Changing the Tires on a Moving Car: Re-inventing Online Course Design

Concurrent Session 9

Brief Abstract

Dixon (2008) indicates that online course design is complex. Caplan (2004) suggests that course production requires concerted effort from many players.  Discover how these principles were leveraged to transform a design process at the end of its rope to one which acknowledges twenty-first century realities and has tripled capacity.


Dr. Kathryn Dirkin is an Assistant Professor in the Teacher Education and Professional Development Department at Central Michigan University. She holds a Ph.D in Educational Technology/ Educational Psychology. She has multiple conference presentations and publications focusing on the role of an instructor’s pedagogical beliefs and values in online teaching. Dr. Dirkin has also presented or published on such topics as helping faculty integrate technology in methods courses and using authentic and collaborative projects in an educational technology course. She is a former elementary teacher and technology coordinator. Her current research interests focus integrating technology for systemic change.

Extended Abstract

Online course design is not new at Central Michigan University – quite the opposite, in fact.  We enjoy a long and successful history in online learning with hundreds of courses and many award winning programs as evidence. Despite this success, our course design practices were becoming increasingly challenged.  Our existing model placed the instructional designer at the center of the process, as liaison to several other areas, contracting agent, project manager, and the metaphorical carrier of the water for all involved.  Three full-time designers were able to contribute to the development of a few dozen new courses per year, and were quickly becoming overwhelmed.  In the face of increasing demand, faculty push back, and aging paradigms, in a manner of speaking, something had to give. 

In her 2008 paper, Dr. Emily Hixon of Purdue University reminds us that “online course development is a complex endeavor” - she goes on to quote Caplan’s 2004 work indicating also that online course “production requires a highly organized, concerted effort from many players.”  In the face of these research-based assertions, the one-to-one approach of our existing model was indirectly called into question.  The bureaucracy we had around online course design had morphed from something supportive to a needlessly prescriptive barrier.  Faculty were pushing back against what some called “template-driven education.”  Others felt stifled and isolated by working one-on-one with an instructional designer.  The discontent of our faculty and the frenzied sentiments of our designers were not the only indications of trouble in paradise.  Contracting was also struggling.  Contract agreements are a necessary part of our institution’s process, to secure intellectual property license.  An analysis revealed that deadlines were being missed nearly 82% of the time; course development was dragging on for an average of 145 days.  Research and our own qualitative and quantitative data clearly suggested we were getting this wrong. It was time to stop doing things the way we always had and let data guide our process.  Based on information gained from interviews with individuals at other institutions and review of additional research, we built out a new model – course development cohorts.  Now concluding its third iteration, our new model has more than tripled course design capacity, better engaged multiple stakeholder groups, and provided a much more positive faculty experience.  The elements of this new model, including CMU’s own novel components, as well as key discoveries we have made over the past year will be shared in detail in the session. Ample opportunity for questions and discussion among those in attendance will also be provided.

Hixon, E. (2008). Team-based online course development: A case study of collaboration models. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 11(4), 8.

Caplan, D.  (2004).  The development of online courses.  In T. Anderson & F. Elloumi (Eds.), Theory and practice of online learning. Athabasca, AB, Canada: Athabasca University.