Instructional design is a relatively new field that many of us enter when assigned a training or education project in addition to our regular duties. Academics are no exception, especially when asked to serve as subject matter experts for new online courses, or to “put” their existing on-campus courses online.
While I eventually completed a degree in the field of instructional technology, I got started as an advisor tasked with planning and delivering workshops. This evolved into creating websites and ultimately web-based sessions and classes. Fortunately, instructional design is a field in which current professionals are sharing what they do in the form of lessons learned, success stories, and examples. I’ve turned to these resources time and again through the years and they are a great place to begin to understand what will be involved.
There are a lot of challenges in the process of designing an academic course. Sometimes we find out about the need for the course, or the online version of the course, late in the game. We also usually face limited budgets, or no budget at all, to support the work to be done.
Where do you start a new design project? What items should be included? What needs to be in place to ensure that you and your learners will be successful? We can turn to what our colleagues in higher education have shared about the course design process, to help us create high-quality experiences for our students.
In lieu of detailed instructions and guidance (which we sometimes receive, but not always), existing materials can jump start the process. Some are available for a fee, others are viewable online but retain the copyright of the creator, while others are available with Creative Commons (CC) licenses. These kinds of materials are particularly helpful when you are in a rush – no special hoops to jump through to use the materials. And when you are working with a limited budget – no purchase is required to access the information and implement it in your project.
Course Design Rubrics and Checklists
These three tools are a small sample of the resources openly available online and shared with CC licenses. The creators, from three different university systems, have developed detailed documents that can be used as the basis for designing a new course, as well as evaluating an existing course for needed revisions.
Rubric for Online Instruction (CC: BY)
Created through the collaborative effort of educators at California State University, Chico, this tool was “designed to answer the question, ‘What does high-quality online instruction look like?’” You can download a PDF of the rubric on the website, as well as explore more detailed graphics and courses that have been identified as examples of high-quality design.
The Rubric for Online Instruction includes six primary domains, each with additional criteria and baseline, effective, and exemplary ratings. The domains are:
- Learner Support and Resources
- Online Organization and Design
- Instructional Design and Delivery
- Assessment and Evaluation of Student Learning
- Innovative Teaching with Technology
- Faculty Use of Student Feedback
Quality Online Course Initiative Rubric (CC: BY-NC-SA)
The Illinois Online Network (ION) is a statewide faculty development initiative that provides a range of learning opportunities for educators in Illinois and beyond. One of the many ION projects available for widespread use is the Quality Online Course Initiative, which includes the QOCI rubric.
This resource was designed “to help colleges and universities improve the accountability of their online courses.” You can download an .RTF version of the tool and access the Web-based rubric on the ION site. The Web version offers in-depth descriptions of six primary categories each with multiple sub-sections. The rating scale options are: non-existent, developing, meets, exceeds, and not applicable. The rubric’s categories include:
- Instructional Design
- Communication, Interaction, and Collaboration
- Student Evaluation and Assessment
- Learner Support and Resources
- Web Design
- Course Evaluation
Online Course Rubric (CC: BY-NC-SA)
Made available through the Distributed Learning Initiative at the University of Central Florida (UCF), this resource is just one part of a large collection of support materials established to guide pedagogy and instructor professional development. While the primary audience may be UCF professors, many of the materials are made available to all interested educators through a Creative Commons license.
A PDF download of the rubric is available on the website. This tool uses a checklist format for identification of specific criteria organized into the following seven categories:
- Course/Instructor Introduction
- Course Tools
- Course/Module Objectives (Note: a separate PDF rubric for module design is also available, which includes criteria for Objectives, Module Activities/Interactions, and Assessment Strategy.)
- Course Activities/Interaction
- Assessment Strategy
You may notice, as I did, that these resources overlap one another in a lot of ways, and that none of these categories or components are particularly unexpected. You may also realize that “designing an online course” can cover a lot of ground in terms of tasks and skills required. If we were to start from scratch creating our own list of required steps, the work could quickly become overwhelming.
The major benefit of using an existing rubric or checklist is to provide a starting point. They provide a framework that has been developed by our peers, often through a combination of research and practical application, and iterations of revision. It’s important, however, to keep in mind that you can adapt an existing framework to meet your needs.
Customizing Your Approach
While the tools are similar, there’s no one right or best rubric out there. The fact that the resources I’ve listed above have been openly shared means that you can pick and choose the parts that are the most relevant to you and your course, and meet the needs and expectations of your institution and your students.
Some schools are creating their own mash-ups of these rubrics and additional guidelines to customize their references and process. Take a look at the following examples and review the sources they credit:
- Online Course Development Guidelines and Rubric from the Michigan Community College Association Virtual Learning Collaborative
- Online Course Evaluation Project [PDF] from the Monterey Institute for Technology an Education
- Online Course Evaluation Guidelines [PDF] from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse
Instructional Design Assistance
While templates and checklists can boost productivity, especially when you are getting started, what if you could ask someone questions along the way? You may want help with the technologies that are new to you, or to have someone with multimedia expertise record videos or create complex graphics to enhance your course.
Many institutions provide instructors with resources either through a centralized office that helps all faculty members, or through in-house expertise within colleges or programs. You will likely find some combination of available support services, as well as opportunities to expand your own skills set.
Support can range from a basic list of linked resources to one-on-one guidance throughout the design and development process. Workshops, webinars, and tutorials are also popular. You don’t always have to be full-time faculty member to reap these kinds of benefits, but you will probably have to ask about them. Take a look at the types of support the following schools are offering, and research what might be available at your institution:
- Faculty Development Opportunities at the University of Phoenix
- Faculty Development Center at Webster University
- Center for Online and Blended Learning at Bowling Green State University
If you are starting to feel a shift in your career or work expectations – moving from instructor or teacher to instructional designer – add a few professional development activities to your schedule. Connie Malamed, a.k.a. The eLearning Coach, provides practical instructional design tips and guidance related to jobs. Her recent post, “Answers to Instructional Design Career Questions,” addresses making the transition from teaching to designing.
As you gain more experience, consider sharing your online course design experience with others who are just beginning. Where should they start? What are the most important components? Which skills are critical to the process? Through papers, presentations, workshops, and even Creative Commons licenses, you have opportunities to contribute to the growing field of instructional design.
Source: Inside Online Learning Blog