built with CSU Online or TILT, which rely on the full QM Rubric and instructional design support.

Please see the Teach Anywhere Online Toolkit and the Keep Teaching web site for additional information on these tools.

By the way, don’t worry too much about what you call the new modalities: remote, online, hybrid, hyflex, etc.  As you put the bricks and mortar around building the course, that’s all just cementics.

Additional steps will provide structures useful for you, as well as for students:

  • Develop courses for hybrid or online delivery, with online components built in from the beginning to ensure that we offer high-quality courses regardless of delivery mode (see these recommendations for building or online hybrid courses, with additional TILT resources coming soon);
  • In fully online courses, include synchronous components designed to build connection and community (e.g., discussions, group work etc.), while providing equitable opportunities for students who cannot participate synchronously to connect with peers and instructor;
  • Record lectures in small portions (10 minutes or shorter) and deliver them online so that class time can be used for active learning and research-based instructional approaches.

Some or all of this may take you, as an instructor, out of your comfort zone.  As I have noted before in these messages, being flexible has very high value just now – we can’t be too obsessed with our wardrobe (i.e., be too clothes-minded).  By using the above tools and approaches, you’ll provide key components of the structure students need to learn effectively and succeed academically. This structure is all the more important, given that courses may shift from face-to-face to online delivery earlier than expected and day-to-day life may change dramatically in Fall 2020, depending on public health needs.

Some of you may notice that I have tried to sprinkle in some levity into these messages during the series.  Did you hear about the judge named Conda who sent a very snobbish criminal to the dungeon?  The headline on the paper next day was: “Conda sending condescending con descending”.

Now *that’s* wordplay.

I hesitated in writing a more light-hearted message in these days – it’s not a light-hearted moment.  It’s undeniable that our whole country is under stress, from several independent directions – and no matter what your politics are, it seems obvious that we need real change.  For this to happen, we’ll need our students: their energy, their good ideas, and their insistence on accountability, just to name a few elements.  For them to be successful, they’ll need a great CSU education.  Let’s do our job.

Stay healthy, and stay tuned,


Rick Miranda

Provost and Executive Vice President

Colorado State University