Enhancing Online Course Development through Google Docs

Concurrent Session 4

Brief Abstract

The focus of this session is to present a cost-effective method for improving communication and project management of online course developments. Participants will learn about how Google docs was used to manage the workflow and asset development for an online course and discuss additional tools for accomplishing such purposes.

Extended Abstract


In this session, participants will:

  • Identify an innovative and cost-effective strategy for managing the course development workflow and fostering communication among course developers and faculty.
  • Discuss current pathways and tools for effective communication between course developers and faculty.

Pitt Online

The University of Pittsburgh, one of 34 public member institutions of the prestigious Association of American Universities, has been nationally recognized since 1787 for the quality of its graduate professional programs and service to students. Pitt Online aims to offer graduate professional programs commensurate to those offered to resident students on the Pittsburgh Campus in terms of quality, faculty, and level of support services.

Pitt Online, comprised primarily of instructional designers, technologists, and quality assurance specialists, partners with faculty members to develop, implement, and maintain over 144 unique courses across six University schools.

The course development process ensues upon the establishment of a course development contract between Pitt Online and the school liaison and occurs over approximately 16 weeks, one semester in advance of the course offering. An instructional designer is the project manager, collaborating with faculty on the development of instructional content. It is the instructional designer’s responsibility to establish and manage the workflow and launch deadlines to meet demand without compromising quality.


Online program initiatives continue to expand within institutions of higher education, like the University of Pittsburgh. Since online course development requires a high level of technological and pedagogical expertise, faculty commonly partner with instructional designers in a team approach (Xu & Morris, 2007). Instructional design and development support are key for faculty members who do not have the time or technical skills to develop and maintain online courses (Bonk, 2001); yet instructional designers report that collaborating with faculty is their greatest struggle (Intentional Futures, 2016).

When faculty engage in course development off-site, maintaining continuous communication is a concern for instructional designers, requiring new and innovation approaches to facilitate information and document exchange, as well as to manage the workflow.

The Google Course Inventory document discussed below was created in response to the challenges presented during the project management of an online Financial Management course. The adjunct faculty member was located off-campus and had limited ability to consult with the instructional designer. Communication occurred through one face-to-face consultation and intermittent phone conferences, in addition to the Google Doc. The course development timeline for this course was extended over an 18-month period by the Department Chair, which altered the workflow and management of course assets.

Innovative Solution

Based on the Pitt Online course development template for module content, the instructional designer and faculty member created a Google spreadsheet to inventory the course assets (media, slides, files, etc.) updated in real-time. As assets were created, the faculty member logged them on the spreadsheet. Once the files were reviewed, the instructional designer inserted comments and marked the files for revision when necessary. As the faculty member addressed the designer’s concerns, the comments were marked as resolved.

The commenting tool became a site for dialogue between the instructional designer and faculty member, where they could ask one another questions and discuss aspects of the course development asynchronously. For example, the faculty member had created a quiz, but had not highlighted the correct answers. The instructional designer requested the missing information through the commenting feature. They were also able discuss more complex issues regarding the formation of high-level, open-ended discussion prompts.

Conditional formatting in Google also allowed the status of the instructional assets to be color-coded. Specifically, dark green was used to indicate that a module was complete and ready to build. Dark red indicated that a module was missing components and required attention. Light red for example, indicated an asset that was partially completed. This allowed the instructional designer to quickly identify modules that were ready to build in the learning management system and identify gaps in the workflow. This information was readily shareable with the instructional technologist, who would later build the course, through a Google invite.

As freeware, the Google Course Inventory could be easily replicated by individual instructional designers, project managers, and faculty members with a Google account. This spreadsheet was time and cost-effective and required minimal technological expertise to create.

Session Format
15-Minute Schedule

  • 5 minutes: Overview of online course development process and workflow at the University of Pittsburgh
  • 5 minutes: Demonstration of Google Course Inventory features and its application within Pitt Online
  • 5 minutes: Active participant discussion about contemporary tools and strategies used for workflow and communication across institutions.

Group Discussion

The presentation will close with a discussion with audience members. Questions to prompt conversation include:

  • What tools or strategies do course developers at your institution use to manage the workflow of online course development?
  • What tools or strategies do course developers at your institution use for file sharing and communication (synchronous and asynchronous) with faculty members?
  • How does the process of online course development differ when faculty are on versus off-site?


Bonk, C. J.  (2001, May).  Online teaching in an online world. Bloomington, IN: CourseShare.com

Intentional Futures. (2016, April). Instructional design in higher education: A report on the role, workflow, and experience of instructional designers.

Xu, H., & Morris, L. V. (2007). Collaborative course development for online courses. Innovative Higher Education, 32(1), 35-47.