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Staying Sane While Creating Online or Hybrid Courses by Committee

By A. Sasha Thackaberry / May 2011

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Staying Sane While Creating Online or Hybrid Courses by Committee

May 26, 2011

If you ask someone how to best design and develop a course by committee, any rational individual will respond, "Find a committee of one." Yet in the design and creation of a developmental Math Sample Course at Cuyahoga Community College in Ohio (Tri-C), the committee structure worked effectively to create a flexible hybrid course to meet the needs of both students and faculty. Following the completion of the pilot course, Don Gabriel, one of our faculty leaders on the project, said, "From a challenging beginning, it became a fun and engaging process that resulted in a course I am now happy to teach."

The Sample Course Committee is one committee of eight, which make up a major Title III grant designed to improve student support structures and services in online and hybrid courses. The Math Sample Course would be a stand-alone hybrid course, complete with instruction, materials, activities and assessments that would be provided to any faculty member teaching that course. The faculty member could customize the course in any way to suit their instructional preferences.

The process partnered the Office of eLearning and Innovation with the Sample Course Committee and faculty members. The lessons learned are offered here in conjunction with anecdotes regarding our success at Tri-C, and how to best survive—and thrive—in a committee-driven course creation process.

Start with realistic expectations, and communicate them to the team.

Then, communicate them to the team a second time. Continue to communicate the limited goal of your project at every opportunity. When you continue to reinforce the scope of the project, the members of the team can focus on what they need to do, task by task, to get the project done.

Once the team was assembled, the initial challenge was to clearly convey a consistent message: the purpose of this course was not to remake publisher resources. Faculty expressed concerns they would need to make digital materials with the complexity and savvy of major textbook publishers. Often these are Flash-based learning objects, and activities that can radomize values in math equations. These resources also typically include complex test banks that can generate online and face-to-face assessments with ease.

We did not have the resources to create learning objects of that sophistication, nor would recreating the wheel in that sense have been a good use of our efforts. Once the scope—and limitations—of the project were accepted as part of the overall plan, the stage was set for a beginning with real potential.

Let the talent lead.

Who is the talent in your team? The subject matter expert could be your talent, or the developers, or even the instructional designer. Letting the talent lead does not mean the talent does the project planning. In most cases, the talent will not be—nor should be—the project manager. The project manager should provide the structure so that the talent can do what they do best.

In the creation of the Math Sample Course at Tri-C, our talent was clearly our faculty, who were serving as subject matter experts and building individual learning objects. They were essential instructional leaders in every step in the process. Working together with the instructional designer (myself), we determined which objectives were best met in a face-to-face environment, and which were best served online. After determining the objectives, I looked at the project from a backwards design perspective—a concept in alignment with quality management principles.

We determined how to best measure the student's achievement of those objectives. Then, having chosen assessments, we chose a series of technologies to use consistently for resources and activities throughout the course. We used instructional videos made with Jing, a screenrecording software from Techsmith; Softchalk Lesson Builder to create lessons with student interaction and practice; PowerPoint presentations for reinforcement and remediation; four rich interactive Flash objects; and Word formatted worksheets for test practice. The objectives were correlated with the technology that would best serve their delivery and practice. Each member of the faculty-building team then took one technology to specialize in, and created the learning objects associated with that technology triangulated with their objectives.

We also had support internally from our course production specialist, Danielle Budzick, who built the course shell and inputted the learning objects with contextual directions. Cindy Potteiger, one of Tri-C's instructional technologists, assisted with the technical elements of the instructional videos. In this way, we were able to support the efforts of our faculty, and get to the finish line.

Assign tasks to team members in a mutually dependent way.

When team members have sequential tasks, they tend to complete their assignments on time, knowing that their colleagues are depending upon them. This also helps with workload distribution. When each team member completes one task, their next task is about to begin. The spiraling keeps the committee work focused, has an owner for each task, and has built-in accountability.

Though unintentional in the development of the Math Sample Course, the project plan created this happy accident. All members of the team were highly motivated to complete their tasks on time—not exclusively driven by the interdependence, but incentivized by it. The project plan had each section's assessment created first, then the worksheet to practice for the assessment, and finally the instructional videos, the SoftChalk lessons, and the Flash objects for content delivery and practice. This spiral practice was repeated for each section in the course.

Believe you can do it. Enthusiasm is infectious.

Conveying a sense of confidence about the project in design and development will allow the entire team to visualize success. If the players believe the foregone conclusion of a future victory, that victory will be in hand. The challenges for the Math Sample Course were significant: the timeline was crunched because of delays experienced prior to the team's formation, the charge was intimidating, and the participants were adding this project to their already significant workloads. While I would not recommend actually creating a cheer for the first meeting, having a "can do" attitude—within reason, over a period of time—can positively impact the entire project. After the first month, we starting talking about getting together for a wrap party, which demonstrated how the committee became a team working towards a common goal and (this is the kicker), enjoying it.

We had that wrap party in conjunction with a fundraiser for the Race for the Cure. And our faculty— Don Gabriel, Jennifer Garnes, Amanda Hanley, Jennifer Kucera, and Susan Nagorney—won the 2011 Faculty Innovator Award from the State of Ohio Board of Regents, which is a statewide award of significant prestige. Of the process, Amanda Hanley said it ". . . became a very positive experience that resulted in both a great course for students and recognition for our efforts as faculty."

Designing and developing a course by committee can be a daunting proposition. But approaching it with these simple recommendations can be the key difference between failure and success. Bet on success. With the right tools, you can do it too!

More Information

Office of eLearning and Innovation
Office of eLearning and Innovation Blog
Title III Blog for Tri-C
A. Sasha Thackaberry's Page

About the Author

A. Sasha Thackaberry is the Senior Instructional Designer for eLearning and Innovation at Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland, OH. She works closely with faculty and grant committees to design online and hybrid courses that are student-centric and incorporate sound design principles according to the Quality Matters process. She is the recipient of the 2010 Innovation of the Year award from the League for Innovation for a course template designed to provide faculty with instructionally sound courses in Blackboard pre-populated with standard college-wide and technology-based content. With a background in education, development, and the arts, she approaches problems by looking for creative solutions to increase student success. Contact Thackaberry at [email protected].


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