MOOC Quality Comes Down To This: Effective Course Design

“Design brings forth what would not come naturally”
                                —Klaus Krippendorff, Professor of Cybernetics, Language,and Culture

designThere’s little data to go on to determine the quality of learning outcomes in Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). Traditional education measures the quality of learning with a variety of assessment methods against a set of established criteria or objectives. But MOOCs don’t fit into the traditional education mold and given it’s usually unclear what the intended outcomes are for MOOCs, assessment is challenging (Gaebel, 2013). If the objective is to deliver quality learning there’s little to go on except for low completion rates and even smaller percentages of student rankings of their perceptions of learning (via end-of-MOOC surveys). A recent study attempts to address MOOC quality by assessing instructional quality of 76 MOOCs—50 xMOOCs offered on dedicated MOOC platforms and 26 cMOOCs or connectivist MOOCs (Margaryan, Bianco & Littlejohn, 2015). My aim in this post is to share results of the study and outline the framework used to evaluate the MOOCs in an effort to highlight how a course design framework is critical to developing quality learning experiences within MOOCs.

Factors Affecting Quality Course Design
Course design is a critical to delivering quality learning through online courses and MOOCs, yet it’s rarely mentioned in literature and articles discussing MOOC and online course outcomes. This study fills a gap. It determined that while most MOOCs were well-packaged, design quality was low. Out of a possible 72 points that each MOOC could score, not one MOOC scored above 28 points (p. 82).  Reasons vary, but I see it as absence of one or a combination of: skill set of course designer(s), time, and/or a structured process that includes a course design framework.

My view is that an online course takes on a persona of the instructor where the course guides and promotes part of the learning process as an instructor would. This thinking requires a different design approach—a different mindset than one used for traditional courses. A well-designed course also provides a learning path that students can follow and influence. A path that includes: quality, varied and curated resources, methods that encourage active learning whether individually or within self-selected groups, places for students to engage and share where they also act as contributors to the course. The latter is key—students should be able to shape the course through application of course concepts using their existing knowledge and experience.

Overview of the Study & “First Principles of Instruction”
The study analyzed quality through the lens of the Merrill+ model, a framework based on the “First Principles of Instruction” framework of David Merill (2002). Merill’s model is remarkably thorough, detailed and thoughtful in its inclusion and application of learning theories and approaches incorporating components of R. Gagné and H. Gardner’s theories as well as models of instructional design. First Principles also aligns closely with Malcolm Knowles’ adult learning theory andragogy, which I’ve discussed in previous posts. There’s significant research in support of Merrill’s theory suggesting it’s a credible, perspective tool to evaluate curriculum design of traditional, online courses and MOOCs (Frick et al. 2007; Margaryan et al., 2015).

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Merrill’s’ model is grounded in the practical as shown by figure 1 which describes how his five principles focus on problem-focused learning (Merrill, 2002).

Ten Principles of the Merrill+ Model
Margaryan and Collins added five additional principles to Merill’s First Principles to create Merrill+ Model which builds on Merrill’s philosophy and synthesizes contemporary instructional theories and practices (2014). The 10 principles of Merrill+ Model:

Learning is promoted…

  1. Problem Centered Learning: …when learners are engaged in solving real-world problems
  2. Activation: …when learners activate existing knowledge, experience or a skill set as a foundation for creating new knowledge and/or skills.
  3. Demonstration: …when learners observe a demonstration [that includes learning of new knowledge via a primary resource] of the skill [knowledge] to be learned.
  4. Application: …when learners apply their new knowledge or skill through discussion, written work, or creation of an artifact to solve a problem.
  5. Integration: …when new knowledge is integrated and into the learner’s context
  6. Collective knowledge: …when learners contribute to the collective knowledge of a subject or topic
  7. Collaboration: …when learners collaborate with others to expand knowledge of individuals and a community of practice
  8. Differentiation: …when learners are provided with different avenues of learning, according to their need, e.g. scaffolding
  9. Authentic resources: …when quality learning resources are curated from and applicable to real world problems
  10. Feedback: …when learners are given expert feedback on their performance

Closing Thoughts
There are other course design frameworks that can be used as alternatives to the Merrill+ Model, Khan’s e-Learning Framework (I’ll be writing about Khan’s Framework next month) and the Dick and Carey model for instance. Some institutions develop their own course design model as Purdue University did with its IMPACT model. The key to MOOC quality is selecting, then following a framework grounded in learning theory that supports an effective course design process that delivers quality learning experiences.

