Conversation with an Instructional Designer – Villa Vance

Mountain View College is pleased to introduce Villa Vance, an Instructional Designer from the LeCroy Center, who is providing consultation support twice a month on our campus. Please take a moment to learn more about her, in her own words.


Please tell everyone what an Instructional Designer is and what types of services and support they provide?

Instructional design (ID) is a broad area for me. Depending on where you work, it can mean different things in every area. But in higher education an instructional designer basically helps with course design. From planning and analysis, design and structuring the flow of the course, management, implementation, and evaluation. But it does not necessarily mean we always start from planning. A faculty and/or staff could come to us, and they may have done all the analysis and planning. Our job then is to help with the design and structure. As an instructional designer for the district at DCCCD we can support faculty and staff with questions about course design, course copy/template, course clean up and management, eCampus/blackboard (from simple questions about adding a syllabus to complex issue about gradebook, eConnect, Quality Matters (QM), etc. We also assist and deliver professional development workshops and presentations.


What is your professional background and why did you choose this field as a profession?

My undergrad is a BS in Computer Science and I have a master’s degree in Learning Technology with focus in Instructional Systems and Design from University of North Texas. I am also a License Vocational Nurse (LVN) but haven’t practiced for a few years now. Previously, I was an instructional designer for the eLearning Center at Collin College. I also worked for America Online (AOL) in the Philippines back when it was still famous. I stumbled into Instructional Design when I was in nursing school doing my preceptorship. I wanted to combine my computer science degree and healthcare experience and do some training work. But, I didn’t end up in the healthcare, so I chose the next best thing. To add to that, I started working for eLearning in another college and it sort of started my drive to do instructional design.

What does working in higher education mean to you?

Two things: I get to take a holiday when it is a holiday and I love being involved in a community. During my undergrad years I was very involved in my school and I think that’s when it started… somewhere in my subconscious mind, I always wanted to work in a school, so I chose higher education. Seriously, working in higher education is so great because you get to work with diverse people who help mold and share the next generation. It also means that I don’t have to be stagnant. I always need to keep up with my education/professional growth to make sure the faculty/staff I am helping are up to date with current trends.


What was the very first job you ever had and what skills did it teach you?

My first job was an adjunct faculty. It was the first job offer I got a few months after graduation. If I remember it correctly, I taught computer 101, turbo pascal and another computer languages. And because of the adjunct position, I was hired by another college to teach 3 more courses. It was challenging at first because most of my students were only a few years younger than me (1 to 2 years) and I had one class with only male students. From these two jobs, it taught me to adapt and be flexible with many different types of audiences and/or clients. It also helped in being able to communicate better. I’ve learned how to mentor others and ensure that I am constantly learning as well. I’ve also learn to take risks and be imaginative when it comes to teaching.

What about instructional design is most exciting to you?

What I find really exciting in instructional design is when I get to see the faculty I am helping flourish and be able to take the advice I gave them and use it in their course. Afterwards they’ve come back to me and tell me that it made teaching more fun or how it has a positive effect on their courses and students.

What is your first impression of Mountain View College?

I love it! The environment is very relaxing. And so far, the faculty and staff I’ve met are very nice. I like the location of the college also, tucked away in its own little place.


What is one thing you’d love to accomplish working with the amazing faculty and staff at Mountain View College?

One thing that I would like to accomplish is to establish a good rapport with the faculty and staff. And hopefully that will open the door to have more engagement, so I can better serve them.

Is instructional design limited to only those who teach in the classroom?

Definitely not. Instructional design can be applied to many different things. For example, if you are looking at a recipe online with step by step process on how to cook something, that particular process was created by someone. In some ways, they had to go through a process to put together the recipe. It may not encompass the hard-core parts and it doesn’t necessarily include all the nitty gritty parts of instructional design, but instruction and design are everywhere.

How should a faculty member prepare for a consultation with an Instructional Designer?

The preparation for a consult with the instructional designer really depends on what the faculty need help with. But the first thing that the faculty or staff need to do is to make sure to set up an appointment with the ID. This will make sure both you and the ID will be prepared because there is some sort of pre-arranged agreement for the appointment.


If interested in learning more or collaborating one-on-one, what are the next steps one should take?

Let’s chat! Essentially giving us time to collaborate on what you want to do with your course and how I can assist you. This will also give me the chance to meet more of the wonderful staff and faculty of Mountain View College.

If you would like to set up a consultation with Villa, please fill out an ID Consultation Request.


