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This content was published: March 13, 2017. Phone numbers, email addresses, and other information may have changed.

The various flavors of course development

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Picture of variety of yummy ice cream

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Baskin Robbins is known for promoting 31 flavors of ice cream. Sometimes it seems we have a comparable number of course development options here at PCC, though in this brief post, I have time to include our usual vanilla and chocolate, and add the variations of rainbow sherbet and perhaps even spumoni. This topic is complex, and throughout the years Distance Education has endeavored to find the best approach given limited funding, the desire for academic freedom in course creation, the need for guidance on quality course design, and time for course reviews. There are actually a number of methods to choose from, and much depends on personal preference and guidelines already established by a specific SAC.

One of the most common methods at PCC is for an instructor to take on an existing course that has already been developed and reviewed by an online faculty mentor using our Quality Matters based course review rubric. A number of SACs, e.g. HE, CAS, CIS, CH, have opted to maintain one main version of each online course, and they update that version on a consistent basis depending on the need. This often involves a collaborative effort of a few instructors, sometimes one from each campus. In this way, it is easier to maintain a current course that new online instructors can use as a starting point. As for flexibility to make changes, this varies by the SAC, but all disciplines that I’m aware of allow the freedom to adjust some of the discussions and add some personal touches to the content. Still, being locked into one main shell with few options for creative choice can feel quite restrictive.

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One of the often expressed concerns about starting with a pre-developed “takeover” course in this way is the desire to create a totally personalized course and the need for students to have a choice of different learning experiences. These are valid concerns. On the flip side, the barriers we run into with a system of totally personalized courses include lack of funding to support those course development efforts and lack of support staff needed to guide new course development, review those courses, and help keep them current in future years. Indeed, faculty in many SACs do have the option of creating their own personalized course from scratch, even when a previously developed and approved course already exists. There is no Distance Education funding for this type of development, but it is possible. Such courses also need to be reviewed and recommended just like any other course development.

The course development options mentioned above fall on the extreme ends of the spectrum – a SAC course that allows for minimal changes, and a completely personalized course. I would like to call your attention to possible variations of these flavors that fall toward the middle of the spectrum.

Picture of palette with mixture of paint colors and paintbrush.

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Recently, a team from our Communication Studies SAC collaborated to develop a COMM 214 course that is basically 75% complete. The result is viewed as a “master course” that all instructors start with, yet the individual voice of the instructor is preserved because instructors need to add their own color to the mix in the form of personalized learning content. Communication Studies instructor Stacie Williams recently presented on this collaborative course development method at the national Quality Matters and ITC conferences, and I’m sure she would be happy to provide more information.

I recently learned of another variation of the “master course” concept through an ITC conference presentation by Angela Davis and Cristina Sullivan from Tarrant County College. They use a team approach to develop a “master shell” for each course. The flexible component built into their design approach is to create many more lessons than are needed, e.g. 24-40 lessons from which each instructor selects 16 to use any given term. In this way, there is choice in terms of selecting content and activities. Before going live, the course is reviewed by a team including a department chair, instructional designer, dean, and their equivalent to our district SAC. This master course needs to be maintained, but it never needs to be built again.

Colorful rainbow eye on white background

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My question to you, would one of these alternative approaches to course development, or a variation of one, be something of interest in your subject area? I know there are good chances of finding funds for collaborative design efforts. Let’s start the conversation. I encourage you to share your thoughts by posting a comment, or feel free to contact me directly, and I will help facilitate the conversation with those who need to be involved to help you discover the color palette choice that works best for your situation.

About Greg Kaminski

Online Learning: online course design consultant, coordinator of Online Faculty Mentors, Quality Matters facilitator, interactive teaching practices enthusiast. more »

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x by Peter Seaman 5 years ago

Hi Greg: Thanks for this interesting post. One variant I am seeing more often is for an instructor to receive the latest course template (the “blank” course created by our DL dep’t) and also a copy of a developed course. The instructor then moves elements from the developed course into the template but also builds some new elements. This approach allows the instructor to use the latest features of template but also preserves elements that have worked in other online courses. It’s an approach I would like to promote more widely. Thanks. – Peter

x by Greg Kaminski 5 years ago

Thanks for sharing this idea Peter. It’s a good approach that, as you said, avoids having to convert a course in its entirety to the most current template, and it also preserves room for academic creativity.