This Is How We Do It: Part III

If you’ve been reading this blog over the past few days, you’ll know that this post is the third in a series of course design and development overviews.  We’ve already walked through the analysis/pre-planning, blueprint design, and content pairing phases, and will conclude today with a discussion of our approach to developing the final exam and various other pieces of content.

Developing the ExamExam

Once a course is marked –FINAL (after running through several rounds of edits), the professor begins to develop the final exam.  We begin with an exam consultation, through which the editor and professor discuss and define the exam’s design.  Our standard exams feature a bank of 100 multiple-choice questions organized by unit, from which 50 are randomly selected and scrambled in Moodle, the open-source learning management system we use to administer our final examinations.  For some courses—especially upper level mathematics—this model is impractical, and we adjust as necessary.  Once we have these “specs” nailed down, we send the professor off to create the question bank.


Each question is carefully aligned with an outcome, multiple outcomes, a portion of an outcome, or portions of multiple outcomes.  The professors are required, as a step in question development, to indicate which outcome the question tests.  These questions are angled towards critical thinking and application.  They are challenging to develop, but our professors have done a superb job.

The exams are again put through the editing process, and then, when finalized, uploaded to Moodle and posted to our site.  At this stage in course development, we consider the course “ready for peer review.”  You can read more about our peer review process, through which we ask a peer review panel to evaluate our online courses and provide us with detailed feedback on a variety of criteria, here.  Interested in peer reviewing our courseware?  Contact me!

Authoring Original Content

Based on the professor’s feedback in his or her course submission survey, we decide which sections of the course need additional content (often in order to bolster current selections or fill content gaps).  Professors put together “original content plans” that outline the types of content (prose, assignment, audio-visual, assessment, etc.) that need to be developed and, if assessment-oriented, align those with the course’s learning outcomes.  If approved, the consultant sets to work developing this original content and then submits them to editing prior to their upload to the site.

The scope of content needed varies by course; some need very little, others need entire course packs/primers.  It is our belief that all courses need assessment cycles, and, now that we are nearing completion of the original list of 241 courses, we are focusing on their development.  We are also experimenting with other types of content—HTML assignments for those professors with tech savvy; reading questions accompanied by “guides to responding”; Khan Academy-style audio-visual clips; and “FAQs,” in which our professors intuit the sorts of questions and problem areas that students will likely have, and respond to them in conversational prose answers.

Concluding Thoughts/Lessons Learned

The past three posts have presented our process in some detail, but I wanted to highlight some important lessons that I’ve learned as I’ve managed our course development:

  1. Stay open.  In a field dedicated to the concept of openness, this statement is akin to stating the obvious, but it is easy to find yourself locked into one manner of handling all course development issues.  We have learned that we need to be flexible, and that different disciplines (and courses!) have unique needs and design issues that need to be handled differently.  There should be little that is programmatic about course or content development.
  2. Leverage your resources.  Again, “stating the obvious” in our industry, but we make a point of repurposing and recycling all content that exists elsewhere before we develop anything ourselves.  We also try to leverage the impressive breadth of knowledge and expertise that our consultants bring to the table—their years of experience in the classroom push us to improve our courses and course design process constantly.  We rely on them to help us make decisions that are pedagogically sound.
Photo Credit, albertogp123

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