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Marrying ADDIE and SAM, Taking an Iterative Approach for Designing High Quality Online Courses in Higher Education

Jonathan M Thomas (University of Utah, USA)
Qin Li (University of Utah, USA)
Session Information
October 14, 2015 - 2:45pm
Learning Effectiveness
Major Emphasis of Presentation: 
Practical Application
Major Emphasis of Presentation: 
Research Study
Major Emphasis of Presentation: 
Theory/Conceptual Framework
Institutional Level: 
Multiple Levels
Audience Level: 
Session Type: 
Information Session
Northern Hemisphere A1
Session Duration: 
45 Minutes
Concurrent Session 3

How to combine a stage-based course design approach with agile project management? We will share our adaptation of Michael Allen's Successive Approximation Model.

Extended Abstract

To share our experiences implementing agile course design through an engaging conference presentation including an interactive discussion with the audience.

The University of Utah (FTE 28,000) is developing five programs as part of the new online Initiative.This interdepartmental effort is drawing from groups across campus with the intent of providing online students with a quality course experience. As part of the initiative, the University reviewed its instructional design process to determine how to optimize time spent in course development. Our previous waterfall approach required a large upfront cost in terms of design, but was not delivering the desired quality in learning experiences for our students. We assessed our workflows and discovered three major issues:
1. Our team of five instructional designers needed a way to communicate more effectively
2. Changes to course design would frequently set back due dates, some not getting finished on time
3. The end state of the courses that were created was not meeting our quality expectations

Agile design promises reduced time in development while simultaneously improving quality by embracing change as an important element in improving a course. In researching the development of Agile methodologies in software design, we saw a parallel with our own field and current limitations we were experiencing. As part of our adoption of agile, we modified the Agile Manifesto (a set of principles that guide agile approaches) and created our own Instructional Design Agile Manifesto.

Some changes made to the agile manifesto were simple, such as changing "Individuals & Interactions" to "Students & Interactions". Others were more involved:

- Continuous Evaluation - Instructional design is different from software design in complexity. Each course is taught differently and the variables that influence success are complicated. For this reason, we used the phrase "Continuous Evaluation over Comprehensive Documentation" to signify the need in agile ID for consistently checking assumptions with clients.
- Role Alignment over Crafted Objectives - In agile software design, "Customer Collaboration" refers to the concept of treating customers as partners and avoiding the competitive environment that often attends contract negotiation. For some higher education institutions, the process of creating learning objectives has become a similar source of tension. Therefore, an alignment between perspectives of the development team members is valued over crafted objectives.

Agile Team Practices
As part of our adoption of agile, we also began using common team-based agile practices.
- A paired instructional designer approach. Each course is assigned a primary instructional design and secondary instructional designer.
- Development sprints and iterations. Agile teams set course development goals within a cycle of 3-week iteration so that the team is always focused on the most important tasks.
- Burn-down charts. Burn-down charts allow agile teams to quickly determine if they are on track to complete work for the iteration.
- Stand-up meeting. Each morning the team meets together for 5-15 minutes to touch base and collectively solve issues that have arisen.

Instructional Design Process
One of the big pitfalls of the waterfall course design approach was it was usually not until the teaching stage when problems were discovered. In order to catch the problems at an earlier stage, we adapted SAM (Successive Approximation Model) to create an iterative course design process. After a series of refinements, we came up with our course prototype diagram.

The course prototype diagram lists five major phases involved in course design
- Situational Factor Analysis/Dream exercise ? establishes valued outcomes for the course
- Savvy Meeting - clarifies information about the course and identify objectives
- Course Assessments - establishes assessments in alignment to course objectives
- Course Activities - ensures that course activities align to course objectives and assessments
- Course Structure - determines the organizational structure

The first pass through the course design focuses on identifying the major components (dream statement, objectives, major assessments, activities) and creating an organization structure of the course and sequentially aligned activities. Additional passes through the course design focus on prototyping specific learning outcomes, assessment, student activities/interaction, setting up the mockups of the course structure and completing the course content map by filling in all the missing pieces.

Student & Alumni Evaluations of Course
Students and alumni were asked to review the course templates and the designed course components. These evaluations include major course navigation, course structure, ease of locating course information, the course instructions, value in completing the activities, etc. The feedback was very positive in general. Comments and suggestions were used to adjust the courses by the instructional designers.

We interviewed five instructional designers about their experience using the process. The following major themes emerge about the practicality of the process:

- The prototypes process was found to be very helpful and faculty seemed to appreciate the instruments and the guided help.
- The process was found to be flexible in terms of meeting different working/thinking styles of both the instructional designers and faculty. Some faculty, especially, those who have been teaching for a long time, needed to refer to the context of their courses in order to come up with course objectives. Instructional designers were able to adapt to the needs of the faculty member.
- Visuals helped faculty engage in abstract thinking, identifying and refining the workflow of assignments. They also helped guide instructional designers in course prototypes.
- Faculty buy-in was important. Some were open to ideas, but others who had a clear idea of how to do certain things tended to stick with their own ideas.

Current Issues
- Faculty availability was a big problem causing some of the projects to be delayed.
- For some of the courses, the meetings spent too much time on the objectives, grid and content map, leaving the time short for course prototypes. More time was needed for development and production.
- Staff training on the process was inadequate and we need to work on making sure every member of the team is working off the same assumptions.

Lead Presenter

Jon Thomas is the Director of Teaching and Learning Technologies at the University of Utah. Jon has a long history working with education technologies including his previous work at enPraxis/COSL, helping to develop the Open Courseware platform, eduCommons. He earned M.S. degree and is currently in the dissertation stage of the doctoral program in Instructional Technology and Learning Sciences at Utah State University. His interests include agile course development, the influence of technology on higher education culture, and community engagement in online environments.

Dr. Qin Li is the Senior Instructional Designer at the University of Utah. Her currrent work involves the instructional design of online programs as part of the UOnline initiative. Qin has taught the Cyber Pedagogy course at the University and was instrumental in the development of the Quality Course Framework (qcf.utah.edu). Her passion for developing quality learning experiences has been recognized by both her team members as well as her colleagues.