Developing Courses for On-line Delivery
One Strategy

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Developing college courses for delivery on the Internet can seem a daunting task. At some institutions, faculty are on their own, which often translates into only "technically-savvy" faculty participating [which often means that only "technologically savvy" faculty can participate] in the growing trend towards on-line course delivery. The benefit of such an approach, however [on the other hand], is the level of faculty control over their [delete] course materials. A technically-savvy [technologically savvy] faculty member can not only create on-line materials, [delete comma] but s/he can [delete] design the course exactly [remove italics] as s/he sees fit. At the other end of the spectrum, we see commercial course development "shops" where teams of programmers, instructional designers, graphic artists, and the like work at record-breaking speed to produce on-line course materials, using content from contracted "content experts." While the rapid turnaround of these commercially-produced courses is enviable, such an approach typically meets with outcries from not only [delete] the instructional design community,[delete comma] but also [and] higher education faculty. Both groups fear that "mill-produced" ["factory-produced"] courses are often nothing [little] more than the equivalent of an electronic page turner with an exam at the end, lacking any [delete] meaningful learning activities and interactions within a learning community.

So what happens in the middle? Penn State's newest campus, the World Campus, utilizes [uses] an approach to on-line course development that falls somewhere in between. ( [delete parenthesis] The World Campus is a virtual university that uses [employs] information technology to deliver top-quality, Penn State-signature academic programs to adult learners at home and in their offices [delete] worldwide.) [delete parenthesis] Here the course development process is a team effort, utilizing [using]the strengths and resources of Penn State faculty, instructional designers, technology specialists, graphic artists, instructional materials designers, and production specialists [instructional and instructional materials designers, technology and production specialists, and graphic designers]. While the process of developing a course in a team environment is likely to be foreign to most university faculty, most [at Penn State] are quite pleased with the results. The faculty [there] member is [are] able to concentrate on the [delete]course content and the design of the [delete] learning activities and assessment, while being able to [but can] call on the other members of the development team for areas outside of his/her [their] expertise.

World Campus "cohort courses" ([delete parenthesis, insert<—>] courses that will be [delete]delivered in a semester format, with groups of students taking the courses [use singular "course"] together)[delete parenthesis, insert<—>] are typically developed in a two-semester time frame. Since courses are developed by teams of individuals as described above [delete], it is important to clearly [delete] delineate individual roles and responsibilities, as well as target dates assigned to [for] each task in the development process, in order to ensure that development runs smoothly and that key administrative units, such as World Campus Student Services, have the information they need in order to serve World Campus students [this is unclear, please expand].

In this paper we will review the general process that the World Campus's Instructional Design and Development unit uses to develop World Campus [delete] cohort courses. It should be noted that course development is only one piece of the puzzle. To get a course ready for on-line delivery, a much larger team of players [delete] is needed, including individuals [people] responsible for marketing, academic advising, registration, materials distribution, and program management.

An Overview of the Development Process

The first semester [insert "sub-title" in italics: The first semester. Then start paragraph: The first semester] is used to generate the raw content for the course. The majority of the effort expended during the first semester falls on the course author. During that time frame [delete], the course author works primarily with the lead instructional designer on the team [delete], meeting periodically to discuss the course and to review materials the author has drafted. (The course author is a Penn State faculty member who has been selected by his/her academic college/[or] department to serve as the content expert, bringing his/her [delete] experience with the subject matter and effective learning strategies to the project. The instructional designer provides expertise in the areas of [delete] course design and development, as well as in the fields of [and] adult and distance education. Instructional designers at the World Campus are required to have a minimum of [delete] a Master's degree in a related field of study, as well as prior work experience.)