References

  • Frick, T., Chadha, R., Watson, C., Wang, Y., & Green, P. (2007). Theory-based course evaluation: Nine Scales for measuring teaching and learning quality. Retrieved from  http://www.indiana.edu/~tedfrick/TALQ.pdf
  • Gaeleb, D. (2013). MOOCs: Massive open online courses. (Tech.). European University Association. Retrieved from http://www.eua.be/Libraries/publication/EUA_Occasional_papers_MOOCs
  • Margaryan, A., Bianco, M., & Littlejohn, A. (2014). Instructional quality of massive open online courses (MOOCs). Computers & Education. 80. 77–83. doi:10.1016/j.compedu.2014.08.005
  • Merrill, D. M. (2002). First principles of instruction. Educational Technology Research and Development, 50(3), 43-59. doi:10.1057/9781137394644.0012

How ‘Good’ is Your Online Course? Five Steps to Assess Course Quality

The view that online education is “just as good as” face-to-face instruction was not widely held in 2003: 42.8% of chief academic officers reported that they considered the learning outcomes for online instruction to be inferior to face-to-face instruction. The view of online quality has improved over time. However results for 2013 revealed a partial retreat in faculty perceptions of online learning providing quality learning experiences. The 2014 results indicate that the retreat continues—there’s an increase in faculty that perceive online education as inferior. — Grade Level: Tracking Online Education in the United States, 2015

quality-controlOne of the main criticisms of online courses is they are of poor quality as revealed in the annual Babson study mentioned in the opening. Positive perception of online learning by faculty has declined in 2013 and 2014 (Allen & Seaman, 2015). Face-to-face courses appear to be the hallmark for quality when it comes to higher education. Yet this doesn’t seem fitting considering the ongoing and often heated public dialogue about the quality of higher education programs with little consensus on what quality is. In this blog post I suggest that online educators can and should tackle the quality issue in their own courses, and that they do so by assessing their course holistically. A holistic approach encompasses elements such as students’ perspectives, results over a period of time, artifacts created during learning, and the instructor’s course experience.

I also review recent research on quality assessment specific to online courses. I also examine existing frameworks and rubrics for online course assessment and explain why, even if an institution follows such standards, these are starting points. I outline five-steps that instructors can follow to assess whether a course is ‘good’—an assessment for quality that considers foundational elements, student perspectives, course artifacts, student and instructor learning experiences.

What is Course Quality?
Up until a few years ago ‘quality’ in higher education was measured by a course’s content, pedagogy and learning outcomes (Bremer, 2012). This approach has changed to a process-oriented system where a combination of activities contributing to the education experience are considered. Activities that include: student needs, use of data and information for decision-making, department contributions, as well as improved learning outcomes (Thair, Garnett, & King, 2006). This holistic approach of evaluating education experiences is often applied to the development and assessment of online learning. For example, Online Learning Consortium’s Five Pillars of Quality Online Education (below) and Quality Matters (QM) rubric.

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“Five Pillars of Quality Online Education, the building blocks which provide the support for successful online learning”.  http://www.onlinelearningconsortium.org

Why Assessing Quality is Difficult in Online Education
Yet there are challenges associated with setting universal quality standards for online education, and though a starting point, a thorough quality assessment requires ongoing consideration of numerous elements, some that occur over a period of time.  Key challenges with assessing quality through set standards are outlined in ‘What is online course quality‘ and include: 1) the lack of authoritative body (able and willing) to address minimum level of standards across all states with their accrediting bodies, 2) the challenge of creating a comprehensive, evaluative tool to address complexities of online courses, and 3) the implementation process itself given the significant resources that would be required to implement an institution-wide evaluation process (Thompson, n.d.).

Limitations of Quality Assessments
There are other limitations. Some assessments are inherently limiting with a prescriptive set of standards that may not fit all contexts.  Another is the tendency to establish a minimum level of quality, ‘baseline standards’ which limits innovation and creativity (Misut & Pribilova, 2015).  Most course assessments are done at a point-in-time and are unable to capture dimensions over the life of a course and post-course; dimensions that include student perceptions collected as formative feedback (mid-way through course) and end-of-course feedback surveys. Furthermore, quality assessments frequently focus on course/instructional design and fail to include learning experiences of the instructor and students.

