Blending For-Profit and Non-Profit Course Development Models. Beth Rubin, Ph.D. Director, SNL Online DePaul University.

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1 Blending For-Profit and Non-Profit Course Development Models Beth Rubin, Ph.D. Director, SNL Online DePaul University Introduction Most for-profit online learning providers use a standardized course development process, where courses are produced to tight specifications by an Instructional Designer and subject matter expert using strict templates, with little room for design or instructor autonomy. This creates a high degree of consistency and ensures that key elements of course design are present, at the cost of some creativity and variety. Most non-profit universities use an individualized process of developing courses, where the course author is the teacher who has complete control over the content and design, and no two courses are alike. This supports creativity and diversity, but also leads to variability in quality and a more difficult transition for students as they move from course to course. DePaul University s SNL Online has blended both approaches to get the best from both worlds. The For-Profit Model of Course Design and Instruction The largest providers of online postsecondary education are for-profit universities, such as the University of Phoenix, the various schools owned by Career Educational Corporation such as Colorado Technical University and DeVry University, among others. These regionally accredited universities have large-scale online operations. They separate out the development of courses from their instruction, following standard practices in the training industry to use economies of scale to provide quality control and allow many instructors to teach each course. These schools create many courses each term using a standardized procedure. Online courses are created by professional instructional designers, with input from Subject Matter Experts who are typically adjunct faculty. In some cases, such as DeVry, the courses follow a curriculum guide developed by a Ph.D. or similarly qualified academic expert, which lays out learning outcomes, learning resources, and recommended activities and assessments. Instructional designers use specific templates and tools to develop the online courses, which have consistent course elements such as syllabi, readings, assignments and discussions. The course materials are owned by the institution, with faculty developing courses under work for hire contracts; the course materials are owned by the schools. The standardized process is based on a carefully designed course structure that maximizes usability for students. It ensures that all learning outcomes have resources, learning activities and assessments. It provides for economies of scale, so that multimedia designers can develop visual and interactive material that is consistently used to support learning, regardless of who is teaching the course. Exams and other assessments can be iterated to improve their reliability and validity. In some cases, the standards even stipulate the percentage of final exam questions at higher and lower levels of Bloom s hierarchy (Bloom, 1956) to support higher order learning. The courses are then taught by other faculty, who are unable to modify most of the content, assignments or assessments. Typically, they can customize or change discussions but little else. The approach generally leads to a consistent learning experience based on clear, easily understandable directions, all necessary information readily available, and easy student transition from course to course. Students do not waste time figuring out what they need to do and when to do it; all information is clearly delineated using the same language, and posted in the same place. Copyright 2009 Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System 1

2 However, this approach has many disadvantages. These include excessive consistency cookie-cutter courses that have the same kinds of activities and assessments, which stifle creativity and limit application. The technology is nearly always the same from course to course, because a premium is placed on students comfort and maximizing the likelihood of success. Because of the standardized assessment formats and technology, courses tend toward multiple choice and other closed-ended tests rather than more authentic assessment such as designing a project in a wiki, or staging debates or role plays (Mueller, 2006; Rubin, 2009). In addition, because course content is frozen, the content may be out of date unless regular attention is paid to updating course materials. For online universities that employ very large numbers of modestly paid and modestly trained instructors, the courses are often designed to ensure consistent grading. Although rubrics may be used for open-ended analyses, they are difficult to use consistently; therefore such courses may focus on lower-order cognitive skills, and therefore do not support growth in critical thinking or writing skills. In this kind of a system, the faculty role can be reduced to that of grader, and the work itself can become boring because the simple instruction and assessment are repeated over many short (5 or 6 week) terms. Feedback must be given quickly to every student, so it is often minimal: a line or two of description which does not provide the detail needed for the development of complex skills. The separation of course design from course instruction means that fewer faculty develop courses than teach, and they follow templates guided by an Instructional Designer. They therefore need little training in online course design. Instead, most of the faculty must be trained in online teaching pedagogy, such as supporting interaction among students to create social, cognitive and instructor presence (Andersen, 2008). Faculty must also be trained in the content and details of the course they will teach, to ensure consistency between the course materials and the student feedback; if the course teaches one approach and the faculty requires that students follow another, failure and dissatisfaction are likely. The Non-Profit Model of Course Design and Instruction In most non-profit universities, a different model of course design is used: online courses are developed and taught by the faculty who teach them, just as traditional face-to-face classes are taught. Both tenuretrack and adjunct faculty teach online. It must be noted that some traditional, non-profit universities, such as Benedictine University, use a more structured process with subject matter experts working with instructional designers under a work-for-hire contract, akin to the for-profit model. Some even outsource course development and the technological infrastructure to third party vendors. However, most traditional, non-profit universities have adopted the faculty-centric model which mimics the face-to-face teaching process; virtually none of the for-profits follow this model. Sometimes the faculty developing courses in traditional non-profit universities have training or support from an Instructional Designer, but sometimes not. Each course is unique, designed and owned by the faculty, and may never be taught again. This individualized approach leads to varied courses that reflect the motivation of the faculty. There may be a great deal of creativity in the learning activities, as well as use of third-party tools such as wikis, blogs, Twitter, online videos (e.g., YouTube), podcasts, virtual reality spaces such as Second Life, photo sharing websites, web-based voice and image recorders such as Voice Tools, and other Web 2.0 technologies. Assessment can be varied, including tests, analytical essays, case studies, and a wide range of authentic applications, from business plans to websites. Developing and teaching these kinds of classes is intrinsically rewarding, because faculty develop their skills and exercise the degree of autonomy that is traditional in academia. Every faculty creates her or his own course materials, and therefore knows them intimately. It is easy for faculty to update their readings, Copyright 2009 Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System 2