At first, those [these] meetings are used to orient the course author to the World Campus and the World Campus [its] course development process. The instructional designer begins by trying to learn as much as possible about the course in question [is also oriented to the course by studying the syllabus and any other relevant materials, such as handouts or Website URLs]. If the course has been taught before on campus, the author is asked to share a copy of the syllabus for the course, as well as any other relevant materials (such as handouts or even URLs for Web sites used for the campus-based offering). [delete] The author(s) and instructional designer then lay out a general instructional design strategy for the course (e.g., [delete, insert<—>] the scope and sequence of course content, learning activities, learning assessments, etc.) [delete, insert<—>] and begin to discuss how the traditional campus-based course might be adapted for delivery through the World Campus. This begins an ongoing dialogue regarding [on] how to "transform" the traditional face-to-face course into an effective, high-quality distance-education offering.

When needed and [delete] appropriate, time is spent early in the process helping [delete]course authors gain [, with the help of instructional designers, spend time gaining] the technical skills and pedagogical strategies that they may find useful while developing [necessary to develop] a distance-education learning environment. In addition to one-on-one and group training, course authors are given access to an on-line World Campus faculty development resource, called "Fac Dev 101," that is designed to introduce World Campus faculty to issues involved in authoring and teaching a course in a distance education environment. In addition, World Campus course authors are given access to a collection of examples, templates, and other resources that are referred to and utilized over and over again [for use] during course design and development.

Shortly after the first meeting, the instructional designer initiates the generation of [delete] an intellectual property agreement which [that] will be signed by the course author(s). The agreement... [delete]

The lead instructional designer also works with the author to draft a course development schedule that outlines specific milestones and "due dates" for each component of the course development process. That document serves as an informal "contract" [contract] among all members of the development team.

Once the author(s) and the instructional designer have met a few times to discuss the course, one of the first tasks for the author(s) is to generate a detailed course outline. The purpose of that document [the outline] is to convey to the instructional designer the author's initial [delete] thoughts as to [on]the general plan for the course (thereby making sure everyone is "on the same page"). The outline addresses questions such as "What will be covered in this course?" [what will be covered in the course,]and "How do you envision the course being delivered?" [the author's vision of how the course will be delivered, and similar issues.] It also provides information about the [delete] course goals/ [and] objectives, course requirements, the overall course structure (i.e., [delete] lessons/ [and] topics), and a listing of general resources students will need for the course. The instructional designer then reviews the outline with the author and they work together to refine the document, if necessary [delete]. A final outline is then forwarded to the appropriate [delete] academic department head for approval.

Next, the author is asked to generate a set of sample course materials (e.g., [delete] sample lessons, sample exams/ [with] answer key, etc. [and the like]) as agreed upon with the instructional designer. The instructional designer then reviews these and drafts a prototype (e.g., [delete]Web pages, pdf documents, print materials, stand-alone CBI, etc.) to illustrate how the resulting World Campus course might be presented. The prototype is then shared with the author(s) so that a discussion can take place [delete] to determine what, if any, [whether] refinements to the initial instructional design model need to be made at that time [are necessary]. Once a model is agreed upon and refinements are made, the sample content is forwarded to the appropriate [delete]academic department head for approval.

With a detailed course outline and sample course materials in hand, the lead instructional designer then pulls together [arranges]a "Course Launch" meeting. This is an opportunity to bring all the members of the course development team together to review the project and to provide feedback and input on the proposed course design model [with all members of the course development team]. At the meeting, team members are introduced to the course author (highlighting each person's general roles/responsibilities on the project) and they [and] review and discuss [delete]a Course Design Document that the lead instructional designer has prepared (that document outlines the proposed instructional design model for the course), as well as an abbreviated development time line [an abbreviated development timeline and a Course Design Document prepared by the lead instructional designer. This document outlines the proposed instructional design model for the course.] The team also discusses design and development procedures (how materials will flow from one team member to the next). This initial team meeting is a key point in the development process, as the entire team influences the course design. Meetings can get quite lively as participants share ideas and brainstorm strategies.