What’s involved In a Good Course Assessment?
A holistic assessment goes beyond course design; it acknowledges the nuances that make a course unique, including input and contributions from students, developments in the field of study, and current events. Most valuable are students perceptions of their learning and of the course experience. A good course assessment considers the course over a period of time, and considers interactions between instructor and students, students and students, all of which create artifacts that can be studied and analyzed (Thompson, 2005).  Artifacts might include, emails or forum posts of student questions,  dialogue within forums, feedback from group interaction, end-of-course student surveys, LMS reports on student interaction patterns, student assignment results, and more.  Course artifacts give valuable clues to a course’s quality, more so when collected from two or more course iterations and analyzed collectively.

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Figure from paper describing the Online Course Criticism model based on the concept of educational criticism which suggests a holistic review of a course to assess quality (Thompson, 2005)

Other elements to consider:

  Student behaviours including questions asked in forums, emails, interactive patterns within LMS, interaction with resources, participation patterns within discussion forums,  social platforms designated to course, etc.   Student perceptions evaluated through questionnaires, formative course feedback, post-course questionnaires, one-on-one interactions  ♦  Knowledge creation/transfer by students evaluated through assignment analysis, course artifacts, post-course surveys  ♦  Course design as per rubric/assessment tool    Use of current technology tools and platforms    Course data and artifacts from two or more sessions analyzed and compared  ♦  Quantity and type of interaction between students and instructor

Five-Steps to Assessing Online Course Quality

1) Asses Using a Rubric or Other Tool to Consider Basic Course Elements
Assess course using the tool or framework employed by your institution e.g. Quality Matters rubric. If your institution does not have a tool in place I recommend the rubric created by California State University Chico which covers six domains. The rubric (embedded below) is free to use and download under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.

* Thanks to a reader’s comment – there is an updated version of the Chico rubric which is a checklist format with additional dimensions. It is similar to the Quality Matters rubric. I prefer the version embedded here — its more approachable given it’s less lengthy and rigid. Link here to the updated version.

2) Analyze Course from a Student Perspective
This is perhaps the most difficult yet useful element for improving course quality. There are a variety of ways to consider students’ perspectives, several already mentioned. Other recommendations—take an online course as a student (e.g. a MOOC) in a topic you aren’t familiar with. This provides an eye-opening view of how it feels to be an online student. Another method is to ask a colleague from another department to review your course and provide constructive feedback.

3) Assess Course Artifacts, Materials, & Feedback
Another useful exercise is analyzing course artifacts. Analyzing results from student feedback via a questionnaire midway through course is helpful. If a course is offered more than once, compare data from course iterations collectively.  Consider, is student feedback incorporated into subsequent course re-runs? What about student-generated content? All artifacts and materials associated with a course are valuable material for assessing a course’s quality.

4) Consider Level and Type of Student-to-Student and Student-to-Instructor Interactions
Interaction is critical to an online course; students that feel connected, establish themselves as individuals within an online course are likely to have higher levels of motivation and learning satisfaction over those that don’t. Consider the forums, the interactive assignments where students can participate, the social exchanges within course-associated platforms, and other places for interaction. An example of assignments that encourage student feedback and involvement, leading to high levels of engagement can be found on this online instructor’s (Laura Gibbs) course site here. Also consider the Community of Inquiry model for the types of interactions in an online course that lead to positive learning experiences.

5)  Results: Are Students Learning?
Evidence of learning  is the most important assessment dimension, yet nearly impossible for a standardized quality assessment tool to evaluate.  One could argue that before and after quizzes within a course can evaluate learning. I suggest that the instructor is able to assess at a deeper level whether or not learning occurred, can determine the level of critical thinking. This can be done only when assignments demand that students demonstrate what they know and are required to apply course concepts.  Assignments that draw out students thinking by demonstration either through dialogue or written work allow the instructor evaluate learning effectively. There’s no formula for this fifth step, this is an example of customized course evaluation. But I suggest instructors evaluate student artifacts from one course to another and to consider what students learned and how well  they articulated what they learned. There may be opportunity for revising assignments, activities or other course dimensions.

