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22st Annual OLC International Conference
November 16-18, 2016 | Orlando, Florida | Walt Disney World Swan/Dolphin Resort

OLC Innovate 2016 - Innovations in Blended and Online Learning
April 20-22, 2016 | New Orleans, LA | Sheraton New Orleans Hotel

A Checklist for Online/Blended Course Design

Brooke Buerkle (Relay Graduate School of Education, USA)
Alice Waldron (Relay Graduate School of Education, USA)
Session Information
July 7, 2015 - 1:00pm
Teaching & Learning Effectiveness
Areas of Special Interest: 
Institutional Initiatives
Major Emphasis of Presentation: 
Best Practices
Institutional Level: 
Multiple Levels
Audience Level: 
Session Type: 
Information Session
Governor's Square 11
Session Duration: 
50 Minutes
Concurrent Session 1

Relay GSE's innovative "design indicators" set a standard for blended design and faculty development. This presentation introduces our indicators, chronicles their rollout, and discuss evaluation.

Extended Abstract

Relay Graduate School of Education is an innovative teacher-training program dedicated to preparing a new generation of school teachers and leaders to positively impact the lives of their students. In partnership with Hunter College, Relay GSE (then operating as Teacher U) first opened its doors in 2007 to an initial graduate class of 33. Today, as a MSCHE and NCATE accredited institution, 1,400 students are pursuing advanced degrees through Relay GSE campuses in six states.

Relay GSEs expansion provided the catalyst for our centrally-designed curriculum to evolve from a completely in-person program to a two-year blended program. Almost all MAT courses feature both mandatory online and in-person learning components, with roughly 40 percent of our total two-year program delivered digitally.

In both traditional and online formats, Relay GSE strives to design learning experiences that reflect our theory of action, namely: 1) a relentless focus on replicable techniques of high achieving teachers, 2) multiple opportunities for practice in low-stakes environments, and 3) authentic assessments that measure an educators ability to integrate the detailed techniques into their own teaching.

As an organization Relay GSE is committed to constant improvement, however our early efforts at a data-driven redesign of online/blended courses were often hampered by low levels of survey completion, mercurial attitudes toward digital learning, and individual survey questions that provided insight into only in-person learning experiences (e.g., please rate your professor and do you get feedback regularly). Recognizing the problem, in 2014 Relay GSE began an expansive review of all our online/blended coursework. Our goal was to provide a consistent lexicon by which to describe attributes of online/blended instructional design, identify high performing elements from our online/blended courses that could be used as exemplars, and help influence future redesign of online/blended learning by providing meaningful data and direction.

We began by using publicly available online learning design rubrics to score each of our modules, but we soon realized that much of the existing literature focuses on technical criteria and questions of user experience; issues that are generally beyond the control of our teaching and design faculty.

In contrast, our close examination of Relay GSEs coursework revealed three main design and implementation inconsistencies that were adversely affecting student learning: 1) Ahead of in-person sessions, individual professors often redesigned significant portions of the centrally designed in-person curriculum, making it duplicative of the online instruction; 2) Proposed design revisions almost always required prerequisite technical upgrades that quickly overwhelmed our Engineering Teams limited capacity; 3) Our design staff did not share a common vision for strong online instruction.

In response, we created a new metric for measuring the efficacy of online instruction. The resulting design indicators represent a practical roadmap for designing platform-agnostic, high quality online/blended learning experiences. Current state, it represents our most sustained effort to support the professional development of our design and teaching faculty as they navigate the emerging world of digital learning.

We originally introduced the design indicators in the context of an online learning rubric, however the numeric scores created a general unease amongst faculty who, despite our best intentions, viewed them as evaluative markers. The updated iteration replaces numeric scores with consistent expository language and emphasizes best practices over design flaws.

Rollout of the current version of the design indicators checklist began with soliciting feedback from design directors and direct managers. After integrating their feedback (tracking larger questions for consideration after the first year of implementation), and sharing an assessment of two commonly known modules, we collectively presented the checklist to the broader staff.

By the end of the academic year, over 40 blended modules will have been evaluated using the design indicators checklist. Combined with other datapoints (faculty and student feedback, user data from our online content, and assessment data), well be well positioned to make strategic decisions about which modules need to be revised and which designers may need additional professional development.

During our proposed Online Learning Consortium presentation, we plan to introduce the Relay GSEs design indicators checklist, detail its development and share examples of online/blended learning that correlates to specific criteria. Particular emphasis will be given to our experience introducing the checklist to our design and faculty teams, confirming our shared understanding of each indicators intent, and chronicling how the faculty uses the criteria to track progress toward performance management goals.

From a lecture hall to a course taught via iPad, great educators all invest their students in challenging learning goals, create objective-driven lessons, consistently measure student progress, use data to inform subsequent instructional choices, and hold students accountable to objective mastery. While the medium of online/blended learning continues to evolve, we believe that the criteria of great teaching remains consistent.

Lead Presenter

Brooke leads the design of online and in-person core, blended learning, and social studies curriculum at Relay GSE, and serves as an Assistant Professor of Practice. Before coming to Relay GSE, Brooke taught high school and middle school social studies in DC Public Schools where she also served as a Teacher Central to Leadership Fellow aiding the development and roll-out of the Teaching & Learning Framework of the IMPACT evaluation system. Brooke holds a master's degree in Teaching and Curriculum from Harvard University and a bachelor's degree in Political Science & Women's Studies from The George Washington University.