Blackboard, the ubiquitous online course-management tool, is a valuable resource for faculty, staff, and administrators alike. However, its learning outcomes are only as good as the quality of material that faculty members use to build all of their courses on the back end—a typically lengthy process. So when Regent University (Va.) officials decided to add an undergraduate business major and approached the school’s Center for Teaching & Learning in April 2008 to develop and deploy 40 online courses over the next year, CTL staff knew they had to find a different way of doing things.
As instructional designer Michael Pregitzer puts it, “When you’re given a year to do it, you have to reconsider the process.” Complicating matters: The first 12 courses had to be ready in time for the fall 2008 semester, which started in just four months.
In order to streamline things, CTL designated Pregitzer to serve as textbook coordinator, faculty contact, project manager, and Blackboard course developer, with faculty members providing course content and assessments. By dividing the workload into areas of expertise—with CTL handling course design and the faculty focusing on curriculum and grading—Regent officials hoped to increase efficiency and quality.
Pregitzer designed a Blackboard template including dialogues, quizzes, projects, and study materials; faculty members sent him an Excel spreadsheet with their content, which he dropped into the template. “Our template has areas for certain things—what you have to study, objectives, an overview, dialogues, and assignments—so that every week looks the same except for content,” he says. “It streamlines the process a lot if there’s a space for everything. And it helps the students a lot if they don’t have to hunt for their assignments. They know from course to course where they have to go for everything.”
According to Pregitzer, while the aim—the necessity, really—was to simplify the process to complete the task in time, the simplification had the added benefit of clarifying the learning experience for students and faculty. Ordinarily with Blackboard, he notes, “Professors can have their style and do what they want and put stuff where they want. That can be confusing for students going from one course to the other and can be a distraction to professors to have to come up with a design for each course.”
The project was a success. Course development time was slashed from between four and 12 weeks to about two weeks; over the first week, faculty created content and assessments, and over the second, Pregitzer built the course in Blackboard using his template. All deadlines were met—including the first requirement, the development of the initial 12 courses in four months. While originally the coursework was online only, this fall the program will also be available as 16-week on-campus courses with a Blackboard component.
The technology certainly helped matters, but Pregitzer cites proactive relationship building between the center and faculty members as fostering a collaborative atmosphere that contributed to the successful outcome. Additionally, remaining patient and keeping a close eye on the ultimate goal were critical.
“It’s easy to get distracted in these types of projects and maybe get too focused on the wording of something and ‘Does this image look right?’,” he says. The lessons, he adds: “Staying focused on what we were trying to do—make a course that’s easy for students to understand and navigate and to find things, and that’s real easy for faculty to put their content and assessments in.” Also key is “to not get distracted by some of those other things that weren’t important for those two goals,” he says. “Relations are pretty important for these things.”