Conclusion
Assessing quality in online courses is complex as we’ve seen here, yet addressing quality is critical to advance the positive perception of online education for one, but more importantly to provide learning and teaching experiences that are rewarding, rich and meaningful. Quality assessment can start one course at a time, and who better to do this than the course instructor?

References/Resources*

The Next-Big-Thing in Online Education…Learning in Real Time

This article examines the potential of synchronous communication in online education by analyzing the newest tools and platforms that facilitate real-time group communication, and the pedagogy associated with implementing synchronous communication tools into asynchronous learning environments.

synchronous communication in online courses
synchronous communication

Communicating in real-time from a distance has never been easier. There are numerous new platforms and applications (apps) available free-of-charge that are easy-to-use and facilitate seamless communication between geographically distant people with access to a smart phone or laptop. After reading a WSJ article reviewing several smart phone apps that facilitate real-time communication among small groups seamlessly, I realize that the time is coming where synchronous tools will bring online education to the next level. Over the last two years there’s been a flood of free apps and platforms on the market that break down distance barriers and allow people to communicate from their handheld mobile device, tablet or laptop. One example is group video conferencing. There are now several free web-conferencing tools for groups that also feature document and screen sharing, including Google Hangouts, newly launched appear.in (video conversations for up to 8 people), and meetings.io (also free). These platforms knock down the once insurmountable barriers for video conferencing use in education—barriers of student access, and technology that was cumbersome and expensive.

A key aspect of this is the consideration of approaches to capitalizing on the capacity of video communications to reduce isolation and increase personalization of learning experiences for distance students. Indeed there is now scope for the empowerment of distance learners and an opportunity to offer a much wider choice of strategies intended to enhance and support learning (Smyth & Zanetic, 2007). Indications from the research literature are exciting.(Andrews, Tynan, Smyth &  Vale, 2010)

However, one significant barrier still exists when considering synchronous tools for education settings, and that is pedagogy.  From the same paper as the above paragraph, is this statement that describes the barrier crisply, “from a practitioners point-of-view, the challenge will come from the need to be flexible, adaptive and innovative. In other words, the need is to rapidly develop new understandings of pedagogies to best utilize the person-to-person interactivity of emerging technologies” (Andrews et al, 2010).

hangouts
A group of students in an online hangout using the platform meetings.io

The Great Potential: Synchronous Tools for Online Education
These apps and platforms hold great potential for online education—seamless real-time chats, video discussions that can facilitate peer-to-peer, and educator-to-student(s) exchanges that foster social connections, learning support, feedback or create a space for discussion of concepts and ideas in a way the asynchronous communication cannot. The new technology brings with it numerous possibilities. But though the potential is great, so are the challenges associated with implementation. As with any educational technology tool, the purpose for using the tool has to make sense, has to fit in with the curriculum in a pedagogically sound way that supports learning and achievement of the course objectives.

Although video conferencing has been around for some years, in many cases the use has not been informed by rigorous research leading to sound pedagogical practices. videoconferencing has frequently copied typical lecture style format of didactic lecture style delivery rather than exploring approaches….” (Andrews & Klease, 2002)

How-to Implement Educational Technology, i.e. Synchronous Tools
Before getting to highlights of the research addressing synchronous tools in online education, I’ll emphasize what needs to happen prior to implementing educational technology into a learning environment, which essentially is a needs analysis. The first step is asking questions—questions such as, “what educational problem are we trying to solve? what method can we apply that supports the problem? what tool will best work for the application that works within the learning context?“.

To be more specific with regards to implementation of synchronous tools as discussed here, the question might be, “How can a synchronous tool be used to improve the learning outcomes, or solve a learning problem that is not being met within asynchronous online classes?

It’s the answers to these questions that guide the learning design process. The next steps are when the real work of course design begins, developing the learning strategy to meet learning objectives ideally by following a model of learning or instructional design [I write extensively about instructional design. A good post for readers interested in learning more about instructional design is “Start Here”: Instructional Design Models for Online Courses].

