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In partnership with academic departments, the Distance Education (DE) unit develops new online courses, converts classroom courses to online delivery, and redevelops existing online offerings. A team of experienced instructional designers and a variety of staff experts work with faculty to create and maintain interactive and engaging online learning experiences.

Courses are designed using instructional design best practices, evidence-based pedagogical approaches, and appropriate educational technologies that support identified learning outcomes. Quality standards, including the Quality Matters rubric, provide a framework for online excellence and an evaluative measure of course design, with a goal to support faculty and student success.

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Quality Matters Certification  

Quality Matters logo.Quality in online courses has always been a key focus of the University of Guelph.

In 2009, the University of Guelph was the first Canadian institution to become a member of Quality Mattersa global organization leading quality assurance in online and innovative digital teaching and learning environments.Over the years, we have engaged Quality Matters to conduct external reviews on several distance education courses.

In 2021, IDEV*1000 - Understanding Development and Global Inequalities received a perfect score on its review. The course was developed with assistant professor, Steffi Hamann of the Department of Political Science.

The Quality Matters Course Design Rubric for Higher Education assesses the level of course quality according to eight general standards and 42 sub-standards, and requires course designs to meet all Essential Specific Review Standards in order to become certified.

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New Certificate in Indigenous Environmental Governance 

In partnership with the College of Social and Applied Human Sciences (CSAHS), OpenEd launched a new online Certificate in Indigenous Environmental Governance.

Throughout the five-course certificate, students gain a mix of theoretical knowledge and applied skills needed to assess environmental stewardship and understand how Indigenous and western scientific knowledges address environmental change.

Courses were developed by a number of Indigenous faculty and Elders at the University of Guelph with input from external sources, which creates a unique opportunity to develop a robust learning experience for students.

The certificate has been designed to feed into other programs at the University of Guelph, particularly to the new Bachelors of Indigenous Environmental Science and Practice, with all certificate courses counted towards the degree program. 

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Exploring Competency-Based Education to Improve Student Learning

The Student Success through Competency-Based Education (CBE) Project was a $1M, three-year project funded by the Ministry of Training, Universities and Colleges. The project leveraged our partnership with academic departments and our expertise in pedagogy and technology. The goal was to pilot competency-based modules and courses to foster deep learning in offerings identified as having high failure rates or foundational disciplinary concepts that students find difficult.

Building on our longstanding partnership with D2L Corporation, this project leveraged technologies within Brightspace to support the CBE pedagogical approach. The project resulted in the development of four competency-based modules that augment undergraduate courses, and two fully online competency-based courses.

In 2021, we completed the final phase of the project by piloting two fully online CBE courses during the Summer 2021 and Fall 2021 semesters: Introductory Chemistry (CHEM*1060DE) and Evolution (BIOL*2400DE).

Student performance data and survey responses collected as part of this phase of the project reveal that CBE shows great potential as an approach to learning and significantly improves student proficiency, achievement of learning outcomes (competencies), and course grades, and that CBE approaches can be used effectively to deploy focused and individualized remedial support for students.

Resources to Support Competency-Based Education 

Through our course development work and research on competency-based education, our team has learned the importance of teaching faculty about the CBE approach and how it impacts practices they are familiar with from instructing face-to-face courses or through traditional online offerings.

Training for instructors is vital to the success of the continuing implementation of CBE approaches in course design. Based on this insight, in partnership with D2L Corporation, we createtwo fully online competency-based education training modules for instructors.

The first of these functions as a primer for instructors who are unfamiliar with CBE. It covers the basic tenets of CBE, tools and technologies that can be leveraged to create an online CBE learning environment, and assessment strategies that support diagnostic, formative, and summative assessments in CBE courses. This module will be used as training for instructors who are hired to teach a pre-designed CBE course or those who express interest in redesigning a CBE course with assistance from our instructional design team.  

The second training module is more extensive and will be utilized to guide instructors who are not working with one of our instructional designers and wish to create CBE courses or add CBE components to courses for face-to-face and/or blended delivery.

