May Staff Spotlight: Dan Murphy

by Loren Guay

Staff Spotlight: Dan Murphy 

This month, we’re spotlighting our Director of Online Learning Technologies, Dan Murphy! In the blog post below, Dan tells us more about his work with Distance Learning.

How long have you worked here? How did you come to join the DL team / get involved in distance education?

I have been with SPS Distance Learning for six and a half years. Previously, I worked for online schools and an OPM (online project management) firm.

In the 90s, I was an elementary school teacher with the Teach For America program. I noticed how kids who weren’t particularly motivated in school were really motivated to use a computer; I also enjoyed using a computer to create instructional materials. That led me to a Masters in Learning Sciences from Northwestern and an early career in creating “computer-based training” (sometimes delivered on CD-ROMS!) for Kraft Foods, Arthur Andersen, and other corporate training departments. In 2002, I also had the opportunity to go work for UNext, a pioneering company in online higher education.

Describe your typical “Day in the Life.”

Three days a week I meet with my team for a brief “stand-up” meeting. We meet to discuss our current projects and share questions and insights. After that, the day may bring many things—a project status meeting for the Healthcare Administration program media, course sandboxes for the new development cycle, review of a new instructional technology, enhancements to the Osher Online website, technical questions from the academic units…

Dan and spouse Olivia seated smiling in a gondola in Venice.
An atypical Day in the Life: Dan and spouse Olivia enjoying a recent vacation to Venice!

What’s something about your job that might surprise readers?

The job is full of surprises! How can I pick just one?

What’s your favorite resource or tool that not many people know about?

The Canvas API (application programming interface) enables us to extract a wealth of information about student behavior in Canvas. This information helps to identify students who are under-performing or non-participating in their courses. The information is provided to instructors, program assistant directors, and Student Advising for personal follow-up with the student.

What is one project (recent or upcoming) that you are most excited about?

While it’s developed in fits and starts, I am excited to bring the SPS Academics Database online. It will consolidate data scattered across various spreadsheets and will make record-keeping and communication more efficient for Distance Learning and the academic units.


The Distance Learning team is part of the Northwestern School of Professional Studies (SPS). To keep up with news, staff spotlights, online education insights and more, subscribe to the DL newsletter (The DL Digest) and check out the rest of the Distance Learning blog!