Jump to the Excellence in Online Course Design Award
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.
2022: Megan McCarthy
Dr. Megan McCarthy is the recipient of the Waterloo’s Excellence in Online Teaching Award for 2022. Megan was nominated in recognition of her exceptional teaching of not one, but two online courses: PSYCH 101 - Introductory Psychology and ARTS 140 -The Science of Happiness.
Megan is a Continuing Lecturer in the Department of Psychology where she has been a highly valued member of the Faculty of Arts since 2018. Megan "aim[s] to create an environment in which students feel inspired to engage with new ideas and challenge their preconceptions about the world, but also feel valued in ways that allow them to take intellectual risks." She recognizes that instructors need to be visible and available to students, particularly in online courses, and has found many ways to connect with students and engage them in active learning, all within an inclusive environment. Strategies she uses include:
- creating and posting an introductory video at the beginning of term.
- personally responding to student’s introductory discussion posts.
- responding to emails within 24 hours.
- holding regular online office hours where she encourages face-to-face conversations, and additional drop-in Q&A sessions before tests and assignments.
- posting weekly announcements and reminders which usually include short videos of herself.
Megan makes a point of including interactive activities and polls to keep students involved and shares current news articles that demonstrate how course concepts connect to the real world.
In their comments students repeatedly underscore her kindness and compassion and that they really felt she cared about each and every one of them. They describe how she has created interesting course materials that make learning enjoyable and easier, while still challenging them intellectually. Many detail how she is always willing to go above and beyond to ensure their academic success.
Students appreciate that Megan is prompt to reply to questions and provides insightful and detailed feedback on assignments and activities. They were also impressed by her willingness to accept feedback herself and to use that information to adjust “the course in a way that maximizes students' learning.”
Nomination Comments From ARTS 140 Students:
I felt really connected and welcomed in this course, videos were provided or additional guidance, very nice
I like how thoroughly detailed the explanations were, it really helped me to complete my assignments with ease
Nomination Comments From PSYCH 101 Students:
Professor McCarthy is the most wonderful professor. She is so helpful, kind and always wants her students to reach out. I had a very challenging time this term with my courses, because of online learning, but she made it easier by being so kind. I am very grateful. One of the biggest strengths of the course is Professor McCarthy!
Megan McCarthy was really sweet and always made sure to allocate time whenever I needed help. She was really engaging and went above and beyond to make weekly videos on the applications of the course content.
“This course would not be as rewarding if I didn’t have a fantastic professor who has excellent knowledge and teaches from a place of inclusivity and authenticity. You know what they say, if it is not broken, it doesn’t need fixing. There is nothing that needs fixing here, and instead, I am developing crucial skills like resilience and perseverance in the hope of adding different levels of happiness as I journey through life.”
Julia, ARTS 140 Student
In her own words, Megan’s online teaching is guided by three goals: (1) establishing and maintaining a presence for her students, (2) prioritizing active learning to engage students in the online space, and (3) employing inclusive teaching practices that facilitate learning for all students.
I should note, that this level of endorsement and the average SCP [Student Course Perception} ratings for Psych 101 are particularly striking – this large course is notoriously challenging for first-year students even when it is taught in person. To achieve this level of student engagement and satisfaction in an online offering is particularly impressive.
Her implementation of these courses, coupled with the remarkable endorsement and praise of her students, demonstrate the extraordinary power of online learning environments to not only convey core content, but to support students in developing learning and communication skills, as part of a safe and highly engaged community.
Professor & Chair, Department of Psychology
Dr. McCarthy is one of the very best teachers I have worked with in my twenty-five years teaching. I have learned from her approach to pedagogy, and I routinely turn to her for knowledge and wisdom about teaching effectiveness.
Professor, Director, Arts First
Previous Online Teaching Award Winners
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.
2022: MATH 106 - Applied Linear Algebra 1
MATH 106 is the 2022 Winner of the Online Course Design Award. It is an intensive first-year course, taken by students studying a range of disciplines, that provides them with an abundance of opportunities to learn mathematics by doing mathematics. Students can demonstrate their achievements in diverse ways, with encouragement to practice and review rich amounts of detailed feedback.
Some design components that stand out are:
- Course materials were designed for reuse in the on-campus version of the course.