As an extension of this work, we also created two infographics—one aimed at students, and one aimed at instructors—to raise awareness of CBE strategies and benefits.

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Open Education Resources: Supporting Access to High-Quality Teaching and Learning Materials

We were successful in receiving more than $55K from eCampusOntario in support of the Government of Ontario’s Virtual Learning Strategy, intended to drive growth and advancement in virtual learning across the province’s post-secondary institutions.

The funding is supporting the development of two Open Educational Resources: Building Community: Introduction to Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, in collaboration with the University of Guelph’s Office of Diversity and Human Rights, and Beyond the Classroom: World Music from the Musician’s Point of View, in collaboration with U of G's School of Fine Art and Music and McMaster University.

These educational resources are freely available to Ontario educators through the eCampusOntario Open Library Portal and contribute to the Government’s goal to expand the capacity and quality of virtual learning in Ontario’s post-secondary education sector.

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New Open-Enrolment Resource Courses for the University Community

In 2021, we developed and launched two new online resource courses that are available for open self-enrolment to all students, staff, and instructors at the University.

The first course to launch—"Who Do You Think You Are?": Identity and Unconscious Bias at Work—was developed in partnership with Dr. Lynne Mitchell and the Centre for International Programs. This self-directed course helps learners develop the skills needed to work in diverse workplaces and intercultural contexts through activity- and reflection-based learning. Upon successful completion of four module quizzes and a final scenario-based assessment, learners earn a digital badge.

The second resource course to launch in 2021 was the Innovation Toolkit, developed in partnership with the John F. Wood Centre. The Innovation Toolkit presents learners with a structured pathway for developing new ideas and products. Taking learners through problem identification and analysis to ideation to implementation, the Innovation Toolkit provides learners with tools, strategies, recommendations, and examples along the way. This resource course is available for individual use or can be incorporated into existing courses to help students structure projects.

New Online Module to Support Students Travelling Abroad

While international study opportunities were paused in 2021 due to COVID-19, U of G’s Centre for International Programs partnered with OpenEd to refresh the pre-departure and post-travel training for students.

In 2021, the first phase of the redesign was completed with Re-entry: Unpacking Your International Experience. This non-credit course, in which students who travel abroad are automatically enrolled, provides opportunities for structured reflection on international learning experiences so students can articulate their skills and experiences as part of their personal and professional development.

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Inclusive Re-Entry Program Design

Victoria Kennedy | Distance Learning Specialist

Webinar, March 2021

The Design of a Skills-Based Micro-Credential to Support Workplace Diversity

Natalie Green | Associate Director, Distance and Continuing Education
Victoria Kennedy | Distance Learning Specialist

Presenters at 67th CAUCE Annual Conference and Meeting, May 2021

Good Chemistry: Marrying Technology and Pedagogy in an Online Competency-Based Course

Natalie Green | Associate Director, Distance and Continuing Education
Victoria Kennedy | Distance Learning Specialist

Presenters at D2L Competency-based Learning Network Connection Conference, October 2021

Involving Students as Partners in a Course Redesign

Brad Jennings | Distance Learning Specialist

Presenter at Mount Royal University 2021 Forum for Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Conference (Virtual), November 2021

Educators Behind the Scenes – Distance Education

Vanessa Breton | Online Learning Quality Assurance Specialist

Virtual Presenter at Teaching and learning the digital age, First Year Seminar course, University of Guelph, November 2021


Institutional Representative, Ontario Universities’ Council on e-Learning (OUCEL)

Natalie Green | Associate Director, Distance and Continuing Education

Program Awards Committee, Canadian Association for University Continuing Education (CAUCE)

Natalie Green | Associate Director, Distance and Continuing Education

Conference Committee, Ontario Council for University Lifelong Learning (OCULL)

David Macdonald | Distance Learning Specialist

Infographic discussing Distance Education training workshops.

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Development Work

The following table indicates the number of new course and module developments per semester for 2021.

Number of New Course and Module Developments in 2021
Semester DE CE U-GH Executive Modules Blended Total
W21 6 3 1 0 1 0 11
S21 4 0 0 0 2 0 6
F21 4 0 6 1 2 0 13
Total 14 3 7 1 5 0 30


The following table indicates the number of course and module* redevelopments per semester for 2021.

