Getting it right as a young institution offering open and distance learning has many challenges, not the least of which is finding a model for content development that is rapid, sustainable, fit for the purpose and scalable to all programme types and levels.
A guest article by Denise Gaspard-Richards, Course Development Department Head at the University of the West Indies, Trinidad and Tobago
For many years at the University of the West Indies we focused on the Content and Support Model which saw curriculum teams working with adjunct staff to produce what can be best described as comprehensive text books, first in print form and more recently in e-format. This was expensive, time intensive and the content could not be easily updated. We struggled to maintain relevance of content while keeping costs in check.
Fast forward to 2014 when the university received funding to implement the ‘Strengthening Distance Education in the Caribbean’ project, which provided the opportunity to introduce a fast and flexible content development model. Moreover, we also had an opportunity to adopt OERs (Open Education Resources) and increase our output of multimedia content.
The model allowed us to focus more directly on designing instructional content and learning activities that would help learners to acquire, retain and transfer knowledge and specific abilities in and beyond the virtual classroom. We estimated that such an approach would help to increase the connections in our content to authentic learning environments, and promote critical thinking and reflective practice amongst our learners.
Going in we knew that the transition to ‘Wrap-Around’ content development would not be easy, so we spent four months planning for implementation: developing templates, guidelines and protocols for all of the major elements of course development. We carefully interrogated and reengineered our processes, determined project risks and identified our contingencies. Our main objective was focused on how to achieve speed, flexibility and ensure a collaborative content development process with the ‘Wrap-Around’ content development model. The transition proved to be challenging and time consuming, and required frequent meetings and debriefing at the end of each stage of content development. During the process we learned key lessons which allowed for us to continually review, revise and refine our processes during implementation. We also had to capture data to inform further refinements post project implementation.
Some of the key take away lessons from our first experience of using the model were eye opening. They spoke both to our processes and to our leadership and facilitation of the processes. We learned that our orientation and training strategy tended to be too prescriptive and in hindsight focused too heavily on the instructional design elements and less on how the model would be actioned in practice. The orientation and training strategy was accompanied by a heavily streamlined workflow process which we later learned led to key stakeholders withholding information based on their limited understanding of the model and their inability to implement the model as intended.
To our credit, we used a project management approach during implementation of the model which allowed for critical internal reviews and feedback at each stage of content development. Two collaborative work spaces were also used throughout content development, which facilitated monitoring and evaluation and allowed us to quickly address issues as they arose.
As we continue to focus on the lessons learned, it is clear that we have to reconsider how success is defined in the model and more so how the learning performance strategy is defined. We also have to consider the sustainability of the model and how the lessons learned can be best used to adjust the model. The feedback from our peers and key stakeholders will be instructive.
Denise Gaspard-Richards will be sharing more insights into the implementation of new curriculum design, explaining the ‘Wrap Around’ model from all perspectives based on practical lessons at OEB 2015, taking place in Berlin on December 2 – 4.