Jump to the Excellence in Online Course Design Award Winners

Excellence in Online Teaching

This award recognizes course instructors who exemplify a high standard of teaching in one or more of Waterloo's fully-online undergraduate- or graduate-level course(s). Course instructors may be teaching an online course that they authored or one that was authored by another faculty member.

2020 - Fiona Dunbar

Fiona Dunbar is the recipient of Waterloo’s 2020 Online Instructor Award for Math 128 - Calculus 2 for the Sciences. She was nominated by her students for “putting in an incredible amount of effort in making sure her students are able to learn, participate and even enjoy her course. She has demonstrated unique characteristics and phenomenal positive attributes - which can sometimes be difficult to find in a Prof.”

Fiona DunbarUniversal design, instructor presence, and empathy guided Fiona’s approach to teaching Math 128 online. She found incorporating elements of universal design was easy to implement and had a big impact.

Early on, Fiona recognized students’ need for flexibility during COVID, so she adopted alternative grading schemes, group assignments, multiple project options, participation marks and two stage exams. She incorporated multiple modes of delivery including text, video and fill-in-the-blank lecture notes to allow students to access the course  content in a variety of ways, and help them learn in a way that best suited them.

Fiona listened to questions and concerns raised by students throughout the term and made improvements based on their feedback to better suit the unusual situations students were facing during the pandemic. She found that “the past year turned out to be an opportunity to make improvements to my online teaching methods, policies and assessments.”

Her students were appreciative of how available and supportive she was. “This professor is the best I've ever had, despite the course being online. She offers tons of help to all students and gives us every opportunity to succeed. She also continuously makes sure that the class understands the topics. It's very rare to see someone as driven to make students learn as she is.”

In recommending Fiona, Ian VanderBurgh, Director, Centre for Education in Mathematics and Computing says “Fiona is passionate about education and passionate about the support that technology can bring to education. Both before and during the pandemic, she has been able to combine these to give outstanding learning experiences to her students through her online teaching.”

Fiona was “touched to learn that [her] students had nominated [her] for an online teaching award and that [her] approach to teaching had an impact on their lives during a time of great uncertainty.”


2019 - Colleen McMillan

Colleen McMillan is this year’s winner of Waterloo’s Online Instructor Award.  She is the instructor for Social Work Practice In Mental Health – SWK 609R S2019, in the School of Social Work at Renison University College, where she has been teaching since 2012.

Colleen McMillanIn the Spring of 2019, 71 students were enrolled in the course; many of them nominated Colleen for this award, and were very effusive in their praise.

“I have been in the field for 23 years and learned far more than I ever expected.”

“I can say with assurance that it provided me with a sense of fulfilment and meaning in my online work which was unprecedented. The engagement of the professor alongside peers made the learning process much more rewarding!”

Colleen aims to teach every student as if they are the only student in the class. When how she accomplishes this she says “I do this by fostering a respectful relationship with each student; what they hope to achieve during the term, their unique interests and relationship to the content, and how they envision using the content in their career. I encourage students to go deeper into the content by questioning it, challenging their assumptions and forming a critical eye toward the material as a future professional”.

Dr McMillan models professional behaviour in her online course and establishes her presence with intention. She consistently addresses each student by name and checks in with them to show she cares. This could be as simple as asking “how are you?” or thanking a student for the time and effort in creating a discussion post. She consistently responds to students within a reasonable timeframe that she establishes in the course syllabus at the start of the term, and she makes daily use of announcements, letting students know that she is there with them on their learning journey.

According to Andrea Daly, PhD, Associate Professor and Director, School of Social Work, “Dr. McMillan’s online teaching approach exemplifies not only solid and effective pedagogy but the “concern, care, and compassion” characteristic of good social work practice. In this way, not only does Colleen teach the theoretical components of social work vis-à-vis rigorous and effective pedagogy, she models social work ‘best’ practices during her engagement with students.”

One nominator summed it up perfectly:

“It was truly an honour and privilege to be part of Dr. McMillan's class, and I believe she sets the bar high in terms of teaching!”