For the remainder of the first semester, the author continues to generate the rest of the [generates] course content. The [delete] ongoing meetings during the first semester [delete]are used to touch base with the author, [delete] review progress, discuss any [delete] issues that arise, orcapture initial ideas for learning activities and assessments, etc [delete]. While these meetings take place between [These meetings generally involve only] the lead instructional designer and the course author(s), but other team members are often included, as well, [delete] depending on the complexity of the project.

By the end of the first semester, all of the core (draft) [delete] course content has (ideally) [delete] been generated by the course author(s), including "lectures," learning activities, learning [and]assessments, identification of a textbook and other required readings, and identification of any other [delete] supplemental resources (such as on-line resources).

The second semester [insert "sub-title" in italics: The second semester. then start paragraph: The second semester] of the development time frame [of course development] is used to develop the final form of the course materials and to design and integrate learning activities and assessment strategies into the course. This includes the development of the course Welcome Page site, a publicly accessible informational site for the course. The Welcome Page site includes an on-line syllabus, a course checklist outlining the materials and technology needed by students, information about the nature of the learning environment used in the course, and section-specific information such as a detailed course schedule of activities and assignments. Much of the site is based on a standard World Campus template (see exhibit 1).

The majority of the effort expended during the second semester falls on the instructional designer and other members of the development team. In some cases, however, individual authors may desire to [delete] take on a portion of the actual technical development, based on personal interests and skill sets [delete]. As the instructional designer works through the draft content and puts it into its final form, s/he incorporates comments, questions, and suggestions pertaining to issues such as course content, learning activities, and assessment strategies. "Marked up" course materials are then given back to the course author for review and revision. This is typically an iterative process, with team members exchanging materials and revisions multiple times as items are finalized.

Real vs. Ideal

The process described above represents "the ideal." The process does [In reality, things do] not always go as smoothly as one would like. The most difficult, and important, lesson to be learned is that the process is prone to a "domino effect." If [domino effect: if] one key point in the development process fails (e.g., a deadline is missed), subsequent steps in the process will likewise be adversely affected. For individuals who are not used to working in a team environment, that lesson can be painful to learn.

So what is the key to success? While many factors contribute to the success (or failure) of a project, a team development process requires excellent communication among team members to ensure that things run smoothly. How that communication takes place will vary from team to team, based on the preferences of the group. The key is not how the communications take [communication takes] place, but rather that it does take place. Take, for example, a scenario where the course author and instructional designer decide to require students to use a "nonstandard" piece of commercial software in a course. If that information [this decision] is not shared, and [delete] discussed,[no comma] with World Campus Technical Support in advance of the course opening, that group wouldn't have [there will not be] adequate time to get up to speed on [for Technical Support to learn] the software in order to effectively support the students [support the students effectively].

At the World Campus we have found that the majority of course development pitfalls can be avoided if everyone on the team is aware of what is going on. That communication extends beyond the core development team, extending [delete comma and next word] to a broader group of individuals [people] who support the course during its delivery. For each course the World Campus offers, an "Implementation Meeting" [Implementation Meeting] is held prior to the course being [before the course is] opened for registration. That meeting includes key staff from World Campus Student Services (including Technical Support), who will be responsible for advising, registering, and supporting students during course delivery. It is a final opportunity to make sure everything is in order and that everyone present is well-informed about the new offering.

The process for developing on-line courses will undoubtedly vary from one institution to the next, due to variability in staffing, resources, and time-- [<—>] and things won't always worked [work] out as planned. But having a strategy in place helps guard against "reinventing the wheel" and helps ensure a more smooth [smoother]development process. And [delete] in an environment that is changing as rapidly as distance education is [delete], having a "standard" [standard]course development strategy in place is useful in training an ever-growing staff![use period.]

[In my opinion, the author has done an excellent job incorporating the comments of various critics. This is a clear and highly readable article. One aspect I might still urge the author to consider including would be some of the questions by Critic N, who wrote:

"How many courses are in the two stages of development at this time?
"How many have been put into production?
"How have enrollments progressed?
"Any feedback on course quality?
"How often is course material updated?
"Do faculty assume more responsibility for maintaining course materials once published?"]