Every semester faculty are given a number of course shells in Blackboard which is dictated by their finalized teaching assignment. Depending on a full or part-time course load, faculty could be responsible for managing up to five or six course shells per semester. A course shell is where the content materials for the course is stored including the syllabus, unit materials, due date calendar, Announcements, Discussion Board prompts, tests, quizzes, videos, supplemental hyperlinks and additional resources related to the course. Before each semester begins, there is a timeline for migration of course shells to be populated in Blackboard.
Typically, faculty copy the courses they have previously designed into their course shells. However, not all faculty have developed their own online courses. In fact, most faculty in our Communications subdivision use courses from an archive of College of DuPage master courses. A master course is defined as a course previously created, but in this case, not necessarily maintained or updated. In the past faculty were paid to develop the master courses. Once course development was completed, the courses were owned by the College. The breakdown started to occur when the courses were no longer maintained. And now the myth that faculty who adopt a master course only need to make a few adjustments to the course before making it available to students is far from reality. Most likely the content within the current master courses is outdated or unavailable. The records indicating when the master courses were created and by whom are spotty at best.
To compound this issue, there is no process in our current faculty Contract to update the master course content. Consequently, the maintenance and sustainability of the master courses is compromised. Is the latest textbook edition included in the course? Did a faculty committee decide to adopt a completely different textbook? Are the hyperlinks working properly? Does the video upload? Are the tests current and tied to the automated grade book? These are some of the questions a faculty member would be faced with in being given one of our current master courses. They may be surprised when they first open the link to find that the course is in need of dire repair.
I have developed my own courses for English 1101, English 1102 and English 0482 online. At the end of each semester I review the content for quality improvement and make changes based on student feedback. I consider online courses as organic — they are constantly evolving. I spend a lot of time tweaking courses before, during and after the semester. However, last semester I was given a course I had not yet taught: English 0492 Developmental Writing online. The master course appeared in my Blackboard shell and when I opened it I was shocked at the state it was in. When was the last time someone had taught this particular course? Hyperlinks were non-existent, there was no video and a majority of the course was straight text, albeit a few clip art graphics here and there. It appeared to be a beta version of English 0492, certainly not a course that had been revised or updated in any way. When faced with the tremendous amount of time it would take to revise the course to where it should be while starting a new semester at the same time, the task was daunting. This course needed a major overhaul — stat. How many other master courses are in the same declining state?
I propose that our faculty and administration renew the process of developing new master courses and revising master courses. In our current Contract, we do not have a model for developing or revising online course content. To successfully implement quality online courses, we need to come to an agreement. While there are a number of factors presented in teaching online, one core expectation needs to be high quality in our courses.
The thinking, planning, research, learning, and effort that goes into constructing and teaching an online course is immense and many of our most respected colleagues are leading the movement in online education at College of DuPage. In order to bolster continued growth and online presence, we need to re-consider instructional design assistance and reassigned time to develop quality online curriculum. Creating F2F class material is not the same as creating online class material. Some of the information can be transformed to fit into an online class, but not all the content moves seamlessly from one medium to another. In fact, developing sound online course material can be much more difficult to accomplish. We do have the benefit of technical support at College of DuPage, but it is a matter of carving out time to create a quality course template that can be distributed with professional confidence.
It is important to continue to investigate, analyze and understand the differences in workload inherent in these two delivery modes. Additional training and professional development opportunities would be another avenue to pursue as we continue to strive in providing excellence in online education.