Course Development and MOOCs -- III

The Future of a Role (The Long Process)

January 14, 2015

In my first post I examined the role of course developers and the skills they bring to the creation of MOOCs. In a second, I wrote about the contrast between instructional designers, course developers, and faculty members, isolating inherent differences and their ramifications for teaching and learning. Here, I hope to describe the MOOC development process wholistically from the perspective of a course developer. What efforts go into the creation of MOOCs? What steps do course developers take to get MOOCs online?

To answer such questions, I conducted interviews of individuals in course development roles at four different higher education institutions. These eight individuals sat down with me for semi-structured interviews to explore their roles, responsibilities, and qualifications. Each worked for higher education institutions that are members of the edX Consortia.

The development of a MOOC for the edX platform, from the perspective of a course developer,  generally takes the following arc:

  • Proposal: The university call for proposals, asking faculty to propose a course, whether residential or newly created from their research, to be made into a MOOC. With the help of course developers, these proposals are reviewed, and courses are selected. The reasoning behind this selection varies significantly by institution, but usually encompasses either wider popular relevance, the uniqueness of the offering (a faculty member with famous research might be a great choice here), or a course that would be especially effective if delivered online.
  • Development: After proposals are selected, it is time to build the course, the the most labor-intensive step for course developers. Course developers meet regularly with faculty to outline a syllabus for the course, determine the format with which course content will be displayed online, plan, shoot, and produce video content for the course, acquire publishing rights for course readings and software, plan student activities, and work with web developers (both in their own institution and at edX) to ensure the transition of their content to the online format.
  • Production: The course is now live online, with content from week-to-week released as the course progresses. Often, content is ready for dispersal only the week before it goes to production, meaning that in a six week course, week 5 may only be ready around week 4 of the live course. Production responsibilities also mean that course developers are responsible for any issues that arise with content once the course is live online.
  • Evaluation and Iteration: After the course goes live, course developers work with both their peers, institutional researchers, and the faculty member to determine the effectiveness of the course through evaluation of student learning outcomes. Following this process, many work with faculty to use assessment data to inform a second iteration of the course the following year.

Such steps may often overlap, and thus require flexibility from the course developer and the institutional actors involved to push the course to production with constraints on time, resources, knowledge, and technology: these are not discrete steps but larger complex processes that together lead to the creation and dispersal of a MOOC or online courseware.

In previous posts I have largely considered teaching and learning, but it is also important to remember that course developers not only communicate with faculty members and other academic technologists, but also with web developers and engineers whose greater technology expertise also aids in the creation of MOOCs: all course developers spoke to the importance of such skills in the development of MOOCs.

As the demand for online courses increases, course developers will be increasingly relied upon to facilitate course production and dispersal: as central actors in this transition, some institutions will necessitate knowledge in web development to compensate for the expense of hiring an additional web developer.

This will necessitate greater skills from course developers in web and platform development: the best course developers will be those with a deep and inclusive understanding of instruction, academic technology, and web-based development.

In light of this, we should also consider another emerging necessity: that faculty themselves have greater knowledge of instructional technology.

Course developers regularly relayed that faculty involved in creating MOOCs began to drive the use of technology in their residential classes, creating small private online courses, and flipped or blended models with their new expertise.

This procurement of skill, in turn, served to make learning and teaching in 21st-century higher education accessible to a wide range of student interests, needs, and learning preferences.

This institutional trend indicates that the future may necessitate faculty with skills more like course developers (see my first post for a list), as students in higher education demand an education that engages them and builds their learning, often through technology-based models.

Ellen Brandenberger is a Master of Education Candidate at the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Technology, Innovation, and Education program. Ellen’s work examines the intersection between learning, design, technology, and access.She conducted the project as a capstone for Justin Reich’s course Massive: the Future of Learning at Scale at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education. In addition to her studies, Ellen works as a research assistant at Harvard University.


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