3 add related news items, and fix broken links. Students generally perceive the faculty member s engagement, and the experience can be very deep and rich. There are many limitations of this approach, however. Because faculty have different levels of skill and spend different amounts of time on developing materials, this approach also leads to variability in course clarity. Without the use of an editor or reviewer, courses are more likely to have grammatical and punctuation errors, or an overly academic writing style. As noted earlier, parts of a course may be updated every time it is taught; while this can allow a course to be current, it can cause inconsistency across sections of a course such that students see one set of directions in one place, and another set of directions in another place. Key course elements may not be present or may change during delivery. Faculty who are new to online often underestimate the time needed to develop a course, and build it on the fly while teaching. Books and readings change, or are not available; when this takes faculty by surprise, the course materials are not consistent with the readings. These cause student confusion and frustration. If faculty have problems using instructional technology such as setting up groups, it limits course design. Most faculty do not have the skill or time to develop multimedia assets to enhance learning, and do not know basic principles of media usage (Clark & Lyons, 2004). They are likely to use graphics in ways that impede learning, such as employing a wide variety of fonts, sizes and colors in their text, or inserting animated.gifs (e.g., winking smiley faces) that are not related to the subject. While these approaches attract attention, they can distract from the content and may cause confusion; for example, faculty who underline and change the color of something to draw attention to it can make students believe that it is a link, which causes concern when the link does not work (Krug, 2005). Without extensive training in online course design, many faculty use the same pedagogy that works in the classroom; however, a well-designed lecture can come across as a boring reading or video. Faculty may not realize the need for students to interact with the concepts and one another to create engagement. The pedagogy of the in-person classroom does not translate well to online. However, online course design and technology require weeks if not months to master. Faculty must be willing to dedicate the time, and universities must offer the training. Regular technical support is critical, as well as multimedia designers to help develop graphics and multimedia. While departments may issue guidelines to ensure that courses are developed in a timely way, department heads must monitor course development to ensure that online course materials are prepared in advance of the term start. This is problematic in many universities. The non-profit model aligns with the traditional concepts of academic freedom, where faculty design their courses without constraint. It reflects the traditional autonomy of tenure-track faculty, and can be successful in situations with low turnover, and a universal commitment to teaching and to the institution, so that the investment in training is returned by repeated development and instruction of online courses. The Blended Approach of SNL Online At DePaul s School for New Learning, the online unit developed a blend of these two methods. Course design is separated from instruction. Faculty work with Instructional Designers to develop courses, following a specific, multi-step process that uses pre-designed templates to develop the key course elements (course readings and resources, learning activities and assessments). All of these must be specified for each learning outcome before a course can be built. The main parts of the course and syllabus are standardized through templates. The language used to identify course elements, such as Faculty Bio, Schedule and Modules are fixed. The numbering system for assignments is also standardized to reflect the module (e.g., Assignment 3.1). The look and feel of the interface is set for all courses, with the same fonts, icons, buttons, color, header, and so on. Cascading Style Sheets are used to ensure consistency in appearance and structure of syllabi and online readings. Copyright 2009 Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System 3

