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The Transition from Solo-to-Team Course Design
January 5, 2011 - 11:00pm

One of the most important, but least remarked upon, higher ed trends over the past 10 years has been the transition from an individual (instructor) course design methodology to one that involves a team. This transition is being driven by the growth of online and hybrid courses and programs, as well as systematic course re-design efforts such as those advocated and supported by the National Center for Academic Transformation.

When I first started teaching full-time (as a visiting professor at WVU in the sociology department in 1997), the university supplied me with a room, the department provided past copies of old syllabi, and from there on out I was on my own. It was up to me to design, deliver, and evaluate the course.

Nowadays I'm involved in developing 15 courses for a new hybrid program, a process that requires the inputs and coordination of an entire team of subject matter, learning design, technology, and media experts. A core team of learning designers and senior curriculum specialists collaborates closely with faculty members on the course design, curriculum development, and the creation of active learning exercises.

Our core course design team spends significant time interfacing and seeking advice from colleagues in the Library, the Educational Technologies group, and our Center for the Advancement of Learning. Creating and supporting the technical infrastructure for the program requires the contributions of a range of talented technical professionals through the Institution, from system administrators to developers to media specialists.

In developing the template that will serve for all of our courses we reached out to Dr. Deborah Everhart, Chief Architect at Blackboard, for advice on guidance on best-practices and course design. Dr. Everhart and her team of product designers, quality assurance managers, and usability specialists provided in-depth and detailed feedback during web conferences and in writing.

While it is undeniably true that at team approach to course design requires a great commitment of resources than the traditional solo-instructor methodology, I firmly believe that the transition to a team approach will prove to be the most important (and positive) trend in higher ed over the next two decades. Here's why:

A) Greater Quality: Having lived through the transition from the solo-to-team approach for course design in my professional life, I can attest that the quality of the courses (that at least I've been involved in) has dramatically improved. Courses are complicated productions, and having the benefits of a range of skilled educators and professionals all contributing to the course can only result in an improved design. In grad school I didn't learn anything about how people learn, or how to teach effectively, I learned how to create new knowledge in my discipline. Today, I'm very happy I can combine the skills of passionate educators and teachers with people trained in learning design and instructional technology, not to mention library science, media and technology.

B) Greater Transparency and Opportunities for Replication and Diffusion: The beauty of courses designed in an LMS is that they can be seen. At this point, the unfortunate norm is that these courses are not viewable across institutions. With a few notable exceptions, we do not enjoy opportunities to learn from best practices in course design from other schools and educators. But I think that this is going to change. Efforts like the Next Generation Learning Challenge represent one possible route for the sharing of best practices in course design and delivery across institutions. The pay-off should be lower costs and higher quality, as the best courses are adopted by a wider number of IHE's. We will start to see a cultural shift in which colleges and universities seek to incorporate the best designs and materials from peer institutions, and in return earn status and respect (not to mention supporting they're larger educational missions) by sharing course designs. This is an area that I very much hope the for-profit education providers will actively participate and contribute.

Are you working on a course design team?


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