When the covid-19 pandemic struck the world in spring 2020 many schools and universities went digital over a night. There was no time for design(1). Not much time to learn the tools. Just barely time to substitute traditional campus lectures with the same traditional lectures in Zoom or other e-meeting tools. In a moment delivery times for webcams and headsets got long so the experience of the Zoom lectures got worse than normally needed. And in the beginning servers broke down under sudden and unplanned overload.

Emergency repair? Title: Broken heart Photo:Urban Anjar

 In the course Open Network Learning we learn much about designing meaningful online education using digital tools and open learning resources. I said designing! That is something you do before the course and that needs time, creativity, know-how and consideration(2)(3)(4)(5).

Emergency repair

Now we have lived with sort of online, mixed and hybrid learning for a while. Not in a planned and designed manner but as an emergency repaired form of traditional campus education. Apollo 13 taught us that you can do wonders with duct tape and creativity, but still that is not the ideal situation that we ought to plan for. Apollo 13 didn’t fulfill its goals and never landed on the Moon, but even with a severely damaged spaceship the crew returned alive to Earth.

Let’s have a critical look at a very traditional campus course “design”. Students listen to lectures and take notes. The lectures are sometimes inspiring, pedagogic and enlightening (and other times not very much so). Then students go home to their dorm rooms and try to read and understand the notes, and hopefully the course book, and after a while students have to do an examination. But in the coffee-brakes, at the lunches the interesting things happen. Students meet, asks each other questions, explains, networks, falls in love, sets up times to study together in the library, or to have a beer in the student pub. The lecturers may not care or even know, but the students more or less fix the missing links together.

We have learned together in our course that learning is to a high degree a social process(6), something we do together with others in networks or communities. Working the information to knowledge together with others should be an integrated part of a course. The traditional course design I described above is in that perspective always a bad idea, but at campus many students can manage to fix the bug themselves by organizing the missing parts of the course themselves, so teachers may be unaware of that their courses are Broken As Designed.

In a wider perspective the student time often is a time for forming a rich and sustainable personal network for learning, friendship and career. A time for finding the love of your life and maybe make an innovation and find a business partner. When going remote and digital we have to be more aware of that role.

Finding the bug

Going to digital and remote in the emergency repair mode makes the bug in the traditional course model more obvious. Students don’t understand, feel lonely, get confused, get bored, lose interest, drop out or begin pestering their teachers with questions day and night through mail, telephone or social media channels. Questions that other students could have answered if the students knew each other and had somewhere to meet and discuss. They have difficulties to get in touch with the other students and maybe they don’t really realize what’s missing and just feel too stupid.

Improved emergency repair

It may still not be easy to find time and other resources for a complete redesign of your course but making room for some more social and group-oriented activities could easily be made.

Some ideas for an improved emergency repair:
•    Open the Zoom “room” 15 minutes earlier (and announce that to the students). Let’s say your lecture starts at 10:00 sharp, open the room at 9:45 for “soundcheck”, time for you and the students to fix technical problems with cameras, headphones and microphones. If you get things working earlier, use the spare time for questions and social talk.

•    Make use of breakout rooms in Zoom. Prepare an exercise, something to discuss, a problem to solve and give students some time together to work with it and to prepare to present their work.

•    When you leave the “room” for a break or when ready, make a student host and keep the room open.

•    Suggest that the students make a group or chat on a social media platform of their choice. Give them some time to come to an agreement and organize it. One advantage with a social media platform is that their community can sustain even when the course is over.

•    Set up at least one forum or chat, where the students can ask questions and get answers in your learning management system. Make taking part in the forum, both asking and answering a mandatory task for the students.

Fight for the practical moments

In some courses there are practical laboratory exercises, excursions, simulations, study visits, artistic work et cetera that is needed to give the kind of course you work with. In a few cases those activities can be executed at home by watching a movie, using some affordable small things or doing some experiments at the kitchen sink. In most of the cases there are safety reasons, space requirements or forbiddingly high costs that makes it an absolute need to do that kind of work at the campus or together out in the field. Then take the fight for your students’ rights to a proper education whatever it takes. You cannot learn practical skills by just reading a book or watching a movie. You have to do with your hands and often do together with others in real life.

