Cultivating and Sustaining a Virtual Campus: Addressing All Stakeholder Needs through a Master Course Design Model

Concurrent Session 6
Streamed Session

Watch This Session

Brief Abstract

This interactive presentation will share strategies for implementing a master course design model. Presenters will describe their master model, discuss observed benefits, and share outcomes and perspectives. Attendees will return to their institutions better equipped to discuss with key stakeholders the appropriateness of utilizing and implementing a master model.

Sponsored By


Luci (Lucimara) Mello is originally from Brazil and has been living in the United States for 19 years. Luci has been an instructional designer for Indian River State College Virtual Campus for almost 5 years. Luci started her career as an EFL (English as a Foreign Language) instructor in Brazil, where she taught for 10 years. As soon she moved to the United States, she worked as a Portuguese instructor for business people and translator. In addition, she went to school at the University of Colorado at Denver, where she graduated with a Master’s Degree in Information and Learning Technologies in 2002. After graduating, Luci Mello moved to Florida. In 2006, Luci Mello was hired by IRSC as Curriculum Developer/Trainer in the Adult ESOL Department for 7 years. In 2013, Luci Mello was hired by the IRSC Virtual Campus as an instructional designer to serve the whole college. Luci is currently a graduate student at Indiana University pursuing the Ed. D. in Instructional Systems Technology degree (online program).

Additional Authors

Dr. Alison L. Moore is an instructional designer with the Virtual Campus of Indian River State College where she supports faculty members with hybrid and online courses. She earned her Ph.D. in Instructional Systems and Learning Technologies from Florida State University in 2016, and her research focuses on informal workplace learning among instructional design and performance improvement practitioners. Dr. Moore's interests also include designing with learning analytics and ADA compliance in mind.

Extended Abstract

This interactive presentation will share strategies implemented by the Virtual Campus (VC) at Indian River State College (IRSC) for enacting a master course design model of instruction. A design and development team has tackled the challenges surrounding the production and maintenance of robust online courses by successfully implementing a master course model. IRSC VC team members will:

  • describe the master model,
  • discuss the observed benefits, and
  • share institutional outcomes and faculty/student perspectives.

Attendees will be able to return to their institutions better prepared to implement a master course design model.

Purpose of Presentation

The purpose of this presentation is to share best practices in implementing a master course design model. The session will begin with a brief overview of the history and mission of the IRSC VC, then move into a detailed description and discussion of the VC’s master model. Presenters will walk attendees through the various phases of the design model and display screenshots of key elements (i.e., storyboard template, Blackboard master shell template). Benefits that result from the implementation of the master model will also be addressed. Presenters will share institutional outcomes related to the VC, faculty, and students. Attendees will engage in a dialogue with the presenters and each other as the group discusses challenges, success stories, and lessons learned surrounding the long-term implementation of a master model.

Brief poll questions will open and close the session to gauge interest and concerns about master models. An initial PollEverywhere ( question will capture attendees’ engagement and inform presenters’ focus of topics, and a final question will prompt final questions.

At the end of this session, attendees will be able to:

  • Define the master course model.
  • Identify advantages and disadvantages of the master course design model.
  • Discuss the design of a master course model according to instructional settings and institutional resources.

Target Audience

The target audience for this presentation includes professionals at institutions who build large-scale online instructional programs. This presentation will also interest groups that want to engage with subject matter experts to develop robust online course catalogs.


In order to meet growing workforce needs, IRSC faculty and administration strategically planned the formation of the VC in 2012. VC leadership determined that the institution would deploy master courses created and maintained by VC instructional designers and course developers and IRSC full-time faculty members. The decision to employ a master course model was strategic in positioning the VC to achieve long-term goals of serving students and faculty.

The Master Course Design Model

Many institutions have adopted and lauded the master course design model, which entails the design and development of one principal version of an educational course (Borgemenke, Holt, & Fish, 2013; Franetovich & Bush, 2016; Mara & Lechner, 2011). The master serves as the exemplar of the course, which is duplicated into any number of identical shells as required. These individual shells are then assigned to specific faculty members, who are able to personalize their live course sections each semester. At IRSC, all master course shells are built within the Blackboard learning management system and are copied into the necessary number of live sections each term.

Design, Development, Implementation, and Maintenance

With a master course model, instructional designers and faculty collaborate to produce course storyboards and instructional materials. The VC instructional designers work one-on-one with faculty members, serving as subject matter experts, to envision robust learning experiences. This interaction allows instructional designers to consult on best practices for innovative instructional strategies, and positions faculty members to explore their subject matter and expertise in online pedagogy.

When a course’s storyboard and instructional materials are completed, all stakeholders, including VC instructional designers, faculty, and administration, must review and approve deliverables before course development commences. The VC course developers build the storyboard within Blackboard. Master courses are deployed into live sections, which faculty personalize each semester.

