Add Some Flavour to Your Discussion Boards

Are your discussion boards tasting a little bland lately? Maybe it’s time to pour some homemade sauce on that discussion board to spice things up.

These boards typically have but one ingredient: Endless, endless text. This simple recipe adds just a few more ingredients: openly licensed imagery, any photo editing software, and each other. Here are the basic steps for students to follow (That’s right, your students are doing the cooking):

  1. Skim, scan, or even read deeply through the threads for a quote from a peer that resonates with you. Any kind of remark that you feel deserves some recognition for being a smart one works. Copy that text and take note of who wrote it (for attribution).
  2. Head over to a place where you can get openly licensed images that you are free to use without worrying about copyright issues (like Unsplash, Pixabay, or Creative Commons Search) to find an image. Bonus points for an image that symbolically relates to the quote. For example, if the quote you’re saucing up is about “stretching our resources” your image could be someone pulling apart some play-dough or something. You get the idea. Take note of the source of the image (again, for attribution).
  3. Now that you have the quote and the image, you just need to put them together. Open up that image file in any photo editing tool or app that you have. Whether you’re on a PC, Mac or phone, there are instructions here to add text to an image.
  4. Once you have fancied up that quote with an awesome image, head on back to the original discussion board and post it! Make sure to let the person you quoted know about it, as they would likely enjoy seeing their words on display all fancy-like. Don’t forget to add alternative text to the quote for accessibility reasons.
  5. Enjoy the new taste sensation of a discussion board with some flavour!

Here, have an example (note that the quote is attributed to the writer and the image is sourced).

Terry Greene

Think this is just too crazy of an idea? Maybe, but it has been done before! Check out how Ontario Extend did it in one of their “Daily Extends”. If you try it out, let us know how it worked out!

Featured photo by Charisse Kenion on Unsplash

The Not-So-Distant Learning Podcast with Dr. Liana Brown

“I’m a bit of an introvert and so I find it suits my personality very well to teach online.”

Liana Brown

In this episode of the Not-So-Distant Learning Podcast, co-hosts Maureen Glynn and Terry Greene chat with Dr. Liana Brown about how she worked with us to build an online version of her third year Sensation and Perception course. A “touchy” subject!

Some of the things we touch on:

  1. University-Integrated Seniors Village
  2. Padlet
  3. eCampusOntario’s H5P Studio

We hope you enjoy listening. If you’d like to get involved in a future episode, let us know by emailing online [at] You can also comment below (and subscribe to this blog below, too!)

Stay tuned for the next episode coming soon!

For a version of this podcast with a transcript, listen on Stream.

Photo by Alessio Lin on Unsplash

Watching the Joy

Dr. Katrina H Keefer

“Every morning I get up and I watch the war, watch the war, watch the war,
And every morning it upstages everything I know”

(Jonatha Brooke & the Story: War, 1995)

We live in stressful times, and while there are increasingly patches of sunlight pertaining to remote learning, too often the ambience has been one of confusion and fatigue among my fellow instructors as they wrestle with learning systems and how to engage their classes in ways which resemble the enthusiasm we all like to imagine exists in our seminar rooms. It seems ingenuous to compare it to the grinding apathy of experiencing conflict through the absorption of media, but in a sense, there are enough similarities to draw the parallel. We take in what we share with one another, and throughout the fall term, for too many, there was stress and fear and worry. It echoed around academic circles, and with every retelling, the feeling of shared distress almost visibly grew within the comment sections.

That’s not my story, though.

By sharing my own experience, and how I got to where I am, I hope that I may offer another ray of light to continue driving away the foggy clouds of confusion and tension, and provide another tool through which readers might be able to connect still more with their classes.

I’m a historian by training and passion, so it’s only right to begin with some history and context. For decades now, I’ve taken what free time I have into video games, often mixing them with my research, but typically relying on Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) applications to facilitate my games when I team up with other players to accomplish mighty digital deeds. I’ve been familiar with Mumble, Skype, TeamSpeak, and all the rest for years now, and over the past five years, one VoIP really began to dominate the games I played; it was called Discord, and it allowed gaming guilds to build servers, organize text and voice channels, discuss strategies, and conduct group missions or raids.

Discord is a free application which can be run both as a downloadable executable tool, and a web-based chat system. It’s a freemium business model, where users pay for extra services, but the security, low latency, convenience between PC and mobile uses allow for a rapid community-building platform which many gaming guilds have used to great effect. While Discord controls all the many images, files, and messages sent through its service, it has openly stated that it will not sell information from users, and it does not use advertisements.

