By Dr. Bjorn Mercer
Program Director, Communication, Philosophy, Religion, World Languages and the Arts, American Public University
This is the second article in a three-part series about how the Disney movie creative process could be adapted to improve course development.
In Part I of this series, I discussed how dailies — collaborative meetings that went over animated scenes — were used in the production of the movie “Frozen II.” In Part II, I will apply these collaborative lessons into course development in higher education.
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The Curriculum in Higher Education Needs More Flexibility
Higher education needs to be flexible. Many things have changed over the last 30 years, including a portion of higher education now being taught exclusively online, political distrust of the value of a college degree, years of state funding cuts and immense student debt that burdens millions of people. With all of these pressures on educational institutions around the country, the quality of the courses that faculty teach needs to be the highest possible for countless reasons.
This is why college faculty, administrators, and staff can learn a great deal from the creative process behind “Frozen II” and other large, animated features. For instance, higher education can use the concept of the dailies to improve course development.
Imagine, for example, that there is a new course that is being developed from scratch. This course is 100% online, and faculty members are unable to meet in person. The basic process can also be applied to course revisions and program updates.
The Traditional Phases of Course Development
There are numerous steps when initiating new course development for a college course. Let’s say that the course has been submitted for review and approved by the college or university. The proper resources have been discussed in relation to the new course’s development: budget, faculty workload and multimedia budget. Consideration would also be given to whether or not the course would be part of a degree program or if it will be a general education class.
In addition, course objectives need to be carefully crafted, and weekly objectives and weekly topics should be sketched out. Also, the institutional learning outcomes should be mapped to the main assessments of the course, and backward course design should be used.
Using Open Educational Resources for Course Development
One of the more important aspects of the initial phase of course development is finding a textbook. For online classes, the ideal choice is to use an open educational resource (OER). OER textbooks can be free or low cost. Because a student will not have to purchase a physical textbook that costs anywhere from $50 to $200, that will save the student a significant amount of money, especially if a student takes four to six classes that all need different books.
The only downside of OERs is that they might not be current as desired or might have gaps in their completeness. But all textbooks have flaws, including some being written by one person, which gives the textbook a limited perspective.
Beginning the Course Development Process
At the beginning of the new course development process, the Course Manager — the faculty member creating the course — needs to reach out to the faculty pool and ask for their ideas and suggestions. That group of faculty members can also find additional articles, videos, audio podcasts and infographics, so the required readings for the class will be thorough.
Reaching out to the entire faculty pool can be done by sending an email to all the faculty in the department and to faculty that teach similar courses. A basic syllabus should be included and the Course Manager can request the following:
- Reading suggestions such as blog posts, journal articles and newspaper stories
- Additional educational resources, including audio podcasts and videos
- Various visual resources such as images, infographics or presentations
- Ideas or examples for weekly discussion prompts
- Ideas or examples for assessments such as essays, videos, worksheets, or other multimedia or multi-modal assignments
- Suggestions or edits for any part of the basic syllabus
- Suggestions for content for weekly lesson content
By asking for ideas, the Course Manager includes the faculty pool in the course development process. The faculty teaching the course will have more investment in the class and will have been given a chance to include their own ideas. The course will also benefit from the inclusion of multiple perspectives being included early in the course development, which will make the course better over the long term.
Facilitating Social Collaboration
To facilitate collaboration, especially online, a great deal of work has to be done before any emails are sent about courses. Some ways to facilitate collaboration for online college faculty include:
- Department meetings — In these meetings, content-specific information is discussed, such as curriculum, program information, course updates and college/university updates.
- Teaching meetings — Teaching meetings should occur to go over the nuts and bolts of online teaching. Online teaching requires a great deal of consistent activity in the learning management system (LMS) and teaching expectations need to be clearly communicated. Expectations need to be restated every once in a while, and teaching resources need to be provided and demonstrated when possible.
- Additional meetings — Any additional meetings need to be kept to a minimum, and the dailies can be part of this category. These meetings can be scheduled as needed and ideally should be held during typical meeting times. For example, if department meetings are 4 p.m. on the first Monday of the month, then the dailies can be on the second, third or fourth Monday at the same time.
The need to have consistent meetings with faculty to build rapport and trust cannot be overstated. Building a faculty culture of innovation and collaboration does not just happen; it needs to be curated and nurtured.
In the same vein as the collaborative dailies used for “Frozen II,” there have to be consistent meetings that are open and friendly. Also, faculty members need to have their ideas heard, and teaching and curricular concerns have to be addressed and fixed. Rapport needs to be established, maintained, and fostered month after month and year after year.
In the final part of this series, Part III, I will talk about the specifics of the dailies, including the benefits and challenges of the dailies and how the power of collaboration can be harnessed for higher education faculty.
About the Author
Dr. Bjorn Mercer is a Program Director at American Public University. He holds a bachelor’s degree in music from Missouri State University, a master’s and doctorate in music from the University of Arizona, and an MBA from the University of Phoenix. He writes about culture, leadership, and why the humanities and liberal arts are critical to career success. Dr. Mercer also writes children’s music.
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