My First Flex Course

This semester I took on the challenge of teaching an eight-week flex course. You might think the student has the biggest challenge when signing up and completing a flex course due to the condensed format, but I have learned that the instructor is challenged just as much.

An eight-week course sounds amazing as opposed to a full-semester length course. Business Correspondence and Communications is a big course to offer in half the time.

Yay! The course is completed in half the time, so I have half a semester to just chill, then…right?

Wrong. I spent the first half of the semester setting up my course template and found it to be quite challenging. A condensed time frame doesn’t make a course easier. The same amount of work has to be completed by students and this requires instructors to focus time and energy on remapping curriculum. It’s the exact same amount of work as a traditional semester course. This results (surprise) is that this endeavor took large amounts of planning and time to execute.

One of my biggest challenges was determining a schedule for assignments. I continually second-guessed myself when setting up assignment due dates. I found myself wondering if a given week was too much work for my students. I had to take multiple steps back and realize that students made an informed decision in electing a flex course and in doing so are prepared for a heavier work-load. Once I let that sink in, I didn’t feel so guilty about the workload each week.


I panicked when I realized that I my online class could range in size from 15 to 37 students. That is a lot of grading to complete in just eight weeks. Yes, my class does use a Learning Management System (LMS) to aid in the area of quizzes, but 80 percent of the writing assignments are to be graded by me. I soon discovered that grading rubrics were to become my best friends. After extensive research, I developed and implemented  rubrics for all of my writing and discussion assignments. Thanks to such rubrics, I found it easier to grade all writing assignments. The rubric clearly stated the expectations for  students, but it also provided me, the instructor, very specific grading criteria for the assignment. This is now one of my top tips in working with faculty and advising their utilization of the college LMS, Blackboard.

I’m now all in and the first week of my course has successfully come to an end. Students, as it turns our, did not complain about being assigned numerous assignments. Yes, there have been a lot of questions, but they were the typical questions for the first week of any class.

Where can I find the link? How do I submit the assignment? Is it okay if I email you at midnight? These, and more, were just some of the normal questions received during a flex course (or any course for that matter).

Thanks to my careful planning though and the utilization of grading rubrics, aka my new best friend, grading has never been easier.


Will I continue to teach flex courses in the future? That is a definite, “Yes!” The ground-work has been laid to offer this flex course at any time in the future. My new course template is now designed in both eCampus and the LMS. I will simply need to request a course copy and update appropriate due dates and other minor tweaks as they occur.

The hardest work is behind me. I now look forward to continuing to teach flex courses as long as there is a need. I’m a believer.

Grading Rubric Resources

Course Mapping Resources

Teaching My First Online Course (at MVC)

There’s something exciting that occurs every time a new semester begins on a college campus. Such excitement can be attributed to first time college students on our campuses, the smell of textbooks opening for very the first time, or the optimism faculty feel when setting out to redesign curriculum.

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That’s how it starts at least. It soon develops into an official, class-three hurricane as you realize that teaching is a very difficult thing. It’s a craft that can take a lifetime to master. Teaching requires subject matter expertise, passion for your field, awareness of learning theories, meaningful engagement practices, and carefully crafted curriculum and assessment. Oh…and don’t forget you’re being rated on all of the above by your dean and via sites like RateMyProfessors by your students. Good thing teachers get paid the big bucks (lol)!

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Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely love teaching. It’s been a few years since my last adjunct faculty role and it’s something I am very excited to devote time and energy to once again. My excitement is attributed to creating new instructional materials that are meaningful, memorable, and motivational for my online students. This perspective forces me to evolve each time I teach and continuously explore new tools, resources, and instructional strategies.

Three Simple Goals

This time around, in teaching my first online course at Mountain View College, I knew I wanted to accomplish three very specific things.

  1. Teach without a textbook
  2. Utilize free, Open Educational Resources (OER)
  3. Introduce micro-credentialing to my students

Teaching Without a Textbook

It’s 2018. I see little to no reason to ask or require students to pay over $100 (and that’s cheap by the way!) for a textbook that they most likely won’t keep after my course has completed. Besides, back in the olden days when I used to require textbooks for my courses I found that many of my students never actually purchased the textbooks to begin with. They simply borrowed from another student if needed, reviewed a copy from the library, found alternative sources of information, or opted to purchase previous (much cheaper) editions. It didn’t help that every year I taught courses, new editions were released by the publisher, which meant continuously updating instructional materials and assessments. And, so after multiple years of experiencing this as an instructor…I’ve arrived at the conclusion of teaching sans textbook.