You can see, I suspect, how this would be of interest to a variety of communities, and Discord’s success is testament to its strategy. Its success has also landed the company in some hot water over time, with alt-right groups using it to organize rallies thanks to its relative privacy and how easily used it is. Life is never sunshine and roses, especially where the internet is concerned, and where those who use it for unsavoury purposes are concerned.

That said, I confess that when covid-19 became the institution-closing pandemic it became, and classes were abruptly halted, I was somewhat surprised when my incredible group of first year students asked to use Discord as a way to keep up with our weekly meetings. I’d offered to work with whatever tool they chose – I expected something like WhatsApp, which my antiquated BlackBerry despises, frankly – and I was not only relieved but delighted by their choice.

I duly set up a Discord server, and for the remaining weeks of class, we had some really great discussions. As fall rolled up, I immediately decided to try the same approach, but more intentionally, and I therefore invited students in my second year course to join a class Discord I built. I did not make it mandatory but instead optional, providing Discussion Boards through the Blackboard LMS should students elect not to use Discord.

The whole class pretty much joined Discord immediately. There is always some early intensity when you’re fostering a sense of community, and one mixed blessing of the application is that I can have it open throughout my work hours. This allowed me to devote the requisite time to the class to help them feel safe and comfortable, but it also meant that I was always “on” so to speak. Not a great hardship for me given my gamer past, but certainly not something that every faculty member might crave at least initially.

Every morning Discord automatically launches as my computer turns on, and every morning I would read through student conversations. At first they were stilted and formal, but as I commented frequently, encouraged them steadily, students began to risk themselves with one another. The turning point came in late September when two students began to discuss what it feels like to be Black in Canada in the general channel. I’d taught one before, and they had always been quiet in person, clearly uncomfortable in a seminar room full of peers who likely did not grasp the challenges that come with being racialized. In Discord, I saw an entirely different person from that quiet student; I saw someone who was active, engaged, vocal, and brave. I watched as they opened up and spoke frankly about their experiences, and other students entered the discussion in positive, encouraging, beautiful ways that continued to build a feeling of community.

I chose to be as vulnerable myself as my students were being, and I spoke freely about my passion as an Africanist, as a scholar of identity, and my strong feelings around the injustices of the slave trade and its terrible legacy. The students gave back what I gave them, and increasingly, the community was one of support, strength, and ongoing commitment to learning more. I made a point of reminding students that I and my TAs would not be marking them for weekly contributions but as an average of ALL their contributions throughout the term. My intention in this was to take the pressure off already overloaded learners and do my best to make their engagement in this platform one of voluntary excitement rather than tedious obligation. I have been rewarded tenfold.

It’s nearly the end of term now. I don’t have to throw nearly as much energy into building a community which is clearly now self sustaining. When I launch Discord now, I read the beauty of students sharing their passion for the subject I teach. I watch them linking videos they have found about the topic for one another to review, I see them helping each other as they work on assignments, I delight in their thoughtful, well-considered responses. They post at hours I’d be sleeping, or before they go to work, or while they’re out walking and have their phones handy. The key features have been convenience, utility, and community. Discord simply was a capable, organic platform to facilitate this level of engagement, and it was one the students took to with excitement and enthusiasm.

And now, every morning when I wake up, I no longer ‘watch the war.’ Every morning these students upstage everything I thought I knew as I see greater engagement than I’d even get in a seminar room at this stage in a term. I am awed, and I am humbled to see the passion among these learners, and to be a part of the community we share.

The Not-So-Distant Learning Podcast: The Lightboard with Dr. Kristine Weglarz

The lightboard is essentially an illuminated glass panel … the result after doing some editing work is that it looks like you’re writing on nothing … and it’s just kind of magically appearing there.

Dr. Kristine Weglarz

In this episode of the Not-So-Distant Learning Podcast, Terry Greene chats with fellow eLearning Designer Dr. Kristine Weglarz about an exciting piece of equipment that Trent Online has at its disposal: the lightboard. We discuss how it works, what it can do, and how Trent Online can help faculty use it to make these captivating instructional videos.

Some resources for you to consider:

We hope you enjoy listening. If you’d like to get involved in a future episode, let us know by emailing online [at] You can also comment below (and subscribe to this blog below, too!)

