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.