Stage 3: Writing
What You Need to Know Before You Write
Let's start with a word for our Editors (click the image below to watch the 50 second video):

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Once The Blueprint is complete and approved by the Course Consultant and the Instructional Designer, it’s time to start writing “the meat”: the modules/lessons, assessments and activities.

The following points will be helpful in this third stage of the course development process:

  1. Know what documents have to be produced
  2. Engaging students appropriately
  3. Your teacher voice
  4. File labeling
  5. What goes into the course Introduction
  6. The structure of a module/lesson
  7. Using PowerPoints/Slideshows
  8. Citing an Article
  9. Sharing files in Dropbox
  10. How provide feedback


1. Documents to produce

The following documents usually comprise a full course:

  • Blueprint: The blueprint outlines the course as a whole. It is usually completed and approved after the second stage of the course development process, Planning.
  • Assignments: All assignments and final evaluations (e.g. Final Project and/or Final Exam)
  • Modules or Lessons: Weekly or bi-weekly learning activities.
  • Course Guide: The Course Guide provides a course overview and strategies for success.
  • Intellectual Property Form: The IP form lists all your resources so our IPO can secure the rights for book chapters, journal articles, videos, images, graphs and the like.
  • Course Schedule: Lists when learning activities are due. The course schedule is often included in the Course Guide.
  • Open Learning Faculty Member Guide: The OLFM Guide features answer keys, rubrics, work overviews and teaching tips.
  • Resource Folder: Please collect any and all journal articles, book chapters or other documents that you want students to use in the course in a folder. This collection does not have to be comprehensive. Simply include in the folder what you easily have access to.
  • Anything else that may be required by the unique nature of the course.




3. Engaging students appropriately

At Open Learning, we are committed to state-of-the-art courses. We want students to actively engage with the most pertinent ideas and resources. Here our three most important tips on how to engage distance learners appropriately:

  • Make your activities digestible: Remember, you are not expected to create a comprehensive anthology or even a textbook. Instead, focus your energy on selecting only the most pertinent resources and creating focused, meaningful activities that engage critical thinking.

  • Keep it short and sweet: Our brain was not designed to focus on a single task for hours. Instead it's primary purpose is to keep us alive. Thus, our survival brain constantly scans for danger. That makes for a relatively short attention span. When designing your course, it is wise to keep that in mind. Keep your Activities focused, lean and simple (not necessarily easy) (Activities = readings, videos, etc., all ungraded student work). Of course formal, graded Assessments can be expected to take longer to complete.

  • What about rigor? Applying the KISS principle to your course does not mean we deny rigor. It just means that we create learning activities that don't overwhelm or even turn students off. Packaging the learning into bite-sized portions (one Activity at a time) is therefore very appropriate and compatible with rigor.

On the whole, aim for these parameters:

1 Unit or Lesson per week
1-2 Topics per week
1 Journal entry (or Discussion) per week. (It's a good idea to give students a week off from journaling once in a while.)

Check out some of our existing courses to get a feel for what we are looking for. If you do not yet have access to these courses in Blackboard Learn yet, let your Instructional Designer know right away.



3. Your voice

I invite you to consider using a direct, friendly and less formal teacher voice in your writing. Instead of, "The student will hand in the assignment at the end of the week", use more approachable, "Please hand in your assignment by the end of the week". Engage your students by telling them what the various course activities are all about, what to look for, why they matter. It is this teacher voice that creates value for the course. Ask yourself, what would you say to a face to face class as you introduce each learning activity? – Write that down.

Talk to your students. Create meaning. Create purpose. Create a context for what they have to learn. Keep it succinct and to the point.

Yet, allow the students to get to know you, to hear your unique voice, and get a feel for your passion for this subject. One of the most powerful ways to do that, of course, is through video. You may want to consider shooting a few 2-3 minute videos (e.g. to introduce a new topic) to literally put your face to the course. Our professional media team would be happy to support you in realizing this idea with minimal overhead and time investment. Watch this 90 second example with Dr. Mike O'Donoghue, professor at the University of Manchester:




4. What to call your files

In order to be able to identify our files with ease, we request that you use the following code:

ABCD1234_TYPE_DATE_IN.doc
For more explanation, please turn to this brief document:






5. The course Introduction

Before students sink their teeth into Module or Lesson 1, provide them with a brief introduction to the course as a whole. In this Course Introduction welcome the learners and give them a big picture overview of the whole journey they are about to embark on. Keep the introduction short, focused and light. Most importantly, list the three to five overall course goals (see “Writing Powerful Learning Outcomes” for more details).

You can re-post this Course Introduction at the beginning of your Course Guide.



6. The structure of each Module or Lesson

We recommend that you use the following scaffolding to structure your course with. The full document is attached below.


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A screen shot of how a Module or Lesson can be structured. For a full review, please consider the attached file above.




7. Using PowerPoints

PowerPoints are a very common tool in face to face teaching. They also have their place in online learning. However, they should be used in moderation as they really only truly come alive with the speaker filling in the details.

Thus, use this tool judiciously keep your PowerPoints short and sweet.



A special OL template has been developed by our Graphics and Marketing departments. This template can be downloaded here:



P.S. In our courses, we cannot refer to PowerPoints by their trademarked names. Instead, we refer to them as slideshows.





8. How to Cite an Article

"Read the following article:
  • FULL CITATION

This article is available online via the TRU Library at: www.tru.ca/library.html. For step-by-step instructions on how to locate articles from a citation, check out the TRU Library’s "Following a Citation Trail" guide. When you are searching the library’s resources, you may be prompted to login to the library’s licensed databases using your TRU student number and library PIN."

To a list of articles:

"The articles below are available online via the TRU Library at: www.tru.ca/library.html. For step-by-step instructions on how to locate articles from a citation, check out the TRU Library’s "Following a Citation Trail" guide. When you are searching the library’s resources, you may be prompted to login to the library’s licensed databases using your TRU student number and library PIN.
  • FULL CITATION
  • FULL CITATION"

For help with APA citations, you may want to use the CitationMachine.




9. Sharing files in Dropbox
Dropbox is a popular, practical and free could-based service that allows for easy file sharing. Many of our course development teams like to use Dropbox instead of sending files forth and back by email. Dropbox "feels" just like your personal desktop but allows invited users to access and modify selected files.

Dropbox is easy to download and intuitive to use. To get you going right away, the company provides a simple training video. However, if you would like more information and an independent perspective, watch Russell Stannard's Dropbox training videos.

NOTE: Dropbox is hosted in the USA and thus falls under the Homeland Security Act. Therefore, please do not upload any names, phone numbers, email addresses, student numbers or any other personal information to Dropbox. General course files, however, are not a problem.

Lastly, regularly download your Dropbox files to your hard drive. Though unlikely, content could suddenly disappear.



10. Editing and feedback

Writers and Consultants: Please use Microsoft Word’s “Track Changes” and “New Comment” features (under Review) to record changes to documents and to insert notes.


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Note: “Track Changes” works well for revisions to documents where the content is fairly well developed. If there are major issues around content or organization, they are better addressed in a separate document.
Watch my brief training videos on how to use "Track Changes" here.