From -A to -S: One University’s approach to designing audience-minded, context-driven online course development frameworks

Today we begin one of my favorite parts of the year – and no, it’s not pumpkin spice season (although that is up there…), it’s WOW celebration season!

For the next several weeks, WCET Frontiers will feature blog post authors from our 2021 WCET Outstanding Work (WOW) Award Winners. This year we took a slightly different focus and asked for stories that described the intensely hard work that WCET member institutional staff, instructors, administrators, and students heroically stepped up with to the meet the challenges brought on by the COPVID-19 pandemic.

Congratulations to the 2021 WOW awardees:

  • Colorado Technical University.
  • Miami University Regionals E-Campus.
  • University of Alabama.
  • University of Louisville.
  • University of North Dakota.
  • University of Texas at San Antonio.

To kick off the award season, Kara Anand-Gall, Instructional Designer with Miami University Regionals E-Campus, joins us to discuss their online course development process and how they shifted in response to the pandemic to create an updated course development process for online, hybrid, synchronous courses and by the end of 2020, had 350 faculty “online-certified” for teaching remote-delivery courses using their new models.

Congrats to Miami University Regionals E-campus and the digital learning heroes highlights in today’s post.

Enjoy the read and enjoy your day,

Lindsey Downs, WCET


Online since 1999, Miami University Regionals, in partnership with E-Campus, has long had a process in place for developing online/hybrid asynchronous (what we have named “-A”) courses in accordance with regulations and best practices for distance learning course development. This process has resulted in a robust catalog of online courses, including nearly 300 courses representing nine fully online programs and thirteen different departments. The pandemic challenged us to build on this solid foundation to design a framework for developing online/hybrid synchronous (“-S”) courses.

Building from a Strong Foundation

Our longstanding -A course development process includes three phases: Online Faculty Orientation (E1), Course Planning (E2), and Design and Production (E3).  

E1: Online Faculty Orientation

Managed by our E-Faculty Engagement team, the first phase was designed to prepare faculty to teach or develop their first online course with E-Campus. E1 includes opportunities to:

  • learn about best practices in online teaching and learning,
  • introduces faculty to common technologies used by our E-Campus faculty,
  • provides training in accessibility and course management techniques, and,
  • gives them the experience of being an online student in the University’s LMS, Canvas.

Completing E1 satisfies higher education standards for professional practices for online instruction, which are required by our regulatory bodies. Additionally, it gives our faculty an opportunity to advance their career, and – most importantly to our mission – maximizes their potential to impact student’s learning. Over time, this orientation has been baked into the culture at Miami University Regionals so that new faculty hires complete the E1 phase as part of their onboarding.

E2 and E3: Course Planning, Design, and Production

The second and third phases of the course development process are facilitated by our Instructional Design team. These phases, each eight weeks, entail collaboration between an instructional designer and either an individual or small team of faculty course authors. The E2 process entails planning the course, with a focus on alignment between course learning outcomes, module learning outcomes, learning activities, and assessments. E2 culminates in a blueprint, or curriculum map, of the online course. From here, faculty proceed to E3, the design and production phase, in which the faculty/instructional designer team moves the blueprint to a reproducible course shell. At the conclusion of E3, the course is internally peer reviewed using Quality Matters and OSCQR standards.

infographic with steps for learning design (E2 and E3 in post). team impact - increase online courses, advance course development experience, elevate learning experiences, raise profile of online ed)

A New Audience, A New Context, A New Process

The COVID-19 pandemic presented us with a brand-new audience: faculty who traditionally teach in face-to-face environments. New to us, new to virtual environments, new to technologies, they scrambled to quickly transition their courses to online -A and -S course formats.

Our team quickly pivoted to support, train, and encourage this brand-new audience. We expanded our support resources to address their needs. We adjusted our development schedule to accommodate additional courses. We facilitated 26 workshops and three faculty learning communities, all focused on pandemic-response teaching, reaching 120 unique participants. Additionally, we published 52 articles incorporating evidence-based best practices for online learning, addressing such topics as screencasting technology, video conference software, and Canvas features. Our hallmark pivot was the design of a new process specifically for the development of -S courses. Initially, we drew from the key elements of our -A course development process to this new framework, focusing on the stages of learning, planning, designing, and reviewing. 

