In 2015, the Instructional Design team at MSU Denver recognized a growing need to establish added structure and improved processes in order to meet the growing demands of online and hybrid education. In response, the MSU Denver Agile Instructional Design Network (AIDNet) and Course Design Xchange (CoDeX) was established. AIDNet represents a new practice, mindset, and organizational infrastructure supporting instructional design at MSU Denver. Consisting of dynamic, cross-functional, three-person teams, AIDNet members work with autonomy, agility, and a focus towards collaborative efficiency. Each instructional design team within the network includes a senior instructional designer, online course developer, and instructional media specialist. This strategic coalition and scalable networked structure creates an exciting design environment which stimulates ongoing creativity, productivity, and continuous process and product improvement. Teams are empowered, self-organizing, self-managing, and accountable for the delivery of results that consistently meet faculty needs and expectations.
This new personnel restructure is accompanied by the Course Design Xchange, an institutional "market economy" within which departments and faculty "purchase" applicable instructional design services through five new course improvement programs (which have now been formally recognized, and adopted institutionally): CourseLaunch, CourseAssist, CourseConstellation, CourseSelect, and CourseCertify. Offering these process-driven programs, in conjunction with leveraging Quality Matters (QM) and a variety of new technologies, has led to a highly-flexible, systems-approach to instructional design with ever-growing potential, both at MSU Denver and nationally.
New relationships are being forged, the institutional culture has shifted, course improvements are being made equitably across the university, and a broader vision of possibilities is now shared between and among previously disparate departments and organizations.
Though this may seem to be more of a framework than a specific practice, we view this new systems-approach to instructional design as a distinct practice cultivated from a perceptual shift in thinking about how to effectively meet the growing need for online course development in higher education. AIDNet leverages sub-systems from a variety of domains including instructional design, network theory, agile design, team dynamics/management, and information systems in order to reimagine bureaucratic power structures and build efficiencies through iterative micro-design cycles. This organizational enhancement has led to greater campus-wide collaboration, more efficient process discovery, instructional design innovation, greater autonomy, experiential diversity, and ultimately the development of more effective learning experiences for all MSU Denver students.
CODEX IN ACTION
Beyond the effectiveness discovered in AIDNet with rebalancing personnel structures, the CoDeX has quite literally shifted an entire campus culture with regards to instructional design and instructional technology support services. In an effort to provide equitable resources to all faculty, this new practice and model leverages economic principles to allocate and track all course design requests by MSU Denver faculty, and all subsequent instructional design work offered by AIDNet teams. Total available design hours become the "currency," allowing senior instructional designers the information necessary to effectively scope (allocate time and resources) throughout each design cycle. Each available program (CourseLaunch, CourseAssist, CourseSelect, CourseConstellation, and CourseCertify) are assigned a fixed "cost" (i.e. implementation hours) and market consumers (faculty, chairs, deans, etc.) are given the opportunity to strategically "spend" their market share of Instructional Design Tokens (1 IDT = 1 hour). This effective new approach and practice allow AIDNet teams to account for overall project volume and strategically distribute time and resources in order to gain efficiencies through economy of scale.
The major benefit of the CoDeX model is the accountability, equitability, and scalability inherent to the system. It creates a broad understanding of available resources among all stakeholders and encourages strategic collaboration. A secondary benefit is the potential for long-term adaptability. As data is gathered, market administrators have the ability to "tweak" the market and influence desirable institutional direction with regards to online course design and program development. Lastly, the model is infinitely scalable. As demand grows, AIDNet teams can be added; ultimately acting as stimulus packages and injecting more IDTs (i.e. available hours) into the system.
This market-economy model offers the potential for a wide range of strategic initiatives, including but not limited to:
Adoption of the AIDNet framework has been significant in that it has acted as a catalyst for institutional change, and although the changes are relatively new, the impact can't be overstated. The cross-collaborative personnel structure, file and communication management overhauls, and extensive focus on continuous process improvement and documentation have created an environment wherein a variety of course design projects can not only be envisioned, but can be completed efficiently and equitably. This process-oriented approach has quickly bled into other departments on campus and is consistently referenced as the impetus for broader, high-impact institutional change.
While this new framework certainly benefits the university from a cultural perspective (i.e. employee satisfaction, collaborative potential, etc.), students ultimately experience the greatest impact. As consistency and course design quality cascades across the institution, student satisfaction, and ultimately retention, has followed suit.