4 Because of this standardization, students work with consistent course designs, and always know where to find key information and what they need to do. There is no question about what work will be graded and when work is due. Students can focus their attention on learning the content and the skills of the course, rather than learning to navigate, interpret different instructors naming convention, and interpolate what is assigned and when it is due. Despite the standardized process and tools, there is a great deal of flexibility in course design. While a course must be broken up into modules, the number, time frame, and sub-units vary. Faculty are invited to use groups, webinars, quizzes, wikis, essays, third party tools such as social bookmarking, voice tools or photo sharing sites, or none of these; all learning activities are up the course author. In some classes, a sizable proportion of the learning is conducted through discussions; in other courses, discussion is more of a place to publicly post individual work. Students may engage in debates, role plays, group presentations, case analyses, scavenger hunts, webliographies, image portfolios, or virtual or physical field trips to museums and other locations. The range of learning activities and assessments is quite broad. Course authors and instructors include both traditional tenure-track faculty and adjunct faculty. The standardized process and templates limit faculty freedom to design courses however they like, and close interaction with trained Instructional Designers ensures that the elements are coherent, integrated, rigorous and varied. Faculty dedicate many hours to developing online course materials, and are compensated by a substantial development fee assured by a contract, as for-profit entities do. The compensation is tied to specific milestones, including completing course design templates. Unlike the for-profit model, this is not work for hire. The intellectual property is owned by the faculty; the school holds the license to offer the course for three years. The license may be extended by mutual agreement, for an annual fee which is based on the number of students who took the course in the prior three years. This provides an incentive for faculty to invest time developing high quality courses, to keep them updated, and to collaborate with other instructors in order to provide a good learning experience for all students. This licensing structure supports the combination of standardization and individualization, improving the student experience across courses while supporting creativity and higher order learning. The course itself becomes an online document, reflecting many hours of work. Faculty who go up for tenure submit the documents as part of their teaching portfolio, which provides further rewards for their efforts, and incents academic rigor, high quality writing and creativity. The close involvement of Instructional Designers means that faculty do not require many weeks of intensive learning about course design. The collaboration between two people who specialize in different areas (content and pedagogy) is intrinsically rewarding, and provides feedback at various points in the development process for quality control. The instructional designer can model student reactions, which allows the learning activities and assessments to be essentially pre-tested prior to use. This results in rich, creative, rigorous, clear and coherent courses. Conclusion There is no one ideal way to develop online courses, and there are limitations to this blended approach. The school is dependent on faculty extending the license on their courses; if a course author withdraws the license after the contract period has expired, she or he can do so. This requires that the university pay the direct and indirect costs of developing a replacement course. This approach is also more expensive than work-for-hire, because after three years, annual payments must be made to course authors. However, those who work in non-profit universities must balance the needs of faculty and of students. Prioritizing the needs of either the faculty or the students, on the one hand by allowing complete freedom Copyright 2009 Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System 4

5 to design however the instructor desires, or on the other hand by standardizing every element and eliminating faculty ownership, creates many problems. Standardization of the processes and templates and using contracts to design courses, combined with offering financial, personal and professional rewards and respecting course authors intellectual property rights, resolves many limitations of the other models. References Anderson, T. (2008a) Ed. The theory and practice of online learning (2 nd ed.). Edmonton, Alberta: AU Press. Retrieved June 9, 2008 from Bloom B. S. (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives, handbook I: The cognitive domain. New York: David McKay. Clark, R. C., & Lyons, C. (2004). Graphics for learning. San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons. Krug, S. (2005). Don't make me think: A common sense approach to Web usability (2 nd ed.). New Riders Press. Mueller, J. (2006). What is authentic assessment? Retrieved June 9, 2008,from Rubin, B. (2009). Enhancing authentic assessment through information technology. In C. Payne (Ed.), Information technology and constructivism in higher education: Progressive learning frameworks, Hershey, PA: IGI Global. Author Summary Beth Rubin is an assistant professor and the director of online programs at the School for New Learning at DePaul University, where she conducts research in effective online learning. She has worked as a curriculum director, faculty manager, and Director of Assessment at Cardean University/UNext, as well as Program Dean and Dean of Academic Administration at DeVry University Online. She won the Associate s Award for Excellence in Teaching in the Asper School of Business at the University of Manitoba. She earned her Ph.D. and M.A. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from Michigan State University, and a B.A. from Cornell University. Address: School for New Learning DePaul University 25 E. Jackson Chicago, IL Phone: (312) Copyright 2009 Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System 5

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