-A course and -S course development frameworks. orientation through review.

We knew that we had neither resources nor time to overlay our existing -A course planning and design processes to -S course development. And for a while we found ourselves stuck in the mindset of the best practices we’d used for -A course development. We’ve learned that, almost always, getting “unstuck” is best achieved by collaboration, so our E-Faculty Engagement team, under the ECCOE initiative, formed an interdisciplinary committee of faculty, student, and E-Campus representatives to create a new process specifically for the development of -S courses. Their primary objectives were to maintain regulatory compliance and create a consistent experience for students, within the context of faculty autonomy.

With guidance from the committee, E-Campus developed and implemented a process that includes a reproducible Canvas template that adheres to regulations, allows for flexibility and personalization, and provides a consistent student-experience; a course development checklist; and a pre-course delivery consultation with faculty to ensure the delivery of high-quality synchronous courses. The E-Faculty Engagement team acts as partners throughout this process to guide faculty through the process, resources, and requirements. Starting Fall 2021, all -S courses at Miami University Regionals are required to meet the following minimum requirements:

  • Completion of E1: Online Faculty Orientation.
  • Integration of -S course Canvas Template into all -S course Canvas sites.
  • Utilization of Canvas for course management and communication of key course details including, at a minimum, Syllabus, Announcements, Assignments, Grades, Instructor Contact information, and virtual meeting links.
  • Consultation with E-Campus’ E-Faculty Engagement team to record the -S course details for regulatory reporting purposes.
shows screenshot of an LMS template

The Impact

In his article “Beyond COVID-19: What’s Next for Online Teaching and Learning in Higher Education?,” John Nworie writes,

“It is important to acknowledge that there is a difference between well-planned and developed online courses or distance education programs and the eclectic methods cobbled together hurriedly to meet the urgent demands of the situation.”

– JOhn Nworie

As an E-Campus, we know the value of the well-planned and developed online course. As a result of our strategic application of both -A and -S course development processes, by the end of the 2020, 350 “online-certified” faculty were teaching remote-delivery courses. Adjusting our schedule to accommodate additional development resulted in a 62% increase in the production of new -A course offerings completed in 2020. Over the summer, we rolled out our new -S course process, and at the start of Fall 2021, 126 -S courses taught by 65 instructors were ready for delivery, all of which successfully followed the new framework.

These efforts have been – and will continue to be – critical to our open-admission, low-tuition mission, which has been successful in serving the surrounding population and communities, which are primarily low-income, first-generation, and urban Appalachian. 27% of our students are minority, 36% are non-traditional, and 31% are first-generation. Our actions served as a buffer against the cognitive cost of COVID-19 for a population of students who already face significant disadvantages and disparity in contrast to their peers.

We would be happy to share in greater detail the steps of our -A or -S development processes. Get in touch with us at eccoe@miamioh.edu with questions.


author photo

Kara Anand-Gall
Instructional Designer, Miami University Regionals E-Campus
anandgak@miamioh.edu

Kara Anand-Gall is an instructional designer with the Miami University Regionals E-Campus. A former English instructor with nearly two decades experience in curriculum design, teaching, and graphic design, her goals are to leverage digital platforms and pedagogical best practices to develop meaningful, relevant learning programs that result in student engagement and retention. She is currently pursuing her MFA in Creative Writing at Miami University. 

About Miami University Regionals E-Campus: The Miami Regional E-Campus office is the hub for all online and hybrid courses and programs at the regional campuses. We work with faculty to create interactive and rich online and hybrid learning experiences that allow students a more flexible Miami learning environment. Our office provides faculty training and support while monitoring online and hybrid course compliance. We use Quality Matters as a guide to our quality online experiences.

Reference

Nworie, John. “Beyond COVID-19: What’s Next for Online Teaching and Learning in Higher Education?” Educause Review. 19 May 2021.

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My name is Lindsey Rae Downs. I am the Assistant Director of Communications and Community for WCET, the WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies. I work remotely from beautiful Helena, MT.

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