For a version of the chat with a transcript, please view it on Stream here.

Stay tuned for the next episode coming soon!

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Online Course Design: Our Process

As you can imagine, designing and building an online course is a bit of a process. It takes care, effort, collaboration and as much time as you can get your hands on to do it well. In this post, which includes a video, an infographic and even some writing, we’d like to describe a little bit about the process that we follow at Trent Online to bring your courses “fully online”.

And as an added bonus (for us, mostly) we took it as an opportunity to use one of the tools we have at our disposal when building course, the light board!

So let’s begin there. Below is a lightboard video in which Maureen Glynn (aka More England, according to Yuja auto-transcription) and I describe how an online course grows. Directed, produced, and edited by Kristine Weglarz.

Trent Online’s Course Design Process explained on a lightboard

If you made it to the end of the video, you now know that my drawing of our process has not yet reached its potential. So, to complement the video, we’ve also created an infographic which we hope helps you to visualize what we described in the video.

The online course design process
Trent Online
(takes the structure of a flower)
in the centre: The 
Workbook Online Course Design for Humans
Next ring out: Module maps - Identifies goals, strategies, resources, assessments 
next ring out: Module scripting =Written narrative that pulls together events & materials to guide the building of the module
next ring out: Module 
Builds - take narratives from scripts and build into real course components 
outer ring: The Completed Course - Put it all together and you've got yourself an online course!

Any resemblance to the CBC logo is coincidental and mostly unintentional. We like to think of it all coming together as a blooming flower. And we hope to have the opportunity to grow one with you some time in the future!

Interested in learning more? Great! That’s what we hoped. We have something called the Trent Online Community Site available in Blackboard that covers everything in detail. If you’d like us to enroll you, please contact us online[at]

Photo by Kiki Siepel on Unsplash

The Not-So-Distant Learning Podcast with Else Marie Knudsen

The main benefit, I think, was the ability to step back before we even ever started talking about how the course was going to look and… ask some big questions about what we were actually doing.

Else Marie Knudsen

In this episode of the Not-So-Distant Learning Podcast, co-hosts Maureen Glynn and Terry Greene chat with Dr. Else Marie Knudsen about how she worked to build not just an online version for her Social Work 1000 course, but also an entire community centre to go with it.

Some of the things we touch on:

  1. The SWRK 1000 Community Centre
  2. Online Course Design for Humans Workbook
  3. Flaming Whac-a-moles
  4. Online Learning Student Assistants
  5. The “Are You Struggling” student decision tree thing (H5P)

We hope you enjoy listening. If you’d like to get involved in a future episode, let us know by emailing online [at] trentu [dot] ca. You can also comment below (and subscribe to this blog below, too!)

Stay tuned for the next episode coming soon!

To view a version of this podcast with a transcript, please view the episode here.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

3 Open Source Tools to Help You Create

Over the summer the goal of our work was to help people scale up quickly and get ready to deliver the good stuff online in time for September. Now that we’re confidently knee-deep into autumn, and you’ve got the basics down pat, you might be considering taking it to the next level.

Below we’ve listed just a few open source media tools that can help you create, edit, and refine your learning materials. Depending on your technological proficiency these programs might look a bit daunting, but everyone starts somewhere. The more you play around and experiment the better you’ll get. And we’re here to help and encourage your experiments!

OBS Studio

Open Broadcaster Software gives you the ability to record or stream video all on your own. If you’ve seen some of the crazy things people can do while streaming on YouTube or Twitch, you get the idea of just how far you can take things. And OBS is a tool that many of them use to make it happen. With OBS, you’ll have the power to fine tune your video production (the layout of visual elements, organizing different audio inputs). OBS is a great tool to play around with if you’re looking to move beyond simple virtual backgrounds, or for anyone looking to add more visual flair to their videos. Here’s a guide to get you started.

Batman dropping in on a makeshift green screen created in OBS


GIMP stands for GNU Image Manipulation Program, a free and open source Photoshop alternative that has been in the works for decades. GIMP is packed full of features and tools that will allow you to create, edit, and save images in a variety of formats. While the interface might seem excessive, GIMP is an excellent choice when MS Paint or Preview won’t cut it—without the price tag that comes with a tool like Photoshop.

