Establishing Epic Heroes: Narrative in Online Course Design

Concurrent Session 8

Brief Abstract

Every student is the hero of their own journey. Whether you’re a wise elder, a trickster, or a threshold guardian, you can shape an epic journey for your students that honors and rewards their quests for knowledge. Together we will explore new lands, meet new allies, and defeat evil.


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.
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.
Keegan Long-Wheeler is an educational technologist in the Office of Digital Learning at the University of Oklahoma. Keegan uses his background in science, pedagogy, and technology to provide instructors with holistic solutions to their instructional and technological needs. Additionally, Keegan passionately creates open source professional development curriculum to engage faculty in digital literacy, experiential learning, game design, coding, and more! In particular, Keegan loves working with Domain of One's Own projects and his open professional development programs: GOBLIN, eXperience Play, WebFest, Canvas Camp, and more!
Dr. Jessica Knott is Assistant Vice President of Community Strategy, Experience, and Management. In this role, Jessica manages outreach activities and strategies, including environmental scanning, experience design, communications and planning, based on a deep understanding of our community and member interests. Prior to the OLC, Jessica led a team that supported faculty and academic staff in creating quality, caring and exemplary digital experiences at Michigan State University.

Additional Authors

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.

Extended Abstract

Every educational experience is a journey towards knowledge. Carrying their prior knowledge and experiences like so many badges on a vest, our students set out to answer the call to adventure. Along the path they meet friends---the like-minded class-mate on their own journey---and foes---gatekeepers, tricksters, and that one overzealous guy from the bursar’s office.    

Is the instructor a ‘Wise Elder’ providing key knowledge integral to the hero’s success? Or is the instructor a ‘Threshold Guardian’ testing the hero before they progress through their challenge? The unexamined difference between the instructor’s intended role and the student’s perception can throw up new barriers in the student’s path.

But the road to knowledge doesn’t end when the student overcomes the ordeal, slaying the essay with unprecedented insight. What’s the student’s reward? How do we structure the learning experience so that the student can share their new knowledge, understand its importance and implications for their own journey, and integrate it into their larger, unending life quests? These narrative frameworks can be applied on multiple scales, from the individual lesson to the course and even to the curriculum for a full degree.

In this ‘Conversations not Presentations’ session, we will discuss the narratives that we already incorporate into our courses and brainstorm new narratives to energize our teaching and recenter our students. Participants will be encouraged to systematically analyze their own course narratives using the Monomyth framework developed by the presenters. How do we honor the knowledge the students bring into our courses? How do we both mentor and challenge students in authentic ways? After students overcome the ordeals of the course, how are they encouraged to reflect on the importance and implications of their new knowledge? In analyzing their courses, participants will identify both strengths and holes in their course designs.

Join us on this quest and together we will explore new lands, meet new allies, gain knowledge, and make plans for celebratory libations to commemorate the journey.