Pre-Designed Online Courses: the Good, Bad, and Ugly

Concurrent Session 1

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Brief Abstract

Pre-designed courses (PDCs, sometimes known as master, template, or canned courses), long the standard in for-profit institutions, are becoming more common in non-profit, private, and state institutions. How do faculty and administrators negotiate using PDCs, while acknowledging and promoting faculty expertise, professionalism, and autonomy?

Presenters

Catrina Mitchum is a Lecturer in the Department of English at the University of Arizona. She earned her PhD in Composition/Rhetoric and Digital Studies from Old Dominion University. In 2018, she was, collaboratively, awarded the CCCC Research Initiative Grant. Her research interests are in retention and course design of online writing classes. She has scholarly work published in The Journal of Teaching and Learning with Technology, MediaCommons and Enculturation. She teaches first year writing and professional and technical writing courses online.

Extended Abstract

Pre-designed courses (PDCs, sometimes known as master, template, or canned courses), long the standard in for-profit institutions, are becoming more common in non-profit, private, and state institutions. How do faculty and administrators negotiate using PDCs, while acknowledging and promoting faculty expertise, professionalism, and autonomy? Presenters in this panel will explore the good, bad, and ugly of using PDCs in online writing programs.  

In this 45 minute round table, we’ll focus on each of the following topics for 15 minutes. In the 15 minute session, one of the speakers with introduce the topic/issue for 4-5 minutes. The other two speakers will respond to the topic/issue based on their own experiences and research. We’ll ask attendees to share their questions, concerns, and experiences during the final 5 minutes. We will use a timer to remain on schedule. Roundtable speakers will share a bibliography of resources associated with the topic.

Topic #1: Master, Templated, Canned Courses, Oh My!

Some scholars have negatively dismissed the use of digital templates (Arola 2010) and, specifically, PDCs (e.g., Cook 2005, O’Sullivan 1999); however, what they have not done is interrogate the terminology used to refer to these courses. Popular phrases used to describe these types of courses have been “master” (e.g., Rice 2015), “template” (e.g., Brown & Ramasamy 2017 ), “canned” (e.g., Puzziferro & Shelton 2009), and pre-designed (e.g., Keeton 2004). With each of these phrases comes both ideological (i.e., master and slave) as well as design or curricular related assumptions that start confining both instructors and students into specific roles and relationships. How might we carefully use language to promote productive and collegial online programs and PDC course environments?

Topic #2: Teacher vs Facilitator: Online Instructor Agency in PDCs

Studies have shown that instructor agency is a factor in designing online courses (Richardson, et al. 2015). While scholars have explored how instructor agency impacts student learning (Stone & Chapman  2006; Swan 2002) and how instructor agency is a factor in designing online courses (Richardson et al. 2015), there is little focus on how pre-designed courses impact instructor agency in the course. Depending on the design of the PDC, instructors move from being teachers and knowledge builders to being facilitators and graders. How might PDCs be designed to facilitate pedagogically sound teaching and learning while both respecting and fostering faculty expertise and autonomy?  

Topic #3: So what makes this teaching? Observations for Instructors of PDCs

The quality of online learning has always been suspect, so assessment has always been a part of the history of online teaching. Specifically, online course design assessment has been well studied across distance education scholars (Benigno & Trenton, 2008) as well as online scholars within specific disciplines, like Writing studies  (Warnock, 2009; Miller-Cochran & Rodrigo, 2006; Morain & Swarts, 2011). This scholarship has resulted in articles, books, book chapters that focus on how to design online courses, how to assess those online courses, and has even resulted in assessment tools, like the Quality Matters rubric, for best practices in online course design.  This rubric is used as an industry standard in many institutions. However, many of these studies and tools assume that the courses being designed will be taught by the instructor designing them. Even those, Tobin, Mandernach, and Taylor (2015), that emphatically try to distinguish between course design and teaching behaviors when discussing online evaluation find it difficult to draw clear lines between them. However, the need for this distinction is critical in programs using PDCs. How do online program administrators distinguish evaluating course design from instructional behaviours while evaluating faculty teaching PDCs? How do online faculty demonstrate their critical and creative online instructional behaviors in PDCs when being evaluated by faculty and administrators who do not understand online teaching and learning?