2018 - Natalie Hunter

Natalie HunterNatalie Hunter has been teaching FINE 130: Introduction to Digital Imaging, a course that regularly has enrolments of approximately 100 students, for several years. FINE 130 was the first formal online offering in studio art for the department. Natalie is a Sessional Instructor in the Department of Fine Arts, Faculty of Art

Natalie says that teaching FINE 130 “challenged me to build and maintain strong teaching methods for inspiring students to produce their best work in an online course.“

More specifically, she strives to achieve three important practices in her online teaching:

  • providing an online learning experience that meets or exceeds the on-campus learning experience
  • promoting an inclusive online learning environment for students
  • and attending to student needs through discussion, email, and generous feedback

She says that "watching (her) students progress and grow in their skills and ideas every term is truly fulfilling.”


2017 -  Ian VanderBurgh

Ian VanderburghIan is a Lecturer in the Faculty of Math and Director of the Centre for Education in Mathematics and Computing. He teaches Math 681: Problem Solving and Discovery and Math 661: Problem Solving and Proof in Geometry for the Master of Mathematics in Teaching program.

When asked Ian admits that “teaching in a professional program can be challenging, but rewarding.” He highlights three essential aspects of his online teaching that has made a difference for his students:

  • applying a storytelling framework to each online course module or chapter
  • providing multiple active learning opportunities for his students
  • and communicating regularly, thoughtfully and respectfully

Students who nominated Ian for this award commented on his disciplinary knowledge and responsiveness but also on his ability to provide them with the right balance of intellectual challenge and instructional support.


2016 - Edwin Ng

Professor Edwin Ng“Whenever I think about it – reading the student comments, winning this award, I’m just really humbled by everything. I’m very grateful and appreciative for the opportunity to even facilitate students’ learning. It’s a privilege and I’m really thankful.” Edwin Ng

Edwin Ng (Assistant Professor, School of Social Work, Renison University College) was nominated for the Online Teaching Award based on his teaching of SWK 605R: Knowledge Mobilization and Evidence-Based Practice, SWK 601R: Health Policy, and SWK 609R: Social Work Practice in Mental Health, part of the online Master of Social Work program at Waterloo, which is unique in Canada.

When discussing what Ng finds the most rewarding about teaching online, he said, “I appreciate the students so much. I really do believe that if I know them better, as people, as professionals, and as students, I’m in a much better position to help them meet their learning needs.” Ng is always trying to empathize with his students and create a learning environment in which they can thrive and succeed. Students consistently praised his responsiveness and feedback.

Ng’s online teaching philosophy is simple but effective: be present online to show students that you care, set high and clear expectations to motivate students to succeed, and be authentic. This approach resonates with his students, who commented overwhelmingly that Ng shows a genuine interest in them and continuously puts in effort to make connections with his students and offer them support. One student commented that Edwin’s engagement was such that“We didn't even feel that we are not physically in a class.”


Excellence in Online Course Design

This award recognizes exemplary undergraduate- or graduate-level courses that meet or exceed the Quality Guidelines for University of Waterloo Online Courses. Author(s) worked collaboratively with CEL in the design and development. 

2021 - Math 237: Calculus 3 for Honours Mathematics

Math 237: Calculus 3 for Honours Mathematics, created by Amanda Garcia and Burcu Karabina, has earned the 2021 Online Course Design Award. The course is very critical to the faculty’s mission as it is part of a group of three courses that every student in Math must take.

The course is based on a set of course notes authored by professors Wainwright, West, and Wolczuk. It was designed to be highly interactive and engaging, leveraging the online environment to allow more practice opportunities and hands-on exploration of concepts than would be possible in a classroom. A variety of formative and summative assessment strategies are used, which gradually scaffold practice from ungraded concept checks to larger, higher-weight assessments requiring synthesis of knowledge.

Amanda GarciaCourse Design Goals

  1. Design for all students

Students are provided with a variety of options for demonstrating their comprehension through check-in questions, computer-graded Möbius assignments (both for practice and graded), and written assignments. These elements combine to create an inclusive course experience that takes a variety of learner profiles into account and incorporates active learning experiences.

  1. Put students at the centre of their own learning

Students are prepared for their assignments through step-by-step interactive worked examples with immediate feedback, interactive applications, and problem sets at increasing levels of difficulty. They become independent problem-solvers and build confidence in their own skills.

