Stuart Spence Blog

Computer scientist and educator. Creator of ChessCraft. Senior computer scientist at Environment Canada.

Fri 16 February 2024

MA in Education Technology at Concordia

Posted by Stuart Spence in Blog   

Every so often someone asks me what I thought about the master's program in education technology (instructional design) at Concordia University in Montreal. If that's you, you've come to the right place.

Overall I'm happy I enrolled. However the master's was just an outlet for my own self-drive and did not provide much meaningful guidance or learning challenges. I got terribly unlucky with my internships but that wasn't the school's fault or my own. I learned a lot about the world of adult training, and now I can coherently slam how instructional design is typically done in big organizations and in government.

Key Info

  • I attended in 2016 to 2017, surely things have changed a bit since then.
  • 45 credit program, full time. It used to be 60, it should be put back to 60.
  • I did the internship option, no thesis.

Best Aspects

  • generally my peers were adults, many were already working professionals. Friendly.
  • almost every time I asked, I could replace an assignment to better match what I wanted to learn or do.
  • it was nice being surrounded by people interested in education and technology.
  • probably useful having an MA on my resume while working in government, given how much grade inflation we have today.
  • satisfy my curiosity about graduate studies.

Worst Aspects

  • the department and students were not nearly as technical or quantitative-minded as I had hoped.
  • near zero practical use or discussion of open standards, vendor lock-in, or free and open source software.
  • most courses I wanted to take were never offered.
  • most assignments we made were toy assignments to be thrown in the trash, absolutely not worthy of a portfolio.
  • too much academia, not enough industry.
  • overemphasis on a narrow slice of industry (corporate adult training).


Here's some misconceptions I had about the program before enrolling:

  • This program is not "how to be Veritasium" or "how to be a great high school programming teacher". It's "how to make adult training in the most boring, assembly line way" with a bit of academia and 21st century education sprinkled in. Fortunately, the program is so flexible (if you're a go-getter) that I just studied what I felt "education technology" really should be.
  • Many listed ETEC courses are never available. I excitedly listed my favorites upon enrolling, but most of them were never offered.
  • as a Quebec resident, costs were less than expected. I think I even got a Quebec bursary.
  • I assumed graduate students would be older and more professional. Nevertheless, I underestimated how many of them would already be mid-career, professional, intelligent adults. This may be especially true for edtech.
  • I thought more professors and TAs would have basic or intermediate technical skills like computer programming. Instead, some could use old statistics software most popular in academia, but that's about it. Unfortunately, the professor that studied computer science was away while I attended.

Random Memories

  • A statistics course had us using some expensive, legacy, relatively unpopular, closed source software (Maple? SPSS? I can't recall). Instead of following the assignment instructions (easy) I redid the entire course using Python and its scientific libraries. I learned a lot. I still use those modern, popular, and free tools today. Whereas my classmates are crippled. I provided all my work to the TAs and professors, hoping they could share it with future students, and my impression was that they absolutely did not care whatsoever.
  • Instead of a fake "assignment" paper, I wrote a real paper for a real education data journal. I got zero feedback from my TAs or professor. The journal also rejected my paper as off topic, even though the journal website explicitly says it accepts papers on that topic.
  • I clicked well with one professor. We chatted at a cafe and he suggested I do a phd. I realized then that feeling flattered is not a good compass on career development.


  • Learning Theories: Good overview of education psychology. Unfortunately, I already knew that material from my undergrad. We had these shockingly moronic APA citation assignments. For example "cite this podcast episode" using decades old standards printed on paper, where a misplaced character or a single space instead of a double space gets you a zero. Citing websites with standards written before websites. Worth a lot of our grade too. The professor actually made the absurd argument that computers can't do this, and good citations help computers index papers. This was perhaps the worst execution of assessment I've ever seen in any university course. We made a learning board game which was a good project.
  • Research Methods 1 & 2: I took RM 2 despite not needing to because I wasn't doing a thesis. I felt like hardly anyone in class actually liked statistics or wanted to learn it. I learned a bit of stats but wish these courses were harder and even more quantitative.
  • Knowledge Management: Good readings and discussions. Very flexible projects which I appreciated.
  • Fundamentals of Human Performance Technology: This is where I learned that I deeply dislike "instructional design" and what I call "corporate training". It was like... "this is how you remove the soul and value from education, and replace it with products that learners hate but businesses will pay for". Great course if you want a job.
  • Fundamentals in Instructional Design: I deeply disagreed with the processes we were learning about, but I respect the vast effort David Price put into running the course.
  • Introduction to Educational Computing: I appreciate how flexible our research assignments were. I wrote a big paper on my education website FLOcademy and its data. It was nearly a thesis, by the standards of the department.
  • Project Management and Consulting in Edtech: good, practical courses. Unfortunately there was some HR turmoil with the professors. A last minute replacement did the best she could with the second half of the course.