Number of Course and Module Redevelopments in 2021
Semester DE CE U-GH Executive Modules Total
W21 6 4 0 0 0 10
S21 1 1 0 0 0 2
F21 0 4 0 0 0 4
Total 7 9 0 0 0 16


Course Maintenance

The following table indicates the number of course and modules maintained per semester for 2021.

Number of Distinct Courses and Sections Maintained in 2021
  DE CE U-GH Executive Total Across Programs/ Semester
WINTER 2021:
Distinct Courses 90 25  31 7 153
Sections 93 33 51  185
SUMMER 2021:
Distinct Courses 65 25 31 12 133 
Sections 65  30 49  13  157 
FALL 2021:      
Distinct Courses 100 30 34  11  175 
Sections 101  38  60  12  211
Total Annual Distinct Courses 255 80  96 30   
Total Annual Sections 259  101  160  33   

*Maintenance of Online Modules: In general, modules are short online learning opportunities that are offered to the University of Guelph community (instructors, staff and/or students) or to external audiences. In 2021, OpenEd maintained 39 module offerings.

DE = Distance Education | CE = Continuing Education | U-GH = University of Guelph-Humber

Infographic with Distance Education course development stats.

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Dr. Sierra Dye | Sessional Instructor, Department of History, University of Guelph

Opening quotation mark.Working with the OpenEd team is always an amazing experience! I’ve developed a number of online courses and modules over the years and recently had the opportunity to collaborate with a distance learning specialist (DLS) on the redevelopment of one of my established courses. This was a fantastic experience from beginning to end. I felt like I had the freedom to create and design the course I wanted, while having the support and technological expertise.

Specifically, I greatly benefitted from the regular check-ins and timeline, without which the project certainly would never have gotten off the ground. I also greatly appreciated specific suggestions for scaffolding the course design with the learning outcomes, as well as fun, interactive activities to keep the students engaged and excited about the course content. The DLS' most important role, however, was as a sounding board for my ideas. Their patience and excitement about the course content kept me grounded and gave me the space and support I needed to fully develop and translate my ideas into a fantastic DE [distance education] course.

I am very fortunate to have worked with several outstanding members of the OpenEd team over the years, who have always been equally enthusiastic, knowledgeable, and dedicated to the success of the students and programming. I absolutely love teaching online; it is flexible, fun, and provides numerous opportunities to engage with individual students in a way that isn’t always possible in an in-person classroom—especially in larger survey classes. I regularly receive extremely positive feedback from students who love my online classes, some of whom report these were the best classes they have completed at university. I would absolutely develop another DE course in the future, if the opportunity arises, and look forward to working with OpenEd for many years to come!"


Allison Broadbent | Study Abroad Manager, Centre for International Programs, University of Guelph

Opening quotation mark.Working with OpenEd Education on the redevelopment of our travel pre-departure course has been a great experience. They have been very professional and attentive to our requirements and timelines. Their suggestions have made the content of the course much more interactive and engaging in ways that I didn’t even know were possible with CourseLink."

Spencer Henson | Course Developer, Professor, Department of Food, Agricultural & Resource Economics and Guelph Institute of Development Studies (GIDS)

Opening quotation mark.In collaboration with OpenEd, I developed and successfully implemented a new graduate distance learning course entitled International Food Industry and Policy Analysis. Not having been involved in any form of distance learning previously, I had minimal understanding of the process by which such courses are developed; furthermore; I must admit that I was rather daunted by the time and effort that I anticipated would be needed. My fears, however, were largely unfounded, predominantly because of the support members of the OpenEd team provided. Specifically, from the outset, the process of developing the courses was made clear, and guidance was provided at each stage. As I drafted each element of the course, timely and constructive feedback was provided, as well as innovative ideas and guidance on the course structure and content, and methods of evaluation.

There is no doubt that the quality of the end product was enhanced substantively by the support provided by the OpenEd team."