  1. Use technology to its full potential

Burcu KarabinaChoosing the right tool to convey bottleneck course concepts required careful consideration, and the authors took advantage of technology to engage students and increase their curiosity. The course uses Möbius to offer a diversity of asset types, including text, videos, slideshows, GeoGebra applets, and a wide variety of question types including multiple-choice, math entry, algorithmic questions, and adaptive questions.

  1. Modular course design

MATH 237 lessons and assignments were created so that they can be used in other courses that cover multivariable calculus content.

Course Delivery Goals

The course has 2 delivery goals:

The course authors wanted to ensure a strong instructor presence. To achieve this they created an interactive textbook and made sure students had many opportunities to interact with each other and with the teaching team. Instructors created assignment and weekly recap videos which provided students with insights and intuition but also maintained instructor presence. They hosted an informal weekly Calculus café, held regular online office hours and worked closely with students on accommodations so their efforts were acknowledged.

They also wanted to foster metacognition skills. The immediate feedback provided both in the lessons and on Mobius Assignments gave students the opportunity to continually gauge their level of understanding of course material; implicitly building metacognitive skills. Written assignments were used to make these skills more explicit; as well as typical calculation questions,they also included a section entitled "Think About Your Thinking", which encouraged students to become mindful learners and investigate the value of self-assessment.

Student Feedback

Math 237 was a tremendous undertaking to create and has received extremely positive student feedback. Fall survey results indicated that 92% of students who completed the course survey felt that the learning outcomes for the course were clearly identified, 91% of students felt that the course materials and activities helped them understand the course concepts, and 92% of students felt that the assessments contributed to their learning.

“I really appreciated and benefited from the format, especially the choice to teach the content in a text format rather than videoed lectures. The text, combined with many examples, images, and short video explanations were very engaging and helpful to learn.”

Student surveys consistently indicated that the modular course design was very organized, easy to follow, and effective at communicating learning objectives.

“Our written assignments were structured in a way that helped promote critical thinking and reflection on the concepts learned. Countless resources were provided to help us with the content and assignments; not only did they aid in succeeding in assignments, but also in general in understanding the different abstract ideas introduced in this course.”

Endorsement from the Dean

I am very happy with the work produced by Amanda Garcia and Burcu Karabina in the incarnation of this version of MATH 237 online. I fully endorse this nomination for the Excellence in Online Course Design Award.

Dr. Mark Giesbrecht
Dean, Faculty of Mathematics.


2020 - FR 250: Intermediate Spoken French

Kanstantsin TsedrykIntermediate Spoken French (FR 250), created by Kanstantsin Tsedryk and Nicolas Hebbinckuys, has been awarded the 2020 Online Course Design Award. This course was specifically designed for students who want to improve their fluency in French at an intermediate level. Students from diverse backgrounds of language learning benefit from the course, from new learners to those who studied at French immersion schools and want to enhance, strengthen, or maintain their French.

In the past, this course was exclusively offered in person, available only to a limited number of students each term. However, after two years of development and a successful launch in September 2019, the online version has allowed the department to enrol more students and offer it on a more frequent basis.

Couse Objectives:Nicolas Hebbinckuys

The learning objectives fall into two general categories:

  • Comprehension: to develop better French listening skills, to master essential grammar rules and conjugation, and to improve vocabulary.
  • Speaking: to master pronunciation and basic phonetics, to confidently produce grammatically and syntactically correct sentences, to talk more spontaneously and fluently with individuals or in front of an audience.

To meet these objectives, the authors wanted to put communication activities and spoken tasks at the heart of the learning process. It quickly became evident that there would be two steps required to progress through each module. First, the students would need the opportunity to learn course material through targeted practice and second they would need to apply that knowledge through oral activities.

Instructor Feedback

This is the third time I have taught FR 250 online, in addition to having taught it once in class prior to the pandemic. I really enjoy teaching it online, mainly because it gives me latitude and flexibility. The course content is well organized, and I rarely receive questions from students seeking clarification. Expectations are also clearly explained and spoken tasks are detailed enough that both the students and the course instructor know what to do.

