We Can Be Heroes: Applying the Hero’s Journey as a Framework for Online Course Design

Pre-Conference Workshop Session 2

Brief Abstract

As a means of accelerating agency and autonomy within online classes, what if we reimagined our roles as students, educators, support staff, administrators as heroes on an epic quest?  This ebullient, gamer’s delight will provide an experiential look at the application of monomyth structure within online learning, providing innovative tools and approaches to creating classroom heroes.


There is a fee for this Pre-Conference Workshop: $205 Early Bird / $235 Full Price. Select both an AM and a PM pre-conference workshop to receive special combo package pricing of $375 Early Bird / $435 Full Price (total savings of $35).

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Angela Gunder serves as Director of Instructional Design and Curriculum Development for the Office of Digital Learning at The University of Arizona. Angela came into instructional design rather circuitously, helming large-scale site designs as webmaster for The City College of New York, the honors college at ASU, and Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA).  Her over fifteen year career as a designer for higher education informs her instructional design practice, where she leverages her expertise in usability, visual communication, programming, and standards-based online learning. Angela holds a B.S. in Computer Science and Fine Art from Fordham University, and a M.Ed. in Education Technology from Arizona State University.  Prior to her position at UA, she was a member of NOVA’s instructional design team, supporting over 23,000 students in 550 unique courses.   Angela is an Associate Editor for the Teacher Education Board of MERLOT, and a Quality Matters certified peer reviewer and online facilitator.  Her research interests include technology for second language acquisition, open educational resources, and emerging technology to promote digital literacy. A voracious culinary nerd, Angela spends her free time composing, cooking and photographing original recipes for her food blog.
Mad scientist specializing in faculty support, student focus, digital spaces and human experience As the interim Senior Manager of Instructional Technology and Development for MSU Information Technology I lead a talented team of staff and postdoctoral scholars to support faculty and academic staff in creating quality, caring, and exemplary digital experiences at Michigan State University. We're builders, tinkerers, researchers, collaborators, fixers, and figurers. Mister Rogers told us to look for the helpers. We took that to heart, and work to be the helpers partnering with you to leverage academic technologies to build the best digital learning experiences for MSU students. I have worked in information technology since 1998, spanning the private and academic sectors. I live in Lansing with my pretty amazing partner Ryan and has spent more perfectly good hours playing video games than I am comfortable admitting in polite company. All that aside, I love thinking, reading, volunteering, rolling around on things with wheels, gardening, tinkering, and learning new things.
Cathy Russell has over 10 years experience working in higher education. Upon receiving her Bachelor’s degree in Interdisciplinary Studies and her Master’s degree in Educational Technology from Texas A&M University, she began her career. She started as an Instructional Designer for Blinn College, Lonestar College, and Pima Community College before arriving at the University of Arizona. She has worked with multiple Learning Management Systems, including WebCT, Angel, Blackboard, and D2L. Cathy is also in her 9th year of teaching online as an Adjunct for Lonestar College. Being an online student and online instructor has provided Cathy with invaluable perspective to aid in course design. She is interested in researching methods in online course design that will create higher rates of student success and is passionate about making online courses that enhance learning and are interactive.
John Stewart is the Assistant Director of Digital Learning for the OU Center for Teaching Excellence. John is interested in developing learning environments to promote digital literacy and opportunities for undergraduate research. Before joining the center, John lectured on history of science at the University of Oklahoma and Missouri University of Science and Technology. He earned his Ph.D. in the History of Science from the University of Oklahoma.
Michael Torrence, Ph.D. serves as the President of Motlow State Community College. The college has campuses in Smyrna, Tullahoma, McMinnville and Fayetteville, Tennessee. President Torrence has spent his career embracing the use of technological literacy as a platform to increase student engagement and success. He has served in roles in support of online, accelerated, and mode neutral learning, engaged with TNeCampus and as a Tennessee Board of Regents statewide team leader for the integration of Emerging Technology and Mobilization in the areas of Gaming, VR, AR, and MR into teaching and learning. He has trained faculty, students, executives, and community members and developed immersive curriculum focused on STEAMB (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art/Aviation, Mathematics, and Business) for all grade levels and utilized these platforms teaching undergraduate and graduate students in his own classes where VR and entrepreneurship have become a norm. Currently, through researching and developing a platform for OER through support of Hewlett-Packard and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, he hope to utilize the findings to support workforce development and student success. He earned a doctor of philosophy degree, with a major in exceptional learning, at Tennessee Tech University, and master of arts and bachelor of arts degrees at South Dakota State University, both with a major in English. President Torrence, a veteran, served in the U.S. Air Force.

