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Multi-Faculty Collaboration to Design Online General Studies Courses

In the face-to-face classroom, each faculty member typically designs and teaches their own course with minimal input from departmental colleagues. Reflective of this approach, many colleges and universities have adopted similar models for their online program in which each faculty member, either alone or in collaboration with an instructional designer, creates and teaches their online course.

While this type of autonomy in course design makes sense for the face-to-face classroom, it may be less practical–and less effective–in the context of online education. Simply put, development of a high-quality online course takes considerable time and advanced knowledge of online pedagogy. If multiple faculty members are teaching the same course online (as is often the case with general studies or other high-demand courses), it is not an efficient use of departmental time, resources, or budget to have multiple faculty developing their own online classroom for different sections of the same course.

Compounding the issue, independent course development of different sections of the same course presents challenges for ensuring consistency. This may be particularly problematic for general studies courses that are the gateway to a department, major or college. Further–and perhaps most problematic–not only do general studies courses need to teach content, but they need to connect students with the department/university and provide a foundation for future engagement in the discipline.

Perhaps the key to address these challenges lies in advice our parents instilled in us as toddlers: share. Rather than each faculty member creating their own course, departmental faculty can collaborate to design an online shell for general studies courses that can be modified and adapted by any faculty teaching the course online. Multi-faculty design approaches range from full integration in which all faculty weigh in on all aspects of the course, to distributed collaboration in which each faculty utilizes a shared design template to create designated portion of the course.

Multi-faculty collaboration for online course design allows you to:

  1. Streamline online course development time and resources
  2. Ensure quality across all online sections of a course
  3. Reallocate faculty time from online course development to online teaching
  4. Create a high-quality online course
  5. Create a course shell that allows for individual faculty to modify and adapt to fit personal preferences

The key to collaborative course design is not to standardize and lock-down every aspect of the online learning experience, but rather to provide a consistent baseline from which each faculty member can personalize their course.  

Recognizing the importance of general studies courses and the disconnect that online learners often feel, it is important that collaboratively designed courses simultaneously:

  1. Promote content learning
  2. Introduce students to all faculty in a department
  3. Foster excitement about the discipline
  4. Help distance students feel more intimately connected to the academic department

As such, it is not enough for faculty to simply agree on learning objectives, content delivery, and assessment; rather, deliberate attention should focus on “humanizing” the online learning experience to promote students’ engagement with departmental faculty. For example, different faculty can create introductory or summary videos for each online course module in which they discuss their own interests, service, or research related to module topics.

While sharing is at the heart of multi-faculty course design, it is important that your collaborations are based in more than just good intention. Before you begin, it is essential that your department and/or university has guiding policies and procedures in place to support collaborative online course design. For example:

  1. In the case of conflict or quality concerns, how are final course design decisions handled? Who is responsible for final course approval?
  2. What are the policies surrounding intellectual property and “ownership” of collaborative course content?
  3. What type of training or support is available to assist faculty with online course development?
  4. How is course development compensation divided among contributing faculty?
  5. Who is responsible for on-going maintenance of the shared course shell? How is on-going course maintenance compensated?

Multi-faculty collaborative online course design has the potential to benefit both students and faculty. With a little forward planning, your department will be on the way to creating dynamic shareable online course shells to ensure general studies courses are educational and engaging–without overwhelming your faculty, resources, or budget.

Join B. Jean Mandernach on September 12 for a live online seminar, Collaborative Design for Online Introductory Courses: How to Maximize Time and Resources. During the seminar, Mandernach highlights a model for department-wide, collaborative online course design, while also explaining how to maximize faculty time and resources.