Ten Concierge ‘Keys’ for Supporting Individualized Online Course Development

student blogging

Large group training workshops to facilitate online course design can be a mechanistic experience and a nightmare to schedule given perpetually busy faculty with overloaded calendars. Equally ineffective static, “self-serve” online materials only go so far and can leave faculty disengaged or confused (Riegle 1987; Howland and Wedmen 2004). Personal support services modeled on the hotel concierge are used successfully in health care and private industry and, to a lesser extent, in higher education (Michelau and Lane 2010). They hold promise as an approach for supporting online course development.

Wes Anderson’s film Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) offers a clear and humorous presentation of the concierge’s skills, insights, and services. In creating a “Concierge Model of Faculty Online Course Development,”* we have developed some guidelines for interacting with and supporting faculty that incorporate this concierge approach. As faculty (and faculty developers), we recognize that teaching is a highly individualized and personal process, which intersects the individual faculty member’s own perspective, content knowledge, and expertise. The 10 keys below outline the central concepts associated with this approach:

  1. The course is being developed, not the faculty. Shift the focus from “faculty development” to “course development.” Naturally, the faculty members will develop during the process as they learn new skills and approaches, but the focus on course development allows us an objective basis for construction and reference.
  1. Meet faculty members where they are. Reach out to faculty members in situ whenever possible or convenient, not just physically in their space, but where they are in terms of their practice. This helps faculty members learn new skills and techniques in comfortable and familiar surroundings, increasing the likelihood that they will be able to replicate any demonstrated behavior.
  1. The faculty and course are unique. Listen carefully and identify the essential content and suggest tools and design elements without presenting a “one size fits all” model. While templates and common formats may be helpful, each course and faculty member is individual and unique. Some content may suggest or lend itself to being presented in specific ways through text, media, or demonstration. Ultimately, any course design is a complex confluence of the individual faculty member—with all of his or her unique characteristics as a human being, personality, history, proclivities, and habits, both good and bad—and the course content and activities.
  1. Keep it simple. Keep suggestions about things to change simple and specific. Suggested course improvements should be specific, measurable, and obtainable. Online teaching uses different processes of communication, presentation of content, and assessment that are often complex and unfamiliar. A faculty member may spend years learning what works for his or her classroom course, but may be expected to adapt those processes to an online environment in a matter of weeks. The changes should be implemented in a visible, manageable way, one at a time.
  1. It takes time. Redesigning a course for online delivery is a serious and time-consuming undertaking. Faculty and instructional designers are busy people, and time is always considered a precious commodity. There are no easy or quick ways to redesign a course for online delivery, so having a clear plan and getting a firm commitment from the outset is important.
  1. It will change them—and you. Redesigning a course should leave both the concierge designer and the faculty member enriched, smarter, and wiser. Course redesign is a reflexive process that starts with a current course; explores and interrogates directions, desired outcomes, and goals; and then moves to build a unique learning experience. As concierge instructional designers, we are privileged to be able to peer into the content and teaching of an individual course and engage the mind of the faculty member at work. At the same time, we consider ourselves students so that we may see the course through the student lens. In this way, the course, the faculty, and the designers are all changed by this process.
  1. Rubrics are our friends. Incorporate rubrics to provide clarity and direction to the students and demystify the content and assessment of learning. A well-written and faithfully followed rubric yields good results. Rubrics take several forms, but the main intent is letting students know the details and form of successful responses to assignments. Exemplary course assignment instructions should include well-defined descriptions of levels of expectations, performance, and/or skills reflective of and in rubric criteria.
  1. What to keep and what to let go. Ask what elements or qualities of the traditional course are essential and should be kept at all costs. Have the faculty member identify the course foundations that should not be lost in the transition. These become the critical aspects of the course experience that need an effective online equivalent. Whether a specific bit of content or a communication process, finding the appropriate online equivalent becomes an opportunity for the faculty member to reassess the usefulness of assignments or activities in the new environment.
  1. It is their course, not yours. Remember your role in the overall exchange of ideas. Humility is a valued trait. As an instructional designer, you may well know more about course design, but the instructors have to teach it. While the faculty author may “own” the course, the course concierge offers insights that can make a course an effective online learning experience.
  1. There is always more to do. A good course is never finished, as course development is an ongoing process. Look for new ways to improve some aspect of the course, and also recognize and leave intact those elements that provide evidence of success. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” The process of renewal should always be part of good course redesign, making each course an “always in beta” project.

With these 10 keys in mind, approaching online course design can be a constructive and collaborative team effort.

* A manifesto for faculty developers and course designers, borrowing the “Society of the Crossed Keys” from the movie Grand Budapest Hotel, was presented at the 2016 Teaching Professor Technology Conference in Atlanta. Session participants helped refine the “10 Keys.”


Anderson, Wes. 2014. The Grand Budapest Hotel. Faber & Faber.

Howland, Jane and Judy Wedman. 2004. “A Process Model for Faculty Development: Individualizing Technology Learning.” Journal of Technology and Teacher Education 12 (2): 239.

Michelau, Demarée K. and Patrick Lane. 2010. “Bringing Adults Back to College: Designing and Implementing a Statewide Concierge Model.” Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education.

Riegle, Rodney P. 1987. “Conceptions of Faculty Development.” Educational Theory 37 (1): 53–59.

David McCurry is the director of distance education at the University of South Carolina Upstate. Bonnie Mullinix teaches online courses at Walden University.

Reprinted from The Best of Teaching with Technology, a report featuring articles based on some of the top-rated sessions at the 2016 Teaching Professor Technology Conference (now known as the Teaching with Technology Conference).