The internship coordinator was clearly understaffed, but she did a good job with the resources she had. As a programmer I was able to find two well paying "internships" in education software, though I did this all myself. All the internships the school offered seemed like the "corporate training" I previously mentioned, and low or no pay.

My internship report is titled "Development Hell: Working Without Designs or Content". Here's the abstract:

This report describes two internships. First, my work as an education games programmer for Space & Dream. This internship lasted 400 hours from May to August, 2017. I was hired as a programmer but also carried out design and training work. Second, my work as a web developer for the Centre for Continuing and Online Learning (CCOL) at Algonquin College. This internship lasted 275 hours from October to December, 2017. The title of this report may be sensational but it is also true. Space & Dream was a remarkably poorly run company and missed a major contract deadline because of it. Next, a five week strike affecting Algonquin College means that I never worked with real course content.

If you have an hour, my internship report is bananas and well worth the read.

A required section of my internship report are recommendations to the department, employers, and future students. Here's a few which are most relevant for prospective students, copied here:


to the department

  • Rename the education technology program to "corporate training". This is a far better description of the core courses. I think the name "education technology" is misleading. Alternatively, the program could pivot away from corporate training. I'd prefer the latter.
  • Raise the credit requirement back to 60. Fight degree inflation.
  • Require international students to pass a 5 minute, basic level English (or French) oral exam before starting ETEC courses. I once saw David Price privately, kindly, and repeatedly ask a student a simple question. She clearly didn’t understand David, so she just shook her head and didn’t say a word. If she passes this is bad for the department. If she drops out it is financially unfair to her.
  • Add a core class for hands-on workshops about web development. Many graduates of the education technology master's have hardly even seen HTML, CSS, or JavaScript. These are the core components to every website. That means these are also core components to most online instruction. We are car designers who don't know what an engine is.
  • Add "work life balance" to the curriculum of a core class. What stressors does the instructional design industry typically face? When should you work hard, and when should you stand up for yourself instead? What is overtime, overtime pay, when is it required, and when can you refuse? When should you refuse? For most ETEC students, this is more valuable than APA exercises.
  • ETEC students shouldn't make "pretend" instructional materials as assignments. We should create real instructional materials and share them with real learners online. Post to YouTube, social media, and learning communities. We could discuss real learner feedback in class. Step out of our comfort zone.
  • Ask alumni to share real industry documents with the department. For “Project Management” we should look at real project charters. Not polished and perfect templates, but the real messy stuff people really use. We should talk about their flaws.
  • In courses like "Fundamentals of Human Performance Technology" we should look at real design documents. We shouldn't just talk about perfect design documents. Let's look at the real stuff people really use, even if it's as bad as what I saw at Algonquin College. Especially then.

to the internship coordinator

  • At some point (orientation, a core class) explain that internships are typically a tiny subset of the education technology world. They are mostly instructional design or corporate training internships.
  • Require that internship students attend at least one conference that is not education related. Like the Montreal Space Symposium.
  • ETEC students could go to a hackathon for social good, or volunteer at a youth tech conference like Y2T 2017 and report back. There's more to ETEC than the world of corporate training.
  • Finishing an internship could require meeting with a student about to start their internship. Internship reports could include a paragraph summary of that chat.

to future students

  • Read previous internship reports. Specifically seek out reports from many different companies and fields.
  • Take every opportunity you can to listen to guest speakers. Tell your professors how much you appreciate guest speakers. Skim weekly university newsletters (even from other universities like McGill) and keep your eyes open for visiting speakers. This broadens your knowledge of industry and the world, and grounds you in reality.
  • I may have gotten unlucky with my internship placements, but I had a few other offers too. I believe that having a portfolio that showcases real technical skills is what made me appealing to employers.
  • Buy a domain name with your full name (mine is and set up a simple portfolio website. Do not settle for expensive fees, limited features, or ads. Ask an HTML workshop leader how they would run a lean website.
  • Try to work on as many projects as you can during your internship. Ask your coworkers if there's any way you can help them with anything. Most of your coworkers won't want to babysit you, but they will happily let you join their projects if you're a help instead of a burden.
  • Shamelessly explore network drives and document databases for interesting files. Even mundane design and specification documents will be totally inaccessible to you after leaving the organization. You may never again get your chance to peruse!


I hope that was helpful. If you have further thoughts or questions, feel free to send me an email!