Dealing with the messiness

Students also have to deal with what a PBL group member called “how to deal with the messiness of an actual problem”. I recognize that from quite different courses. Exploring the ecology in a lake and making fashion photos on location are quite different subjects, but both require planning, teamwork, logistics, coordination, practical problem solving and learning to handle various kinds of specialized equipment (and people). Most times without the teacher nearby and even if you are wet, cold or hungry. That is learning! There is also lots of work left to do (most of it, in the first case) when you come back to campus with your samples or memory cards.

Redesign, but how?

When times come for a more radical redesign or for designing a new course. There are several pedagogical models. I have tried to condense three of them into one picture, to give a quick introduction (or a reminder).

Combining different models

From the Community of Inquiry (CoI) I have borrowed the three kinds of presence that should be designed into a course, teaching presence, social presence and cognitive presence. I will come back to that model, there is more to it. From the Five Stage Model (7)  I borrowed the staircase, where you go from the bottom and up. From the beginning you have to make sure that the students have access to the learning management system and other services that they will need and of course that they know the basics in how to use all tools needed. You have also to make sure that the students know how to get IT-support and other kinds of help they may need. You also have to create motivation for the course subject and the chosen working model. The seven Cs, blue clouds, are borrowed from (8) but inverted to better fit the five stages.

Community of Inquiry

The Community of Inquiry (CoI) framework to use a meaningful online community to facilitate online learning. The framework describes three levels of presence that should be in an online course Social presence, Teaching presence and Cognitive presence. In (3) you can, beside some theory, find lists of practical elements you can use in your course.

Community of Inquiry, simplified after (3).

Five stage model

Five stage model after (7)
The Five Staged Model (7) gives a scaffold for a structured learning progression with different activities and different need for support, moderation and cooperation. I mentioned the first step Access and Motivation above. The second step is Online Socialization where students get to know each other and the digital platform. In the third step, Information Exchanges students begin to learn together and fulfil co-operative tasks. The fourth stage is Knowledge Construction where our student is a valued member of the community of learners. The fifth stage, called Development is about applying and integrating the new knowledge into the student’s context.

The seven Cs

The seven Cs (8) are made to be hints for the teacher or course designer, what to do and think in different phases of course design. The words are

1.    Conceptualize
2.    Create
3.    Communicate
4.    Collaborate
5.    Consider
6.    Combine
7.    Consolidate

The seven Cs after (8)


There will come a time when covid-19 is more or less forgotten. When we hug, dance, hang in bars, talk to strangers and go to music festivals, theatres and meetings. I hope it will be very soon.

Still I think schools, universities and work life will have changed in a more permanent way.  Some activities are better without commuting, parking, bad coffee and MacDonald’s. Saving time and environment will be considered more important. Living where you love to live. And is really a 20 minutes speech worth almost a whole workday travelling? We have learnt other ways. Students have also.

I think we will do other things when we meet IRL. Not traditional meetings or lectures and definitely not reading and writing behind a screen. The ways we work, and study will continue to change. The way we define a University and a Course will also change.

Redesigning a course can be done as an iterative process. Use the time available to fix the parts that “sucks” most. Then run the course, evaluate and repeat. There is always a part that requires your attention.


1.     The Difference Between Emergency Remote Teaching and Online Learning [Internet]. [citerad 16 november 2020]. Tillgänglig vid:

2.     ONL202 Topic 4 – Design for Online and Blended learning [Internet]. Padlet. [citerad 16 november 2020]. Tillgänglig vid:

3.     Fiock H. Designing a Community of Inquiry in Online Courses. Int Rev Res Open Distrib Learn. 01 januari 2020;21(1):135–53.

4.     CAST: About Universal Design for Learning [Internet]. [citerad 16 november 2020]. Tillgänglig vid:

5.     Boelens R, De Wever B, Voet M. Four key challenges to the design of blended learning: A systematic literature review. Educ Res Rev. november 2017;22:1–18.

6.     Anjar U. The IT-guy among academic teachers. : Under construction (Topic 3) [Internet]. The IT-guy among academic teachers. 2020 [citerad 19 november 2020]. Tillgänglig vid:

7.     Five Stage Model [Internet]. Gilly Salmon. [citerad 16 november 2020]. Tillgänglig vid:

8.     Grainne-Conole-the-7cs-of-learning-design.pdf [Internet]. [citerad 16 november 2020]. Tillgänglig vid:

Fixing education with duct tape and some wire (Topic 4)