Learning Challenges Synchronous Tools Can Solve
Synchronous tools are not a given for each online course, it will depend upon a number of factors as determined during the course design process. Though to give readers an idea of the types of situations where synchronous tools may be used, I’ve included excerpts from Kansas State University’s webpage ‘synchronous course delivery‘ from its e-learning faculty modules site.  Note, that it’s not always the instructor that will use synchronous tools, but learning counselors, tutors, small groups of students and others.

“Online real-time may be used for a number of learning purposes. There may be a small window of time when an online class may access a digital lab; a simulation; …an interactive streamed event.

….to introduce learners starting a cohort-based program. … there may be icebreakers to help people connect online….

…for academic and professional advising and counseling. It may be used for group or expert critiques of student designs and e-portfolios.

….for student group work, collaborations, and study sessions. Learners may interact with each other for problem-solving, planning, co-design, or strategy sessions.

If there is not a need for synchronous learning, then it may well be better left alone.e-learning faculty modules, 2012

No Talking Heads
One of the papers I review here from the International Journal of Education Technology, provides sound advice based upon the research, and one worthy of highlighting is that synchronous tools should not be used as a one-way medium, a format where the instructor can deliver information in real-time, but instead be viewed as a vehicle that allows for the exchange of information, for accommodating three or four-way [or more] conversations that build learning, ideas and learners’ motivation. The synchronous communication medium should be reserved only for exchanges that support a course objective or other learning-related function that can’t be accomplished through asynchronous methods.

“In other words students find the talking head presentation to be undesirable. This finding is not a new one (Commeaux, 1995; Schiller & Mitchell, 1993)…” (Andrews & Klease, 2002)

Research Highlights
Below are a selection of highlights from the papers referenced in this post that outline the impact of, and considerations for synchronous methods used in online education.

1) Building Social and Teacher Presence: More than one study suggests that synchronous communication activities support the social needs of online students not typically met in the asynchronous format, “Social support is desirable as a way to foster knowledge work and collaborative learning; it provides an environment where communication is encouraged; e.g., anecdotes and personal experiences encourage trust, which foster receptive and creative learning environment” (Hranstinski, 2008).

Synchronous activities contribute to building of social presence, one of the three dimensions of the Community of Inquiry (CoI) framework, a  frequently referenced model that describes the conditions for optimal online learning experience (Garrison, Anderson, & Archer, 2000). When the three dimensions are present, teacher presence, social presence and cognitive presence, the student can experience deep and meaningful learning. Purposefully developed synchronous [and asynchronous] activities can contribute to building social and teaching presence as supported by the research cited here.

2) Group Size: The purpose of a group activity as determined by the course design process, will determine the appropriate group size as well as the best tool or platform to support it.

It is worth noting here that multi-point videoconferencing is most effective with small groups of students (20 to 25 across 3 or 4 sites) as stated by Mason, (1994) cited in Burke, London and Daunt (1997)…” (Andrews & Klease, 2002)

Video and hangout platforms each have a limit to the number of individuals participating at once, as do chat platforms, which again reinforces why the instructional strategy created in the course design process is critical. The meetings.io platform for instance allows up to five people per hangout, ideal for a small group discussion, while Google Hangout accommodates up to ten, which may be applicable for a meet-and-greet type session held at the beginning of a course.

Chat platforms, for example whatsapp, might be used effectively for group discussions, i.e. one question related to a course topic, where students contribute initial thoughts and exchange ideas, followed by an asynchronous forum discussion continuing the conversation.

3) Differences in Time Zones: One of the drawbacks of synchronous tools often cited is students living in different time zones, however in closed online courses for credit, this is not as much of an issue as massive courses that cater to a world-wide audience (though even in these instances, there are ways to accommodate learners in different time zones). In my personal experience with synchronous activities in closed, online classes, most students are willing to adjust their schedule to participate in synchronous activities, more so when activities have a clear purpose and appear worthy of students time.

“Students were willing to deal with the problems of time difference in order to take advantage of this opportunity, which, on this occasion, resulted in very early classes. Additionally, they liked the experience of interacting with a wider peer group and of learning from each other’s different knowledge-base and backgrounds.” (Andrews & Klease, 2002)

4 ) Instructor and Student Familiarity with Tool: As with any technology used in online education, familiarity with the technology is essential to establish the foundation for a successful learning outcome. The institution is responsible for providing professional development for faculty and instructors, and working with course designers/instructors to build-in course time for student practice with the tool, and make available resources that support students (and faculty) with the technological issues.