Extended Abstract

Oh, we can beat them, forever and ever

Then we could be heroes, just for one day”

Heroes by David Bowie


As we walk through various paths through the online learning environment, we each play specific roles in supporting student success.  Within the learning journey itself, students are on a quest for knowledge and skills that will ideally open new opportunities and enhance their lives.  Additionally, stakeholders supporting this journey of student success are on a path of challenges and opportunities themselves.  As a means of accelerating student agency and autonomy within online classes, what if we reimagined all of these roles - students, educators, support staff, administrators - as heroes on an epic quest?  What if we were to contextualize the challenges and obstacles we face in designing and facilitating online courses as a cooperative journey in which we combine our collective talents to answer a call to adventure?  From constructivism and gameful learning, to meaningful group work and side quests, applying monomyth structure to online education allows individuals to bring the best elements to the forefront of the learning experience.  Monomyth structure reminds us that in the game of online learning, we’re all on the path together, and our efforts are amplified when we work together.

This pre-conference workshop is designed for a deep dive discussion of the possibilities and challenges encompassed in establishing students as the drivers of their education. In this workshop, we will discuss our hero’s journey framework, look at the people, paths and methods that build powerful stories within a course experience. A gamer’s delight, the day will be organized into a variety show of collaborative, experiential activities, kicking off with:

  • Lightning-style talks as a crash course on the monomyth online;
  • A gaming session on the people, paths and methods of the monomyth; and
  • A cooperative battle royale tackling use cases and real applications of the monomyth online;  

Participants will then apply the monomyth framework to a single unit of instruction of their choosing, crowdsourcing ideas for implementation from the presenters and their colleagues around the room in a rapid prototyping session.  The workshop will close with a lively showcase of what we’ve learned, what we think, and what we’d like to know more about.

Participants will come away with a deeper understanding of how the monomyth can be applied to their teaching and learning contexts, as well as a tangible artifact in the form of an applied instance of the monomyth framework.  Additionally, they will be equipped with new, technology-enhanced effective practices (technology-driven) that are compatible with the monomyth online.  The presenters make it their goal to ensure that participants leave with a sense of excitement and joy over using these methods, and a willingness to share their individual applications of the monomyth in their own work with the larger community.


Chapter I: Crash Course on the Monomyth

Participants will complete an interactive KWL, and then listen to three short lightning talks on the monomyth and how it can be applied to the online learning environment.

  1. What is the monomyth and why should we care?
  2. What are the people, paths and methods of the monomyth?
  3. How does the monomyth work online

Chapter II: Ready Player One - Three Games on the Monomyth

Participants will learn about the people, paths, and methods of the monomyth by playing three original games, and then discuss their findings as they relate to the challenges and opportunities within online learning.

  • About the Games
  • Let’s Play! Games choice of...
    • Dungeons and Dragons
    • Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?
    • The Oregon Trail
  • Speed Share

Chapter III: Battle Royale!
Participants will engage in (mostly) friendly competition constructing narratives around the idea of incorporating narrative structure into a series of use cases.  Teams will use monomyth-friendly concepts of their choosing (such as project-based learning, gameful learning, research quests, microcredentialing, etc.) to craft an effective practice that answers the use case presented.  The room will vote on the solution they are most eager to try first, with prizes for the winning team.

  • Rules of the Narrative Battle Royale
  • Speed Design in Teams
  • Presentation of the Findings
  • Voting on Most Exciting Effective Practice

Chapter IV: Profit!

Participants will synthesize their knowledge of the monomyth framework in the creation of a unit of online instruction, a full course map, a student reflection, or an assessment of an online module/course.  They will then pair and share with a colleague to further hone their creation.  We’ll conclude with a share out of the mappings, exploring new interpretations of the monomyth through an interdisciplinary lens.

  • Introducing the Monomyth Framework
  • Filling Out the Monomyth Framework
  • Pair and Share
  • Iterate
  • Speed Share

Chapter V: It’s a Wrap!

We’ll end the day with a 30,000 foot view of the terrain covered, exploring what we’ve learned and where we are excited to journey next.  The presenters will conclude with a few extra gems for the road, including further readings, emerging technology tools, and findings that will extend the impact of the workshop well beyond the scope of the short time working together as teams to apply the monomyth to online learning.

  • Sharing Out Takeaways
  • Additional Resources