Because a priority of the VC is to provide students and faculty with relevant and up-to-date course content, the VC created a systematic process for course maintenance. Faculty submit detailed requests for changes via the Curriculum Maintenance Request Form. Modifications may vary from revising outdated content to creating new assessment items to inserting more relevant study resources.

During the session, to ensure attendees gain a full understanding of the VC master model, the presenters will display screenshots of various elements of the process. For example, the storyboard template is a Word document and a visual will accompany this discussion. The VC master shell template contains standard features across all courses, and a screenshot of a Blackboard page will be shared. The Curriculum Maintenance Request Form will also be displayed. The purpose of the screenshots is to facilitate communication of the VC’s process of implementation and maintenance of the master course design model and master courses.


The VC team has observed several benefits to implementing the master course model. These include:

  • increased number of VC courses and wholly online degree programs offered by IRSC;
  • improved consistency for student and faculty course experiences; and
  • added feasibility for ADA-compliant course materials.

Increased Number of IRSC VC Courses and Online Programs

Implementing the master model aligned with an institutional goal of growing the number of courses and degree programs that could be completed wholly online. The VC master model requires only one faculty member/instructional designer pair to design one course, as well as one course developer to populate the master template with storyboard content. This process accelerated the timeline for delivering, not just individual courses, but wholly online programs. Additionally, all master courses demonstrate the same instructional design principles, such as alignment of objectives, learning activities, and assessments, as well as content-student, faculty-student, and student-student interaction. Scaling up such robust instruction, this model makes quality degree programs possible. The VC currently offers a catalog of 288 courses and 14 fully online degree programs.

Improved Consistency for Course Experiences

An outward-facing element of the master model is the common layout of course spaces within an LMS. The VC team has continually fine-tuned a standard course design in Blackboard, which presents basic course materials in a streamlined, consistent manner. Designing and building all VC courses through the same layout yields a consistent experience for students and faculty. Students receive live course sections that share a standard look and feel, allowing them to focus on course content rather than navigation.

Added Feasibility for ADA Compliance

Due to the nature of the master model, working towards accessibility of courses is more effective. Designing and creating instructional materials for one master course shell allows the VC to provide multiple instructors with a fully prepared course—complete with ADA-related elements. This method saves faculty from individually being responsible for locating transcripts for videos or converting PowerPoint files to an accessible format. By building accessibility needs into the design and development process, the VC team is simultaneously providing a more equal learning experience for all students.

Institutional Outcomes and Faculty/Student Perspectives

The VC tracks and values outcomes from a variety of sources, from the institutional level to individual student reviews. This portion of the session will share outcomes that can be attributed to the positive features of the model. Presenters will share quantitative and qualitative data regarding institutional and departmental goals and user experience.

Institutional Outcomes

The IRSC VC has achieved several milestones over the past six years. To date, the VC:

  • offers a catalog of 288 courses,
  • completed 14 fully online degree programs,
  • certified 24 courses through external Quality Matters reviews, and
  • sponsored 184 faculty and staff through Quality Matters certification.


Faculty play a key role in the successful implementation of the master model. Presenters will display brief video testimonials of faculty members describing their experiences with the master model and how it improved their professional practice. Sample faculty commentary includes:

The VC template allowed us a consistent way to deliver our content. Everybody was left to their own devices and this gave us a streamlined Virtual Campus look, and really helped students find things and navigate the course, and this really enhanced the online courses for students.


The VC team surveys students every semester and, after reviewing responses, often bases decisions for improvement on students’ online course experiences. Currently, IRSC also offers online courses outside of the VC (these courses do not adhere to the master model), and may lead to student comments such as:

I'd like all the courses to have their assignments in a similar format, honestly, but they're pretty good generally.

Such insight guides VC staff to continue finessing the master process—in hopes to earn more comments from students like the following:

I feel that the IRSC Virtual Campus has been very easy to use and has many resources for easy access and help included is right at your fingertips.

Bringing It All Together

In conclusion, the master course design model can be implemented and adapted, according to an institution’s infrastructure, based on instructional design principles and quality standards. Results of such efforts should yield efficient design processes, improved faculty/student experiences, and maximized retention and outcomes.



Borgemenke, A. J., Holt, W. C., & Fish, W. W. (2013). Universal course shell template design and implementation to enhance student outcomes in online coursework. The Quarterly Review of Distance Education, 14(1), 17–23.

Franetovich, M., & Bush, R. (2013). Master course shell practice: Redesign of institutional online course look and feel, alignment of core course content and delivery, and quality improvement. 2013 Sloan-C Effective Practice. Retrieved from

Mara, M. & Lechner, M. (2011). Organizing instructional materials using SharePoint and Blackboard. LOEX Quarterly, 37(4), 8–10. Retrieved from