Using Feedforward to Improve the Course Redesign-Relaunch Process
Concurrent Session 6
Course design is an iterative process with feedforward loops like student course reviews, peer observations, course grades, and self-reflections to name a few. The process might involve a SWOT-style analysis including course challenges students identify, opportunities for improvement from peers, and reflection on course goals to capture all input.
Prior to each term, hundreds of courses are loaded into college learning management systems (LMS) from master files ready for “pre-flight checks.” A rundown of a checklist ensures that links still work, assignment and exam due dates are refreshed for the new term, plug in the new syllabus and it’s published without much work. It’s a scalable model that works time and again for a higher education system that favors efficiency, effectiveness, and scalability. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
What is missing is the human intervention and iterative process that learns. While it is more cost effective to build a master course shell that can be reloaded time-after-time, is that the best model for our students? Does it serve our students’ career needs?
The redesign-relaunch process should include a variety of input from former students, colleagues, instructional designers, librarians, student services, and others. The multiple sources provide key data to continually improve the course activities, delivery of content, and meeting the other needs of students in the course.
In this session, we will identify various stakeholders in the course redesign and relaunch process. While the master course can serve as a starting point, certain pieces of critical information allow for a healthy, growth mindset approach to the process!
1. Student course evaluations
The previous students are the best at telling it like it is. Who on your campus is responsible for releasing the student course evaluations? Are faculty allowed to author special questions for their courses? If so, consider asking specific questions.
What aspects of the course met their expectations?
Which aspects fell short of their needs?
What are those needs that were not met?
Which assessments were most helpful to attaining the course objectives?
Which assessments were not helpful?
What aspects of the course were most confusing and should be clarified?
What did you enjoy most about the course?
2. Colleague or peer observation
Ask a colleague from your institution to observe an empty shell of your course. There a many models of how this can look, yet it is often up to you as the course instructor. One model from Penn State that has gained merit since it’s launch looks at many aspects of the course. The strength of this form is how it is guides the reviewer through the process: what are good traits in online courses, provides short examples of what it might look like in the course, and where it might be found in the course. There is also hyperlinked research and resources for the reviewer to use as suggestions for improvement back to the faculty member. There is a link to this model provided in the resources below.
Consider asking the reviewer to also address if the course is sufficiently organized with checklists and weekly announcements that connect the content to students’ life and current events? Does the instructor interact with students in the discussions and provide specific feedback on assessments rather than cut/paste stock responses? Does the instructor work to build a community of learners so that students feel a sense of belonging according to Maslow?
3. Former grades and assessments in the course
In previous semesters, were there bumps along the way that seemed to trip the students up on assessments, discussions, or in sequencing of the material? Run reports in the LMS to view if certain activities garnered lower grades than others. Did that assessment also have more student questions or confusion prior to submission than the assessments? How could the directions to the assessment, or even the assessment itself, be altered for clarity? Look at the workload for the students over the course of the semester – is it evenly spread across the term or bunched up near the midterm and final? Do you provide rubrics for assessments with sample descriptions for full points, partial points, and minimal/no points? Are there sample assignments/projects that you could share if students want to view a concept (not a “model” per se, but a sample)? Are the assessments in the course relevant and relatable to real world careers in the field that students can see and understand from their viewpoint? Is there a way to spark discussion among the learners with a “gallery walk” of sorts where students post their projects in a discussion forum?
4. SWOT analysis
Near the end of the course, offer students a survey on the course to gather specific data on the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats/challenges. The survey is more open-ended than a typical course evaluation and the survey can be done anonymously in most LMSs. The survey data is downloadable in a report for easy access.
5. Course goals, course learning objectives/module learning objectives
List out the course learning objectives and then connect those to the module learning objectives. Then think about each activity and assessment in that module. How are the activities and assessments achieving the module objectives? If it is not clear to you, then it is probably not clear to the students why they are doing the activity or assessment. Have you provided hard scaffolds in the course (pre-placed optional aids for students to use if needed such as APA or MLA style guides)? Have you placed soft scaffolds in the course (points where if a student is struggling they can reach out to a research librarian, you – the course instructor – or a technology specialist on campus for specific help?) Does the course utilize active learning principles or are student passive recipients of knowledge? Are the students cognitively engaged in the course? Are the students behaviorally engaged with the course? Are the students emotionally engaged in the course and with other learners?
6. Course designers
Course designers are essential to the redesign and relaunch process. While in times past, faculty might have taken issue with input from non-faculty into the design of the course, that is not the case now! Course designers hold the keys to new education technology tools available, teaching practices by other faculty that might benefit your students, helpful templates for university student resources, and assisting with accessibility, inclusivity, and universal design in the course structure and layout. Is there automated software in the LMS on the campus to alert the faculty when a student is struggling (such as “Dropout Detector”)?
Through the educational session, attendees will use elbow partners to redesign aspects of a model course using each of the six types of input. They will perform a “Gallery Walk” of the six feedforward sources made into posters hanging around the room. Elbow partners will contribute ideas/data points that could be derived from student course evaluations, peer observers, former grades, SWOT analyses, course goals, and course designers, as well as reflect upon the information provided for the model course, that might be able to provide to the redesign and relaunch process!