Production begins on my online course! There’s no stopping me now.  😉

Today, I create mini lectures (like the one below) on specific topics or themes and release such videos on a weekly basis along with all other material. The purpose of each mini lecture is simply to introduce a concept and motivate my students along their learning journey. Because my students are online, I find that such personalized videos help reinforce a sense of instructor presence (needed especially in online courses).

As a replacement to traditional textbooks, I have been able to find a wealth of alternative content. Below are just some of the resources I have utilized within weekly content folders of my course.

  • News articles from reputable sources
  • Social movements that connect with the material in some manner
  • TED talks focused on key messages
  • YouTube channels dedicated to the field
  • Educational apps available on Android and iOS
  • Online tutorials that often come directly from software vendors
  • Industry webinars and live streaming events
  • Case studies, current topics, and research within the field
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Example of a shared (free) resource referenced within course.

Open Educational Resources

But I haven’t stopped there. The benefits of teaching sans textbook, in my case, means that I simply find other resources to integrate into my curriculum. Much of those resources, usually driven by large grant initiatives, are classified as Open Educational Resources (OER). OER are freely accessible, openly licensed material, such as the  resources below.

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Simply type what you’re looking into this site and find OER content.

Open Educational Resources (OER)

Open Textbooks

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Just some of the many open textbooks freely available.

Still not a believer in OER or open textbooks? That’s okay. This article didn’t set out to convince anyone of switching to OER. It’s simply based on the belief that textbooks cost too much, are updated too often, and ultimately are no longer needed in today’s educational ecosystem.

Introduce Micro-Credentialing to My Students

Lastly, as if teaching without a textbook and redesigning curriculum wasn’t enough work to complete before a semester began, I still had one other major component of instruction that I wanted my students to benefit from. Instead of simply finishing my course with a grade, something of little significance outside of the academic environment, I wanted students to obtain a credential that they would actually value…something to be proud enough to share via their personal and professional networks. That’s exactly where micro-credentialing comes into play.

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An example of free HTML course that ends with micro-credentials.

Micro-credentials recognize competency via performance-based assessments. It’s no longer enough (in today’s world) to say that you know HTML. Instead you need to showcase that you’ve achieved mastery in some way. Most commonly, micro-credentials are displayed as digital badges and shared via sites like LinkedIn. As my online course relates to digital media and web authoring, I utilized a variety of sites that provide micro-credentials, such as the sites listed below.

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Another free HTML course ending with micro-credentials.

Looking Back

Looking back at my development process, I am proud to say that I saved students money, utilized open educational resources, and provided real-world relevance to the skills taught in my course.

Was it work? Yes. A lot of work the first time around. Was it worth it? Absolutely. I actually look forward to teaching this course again since all the heavy lifting has already been achieved. Additionally, I’ve grown through the process, developed new skills, and never stopped learning. I only hope that I continue to embrace the challenge of being meaningful, memorable, and motivational for my students.

Additional Resources

Establishing a Human Connection in Online Courses

There is something magical about the first day of class. Everyone arrives excited about the semester ahead, there’s a buzz that can be felt around all parts of campus, and it is truly the first time you, a faculty member, are able to connect with your students. That connection, one which signals credibility, provides insight into the subject matter as a whole, and, perhaps most importantly, establishes a human connection for the entire semester, ensures that students feel connected to their learning environment. Instructors are human after all and instructor presence is an important aspect of teaching and learning.

Credibility, Insight, Connection

As I began to strategize for the first day of delivery, I wanted to ensure that I achieved all three elements stated above (credibility, insight, and connection). Teaching an online course, the challenge I face would be never actually getting to see my students in front of me. I could of course write an award winning essay that addressed these same elements, but reading alone might not be the best method to achieve the results I seek. I want each student to feel a personal connection and I believe video to be the most effective format for that purpose.


That Horrible Blinking Record Icon

As it turns out being in front of the camera is an entirely different experience than being in front of a classroom full of students. In the classroom you don’t have time to worry about your hair, if you tend to say the word “um” a few times, the pitch of your voice, or how often you tend to blink. In front of the camera however, that’s all you tend to worry about as you transition from looking at your students to looking at yourself for the duration of the video. The funny thing is, even faculty who have spent years in front of a classroom may turn camera-shy as soon as soon as that little red record light comes on. There is no escaping or ignoring that blinking red light.

Beep. Recording. Beep. Recording. Beep. Eek!