Resources:

References

Essential Resources for Educators of Online and Blended Courses

back-to-school_imageIt’s that time of year when educators seek fresh ideas and strategies to create meaningful learning experiences for their students. I too have plans for the upcoming school-year; one of my goals is to create a robust selection of useful resources accessible here on Online Learning Insights. This resource bank will be a list of links by topic targeted to professors, instructors and instructional designers looking for ideas, inspiration and/or skill development specific to online or blended learning and instruction. The resources are carefully selected; I’ve included only those that I refer to consistently, are of high-quality and support knowledge and skill development.

This post [part I] is the beginning of the resource section—it will grow over time. If you have ideas for additional topics, or would like to suggest a resource, please do so by adding a comment to this post.

I. Skills for Teaching Online [Introductory]

Though there are a plethora of available resources specific to skill development for teaching online, I’ve chosen resources to share here that are targeted to educators that are in the developmental phase of teaching blended or online courses.

1. Shifting from a face-to-face setting to an online classroom requires not only a different skill set, by a different mindset. Georgian College’s Center for Teaching and Learning site includes excellent information on online and blended teaching skills for the novice instructor including this article—Key Shifts in Thinking for Online Learning. It’s a good starting point for instructors moving from face-to-face to the online classroom.

2. The most comprehensive resource for teaching online [in my opinion] is the COFA series, Learning to Teach Online produced with University of New South Wales (UNSW).  The program features a series of videos [maximum of six minutes each] available on Youtube. The primary objective of the program is for viewers to gain an understanding of successful online teaching pedagogies. One of the twenty-five videos in the series is  Planning your Online Class which explores the key elements educators need to consider when planning an online or blended class.

3. Teaching presence in the online environment occurs when students feel that the instructor is ‘there’. Though online presence sounds vague, it’s instrumental in supporting meaningful learning. This slideshare Understanding Teaching Presence Online provides an overview of how to establish presence and outlines why it’s essential.

4. Thanks to University of Minnesota State Colleges for this excellent mini-course on how to teach online, Getting Started Online, Advantages, Disadvantages and How to Begin. Open to anyone—this resource is applicable to novice and experienced educators.

II.  Using Rubrics for Effective Instruction and Course Design

1. Chico University created this site for instructors and designers of online courses with the concept of the Rubric for Online Instruction (ROI).  It includes excellent tools for educators wanting to evaluate their own online courses and can be used for course redesign. Though it is geared to faculty teaching within a higher education setting, it can be adapted to other environments.

The Rubric for Online Instruction (ROI) is a tool that can be used to create or evaluate the design of a fully online or blended course.  The rubric is designed to answer the question, “What does high-quality online instruction look like?” http://www.csuchico.edu/roi/the_rubric.shtml

2.  University of West Georgia created a webpage specific to rubrics and included resources about online instruction for faculty including the Five Star Rubric for Online Instruction.

3. This slideshare presentation, Rubrics for College – The Easy Steps Way,  provides a good overview of rubrics that instructors can create for students—tools that provide clarity and guidelines for student assignments and assessments. The presentation covers the why, and the how of rubric implementation applicable to face-to-face and online environments.  More resources specific to student rubrics to follow.

III. Blended Learning and Teaching [Introductory]

Blended Learning Panel @richardgorrie et al [v...
Blended Learning (Photo credit: giulia.forsythe)
Blended learning has several definitions, though overall the idea is that a portion of the face-to-face class time is augmented or replaced by online instruction. In most cases it involves reduced class time, but not always. Results from numerous studies show an increase in student performance with the blended format, more so when the curriculum is adapted and modified to maximize each instructional method.

1. The Clayton Christen Institute gives an overview of the blended model for K-12 and higher education on its site in a section dedicated to defining Blended Learning. The pages include links to several research reports on Blended Learning specific to K-12.

2. This resource, the mother-of-all resources on blended learning from EDUCAUSE, is a comprehensive tool that provides links to numerous research reports on blended learning outcomes as well as how-to tools for educators wanting to implement their own blended learning programs.  The Blended Learning Toolkit: Improving Student Performance and Retention also includes the Blended Learning Toolkit, a how-to resource provided by the University of Central Florida, is an open educational resource licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike license.

