Building an openly-licensed “course in a box” in a month

A group of KPU’s Applied Communications & Public Relations (ACPR) instructors and Dr. Seanna Takacs, Educational Consultant for Universal Design for Learning (UDL) in KPU’s Teaching & Learning Commons and Accessibility Services, teamed up this summer to respond to a unique Call for Proposals issued by BCcampus: to develop an open online course (OOC) within four weeks to be available for instructors in Fall 2020. The team was motivated to create this online open course as a way to support instructors who are interested in exploring open pedagogy and open education resources. As well, oftentimes contract faculty at institutions around the province are hired at the last minute prior to the start of the semester. Having freely-accessible and openly-licensed course materials, or a “course in a box,” could be a helpful resource and support to last-minute hires and others.  

So, how does one develop a complete course – including weekly lesson plans, sample assignments, videos, interactive H5P activities, PowerPoint slides, audio recordings, and readings – within a one-month timeframe? In short, through a combination of teamwork and resourcefulness.

The team members – Melissa Ashman, Arley Cruthers, Peg Fong, John Grant, and Seanna Takacs – have been early adopters of open education resources (OER). Notably, Arley currently serves as KPU’s Open Education Teaching Fellow, and Melissa presently serves as KPU’s Open Education Research Fellow. Arley had already developed an online textbook – Business Writing for Everyone – as part of KPU’s open-textbook initiative, and had spent significant energy on developing a student-friendly online curriculum for CMNS 1140 Introduction to Professional Communications. The course is the first-year business communications course required of all business degree and diploma students at KPU, as well as some additional programs in other disciplines. 

Additionally, members of the ACPR department had also created Student Engagement Activities for Business Communications – an open textbook to provide activities for instructors to consider infusing into their courses that teach principles of professional communication.

The team therefore used both these texts and the CMNS 1140 course template as their baseline and were the first group to submit their final product to BCcampus before the deadline.

While aggressive in timeline, the approach taken to develop and package this course is one that can certainly be replicated for those interested in packaging their own OOC or even developing a shared course within a given program or department. The key elements of this approach included:

  1. Setting clear goals: The team began the process by mapping out shared goals in terms of what the deliverables would look like, when they were needed, and also how the finished product would be delivered. All of this impacted the overall approach taken, including the development of a Pressbooks site as well as a Google Drive folder to host materials that could be easily shared.
  2. Identifying a project manager: With five team members and an aggressive timeline, it was critical to have one person assigned to serve as the project manager. In this case, Melissa pulled together a task list, kept track of assigned duties, gently poked team members on occasion, and ensured that all of the requirements were gathered and accounted for. Don’t underestimate or undervalue the need for this role.

  3. Conducting individual reviews of content: Team members individually conducted a review and audit of both the open texts as well as the course template that was used. Notes were taken on a shared document and several meetings occurred where the group discussed and debated about which adjustments were required. Conducting individual reviews allowed for different perspectives to shine through and avoided group-think from potentially emerging.
  • Identifying shared resources and expertise: Team members all contributed resources that they had previously designed or developed. Some had supporting readings or videos, others had H5P activities, and some had alternative examples to add into the existing lectures.Once again, this afforded the contribution of content that metthe needs of a diverse student population, including English language learners; students from diverse cultural backgrounds; mature students; and students who are LGBTQIA2S+, neurodiverse, and/or disabled. Additionally, all members contributed content that ensured the course incorporated principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL); diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI); Indigenous pedagogies; and open pedagogy.
  • Surveying your audience: A fundamental goal of the project was to ensure that the content would be student-focused. Consequently, the team conducted two focus groups with students who were enrolled in Arley’s CMNS 1140 course in the summer. It was important to collect data from the students who had lived experience with the content to determine its strengths and areas for development. The findings from the focus groups directly informed where the project group invested its time and energy towards developing new content.
  • Communicating regularly: With a tight timeline, it was critically important for the project group to maintain regular communication.  MS Teams, Google Spreadsheets, and OneDrive provided a great multi-modal set of tools for the team to remain connected and coordinated. This allowed for shared documents that prevented redundant versioning, and also allowed team members to regularly access the task schedule to update their own tasks while viewing others’ progress.
  • Using a unified voice: After all 73 pieces of content were gathered and assembled, members of the team were assigned to ensure components flowed and had the same look and voice/tone. This made for a consistent final package that seamlessly brought together all elements from five different contributors. 
  • Working with compassion: As with most team projects, there were challenges. Some had personal issues crop up, and others just had busier than expected days. Regardless, the team was transparent and timely; deadlines were slightly shifted or tasks shared where needed. There was no judgement and full support was offered.
  • Celebrating: Upon final submission, the team recognized what an accomplishment this was, especially given that most were simultaneously teaching during the term, parenting during a pandemic, and working towards an aggressive timeline. While simple in nature, a final celebration was scheduled in a park as a tiny socially distanced party. This helped to formally close the project while also allowing the team to connect in a more social capacity – something that we all need these days…

The business communications OOC we developed can be viewed at https://pressbooks.bccampus.ca/businesscommsooc/.

If you have a course that you’re particularly proud of, then you may wish to consider developing it as an OOC; we hope that our approach and lessons learned can help to provide some structure and guidance to make the process as smooth as possible.

While the BCcampus OOC Call for Submissions has closed, there may still be opportunities to participate. Learn more here:

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Arley Cruthers
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John Grant
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Seanna has worked with children, teens, and young adults with learning difficulties from the earliest stages of her career. She holds a PhD in Educational Psychology from SFU where she studied reading comprehension and more broadly, variation in language acquisition and literacy processes. Seanna was an instructor in post-secondary for ten years, teaching courses on instructional psychology, reading, and learning disabilities. Her interest in Universal Design for Learning is contemporaneous with her investigation of learning differences: what differences exist, are those differences meaningful, and how can we ameliorate those differences through strong teaching and curriculum design practices? Combined with her role in Accessibility Services at KPU, Seanna is excited to work on both sides of the fence supporting both students and instructors in equitable educational access for all.

Peg Fong
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