- Automatically graded Möbius assignments allow instructors to devote more time to students.
- The Un-essay assignment provides an opportunity for students in different disciplines to apply a linear algebra concept to a topic in their field.
- The course provides many opportunities for students to connect each other as well as with the instructors.
Three Design Features
MATH 106 was intentionally designed around 3 specific features:
Design Feature #1. People learn mathematics by doing mathematics.
The course uses the full power of technology to introduce new materials and enable students to practice them immediately. The interactive textbook contains approximately 150 inline exercises spread over 8 units. These exercises are mostly algorithmic as opposed to static, meaning that each question contains at least one random variable, which allows students to repeat the exercise with different numbers and outcomes. This provides students with immediate and detailed feedback.
Linear algebra is a very visual subject as most concepts have natural geometric interpretation. This is sometimes hard to notice behind dry mathematical formulas. The digital textbook contains up to 50 interactive applets, narrated slideshows, and videos. Interactive applets, also known as “Making Connections” exercises, are especially useful when students are expected to explore the object on their own.
Short, narrated slideshows create instructor presence, provide multiple means of presentation, and emphasize processes with voice, colour, or both.
Among other things, the authors found videos to be especially effective when explaining the change of coordinates and diagonalization—by far two most difficult concepts of any introductory linear algebra class.
Design Feature #3. Keep the learner active!
Studying is hard, and one of the main challenges learners face is having to pay attention for a relatively long period of time. That’s what makes reading physical textbooks so challenging!
The material in MATH 106 is organized so that most pages do not contain huge blocks of text. Following the principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) it uses various modes of presentation to make sure the reader stays engaged. A block of text can be followed by an example, then by a Möbius exercise, then by text again, followed by a “Making Connections” exercise. Each page is typically relatively short, and big sections are split into multiple pages so students consume the material in bite-sized pieces. Most concepts are also presented from multiple angles.
“I think that this course was created in such a way that gave students the best chance at success. So many resources were provided to help students develop a full understanding of all the mathematical concepts we learned and opportunities to connect with other students as well as the Professor were provided.”
What helped me learn? "The organization of the course. The weekly pages were very helpful as I had to see what content I had to learn and what was due that week. The lessons were nice to have and with practice questions to check your learning.”
“I really enjoyed the un-essay! It was a great (way) to get to choose a project based on my own interests.”
"We were given multiple opportunities throughout the term to re-submit assignments for evaluation to show growth in learning. This allowed me to solidify my understanding of certain concepts, and get graded accordingly.”
What helped me learn? “The way the projects were laid out made them very easy to learn from. There was space to make mistakes and redo assignments and the work itself was focused on understanding concepts, not regurgitating formulas”.
Arundhathi Krishnan, Math 106 Instructor Winter 2022, stated in her recommendation letter that “my takeaway from teaching MATH 106 is that online courses such as these are a tremendous resource. Their ability to embellish mathematics with innovative, interactive technological tools helps us as instructors, and aids student learning. I am happy to have been able to be an instructor for a well-designed course such as MATH 106.”
Burcu Karabina, who created the Manim videos, and has taught MATH 106 in a blended format, says that Amanda and Anton “constantly demonstrate an innovative and creative approach to curriculum design that is both effective and engaging…They incorporate a range of technologies and pedagogical strategies to meet the diverse needs of students and foster active collaborative learning communities."
“That the work of Prof Mosunov and Prof Garcia got nominated for this award is not surprising given what can be extracted from peer reviews of their teaching. Those reviews were conducted at the request of the Associate Dean and as part of our performance evaluation and progression protocols.” [One reviewer stated] “The amount of effort [they] put into designing lectures, assessments, additional learning opportunities/resources, and, perhaps most importantly, ensuring a positive learning environment for every student, is outstanding.”
Dean, Faculty of Mathematics
The Authors want to recognize the following for their contributions:
- The starting point for MATH 106 was a set of course notes prepared by Ryan Trelford.
- Burcu Karabina helped immensely with building Manim videos.
Support was provided by these CEL staff members: Jane Chomyc, Rachael Verbruggen, Subasha Wickramarachchi, Igor Paravinja, Mallory Gilmore and Sarah Hales.
Previous Online Course Design Award Winners
If you have any questions about the awards please email Extended Learning.