People is defined as the characters in your story (i.e. teacher, students, cited texts, etc.). Just like in design thinking, the goal is to always start with people. They are the heart of the story. The other pillars of the story don’t matter if you don’t first connect with your audience (in this case, your students). 

Story doesn’t have to be a big, or new endeavor. In fact, story is already built into the course structure and your syllabus when you provide a course description, explain what students can expect from you and the course, and in the assignments you write. 

Keep in mind that as the instructor, you’re an important character in the story, but not necessarily the main character. Rather, you’re facilitating and co-constructing a story with your students throughout the course’s entirety. People connects us.

KIN 101 - Intro to Paddle Sports

During the shift to remote teaching this summer, we had the chance to work with instructor Trey Rouss (owner of The Power of Water) to design a fully online introduction to paddlesports with a focus on Stand Up Paddle-boarding, Kayaking, and Canoeing at Michigan State University. We sat down to think about how to create engaging videos for students who would be watching seated on their couches instead of in kayaks. 

-An excerpt form his course introduction: 

My favorite part of every class I teach is to watch groups of people who do not know each other at all, from very diverse backgrounds…come together and support each other as a team. For me, this will be the most challenging aspect of teaching you how to paddle in a virtual world. Connectivity is key to on water success!

How interesting that the idea of connection also applies to our relationship with water. He decided that instead of trying to collect traditional lecture style videos about how to move through water, that he would actually capture himself teaching a group of “students” both on land and in the water. While filming, we were a bit skeptical about whether it could be pulled off. Sometimes there were long pauses, questions that were answered incorrectly, and a variety of different bloopers. However, during the course reviews there was one consistent thread: students loved the videos, and not just because they were shot on a lake. The students really appreciated that they could build a connection with the students from the videos and feel like they were learning together. It transformed the dynamic of the student-instructor role in the video so the instruction did not come across as if the professor was talking at the student viewers but rather with the group as a whole.  

In Trey’s class, the first thing he teaches on a SUP isn’t how to stand up,  but how to fall. Getting over that fear is the key to unlocking the ability to connect with the board and with the water. Check out this video to learn more. Maybe you can learn something useful if you ever plan on heading out to a lake.  

Notice the interaction with students. Does their presence help you connect to the content more? Why?


A balanced body and therefore brain, is critical in all that we do. In this next video, you will need to follow along and participate as we move through it. So get comfortable and find a little space.

We want you to watch this video and then play it again as YOU actually participate with the class:

Don’t worry, we all feel awkward and silly. So, let’s see if we can get better at this balanced body thing. 

As we think about designing courses or students participating in a course, is there something that we can do to help build connectivity between students, professors and the content? Are there any hurdles/fears that students might have that prevent them from connecting in your course? How might you structure instructional materials or design your course to incorporate different voices?