Toggling layer visibility in GIMP


Yet another open source tool that has stood the test of time, Audacity is a program that will let you record and edit digital audio. You’ll be able to visually observe your waveforms, snip and paste selected segments, and export your edited audio. Audacity is for people looking to record podcasts, or work with their audio independently of other media.

Cutting and pasting audio in Audacity
Cutting and pasting recorded audio in Audacity

It takes some time to master these open source tools, so don’t expect overnight edu-stardom (maybe give it a week or two), but as you learn the ins and outs and develop material, you’ll likely see how they can help you to refine and create even better stuff for your students.

Remember that as a student or faculty member you’ll have access to Trent’s Virtual Computing Commons, which will allow you to remotely operate a school desktop environment with access to a variety of specialized software.

Want to learn more? Shoot us an email at online[at]!

image source: “Open is Never Having to Say You Are Sorry” flickr photo by cogdogblog shared into the public domain using (CC0)

Humanizing Learning: A Round Up of Trent Online’s Experience at TESS2020

A few Trent Online staff had the opportunity last week to attend and participate in eCampusOntario’s TESS2020 Conference. We thought we’d put together a blog post to report back and reflect on our experiences. So keep going to read about some highlights from Maureen Glynn, Stephanie Park, and Terry Greene.

Maureen’s Highlights

eCampusOntario’s TESS (Technology and Education Seminar and Showcase) conference is always a highlight of the Fall semester for me, as it is an event that consistently offers practical, actionable takeaways and generous sharing of ideas by our colleagues from across the province (university and college faculty, instructional designers, technologists and educational developers). TESS is typically held in person, but this year’s virtual event did not disappoint. In fact, it was made all the richer by the fact that the participation was significantly expanded. Freedom from the logistics and constraints of a physical gathering allowed eCampusOntario to increase the number of available tickets (which were completely free of charge!). I gained insights from almost every session that I attended, but some of the biggest highlights of the conference for me included:

  • Student Perspective on Remote Teaching & Learning:

This panel, hosted by Chris Fernlund (a proud Trent alum!), who Manages eCampusOntario’s SXD (Student Experience Design) Lab, introduced the student voice to the conference proceedings early on the first day of the event. Given that the conference theme was Humanizing Learning, this presentation set a tone of empathy and inclusion, which would be echoed through many of the other sessions. I’d love to see more student panels as a standard element of higher ed conferences for teaching and learning.

  • James Skidmore- Communicating the Humanizing Qualities of Online Education

Since the beginning of the global “pivot” back in March, James Skidmore has generously and openly shared his advice and insights as an experienced online educator. In his presentation at TESS, he logically and systematically debated some of the current dialogue around the deficits of virtual learning environments, when compared to classroom teaching. His session, and the Q & A that followed helped to highlight the shortsightedness of pitting one mode of learning against the other and the wisdom of acknowledging that, as one participant observed (Kelly Brennan, Laurentian University) “Education is an experience, not a place”.

  • Fireside chat with Michelle Pacansky-Brock

This session was a favourite of many of the conference attendees, and it is difficult to do justice to Michelle Pacansky-Brock’s work in just a few sentences. That said, when it comes to online teaching, she recommends intentionally including humanizing elements to courses “from the first click”. Some great examples of Michelle Pacansky-Brock’s ideas in action were offered through Lisa Koster, Kim Carter, and Marie Rutherford’s Liquid Syllabus TESS presentation and the site (linked here) that accompanied it. 

Stephanie’s Highlights

The TESS conference has been on my radar for a while, but I hadn’t had the opportunity to attend previous years. I was extra excited to be able to finally attend this year for two reasons: #1- the theme “Humanizing Learning” is one of the guiding principles of my own work; and #2- I attended from the comfort of my home office and drank much better coffee than ‘conference coffee’! These are some of the highlights I’d like to share from my experience.

Innovation. Cue the session Secrets from the OER Lab with Sarah Stokes (Ontario Tech). Ontario Tech’s OER Lab is a student-run group and was founded this past spring. Their commitment to collaborating on the creation of more affordable and more accessible high-quality resources is seriously impressive. Not only is this a valuable contribution to the open education movement, but it is also a wonderful example of how to humanize learning by having the student voice at the heart of it.

