It’s Always the Season for Course Review: Research-Informed Tips for Timing and More


Andrew Swindell, Ph.D., Educational Researcher and Publishing Coordinator, Online Learning Consortium

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It’s that season when many of us our thinking about our resolutions for the new year. If course review is on your resolution list for 2024, then you’re probably starting to think about what went well, what can be improved, and how to make the necessary adjustments before the new semester begins. And, of course, you may be facing the dreaded question of wait, just how long is this going to take anyway? Whether you are an instructional designer, faculty member, graduate student, or anyone else engaged with course (re)development, a shared challenge of course reviewing is that there is no simple answer regarding how much time it might take. 

As an education researcher and instructor for the OLC’s Center for Professional Learning, I have compiled research-informed guideposts to determine just how much time you can expect to spend on your 2024 course review, along with a few other thoughts to consider.

Time, What is it Good for?

Anyone who has ever undertaken a course review would not be surprised to know that time has been shown to be a central concern, while the overall efficiency of review processes has also been the subject of debate. If you are just beginning to think about a course review, know that course reviews can take place during a set period of time (i.e. between semesters), or as an iterative process that unfolds over a partial or full academic year. While longer review times that allow for goal setting, reflection, and adaptation can lead to more in-depth analysis, even just a couple weeks can make a difference depending on your goals. 

In terms of timing, expect to spend at least a few weeks for a course review. More specifically, estimates for the total course review period include three weeks, four weeks, five weeks, four to six weeks, twenty weeks, and up to 6 months. Other research has shown even just individual tasks like mapping course objectives can take multiple weeks on their own. 

Of course, the weeks (or months) it might take to complete a course review are not all spent working on the review. To help clarify the estimates presented in hours, weeks, and months in the table above, the amount of individual time required for a course review generally ranges from nine to twelve hours. However, specific course review times were hard to locate, varied significantly, and often qualified with the fact that they fluctuate based on factors like course review team size, the training of those involved, time of year, and what (if any) rubric or system is employed. Training on course review procedures alone can take up to 16 hours, though research shows that the benefits are worth the investment of time in terms of ensuring a quality course review process.

All for One, or One for All

Perhaps the most important factor to consider is if you will review a course alone or as part of a team. Whether you are a team of one or many, making meaningful improvements to your course is possible. Quality course review encompasses several areas of  expertise including (but not limited to) instructional design, Web design, and course presentation; therefore, setting realistic expectations is crucial if you are undertaking a course review on your own. Research has shown that instructors are likely to request assistance for problem areas, like instructional design, so do not be afraid to reach out to colleagues if you are a solo reviewer. If you are part of a course review team, it can be helpful to set team goals rather than just individual benchmarks. 

Tools of the Trade

Once you have set aside some time and decided if you will be doing a solo or team-based review, it is time to decide on your plan of action. There is certainly no shortage of course review tools, instruments, rubrics, and standards, though many of these have been found to not adequately cover all aspects of teaching and learning, while others have called for “broadening our evaluation and feedback measures when possible instead of shrinking them to a one-size fits all instrument”. Put simply, there is no one approach to course review to rule them all. 

Although there are numerous scorecards in the field, I am of course partial to the OLC Quality Scorecard Suite. We currently offer the following course-level quality scorecards, all of which you can expect will take about eight to twelve hours to complete one course review: 

  1. Quality Course Teaching and Instructional Practice: This comprehensive scorecard can be used for an in-depth review to validate course design, course delivery and facilitation, and instructional practices at the course level.
  2. OSCQR Course Design Review: OLC is pleased to offer this Quality Scorecard from SUNY Online. This tool can be used by institutions to improve the quality and accessibility of their online course design as compared to best practices.

Each of the OLC Quality Scorecards are available as free downloadable PDFs. However, only OLC Institutional Members can access the Interactive Scorecards and are eligible for review and endorsement. Learn about membership with OLC here, and happy Course Review Season!

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