3.  Georgian College is one of several higher education institutions implementing the blended model. The schools’ site provides an overview of the pedagogy associated with blended learning, and compares it to online and face-to-face instruction – Blended Online/Face-to-face Courses.  Purdue University, another school recently implementing  blended courses across campus, has a web page designed for its faculty, though it still offers helpful insights for educators of any institution.

Closing
I’ve only just started sharing the many resources that I’ve collected, and in my next post, I’ll share resources on fostering discussion in online environments, learning theory—exploring how people learn, and finally, the pedagogy of MOOCs.

The second post featuring resources for online instructors is available here.

How to Apply a Team Based Approach to Online Course Design

As part of a series on instructional design, this post describes how teams can effectively and efficiently develop online courses.

HiResAdopting a team approach to course design particularly for online courses is becoming a prerequisite at education institutions. As courses become massive, blended or online as part of an institution’s online strategy, there is a need to expedite and standardize the process of course design. In the midst of researching for this instructional design blog post series, I realized most descriptions of the process of course design don’t address the multiple roles and expertise needed for the online delivery format. In this post I’ll focus on a paper, Colorado State University-Global Campus [Puzziferro & Shelton, 2008] which provides an excellent strategy for a collective course design approach applicable to higher education. There is another report I highly recommend for readers interested in a team design approach—MOOCs of Edinburgh 2013 Report #1. This summary is collectively written by the professors of University of Edinburgh that developed six MOOCs for Coursera.

There is a significant literature that supports the idea of team-based online course production that predates the explosion of massive open online courses. Additional reports on course design strategies have surfaced as MOOCs become more mainstream. It appears that MOOCs because of the scale, inherently require not only a team-based approach to course development, but to the instructional aspect of the course once it is launched.  Yet a team approach to curriculum design for K-12 and higher education may be met with resistance by some educators. This approach is representative of the paradigm shift in education—a focus that shifts to learner-centered model. Not only does the instructor have to adapt instructional practices, but course creation practices as well. Fortunately there are numerous reports and papers that outline strategies and frameworks for educators to consider.

Team Challenges
A collective approach to instructional design can be most challenging. As mentioned, there may be resistance in education environments where teachers and/or faculty have traditionally had exclusive control of their curriculum and instructional materials in their face-to-face classrooms. This is understandable. But when transitioning or developing a course for the online format, this lone-ranger approach is not feasible. A highly functioning team can produce quality, rigorous courses that are effective for supporting learners in reaching learning objectives.

Team Roles
The roles for the project will depend upon its scope though common roles include, course developer or instructional designer, media coordinator, course platform technicians, copyright librarian, just to name a few. The article by Puzziferro & Shelton includes a chart of roles and responsibilities (p 127), though there are additional roles given the advancements in technology and course offerings that have transpired since the publication of the article.

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Image of the Active Mastery Learning Model implemented at CSU-Global Campus. Details found in paper by Puzziferro & Shelton

Team Design @ Colorado State University-Global Campus
A model for developing high-quality online courses describes the team-based process implemented at CSU-Global Campus in 2008 just prior to the launch of the school’s online campus.  The paper describes an instructional learning model used called Active Mastery Learning, and though I haven’t used this model, it’s worthy of review.  What is more instructive in this paper are the strategies and advice given for collective instructional design. Section IV, The Course Development Process: Defining Team Roles, and section V. Organizing Workflow and Establishing Deadlines provides comprehensive guidelines and strategies for effective teamwork.

“One overarching goal of this course development model is to provide ample instructional design, media development, and other resources and support. As Oblinger and Hawkins [16] point out, online courses are no longer content-driven; rather they are complex, technologically mediated learning experiences that require high-level instructional design, multimedia expertise, and technology skills that few faculty possess.”   [Puzziferro & Shelton]

Highlights from article: “In our model, we recommend a single faculty member working with the instructional development support team to minimize the potential academic conflict, and recommend a stronger leadership role for the Instructional Technologist.
Listed below are several essential factors mentioned that contributed to successful team work at CSU-Global Campus. I’ve added a few factors based on personal experience with team course design:

  • A commitment [which may be significant] of institutional resources, time, and equipment
  • A common goal and vision of the completed project
  • A cohesive team culture
  • Strong support from the institutions’ leadership
  • Leadership designated with the project
  • Working with deadlines and due dates on key deliverables
  • High level of communication/project management
  • A project management  tool via a web 2.0 application is helpful i.e. a Google Doc spreadsheet, or a project management tool such as Basecamp.