Creating Virtual Activities

Teaching oral production of a language is difficult enough face to face, but it is especially challenging in an asynchronous, online format. To overcome this difficulty this course uses two tools (H5P and Bongo) to create appropriate and engaging presentation, practice, and assessment of course material to meet the challenging intended learning outcomes.

H5P is an open-source tool that makes it easy to create a wide range of interactive activities accessible on most devices. Combining its most basic features such as fill in the blanks, drag and drop, mark the words with more advanced functionalities like interactive videos, image sequencing, or voice recognition, a unique learning path was developed that suits all the course’s desired outcomes.

Bongo allowed for the development of synchronous and asynchronous spoken tasks that reproduce various situations of oral communication. Video Assignments and Virtual Classrooms recreate the in-class context mentioned above. The 28 spoken tasks allow students to work on specific outcomes (vocabulary, pronunciation, cultural topics, etc.) in many different contexts.

No Textbook Required

The authors, working with CEL, created all of the course content which means the course is not reliant on publisher's resources or textbooks. Students are spared the costs, it allows content to be modified when necessary, and avoids the disruptions that come with textbook edition changes or website updates.

Course Structure and Module Organization

The course is divided into five modules, and students have two to three weeks to complete each one. The first module serves as an introduction and allows learners to understand how the tools work together.

Visual of course structure and module content.  Each module has a training period, an asseessment and spoken activities.Each module follows the same progression:

  1. Objectives (Objectifs)
  2. To begin with (Pour commencer)
  3. Activities (Activités)
  4. Linguistic content (Capsules linguistiques)
  5. Tasks (Tâches à réaliser)

Each module also gravitates around a key theme (The Hexagon; Being a student; Social networks; French gastronomy) for better harmony of learned vocabularies and linguistic structures.

Student Feedback

I enjoyed the module layout. Gave plenty of time to learn at your own pace. Video assignments got us interacting with the material and practicing spoken French.  How organized each module is. Good mix of types of assignments.

The Learning Path

This learning progression (or learning path) can be broken down into two steps:

  1. a training period where students acquire knowledge (1, 2, 3, 4) and
  2. communication activities, as described above, where they put the acquired knowledge into practice (5).

The authors built the content based on their teaching experience from the in-class version of the course, and use authentic material such as clips, news reports, documentaries, vlogs, radio broadcasts, songs, and chronicles for all the activities. The components were put together to create layers of interactions and make the whole learning experience more engaging.

The interactive activities are used in a formative (not summative) way. In other words, marks received by students while progressing through the interactive activities are not linked to their gradebook. The idea is to help them learn the course material without the stress of receiving a bad grade during the training period, encouraging students to try rather than penalizing them for attempting to answer a question they do not yet know the answer to. In fact, the hope was that students would make mistakes so they can learn from the feedback embedded in the activities. It does not mean, however, that these activities are not formally assessed since students take regular quizzes.

Comments from the Chair

This course remains, to the best of my knowledge, the only fully online, fully asynchronous spoken French course offered at a Canadian university.

It is with great enthusiasm that I support the nomination of FR250 for an Excellence in Online Course Design Award, in recognition of the creativity and technical skills of the course authors, Dr. Tsedryk and Dr. Hebbinckuys, of the extremely positive feedback we have received from students, and for the greater benefits it has provided to the Department of French Studies.

Tara Collington
Chair, French Studies


2019 - PSYCH 101: Introductory to Psychology

Introductory Psychology, PSYCH 101 has been awarded the Online Course Design Award for 2018-19.  The author of PSYCH 101 is Paul Wehr, a lecturer in the Psychology Department, who has a passion for undergraduate instruction and support.

The online section of PSYCH101 enrols upwards of 200 students in every term. This survey course is intended to prepare students with the fundamental information of the discipline, but also to help them achieve success at university (and subsequently in a variety of professional careers) through explicit skills development.

Paul WehrLearning Outcomes

Paul designed the course with four broad learning outcomes in mind:

  1. To explain and apply core concepts (content).
  2. To appreciate the role of science in psychology (content).
  3. To gain greater insight into the self and others (personal reflection).
  4. To develop and practice translatable skills (skills training).