Something Magical Happens

Once you realize that you’re no longer auditioning for a lead role in the next summer blockbuster, you let your guard down just enough to appear to be a normal human being. Then something truly magical happens…you begin to smile…your sense of humor becomes apparent…and you end with a video that (although it won’t win any awards) isn’t that bad after all. Heck, you could do this every week! Kidding of course.

The end result is that, by simply creating an introductory video for your online course,  you will have established an instructional relationship with your students that encompasses all aspects of a “Community of Inquiry” model (image below). Such a video, in whatever method you use to create it, helps students feel a sense of belonging in their course (even if they’ll never actually see you in person since this is an online class after all).


Garrison, Anderson, and Archer Community of Inquiry Model

Last Steps

The last step I needed to accomplish was simply sharing the video with my students. I did this by uploading the video to YouTube publicly (I know that’s a scary idea for some instructors, but unlisting the video on YouTube or utilizing Vimeo with privacy settings fully enabled would have been other options). Once uploaded I made sure to create closed captioning (subtitles), before embedding the video in my first official welcome message within Blackboard (image below).


Additional Resources

Share Your Process

Please feel free to add your comments or suggestions in the comment box below. I’d love to learn what other instructors are doing and in turn share great ideas even further.

MVC Teaching & Learning Center


BEFORE: The previous self-support lab in W162.

What if faculty and staff could go to a single place on campus to receive one‐on‐one support, learn about new and emerging technologies, and begin the process of professional development?


It’s surprising what paint can do to breath life into an underutilized space!

The Challenge

The support model and organizational structure for Distance Education and Professional Development at Mountain View College has changed. On campus these services have been spread out across multiple locations and even multiple floors. There is some confusion, partly because of new hires within these departments, previous support roles provided, and servicing locations, as to where faculty and staff go for one‐on‐one support, what technology is currently available, and who provides support.


The first shipment of updated furniture arrives!

Proposed Solution

By consolidating existing staff into a single location (W162), we can begin to provide the institution with a consistent presence and drop‐in support related to the new scope of services under eLearning and Professional Development. Lack of presence and drop‐in support has been a missing element, as noted by faculty during previous return weeks.


The redesign now support three full-time staff within the space (as well as all of the previous computer equipment).

A Staffed Center

By transitioning three full‐time employees to the space, support levels, expectations, and space utilization will drastically improve. We’d like to see the space become known as a “Teaching and Learning Center” instead of a self-support lab. Within a teaching and learning center meaningful dialogue is exchanged, instructional strategies are proposed, and curiosity is paired with the right hardware or software (that can in turn even be checked out to interested individuals).


IT helped ensure that all PCs were reconnected, that the two new Macs worked perfectly, and that all computers now share a network printer.

Questions and Answers

What’s happening to this space?

W162 is being upgraded to support teaching and learning efforts at Mountain View College. We’re preparing to support eLearning and Professional Development across the institution.


AFTER: The redesign now includes the same number of PCs, two new Macs, and three staff workstations!

What’s changed?

We’ve kept the same four PCs, added two new Macintosh computers, and brought in three staff members into the space. We’ve upgraded hardware and software across the board and aim to eventually provide one-on-one support for teaching and learning efforts. The major difference is that W162 is now a staffed Teaching and Learning Center (instead of a self-support lab).


We hope that employees drop by for a quick tour of the new space.

Can I still use the space?

Of course! We’d like to invite every employee to utilize the new hardware and software, ask questions of the staff in the space, or simply drop by to take a quick tour! You are the reason why we’ve invested in the space improvements and we’d love to keep supporting you.


These two Macs are ready to handle all of your multimedia needs!

When will the space be finished?

We’re currently working with IT and facilities to finish up installation and configuration of all computer equipment and printers. We should be fully operational during the month of November. In the meantime, you are completely welcome to use the space as we are working through completion.

Of course everyone’s invited for an official open house in the month of December! Stay tuned for more details as we continue to enhance the space.

eCampus Maintenance in December

December 27-January 2, 2016

eCampus (aka Blackboard) is currently scheduled for a maintenance upgrade December 27-January 2, 2016. While there is no “best” time for such maintenance or scheduled downtime, this was determined to be the most ideal time as recommended  by selected committees (DELT, AVP’s, VP’s, TILT, and LCET) across the district.


Impact on Wintermester

Enrollment data tells us the dates selected will affect the fewest number of students and faculty.  Unfortunately, for those who teach during wintermester, this down-time will need to be taken into consideration when setting up wintermester courses.  Students and faculty will not have access to eCampus during this period.

