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.

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 asked 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 snnouncements, 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 enrollments 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 oncampus 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. 

2019 - Introductory to Psychology, PSYCH 101

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 enrolls 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.