Seven Tips to be a Successful First-Time Course Developer

Position: Distance Education Course Designer
Job Description:  Unique opportunity to design higher education courses on distance learning platform.  Benefits include:  (1) strengthening classroom strategies, broadening facilitation skills and improving curriculum vitae, (2) recognition by the Academy and honing subject matter expertise, (3) assignment as “lead instructor” for designed course, and (5) administration reciprocity by scheduling you for future classes.

Have you considered the opportunity to expand your occupational horizons through participation in curriculum development? This fictional classified advertisement was created to explore your potential interest in designing a distance learning course.  Look closely at your Curriculum Vitae and you’ll find a skilled adjunct faculty member with lifelong learning and specialized knowledge to educate others. If course design appeals to you, Roman philosopher, Seneca’s advice is instructive “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”

Reasons for Developing the Course
Before you outline your proposed course make a list of  “why” you are developing it. American motivational author, Earl Nightingale explains, “The more intensely we feel about an idea or a goal, the more assuredly the idea, buried deep in our subconscious, will direct us along the path to its fulfillment.” The list will keep you on task when competing time demands may cause you to abandon prematurely development of your course. 

Be an Innovator 
Some course designers would post lecture notes and believe their project finished during the early days of distance learning. Today, we can be innovators with others. Instructional design can be collaborative with many institutions offering support and guidance.  Riding the new wave of distance education evolution be guided by emerging research, successful pedagogy and new approaches to learning and technology. For example, dialogue is a powerful and helpful tool for course design and student learning.  (National Coalition, 2006; Vella, 2002)  Investigate and use Citation software – a powerful, easy-to-learn and easy-to-use database system designed to help with the main tasks associated with writing: organizing notes, and documenting sources properly. (The Write Direction, 2006)

Passion for Course Subject Matter
A wise proverb observes, “Our passions are the winds that propel our vessel. Our reason is the pilot that steers her. Without winds the vessel would not move and without a pilot she would be lost.”  Course development calls for passion, focus, commitment and intention.  C. Jack Orr, Professor of Communication Studies at West Chester University views knowledge as an evolutionary process and asks “How, then, does one adequately frame and hold a view of the world?” (Orr, 1990, 105)  By creating course materials inspired by our passion, we energize ourselves and empower others to be excited about learning and applying knowledge.

Define Market for Your Course
IBM founder Thomas J. Watson said, “Good design is good business.”   Even with good course design, you’ll need a market for your materials.  Will it be part of a new program or a component of established curriculum?  Your new course should attract enrollment and not merely redistribute students from other courses.  Dr. Joseph Ugras, Dean of the College of Professional and Continuing Studies at La Salle University (LaSalle University, 2006) suggests making a strong business case when approaching decision makers:  describe the need, how it meets department objectives, and the fit into current curriculum or new programming.

Cultivate Relationships with Decision Makers
Relationship building is essential skill set for success in life and approval of course design.  According to corporate consultant Mark Goulston, M.D. (Goulston, 2006) promoting your idea takes “buy in”.  It is something you don’t want to leave to chance.  “Buy In” is the difference between — “Tell me more” and “No thanks.”  Another excellent resource is Keith Ferrazzi’s New York Times bestseller, Never Eat Alone and Other Secrets to Success One Relationship at a Time (Ferrazzi, 2005) which describes how to build a lifelong community of colleagues, contacts, friends and mentors.

Protect Your Ownership Rights
Before signing an agreement know your institutional policy about intellectual property.  Seek competent legal counsel about protecting your interests including (but not limited to) “what happens if the course author leaves the institution; can the faculty member sell or lease the course to others; and, can other faculty be assigned to teach the distance course designed by another.”  (Care and Scanlan, 2001)

Getting Paid for Your Course Design
The results of an unscientific poll of adjunct faculty interviewed for this article shows no being compensated for course development but release of all ownership rights to their intellectual property. This article is a call to educate yourself about the market value of your work and to develop a playbook of negotiation strategies.  Compensation is always a subject for negotiation for which many adjuncts – excited about getting academic credibility (or some other gain) – undervalue worth and unnecessarily concede an income producing opportunity.  

Adjunct faculy do not have the same opportunities for payment for course design as full-time faculty.  According to Schifter (2004), full-time faculty may have release time, overload pay, software and computer equipment purchases, ISP costs covered, or assignment of graduate assistants rather than monetary consideration. If you encounter this situation, be creative – seek alternative funding, grants (Funding and Grant, 2006) and other budget lines.

Learning how to facilitate learning is a lifelong process and course design supports your growth as a professor.  Read again, the classified advertisement at the beginning of this article.  The personal and professional benefits to course design are many and the tips in this article are touchstones for your success.  Author Richard Bach said, “Argue for your limitations, and sure enough they’re yours.”  Step up and design your first course — you’ll be pleased with the outcomes.

    Care, W., & Scanlan, J. (2001). Planning and Managing the Development of Courses for Distance Delivery: Results from a Qualitative Study. Retrieved October 10, 2006, from University of West Georgia Web site:
    Ferrazzi, K. (2005). Never Eat Alone and Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time. New York: Doubleday.
    Funding and Grant Information. (2006). Retrieved October 10, 2006, from Distance Education Clearinghouse Web site: http:/?/?
    Goulston, M. (2006). Buy In Video. Retrieved October 10, 2006, from Dr. Mark Goulston Web site:
    LaSalle University. (2006). College of Professional and Continuing Studies. Retrieved October 1, 2006, from LaSalle University Web site:
    National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation. (2006). Retrieved October 10, 2006, from National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation Web site:
    Orr, C. Jack. (1990). Critical Rationalism: Rhetoric and the Voice of Reason. In R. Cherwitz (Ed.), Rhetoric and Philosophy (p. 105). Hilldale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
    Pyser, S. (in press). Building a Sustained Capacity for Connection:  AI and Lifelong Learning. In S. Pyser & M. Schiller (Eds.), AI Practitioner London: AI Practitioner.
    Schifter, C. (2004). Compensation Models in Distance Education: National Survey Questionnaire Revisited. Retrieved October 10, 2006, from University of West Georgia Web site:
    The Write Direction. (2006). Retrieved October 10, 2006, from The Write Direction Web site:
    Vella, J. (2002). Learning to Listen, Learning to Teach:  The Power of Dialogue in Educating Adults. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

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