Communication and Awareness

At this time, the following recommendations are to take place regarding the maintenance period and eCampus communication:

  • Faculty are being informed via Distance Education and Learning Technologies Council (DELT) representatives, so wintermester courses can be developed with this eCampus “shut down” period in mind
  • Soon, announcements will appear in eCampus login page for students and faculty
  • Soon, announcements will appear in eCampus Faculty Tab
  • Faculty to communicate with students early in wintermester about this (such as adding information in course syllabi for wintermester courses)
  • Completion status posted in eCampus as maintenance period completes

Additional Details from District


Distance Education and Learning Technologies (DELT) Council representatives, Vice Presidents of Instructions and others have been made aware in recent months of a need to make the eCampus (Blackboard) environment unavailable during the forthcoming Wintermester for system upgrade purposes. Originally, the down period was intended to run December 27 to 31. Recent planning and testing for this event has indicated additional time is required and we are asking faculty to make plans that accommodate the system being unavailable from Dec 27 to Jan 2. It is possible that the planned upgrading of the system could be completed before Jan 2.


The eCampus system will be unavailable from December 27th through January 2nd due to an upgrade.  The Blackboard system will undergo two major changes:

  • Move from a Managed Hosting environment to a SaaS environment (Software-as-a-Service)
  • Upgrade from our current release October 2014 CU4 to October 2016 CU2


  • SaaS deployment provides a cloud-computing environment with zero to minimal downtime.  The SaaS model allows for faster delivery of maintenance, updates, and fixes, and the cloud platform easily scales during periods of high usage.
  • Other than maintenance releases, our system has not been upgraded in two years.


  • eCampus has become a true 365x24x7 system with very little flexibility in scheduling downtime.  Moving to SaaS will eliminate the need to take the system down for standard maintenance and upgrades.
  • Moving to a SaaS environment requires us to be on the most recent release.  Upgrades going forward will be made using the Flexible Deployment Option.  This means we will continue to schedule when we want the new functionality but we should not incur any downtime.
  • We recently signed a new two-year contract with Blackboard that allows us to move to SaaS with the option of deploying their latest offering, ULTRA, at our convenience.  Moving to ULTRA will be a separate project and will not occur until after the Spring semester.


Over the past several years staff have continued to look for ways to improve system availability and reliability.  In August of 2013, DCCCD moved from a self-hosted environment to a managed hosted environment.  This move helped decrease outage times due to hardware and network related issues.  Over the past three years, the system has been very stable and we have experienced very minimal downtime.  However, due to circumstances such as data center issues, hardware, etc. there were a few instances where service was interrupted.

The next evolution is Software as a Service (SaaS).  This is a software distribution model that is cloud based.  Cloud services such as SaaS provide more on-demand resources and are scalable to meet peak demand.

Our existing contract with Blackboard expired on August 31st, 2016.  In signing a two-year extension with them DCCCD picked up the option to go to the SaaS platform with their latest product offering, ULTRA.  The advantage of this is that implementation can be in stages and not force faculty and students to make any major changes until we have had time to pilot ULTRA and training before implementation.  DCCCD will wait until the product is deemed fully functional before deploying (summer of 2017 at the earliest).  In making this decision DCCCD is positioned for providing the latest technology, the latest software offerings and the best system availability.

eLearning Quality Scorecard Initiative


Introduction to the Quality Scorecard

As the Dean of eLearning, Instructional Support, and Professional Development at Mountain View College I’ve had the pleasure of participating in a year long district-wide initiative in support of the Quality Scorecard. The scorecard is an easy-to-use process for measuring elements of quality within online learning programs in higher education. The results of this process ultimately help support eLearning program improvement at our own campus, as well as across the entire district.

Elements of the Quality Scorecard

In total there are nine categories to the Quality Scorecard. Each category contains roughly seven to eight indicators that are assigned a Deficient, Developing, Accomplished, or Exemplary status. We are being asked to self-evaluate and score each indicator. It is a chance to voice our opinions, make recommendations to the district, and ultimately drive meaningful change at MVC related to eLearning.

Progress To-Date

To date, through participation of the Distance Learning Committee, MVC, along with all colleges of the DCCCD, has completed the following categories:

  1. Technology Support
  2. Instructional Support
  3. Student Support
  4. Faculty Support

We now move forward with the fifth category, Course Development and Instructional Design. As this category is evaluated, scored, and feedback consolidated, we’ll provide a summary back to the district and meet for a full day of review. This process will be repeated for the remainder of the initiative (a year long process) and end with specific recommendations for the district as a whole.

Stay tuned for more updates, shared recommendations, and project status.

Interested in Learning More: