FCI: Collaborative Course Design Process

Foundational Course Initiative

Collaborative Course Design Process

The Foundational Course Initiative is characterized by long-term commitments from all parties. Its collaborative course design process is less an activity to be completed than the beginning of a permanent new way of working on foundational courses. It is also not a fixed, one-size-fits-all process, but instead a suite of possibilities used to support organized pursuit of a new standard for excellence in a wide variety of courses. We envision projects emerging from collaborative discussions between departments and CRLT, and climbing toward Foundational Course status through a series of stages, supported throughout by the collaborative course design model.

FCI Consultation and Proposal

Consultation and Proposal

This initiative is new, and promotes an often unfamiliar approach to the instruction of foundational courses. As a result, we expect to spend considerable time working with departments and their leadership to find the best ways to adapt the opportunities it provides to their local interests and needs. Instead of insisting on a single proposal format with a fixed set of elements for all potential participants, FCI leadership and CCD team members will work with departments to plan and execute a foundational course transition plan appropriate to the specific circumstances of the department and course in question. Extensive preproposal consultation will be made available to departments to support this intent. This consultation will, for example, help departments decide whether and when they are ready to create a formal proposal to start the FCI process.

Once the informal discussions of preproposal consultation are complete, the department will work with FCI leadership and the CCD team to develop a formal proposal and plan. The proposal will outline the reasons why the department considers the target course appropriate for foundational status, along with the commitments of staffing and engagement that both the department and the CCD team within CRLT are making to the CCD process during the design, development, and delivery stages. The proposal will be expressed as a memorandum of understanding, outlining the goals, commitments, and metrics for success for both the department and the CCD team. Each proposed MOU will be reviewed by the FCI Faculty Advisory Board. Once again, rather than a simple up-or-down vote on proposed MOUs, the Faculty Advisory Board will provide feedback indicating proposal status (accepted, queued for acceptance, or needing revision) and work with both the proposing departments and the CCD team to ensure that they have what they need to develop an MOU that will meet the standards of the FCI within the resource constraints which exist at the time.

Once a proposed MOU is accepted, a typical FCI project will enter the Design and Exploration phase. Some courses may enter the FCI process at a more advanced stage, e.g., those that are currently being offered in ways which have provided much of the inspiration for the FCI. Such courses should be able to take advantage of the new resources the FCI is making available by joining the initiative at more advanced stages. Some may already be advanced in their design, and ready to begin directly in the development stage. Others may already be running in what the FCI would consider delivery mode, and be prepared to apply for Foundational certification after a brief period of study. Allowing for such advanced admission – especially at the start of the project – will provide another important form of flexibility to the initiative as a whole.

Design and Exploration

FCI Design and Exploration

We expect the design phase will typically be a calendar year in length. During this time, members of the CCD team from both the department and CRLT will engage in an extensive, accelerating Design-Based Implementation Research process. Throughout this period, the DBIR process will be fostered by regular biweekly meetings, organized by CCD team project management and led by the departmental faculty lead and the CCD team lead. These meetings will plan and coordinate work in several areas.

Every reform process will be based on a close study of the history and current state of the target course. This investigation will include quantitative analytic efforts, using LARC data to reveal what we know about students who take the course: exploring where they come from, what they do at Michigan before, during, and after this course, and how their background relates to outcomes in the course. Where possible, this investigation should include examination of records of student behavior and authentic products as recorded in the learning management system, in tools like online homework and exam practice systems, in the recorded results of quizzes and exams, and in student papers, lab reports, etc. An important outcome of this work is a revised plan for the use of technology and other student support mechanisms during the development phase.

Careful study should also be done of the course as being offered during the design year. This study may include classroom observation, interaction with student focus groups, interviews with faculty who have taught the course in the past, discussions with faculty and students from departments whose students use the target course as a prerequisite, climate surveys of current students and instructional staff, and interviews of those involved in organizations (CSP, the Science Learning Center, the Sweetland Center for Writing, and the University Libraries) who support students in the course. An essential element of this work will be the design of a training plan for members of the instruction team for the course, including especially all graduate student instructors and undergraduate learning assistants. All of this work will be done by a collaborative combination of students, faculty, and staff from the department and members of the CRLT CCD team. The goals here are both to set baselines for understanding the impact of FCI reform and to inform the design and development process. We expect both unexpressed concerns and unnoticed opportunities to emerge from this exploration. The existence of an extended design period provides the chance to both discover and act on these previously invisible realities.

The design phase will also involve extensive work defining the learning goals for the class. While decisions about learning goals will rest with disciplinary faculty members, the process of their development will be led by one of the CCD team instructional designers. They will bring to the process both expertise in learning outcome design and the organizational bandwidth needed for this essential part of the FCI process. As these goals are developed, the CCD team assessment experts will begin work on methods for measuring and representing student growth toward these goals. Some of these assessment approaches will be tested, in pilot form, during the design year, using students in the existing course.

Finally, the teams from all courses engaged in the design process during a given year will be occasionally brought together in a larger community of practice (COP). These gatherings will provide an opportunity for FCI reform teams to workshop and review their ideas with others engaged in similar work across disciplinary lines. This kind of multidisciplinary interaction has been essential to the reform successes of the REBUILD project, and we believe it will become one of the transformational elements of the FCI as well.

FCI Development and Testing

Development and Testing

The development and testing phase will be the most intense of the FCI process. During this period, typically a calendar year, the CCD team will deliver a gradually evolving version of the fully reformed course for the first time. During the periods of instruction, we expect the entire CCD team to meet on a weekly basis, with all project participants considered full members of the instructional team. This level of commitment will be needed to deliver on the DBIR design principles of focus on persistent problems of practice for all stakeholders and iterative and collaborative design.

During this development year, close attention will be paid to examining and documenting the execution and impact of each element of the reformed course, from individual homework assignments to overall elements of course structure. For the DBIR approach to work, these assessments must be conducted in near real-time, and we expect that many of these elements will undergo significant revision during the development year, as the course goes through two or three offerings. In some cases, CCD teams may choose to begin the process by piloting new elements during a spring/summer term, when courses are smaller and adaptation in the moment is simpler. But the very different pace and student body of spring/summer offerings may limit the utility of this approach.

The key outcome of the development and piloting phase will be the selection of the course design elements which will characterize this foundational course during the delivery and certification phase. While each foundational course will pursue student activities, learning opportunities, assignments, and assessments uniquely appropriate for their purposes, we expect some features to present in all foundational courses. These include a learner centered focus, emphasizing the importance of what students do for what they learn, a strong alignment between learning goals, student practice opportunities, and assessments used for grading, and a well-designed method for measuring student growth toward learning goals which exists independent of the course grading system. The outcome of the development and piloting phase will be a complete design for the foundational version of the course, ready to be delivered and reviewed for certification during the next phase of the process.

Delivery and Certification

FCI Delivery and Certification

This delivery and certification phase, again typically a calendar year, will provide the opportunity for the instructional team to teach the reformed course in its ostensibly final form. As always, minor revisions to the course will occur in response to new ideas and changing conditions, but this year provides the opportunity for the entire CCD team to closely examine the efficacy of all course elements and practices, while also carefully scoping the nature and extent of support needed to continue instruction with the level of quality inspired by the development and piloting phase. Ideally this period will be less intense than the development and piloting period, but we still expect it to involve biweekly meetings of the entire CCD team.

Success in this context will be defined relative to two principal standards: baseline measures obtained from pre-reform and design and exploration phase offerings of the course, and the goals laid out in the proposal phase of the CCD process. Comparisons to pre-reform offerings will rely primarily on existing student record data extending back to the year 2000. This may be augmented by internal course information available from learning management system (CTools and Canvas) offerings from recent years. In most cases, explicit measures of student growth toward learning goals will be entirely new, making comparison to pre-reform offerings impossible. Because supporting an unusually diverse array of students is an essential challenge for foundational courses, careful examination of performance equity and classroom climate both before and after reform will play an especially important role in this evaluation.

The key outcome of this period will be a report describing the design goals of the class, methods chosen to implement those goals, and evidence representing the success of students in achieving those goals. This course report will also include estimates of the nature and extent of support needed to operate this reformed course, both within the department and from CRLT, in the long term. While this report will necessarily include contributions from all members of the CCD team, development of the formal report will be coordinated and led by the CRLT instructional designer assigned to this team. As this phase comes to an end, the CCD team will present the course report to the FCI Faculty Advisory Board for review.

FCI Certification and Foundational Status

Certification and Foundational Status

Acceptance by the Board will trigger the creation of a new MOU for operation of the course during the coming three year period. In each case, a summary of key findings from each CCD report will be made public as a way of documenting the impact of the program and providing students with more extensive information about the nature and success of each foundational course. Long term support from the CRLT CCD team is expected to focus on three areas: assistance with technology operations, with GSI and Undergraduate Learning Assistant training, and assessment/analytics support. Technology support will be provided to ensure that departmental instructional teams continue to have access to the best possible on campus technology opportunities. This is important, because we expect advances in these areas to accelerate during the coming decade, and because foundational courses are especially important environments for personalization at scale.

Continued support for assessment and analytics is essential to the FCI, as continuous monitoring of student growth toward learning goals is expected to be a permanent feature of all Foundational courses. Operation and analysis of the assessments designed through the CCD process will continue to be conducted by CRLT CCD assessment experts. We expect these to occur roughly independent of the efforts of term-by-term departmental instructors, in a manner quite parallel to our existing student evaluation system.

The expectation is that courses that reach this state will then be approved for formal Foundational Course status, and advertised as such to students through a variety of media, including with special designation in the course catalog. It is worth noting that the course report prepared for this approval will contain exactly the kinds of information about the nature and success of a course which students interested in taking a course would most like to see, so these course reports will be provided as part of the defining nature of courses sharing the Foundational label.

Periodic Review and Recertification

FCI Periodic Review and Recertification

Once courses achieve foundational status they will operate for a three year period with only light oversight from the Foundational Course Initiative. Each term, the CCD Assessment Expert assigned to the course will assemble a short report describing the current term student body and their outcomes, relating this to historical performance, and providing some account of major changes which may have occurred. These course reports will be reviewed annually by the FCI Faculty Advisory Board. At the end of each three year period, a course review process will take place which provides a new opportunity for elements of the hosting department to collaborate with the CRLT CCD team on upgrades to the design of the course. This might be considered a return to the initial preproposal consultation period. In most cases, desired revisions will be modest, not needing another full round of design, development, and delivery. But the opportunity will exist at each three year review to request what’s needed to keep the course functioning at a high level, whether this needs a simple, short-term investment in minor tweaks, or a full re-entry to the FCI CCD process for large scale reform.

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