Instructional design toolkit: Markdown


To be a power user of Carmen (or any LMS), WordPress (U.OSU), the web in general, or e-learning authors (such as Softchalk), you have to do some HTML.

If you’re new to HTML, intimidated by HTML, or just a little bit lazy (like me), you have a friend in Markdown. It’s a sort of HTML Lite language, an easy way to write your content in just a text editor, and you can convert it to full-blown HTML when you’re done.

For example, you can write a bulleted list like this:

- This is a list
- It's just using hyphens and spaces
- It's pretty low key

And then it’s smart enough to convert that to this nice clean HTML, which you can paste into your web page:

<li>This is a list</li>
<li>It's just using hyphens and spaces</li>
<li>It's pretty low key</li>

Markdown has easy-to-type, easy-to-remember ways of doing just about every basic HTML thing you’d need. Many cheat sheets are around. It’s easy to learn, lightweight (uses text files), and it’s a perfect way to dip your toe into HTML.

Many Markdown apps (which are tiny and usually free) will give you a preview pane that shows how your code would look on a web page. My Mac recommendation is Mou, and there are a slew great options for Windows, iOS, and Android.

Beyond the QM rubric: Where do we want to go?

Many rivers (and streets) to cross

My colleague Ben Scragg and I have been reading a lot of Hybrid Pedagogy and other conversations challenging the status quo of designing and teaching online courses. (The status quo seems to come in two forms: ground classes with PowerPoints that have been recorded and put online, or old-style online courses with cookie-cutter activities—“post your reply and respond to two classmates’ posts,” and so on.)

Quality Matters and solid backward design will get us to a point of courses being usable and generally sound, but where else do we put our effort? How do we make our offerings excellent and not just acceptable?

If I were writing my own addendum to the Quality Matters rubric, here’s what I’d include as qualities to measure:

  • digital first — Content/experience created for the web
  • ethical, learner centered — Course policies, activities, assessments are designed to empower students to control their own learning
  • authentic assessments — Student assessment focuses on students’  creating actual professional or scholarly work and receiving feedback
  • activity centered — Course work emphasizes student projects, tasks, collaboration, and inquiry, not instructor or textbook content
  • human — Course design and delivery emphasizes human interactions: instructor/class, instructor/student, student/student, class as community
  • local — Content (at least the front-and-center content) is primarily created by OSU faculty and staff, not a big publisher or elearning company; tools are primarily OSU tools
  • open — Uses open content and shares content openly (to students, to people outside the course and the institution)
  • accessible — Content and activities are accessible to students of all abilities and on all devices