Getting and/or Redesigning Content

The following are some notes that I will use for a presentation that I am giving to my department about how, I as a designer, get or redesign content that I receive from instructors for their online courses. Each heading represents a different slide in the minimalist presentation of just headings and bullets. The explanations below will be verbally presented.

Let me first say that each course brings its own unique set of constraints and situations for all of us to work around. This being said the same strategy might not work for every course because each course has its own unique situation. What worked for one course might not work for another. What worked for one instructor might not work for another. What works for one designer also might not work for another.

Constraints & Situations?
Like I was saying, the same strategy might not work for every course because each course has its own unique constraints and situations:

  • Constraints: Time (e.g., 6 month – 1 month)
  • Situations: Brand new online course, new online course taught face-to-face, redesigning old online course, etc.

The biggest constraint is always time. Do we have 6 months or 1 month? Situations might be designing a new course that has never been taught before vs. designing an online course that has been taught face-to-face. Or what about redesigning an online course that has been taught before? The answers to these questions will affect the strategies and tools to obtain and or redesign the content.

Perfect Design Situation
For the purposes of this discussion today I have assumed that the situation is a brand new course, never taught online, 6 months for development, and an instructor who is very flexible and open to ideas.

Provide Course Examples
The following strategies and tools would be put in place after I have walked an instructor through the design of some of my previous courses and discussed the types of things that I can create for an online course.

Push Face-to-Face Mindset
No matter what the constraints or situations, you can always get the instructor talking about what they would do if this course was taught face-to-face. The purpose of this strategy is to:

  • Designing The Transition
    This is always a great starting point and then it is up to us as there designer to “design” that transition.
  • Quality Control
    This is something that I bring up often if I don’t feel like I am getting a quality lecture, assignment description, etc. I say things like, how would you introduce this assignment to the class if you were standing in front of a classroom?
  • More Than Just Readings
    The students don’t just show up to Room 234 and read from their textbook. What would you say to them about the text? What would you discuss?

Push Deadlines
Always make sure that the instructor understands the deadlines. They often need to be reminded. The purpose of this strategy is to:

  • Always mention clone date
    No matter what the development time is allotted, always push them to have everything to you by the clone date.
  • Establish goal date if courses are far off
    If there are courses with 6+ months, mention this deadline but suggest an earlier deadline so it doesn’t feel like they don’t have to get started. For example, on Spring 2 courses I have been telling everyone to try to get me everything before winter break.

Push Contact
Always attempt to maintain constant contact with the instructors you are heavily working with. The purpose of this strategy is to:

  • Meeting Updates
    I try to send a list of the items that both the instructor and I talked about and what we are all working on after each meeting. This puts us all on the same page and gives them the opportunity to reflect and also refute on something as well.
  • Weekly Updates
    I try to maintain weekly contact with the instructors whom I am heavily designing a course with. In these emails I ask them about items they are working on and let them know what I have completed as well.
  • Building Confirmation
    I try to let an instructor know when I have completed something and it is ready for their review in the course as a reply to some content that I received from them.
  • Meeting Scheduling Reminders
    Whenever I hear back about a meeting availability I respond with a confirmation. If the meeting was scheduled a few weeks previous, I try to send out a reminder email a few days before.

Initial Design Tools
A key thing that I always try to mention to instructors is that these tools we are creating are just for our eyes and the students will never see them. So they should feel free to write me notes, brainstorm, etc. because they are just used to design the course and not the finished product that students will see.

  • Outline
  • Course Introduction
  • Syllabus

These are the tools that I try to get instructors working within after our initial design meeting.

Outline Tool
One of the things that I work with the instructor to create at the very beginning is a rough outline of the entire course. In our very first meeting I present to them what the outline looks like and the types of things they should include in their outline.

I find that most instructors really find this initial strategy rather tedious and if I don’t get them onboard with it in the first meeting, then I may have missed my opportunity. Because they always want to jump in head first and start working on the Week 1 lecture… and sometimes at the expense of not knowing where they are going.  The purpose of this tool is to:

  • Determine Weekly Topics
    Ideally I try to get the instructors to write out their main weekly topics and ideas they might have on how they would like to present those.
  • Prioritize Needs
    This then will be a “roadmap” that I can follow when we are designing each week in greater depth. It also helps me prioritize what needs to be done for custom development.
  • Help Brainstorm Topic Presentation
    There have been times when instructors written out topics and then we work together to figure out how to present that topic.
  • Help remind them of what they forgot
    There has also been times when an instructor lists some topics and then they forget down the road about the topic and this document helps me remind them.
  • Topics vs. Sequential Chapter Readings
    Another thing that I want to stress is to get instructors to list out topics and not just chapters. They often want follow a textbook sequentially which then runs the risk of a course that will rely too much on the weekly readings for their main content. If we get them to write out topics then there is a good chance the course will bring in other types of content outside of the textbook, e.g., videos, images, other readings, etc. and or encourage the instructor to develop some of those topics themselves.
  • What if this is all I get?
    Another good point is that sometimes this could be all that I get out of an instructor… If it is filled in with the appropriate material for each week I would essentially have a good amount of stuff to work with to build a very basic course of readings, discussions, and assignments… which we know happens sometimes.

