Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Service Approach to Helping Faculty with Online Course Design

There are clearly several approaches to online course design, with varying opinions as to the resulting quality. Frequently, we see a simple approach that attempts to move elements of a traditional course to the online environment, with a typical course unit consisting of learning materials, related discussions, and some type of assessment (project, quiz or test). Instructional designers may take a different approach that often considers learning outcomes and assessments first, and then builds backwards upon these. So what happens when the instructional designer and the faculty do not agree on the approach? What if the instructional designer is certain that his or her approach is the surest way to enable the development of a high-quality course? I tend to err on the side of the faculty on this one. Ultimately, they must feel comfortable in teaching this course, must feel ownership in order to be fully engaged, and will learn best not from what they are "told," but by a process of trial-and-error. Our primary function in distance learning administration, above all others, is support. While our programs skyrocket as traditional programs remain flat, we must humble ourselves to remember to remain customer focused (students and faculty). We can guide faculty and inspire them and give them just-in-time training, but we can never tell them what they need. It would be like going to McDonald's and ordering a Big Mac, and the server telling you that you would be much better off with a salad instead. Now, I realize that this is completely contrary to what is considered many to be top-banana instructional design. In fact, Cathy Moore, who has one of the best instructional design blogs in the world, flat out warns against becoming an "order taker" or letting online courses become an "information dump." Sure, this is ideal. But higher education is a different world both in terms of traditions (yes, some date back from centuries ago) and in governance.


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