There are ongoing quantitative (and qualitative) metrics associated with the new AIDNet CoDeX framework and associated course improvement programs. Using the Quality Matters rubric, three data points (each being a score of 0-99) are captured through each course design project:
Through one pilot and three full development cycles under this new model, the data with regards to course quality improvement is fairly staggering. Across 40+ courses, design quality (as defined by the 5th edition QM rubric) has improved by nearly 25% simply by applying a standard QM-informed institutional template. After design services are "purchased" and implemented, many courses are receiving near-perfect Q3 scores. To date, 3 courses have received an overall score of 99 and have been formally certified by Quality Matters, with another 4 to be certified in the coming months.
This data will continue to be collected, and in time, a secondary phase will be initiated wherein student retention and success will also be correlated to the improved structures, programs and processes.
The ultimate strength of the interrelated AIDNet and CoDeX frameworks and underlying practices is the broad applicability and potential for widespread impact. With this in mind, relation to each of the five OLC Effective Practice Pillars are discussed below:
Equity is inherent to this new model of instructional design. Leveraging more distributed personnel structures, and a market-economy model of time distribution, allows all faculty equal access to design support services. In turn, this equal access is passed along to students by way of a more even distribution of high-quality course design. This new model also places greater focus on universal design for learning (UDL) across a broader range of courses. Accessibility is no longer an uneven and narrow focus of select departments with the necessary resources and expertise. Instead, UDL has become a core focus for all courses exposed to the new AIDNet programs and practices.
Though there were initial pain points as more structured processes were deployed, the practice of equitable institutional ID support has ultimately led to greater satisfaction and cultural gains across MSU Denver. Once faculty become familiar with the AIDNet structure and new Design Xchange, they appreciate the transparency, equitability, and new opportunities for long-term collaboration. This new practice has catalyzed many new relationships and provided a renewed sense of identity and long-term vision for the university. Faculty awareness of the support services offered by the ID network has changed an entire culture. More and more faculty are feeling supported and discovering a new pedagogical energy and interest in online course design.
The new and innovative ID practice afforded by AIDNet and the CoDeX continue to yield superior courses, and ultimately, more effective pedagogical experiences for students. Through the systematic focus on foundational standards of design quality, instructors are able to focus more intently on their teaching practice. When the cognitive demand for students is centered on learning, as opposed to making sense of course organization and structure, the potential for authentic and effective learning becomes infinite. Though correlational efficacy data has yet to be fully explored, there are indications that this new institutional ID structure and practice will significantly increase the effectiveness of teaching and learning broadly and equitably.
Perhaps the most powerful aspect, specifically of AIDNet, is the infinite potential for scalability. As demand for online course development and improvement evolves, AIDNet teams can be added to the existing network without disrupting existing work-flows and processes. The distributed, self-organizing structure maximizes the potential for integration, both of personnel and process. The connected CoDeX is also scalable, just as a traditional market is when additional currency is introduced; the obvious difference being that the currency of the CoDeX is time. This inherent scalability has completely shifted many conversations with institutional leaders/stakeholders and introduced a new level of respect and awareness for the value of sound instructional design and subsequent long-term potential for MSU Denver.
Within an effective system of innovative project management and quality-driven course design, students become the ultimate beneficiaries. As an increasing number of courses move towards incorporating online/blended modes of instruction at MSU Denver, it becomes critical that the student experience is viewed as a priority. The AIDNet and CoDeX frameworks become an invisible mechanism with student satisfaction at their core. Although students are never explicitly exposed to this new practice, their learning experiences are all affected. Course organization and alignment, interactivity and agency, creative assessment opportunities (formative and summative), accessibility, community/industry integration; these elements, which have all been proven to increase student satisfaction, become strategically integrated into every AIDNet-influenced course.
Implementing this new effective instructional design practice requires very little in the way of physical equipment, and is much more centered on the development of efficient processes, attention to meaningful relationships, and a willingness to pursue cultural transformation. The only tools, which are now viewed as integral to the success of this effective practice, are Google Drive for project management and data collection/tracking/visualization, and Slack for real-time communication and collaboration. Beyond these free web tools, the success of this effective practice has been realized through honest conversation and a willingness to look beyond traditional models of course design and faculty support.
A key strength of this practice is that after the initial development, the associated costs scale in proportion to the demand. As course development demand rises, new AIDNet teams (network nodes) can be hired to meet demands. This allows the costs and associated risks to be fairly fluid depending on specific contexts and needs. The majority of associated costs came with the initial planning and development associated with personnel restructuring, program creation/promotion, and development of the CoDeX project management and data tracking schema. Though process improvement is an ongoing task which gets accounted for in the CoDeX economy, the initial investment was approximately 250 hours ($10k-$15k). This up-front cost now seems insignificant based on the gains seen over the course of two years, many of which are cultural, and therefore priceless.