Master Class: Effective Change Management When Adopting Master Courses

Concurrent Session 7

Brief Abstract

Master course sites can help institutions create sustainable online programs. However, strategic planning and change management are necessary to successfully introduce and support a master course model. Join us as we explore the possible pitfalls and successful strategies that can help you reap the benefits of master courses.


Ruru Rusmin is an educational technologist with decades of experience developing online learning and integrating technology into teaching. She explores how technology opens up new possibilities for teaching and learning, and how new ways of interacting in the wider world change the academic experience. She teaches online for the City University of New York (CUNY) and is the Director of Faculty Development and Instructional Technology at CUNY School of Professional Studies.

Extended Abstract

Master courses, or complete course shells that serve as the template for live sections of a course, are a well-known model used by large online institutions. However, more traditional institutions that offer online courses may find that they too must consider adopting a master course model in order to achieve consistency of student experience; faculty focus on teaching; and efficiencies in course development, quality assurance, assessment, training, and support. Adopting a master course model entails a significant shift, where course development is no longer the domain of individual faculty but instead becomes a cross-unit enterprise. Unlike single courses designed by individual faculty, master courses are developed by teams that include, at a minimum, faculty/subject-matter experts and instructional designers. Once implemented, they can be taught by multiple instructors, including those who may not have been involved in their course design and who may require training. Collaboration also must continue after the courses have been launched, when faculty and staff must work together to regularly correct, update, and improve the master sites.

Master courses may be key to sustaining growth and maintaining quality, but they also require investment in a different set of resources and the establishment of a very different set of roles for faculty and staff. Each requirement can make the transition difficult. Phil Hill (Hill, 2012) describes three common ways to overcome these institutional barriers: by building a separate division for online courses and thus bypassing organizational resistance, by outsourcing to another organization with the experience and resources to implement master courses, or by adopting a MOOC model for courses. Our school mirrors the first approach in that it was created to be the university division that focuses on online learning, but we did not begin with master courses. We operated within a more traditional framework in which individual faculty members designed and delivered their own courses. However, as we have grown, we have recognized the necessity of adopting the master course model. In the process of doing so, we have grappled with changing faculty roles and faculty development needs; negotiations regarding ownership of content; expanded department chair responsibilities; building of organizational structures necessary to design and maintain course sites; and development of processes for revision, quality control, and assessment. We invite session participants to join us in exploring some of these same issues by playing the game of “Master Class.”

Master Class is an original strategy game that encourages participants to work in teams as they discover effective strategies for launching master course sites at the course, department, and institutional levels. Along the way, players will simultaneously consider not only how to best approach the multi-step process of creating master course sites but also how they might respond to common complications and varying opinions about the master course site model.

Session Structure:

In order to foster discovery, our gamified session is split into three portions. First, we will begin with a brief overview of how master course sites can be used at the course level, department level, and institutional level. Participants will receive a reference for best practices and procedures that our institution has refined while instituting and maintaining master course sites at our campus.

After the overview, participants will play the first round of “Master Class,” which requires that players collaborate in order to establish a master course site for a single course. Players represent some of the more common participants in master course site projects-- Faculty, Instructional Designers, LMS Administrators, Project Management Staff, and Senior Leadership,-- and start with a given set of resources and a predisposition towards the project. They must balance resources and politics in order to complete the steps in building one master course site.

Afterwards, we will break for a brief conversation about the experience, with discussion questions that touch on planning, collaboration, and implications for participants’ own campuses.

Following the discussion, groups will progress through the remaining two scenarios of implementing master course sites at the department level, and launching an institution-wide master course sites initiative, while contending with chance events and a limited time frame.

At the end of the gameplay period, the room will reconvene to discuss their experience of “Master Class.” Questions for discussion would include the effect of time limits, the impact of random events, team structure and flexibility. We conclude with lessons learned that will be shared with all participants as an online resource.

Session Goals:

Individuals attending this gamified session will explore best practices for implementing master course sites at the course-specific, department, and institutional levels. They will also practice collaborating across departments, learn about some of the more common challenges that arise during the design process, and develop effective solutions that they can bring with them to their home institutions.

Works Cited

Hill, P. (2012, March 22). The Master Course: A Key Difference in Educational Delivery Methods. Retrieved from eLiterate