Incorporating Topics That Aren’t Distance-Friendly Into an Online Program: One Development Team’s Experience

Valentin Schaefer, Sue Doner, Janet Pivnick


The Native Species and Natural Processes certificate at the University of Victoria is an advanced-level online program of four courses to introduce students to state-of-the-art topics in the field of ecological restoration. The program posed some unique challenges for course developers.

The development team needed to find ways to create online courses that support a practical approach for topics that normally require tangible hands-on work. The solutions to these challenges required a creative problem-solving approach to accommodate the unique elements of the development process and the delivery of each course. The solutions employed included

(1) creation of a “connection to place” by use of extensive visuals in slide shows,

(2) use of problem-based learning to develop critical thinking skills,

(3) engagement of students via case studies to bridge the different languages inherent in different ecosystems,

(4) conducting of virtual site visits to design real-world resto- ration projects,

(5) inclusion of “fireside chat” audio to reinforce the idea of multiple perspec- tives and uncertainty,

(6) establishment of a community of practice to engage students in collaborative learning,

(7) creation of assign- ments that involve scaffolding projects and peer review,

(8) allowance for students to customize projects to accommodate their geog- raphy and different realities, and

(9) develop- ment of a design charrette to practice collabora- tive decision making and design.

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