Takeaways! And no, I don’t mean the buttons, pens, and other swag typical of in-person conferences (not to diminish those, they are great too!). I’m talking about both the concrete examples, tips, and points; as well as, the A-HA moments that are triggered by a simple sentence or phrase that you won’t soon forget. I came away with some really memorable and overlapping takeaways from the Fireside chat with Michelle Pacansky-Brock and the Keynote with Dr. Santa J. Ono (UBC)

Connection. Ono acknowledged how lots of faculty members are feeling unsure as to whether they’re doing a good job when talking to a computer screen because they are missing the usual in-person feedback like body language and facial expressions, especially when student cameras are turned off. Pacansky-Brock suggested instructors ask themselves why they want the cameras on and if their answers begin with, “I can’t tell…I don’t know…I…”, they might want to reconsider their motivation and rethink their position. She suggested instead to try inviting their students to turn on their cameras by simply expressing how much you would love to see their faces if that is within their ability to do so that day. Ono also shared a great tip that one of his faculty is using with success. She preselects 5-6 students per class to be designated respondents for each class who actively voice the questions from other students in the chat.

Vulnerability. Pacanksy-Brock had me at her inclusion of this Brene Brown quote, “Vulnerability feels like weakness, but it looks like courage”. She encouraged faculty to embrace their vulnerability and to share it with their students because it is where connections start, and it breeds empathy. Start small and see the impact. Ono echoed its importance when he said, “One of the most compassionate things you can do as a faculty member is to show your vulnerability…even when there isn’t a pandemic.” Honestly, I’m not sure there is a better takeaway from the whole of 2020 than that. 

Needless to say, TESS 2020 was worth the wait! A big thanks to @ecampusontario, to the organizers, and to all of the presenters for a great virtual experience. See you in 2021!

Terry’s Highlights 

I was afforded a bit of a unique TESS experience as one of the hosts for the VoicEd Radio Hospitality Suite. This was the second time I’ve joined Stephen Hurley to broadcast TESS conference discussion to anyone who cares to listen, whether they are part of TESS or not. Our plan was to host “Before or After Shows” in which those who presented could join us to discuss their sessions in a bit more of a casual environment. We ended up conducting over 20 interviews with presenters, attendees and organizers. I enjoyed every one of them,  especially with a few people whose work I hadn’t come across before:

  • Saddiya Rose from Humber College highlighted some of the tools that she uses to promote student voice in her classes.
  • Kahente Horn-Miller shared some insights about her work on the Collaborative Indigenous Learning Bundles Project at Carleton University 
  • Anna Rodrigues joined us to chat Designing for Diversity from her experience as an educator and visual artist.

All of the VoicEd Radio interviews will be made available soon. Also included are interviews with new eCampusOntario CEO Robert Luke, BC Campus Executive Director Mary Burgess, OCADu’s Jess Mitchell and many others. 

The theme of the conference seemed to set the tone for everyone who joined us as they openly shared their thoughts in a relaxed manner. We even had the chance to visit one of our guest’s backyard chicken coops to see how they were doing (they were doing great, in case you were wondering). And I directly benefited from all the humanizing myself, since no one got too upset with me when I accidentally shut the Zoom room down for everyone as I left an interview early to attend another one! Some may say that I was subconsciously trying to drive more attendance to the Online Course Design for Humans workshop with Trent Online’s own Maureen Glynn… We’ll never know for sure.

It’s Not Too Late!

If you want to catch all the action (and you literally can still catch nearly all the action) check out eCampusOntario’s Youtube Channel where session videos will be posted soon.

Photo by DESIGNECOLOGIST on Unsplash

The Not-So-Distant Learning Podcast with Amanda Paxton

I know that I’ve become a better teacher through the process… I think of what I’ve learned through working with Trent Online as a kind of pedagogical version of constraint based poetry.

Amanda Paxton

In this first proper episode of the Not-So-Distant Learning Podcast, co-hosts Maureen Glynn and Terry Greene chat with Professor Amanda Paxton about working with Trent Online to create an online version of her course “Write in Time”.

Some of the things we touch on:

  1. Constraint based poetry like the sonnet.
  2. Social Annotation tool
  3. Grammar Police Facebook page
  4. Dante’s Nine Circles of Hell
  5. House Plants
  6. Cobra Kai

We hope you enjoy listening. If you’d like to get involved in a future episode, let us know by emailing You can also comment below (and subscribe to this blog below, too!)

Stay tuned for the next episode which will feature Professor Else Marie Knudsen and her course SWRK 1000!

Photo by LeeAnn Cline on Unsplash