Course Introduction Tool
The second document that I try to get instructors to compose is a course introduction. Here I try to get instructors to write out what they would say if they were teaching this class face to face. The purpose of this tool is to:

  • Solidify Ideas
    I find this document helps instructors solidify their ideas about the entire course. Then it is up to me to make sure that both the outline and introduction work well together.
  • Cross Check w/ Outline
    I have seen instances (especially with a brand new course) where an instructor mentions themes in their intro that are not even represented in their outline.

Syllabus Tool
The final initial document is the syllabus. Depending on the situation this could be something that is created by the instructor or one that they are provided. In any case the main thing that I am looking for on here are:

  • Course Description
  • Objectives
  • Major Course Assignments
  • Grading

I then have to make sure that all of this information meshes with what is found in the outline and introduction. I have seen situations where the course description and objectives was completely different than what was found in the outline and introduction. Although in the perfect situation these could be written after the instructor solidifies the course in with the outline and intro.

Forthcoming Design Meetings
Once we have our minds wrapped around the initial design documents then we can start moving forward with the meat and potatoes of the course.

  • Assignment Descriptions
  • Weekly Content Template

Assignment Descriptions
I find that getting instructors to fully write out their assignments in the initial phases of design helps. The purpose of this tool is to:

  • How Would You Present This Face-to-Face?
    This is a perfect opportunity to continually reiterate, how would you explain this assignment if you were teaching this course face-to-face.
  • Fully Communicate Expectations
    Getting an instructor to fully communicate their expectations of an assignment is often difficult.
  • Envision The Ideal Student
    I always like to tell them that the ideal student wants an A and will do exactly what you ask them to do. So if the assignment description is vague then the student does not have much to work with. They will then have to ask a ton of questions which will take up their time or they will not succeed in the assignment because they didn’t have the instructors full expectations.
  • Influence Strategies
    One of the teaching methods that I always try to incorporate with major course assignments is the opportunity for students to have one on one with an instructor by submitting drafts or segments of essays, research reports, or presentations. For example, getting students to submit a topic in Week 2 and references in Week 3. This will model the flow of how these pieces of a paper should come together but also increase what is produced by a students because of the feedback they have received along the way.

Weekly Content Template
The remainder of the design of the course is getting the instructor to create the weekly content within our 3 types of pages, i.e., overview, lecture, and activities. There are some instructors who have a difficult time working within this template so we end up doing something else, while others love it. Again as these are coming in I always try to compare what is found on the outline with the content here. I am surprised how often an instructor will forget something that they originally intended to include. The purpose of this tool is to:

  • Provide Feedback
    As these come in, I often put some comments within them using track changes and send them back to the instructor for further development as needed.
  • Mock-Up
    This is also a comfortable pallet for the instructor to see how things will look on a page and then there will not be any questions after the content is designed in HTML.
  • Know What Is Needed
    I do find it helps instructors to have a template to work with because then they know that they have to put something in all of the spots, e.g., introduction, objectives, readings, discussions, etc. Some of this will have already been created with their outlines and or syllabus. Often as instructors are plugging in items in here they are forced to further refine their ideas and or discuss with me how they would want to change their outline and why.
  • Brainstorm Weekly Lecture
    But the main items for us to work on in this template is the weekly lecture.  Here they write out their thoughts on topics, past in photos of images, links to YouTube videos, etc.

About DaveHallmon

With experience in web, graphic, and instructional design, Dave maintains a balance between what is efficient and effective in every message. He always focuses on the why and how rather than "just doing it" to get the job done. By day he works at a leading university designing online courses that support 9,000 students in 64 countries. He works directly with faculty to brainstorm, design, and develop their online instruction utilizing the Adobe suite. He also teaches for the university as an adjunct faculty member in the area of web design. By night he is a devoted husband, father, freelancer, and adventurer of the outdoors. His other interests include LifeHacker, Science Fiction and Hayao Miyazaki movies, Settlers of Catan, and coffee with friends. He currently lives in St. Louis and has an M.S. in Instructional Design and aspires to pursue a professional degree in content marketing and strategy. Visit the links below for more information about his interests and design work.
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