To assess these goals Paul set up multiple, relatively low-stakes assessments which include:

  • Four study skills modules: online readiness, metacognition, peer feedback and library skills (each worth 1% of the final grade)
  • Twelve weekly quizzes (each worth 3%)
  • Two written assignments (15% and 20%)
  • Final Exam (25%)

Course Design

PSYCH 101 ONLINE is a highly engaging course that uses a variety of strategies to help students learn course material efficiently, and to engage and motivate them. It includes opportunities for students to interact with and learn from each other, their instructor, and the course content.

Resembling a multimodal e-textbook, the content is primarily text-based. This is important to students, as it enables them to search for and find content quickly. Text is enhanced with a variety of media including images, video, audio, and interactive exercises. Presenting a mix of media breaks up the text and helps to focus students’ attention on important concepts. Interpolated questions provide formative feedback for students, enabling them to check their understanding of the material. This design is informed by CEL’s own User Experience Design for Learning research.

The course scores consistently high in all categories of the Student Perception Survey, which is a very strong endorsement in a large, online class.

Paul’s design of Psych 101 was strongly endorsed by Heather Henderson, Chair of the Department of Psychology:

“Paul’s class provides a model for not only other online courses in Psychology, but for many of our in-class courses as well… His focus on using mixed pedagogies to provide an overview of the core theories and scientific findings in the field provide the foundation for an innovative offering that reflects the unique approach to teaching and research at UW.”


2018 - GEOG 181: Designing Effective Maps

Hand holding a mapping deviceCourse authors are Peter Deadman, Associate Professor, Peter Johnson Associate Professor, both from Geography and Environmental Management and Scott MacFarlane (GIS Specialist) from Environmental Computing, Mapping Analysis and Design

The Authors decided to offer this foundational course in GIS online to provide an alternative for students who had scheduling challenges with the on-campus course. It is a great example of how straightforward, but solid, course design can result in a positive online learning experience for students.

The course carefully pairs weekly theoretical “lecture content” with complementary lab exercises; reinforcing the theoretical material with hands-on map design and production. Throughout the term, students have the opportunity to witness current application and real world examples of GIS, and interact with each other and with the instructors to share ideas and assist with problem solving using online discussion forums

Students emphasized the importance of course structure (“well organized,” “straightforward”) along with “relevant, interesting assignments that connected directly back to course content” to their learning, and stated that the course specifically encouraged them to continue to learn more about GIS as a result of their experience with GEOG 181.


2017 - ENGL 362/DRAMA 386: Shakespeare 1

Image from English 362ENGL 362/DRAMA 386: Shakespeare 1 was authored by Ted McGee, adjunct professor, English Language and Literature Department

Highlights of the course design include:

  • directly addressing the relevance of the subject matter for today’s student
  • consistently and thoughtfully linking the visual design with the course content
  • promoting student autonomy by providing them with some choice in how their learning will be assessed

According to Ted “One of the most challenging, creative, enjoyable and rewarding aspects of developing the course was finding and integrating visual materials to illustrate, clarify, confirm and supplement lecture content.” Ted was grateful for the expertise and support provided by CEL.


2016 - RS 270R: Religion and Popular Culture

“It’s nice to know that you’ve done something thatProfessor Doug Cowan on a motorcycle works for people. The reason that I teach is so that students can take something valuable away from their experience in the classroom. Finding out about the award, means that, at least in this little corner of my universe, I was successful in doing that.”

The Online Course Design award goes to Doug Cowan, Professor of Religious Studies and Social Development Studies for his authorship of RS 270R: Religion and Popular Culture, developed with CEL support.

Cowan’s design of RS 270R included a thoughtful emphasis on providing opportunities for peer-to-peer learning, interaction among students, instructor presence, and effective feedback. Overall, Cowan’s main goal is to “give students critical and analytical tools, so that they can go out and live their lives.” In other words, Cowan wants to give students a tool kit that will help them think critically, no matter what context they’re in.

Students who nominated RS 270R for the Online Course Design award found the online lectures visually appealing and enjoyed the interaction that the online discussions offered. The course also benefited from Cowan’s passionate delivery of course content, as well as his active engagement in his students’ learning.

If you have any questions about the awards please email Dina Meunier.