Though I’ve just skimmed the surface on team course design, I’ve included several links to resources for readers that may want to delve deeper into this topic.  In my next instructional design post, I’ll begin tackling the practical application methods of course design. Please share here any other articles or insights you may have a team course design. Thanks.

Resources:

How Course Design Puts the Focus on Learning Not Teaching

This is the second post in a series of four on instructional design for online courses. The goal of this series is to introduce a fresh, innovative approach to course design.

1197947341_89d0ff8676Instructional design, also known as learning design, appears to be making a comeback, which is most fortunate given that I am writing a series on this very topic. Massive open online courses [MOOCs] that mimic the classroom model where the learner is passive and the instructor is not, highlights the need for fresh, new approach to course design. And it’s not just MOOCs that need help, but numerous courses currently offered online; many are in need an overhaul to create an environment focused on learning, rather than one that focuses on instruction. My aim here is to provide readers with a course design framework, information and tools for designing online courses. These tools and skills appear to be in demand by educators that are trying to adapt their courses and teaching methods to an online or blended format.  Some educators also find when entering into the MOOC world of instruction, they are in need of a different skill set from what is required for face-to-face teaching.

In the first post of this series, Why Online Courses [Really] Need Instructional Design I wrote about the dire need for instructional design: how it is needed to guide the process of learning for students, and guide the teaching of the course as well. A courses’ structure is a reflection of the design teams’ [or designer] belief in how people learn. The teams’ learning perspective translates into the choices made for instructional tools, the delivery methods, application activities and assessment methods for the course. We can see this in traditional higher education, which for the most part ascribes to the cognitive theory of learning, a theory that rests on the assumptions that learning is an internal process; a function of the learners memory. It’s an instructor-focused paradigm, where the teacher describes concepts for the learner via instruction, and in some cases relies upon visual representations for reinforcement. (Roblyer & Doering, 2010). This model still is the primary model in colleges and universities—professors lecturing to a class of [passive] students. Even though considerable research proves that students learn better when active in the learning process [in keeping with the constructivist theory], the cognitive theory prevails. George Siemens, co-founder of the first MOOC noted in a recent blog post:

The current MOOC providers have adopted a regressive pedagogy: small-scale learning chunks reminiscent of the heady days of cognitivism and military training. Ah, the 1960′s. What a great time to be a learner.” gsiemens, March 10, 2013

Before I move on and provide further examples, I’ll review four learning orientations—beliefs in how people learn. I wrote about each theory in-depth in a previous post, A Tale of Two MOOCs: Divided by Pedagogy, though here I’ve put together an image that summarizes the core principles of each.

When examining the image [above], one can see how learning theories influence the methods of instruction for a course. This diagram is not meant to be an implementation tool for course design, but an information source. In subsequent posts of the series I’ll review how learning theory is incorporated into the design of a course during the initial phase, the analysis phase [following the analysis is the development phase and then implementation].

Image depicts four perspective on learning based upon theoretical principles [inside quadrants]. Instructional methods associated with each are adjacent to respective quadrant. Orange quadrants represent a student focused learning model and blue represents instructor focused.
Image shows four perspectives on learning based upon theoretical principles. Instructional methods associated with each, adjacent to respective quadrant. Orange quadrants represent a student-focused learning approach, blue instructor-focused.
In another article published recently, The Pedagogy of MOOCs, the author suggests that xMOOCs offered through platforms such as Udacity, are a step backward for education. Rather than leveraging the technology and the thousands of students to advance learning, where students become contributors to the course, the MOOC applies instructor-centered teaching and assumes the learner is passive – an empty vessel.

Closing Thoughts
The crux of my post, the point I would like to leave with readers, is that a fresh, new perspective is needed for teaching and course design—course design is about creating environments to help students learn. As new courses are developed or transformed from face-to-face to an online format, the focus should not be on the technology, the platform, the video lectures, the forums, the instructor, but on the students —what methods will facilitate their learning? How will they learn? Stay tuned for my next post in this series.

Resources: