Faculty-centered, peer-reviewed online course development models

So after three weeks at the new institution and busy thinking about how I’m going to do something interesting with my course design I find out that EOIs for a fairly large and beneficial set of research grants is due in a week or so. Bugger. No way I’m going to get my head around the new field, teaching and meet that deadline.

Which is when a fellow new staff member points me at Mears (2011). The following is an initial attempt to skim this and see what it means to me.


Seems to be a useful annotated bibliography of what I would class as the “systems” approach to course design. Heavily influenced by instructional designers/expert educational folk.

As I mention below and elsewhere I have grave concerns about this sort of approach in terms of its effectiveness, cost-effectiveness and sustainability. They all seem to end up being gamed.

I also wonder how much of these design models is influenced by the folk researching and proposing them either being digital visitors or having to deal primarily with teaching academics who are digital visitors. Or worse still, are working within the confines of a university that is a digital visitor. I wonder if you were able to work with digital residents or in a digital resident university, whether the necessary models would be radically different?

From the conclusions (Mears, 2011, p. 119)

Faculty engagement is shown to be the single most important arbiter of quality assurance in online instruction as reflected in the literature of this 30-study bibliography

This makes me wonder whether engaging in a mechanistic development process with appropriate quality assurance processes is the best way to engage faculty.

My prejudice here is that an approach where you actively seek to address the problems of faculty on their own terms leads to much better engagement.

The argument here seems to be that standards provide “offer a neutral point of discussion for transforming pedagogy” (Mears, 2011, p. 120). And that the academics ability to engage in self-directed discovery of how to meet the guidelines gives academic freedom etc.

And then (Mears, 2011, p. 122)

faculty engagement is dependent upon a perceived value that the institution designates for all the activities necessary to support interrelated features that scaffold quality in online instruction

This assumes throwing resources at the identified standards will be perceived as valuable by faculty. Too often these efforts become seen as wasteful or self-serving. wonder/believe that seeing the institutional actively trying to help address faculty problems. e.g. producing and disseminating coffee cups and coasters emblazoned with Chickering and Gamson’s (1987) 7 principles of good practice for undergraduate education.

And there is the four-phase teleological process (Mears, 2011, p 123)

  1. Chart: Resource and needs assessment, and long term, explicit strategic investment institutional plan for online infrastructure and faculty development
  2. Adopt: Collegial process selects competitive online mix of course offerings, integrates with department curriculum and gains institutional approvals; department seeks institutional incentives for faculty course development and delivery
  3. Build: Team-based faculty development concurrent with course development, supported by instructional design and technology team. Requires course online with homework.
  4. Launch and Assess: Plan, develop instruments and process, and apply periodic departmental assessment for program quality, student satisfaction and learning, and peer review of courses

My basic problem with this is the assumption that with something as young, diverse and fluid as online learning and teaching, it is sensible to identify before actually doing anything a set of standards by which to evaluate quality.

And here – with some comments from me – are the key characteristics of “quality, standards-driven course development”:

  • targeted faculty development in the use of teams to build and administer courses online;
    I agree, but the focus should be on building upon what is already there.
  • standardization focused on learning patterns with detailed assessment rubrics;
    Disagree, waste of time.
  • faculty-driven pedagogy;
    Agree in terms of working with what the academic wants and moving on from there.
  • encouraged student engagement through alignment with millennial preferences for
    social media and action-oriented projects;
    Really don’t think this is a millennial preference.
  • prompt and individualized feedback;
    Obviously, but the trouble is that an overly teleological process only provides feedback within the constaints of the identified purpose. A teleological process can modify itself based on the feedback it receives and changes it makes/sees.
  • soft skills of teamwork with substantive dialog emphasized in student project discourse;
    Yea, perhaps.
  • peer review and assessment.

There is much more here than I’ve covered in this. If you’re interested, I recommend taking a closer look.


The abstract is (Mears, 2011, p. 3)

The engagement of faculty in development, course design, and peer review is central to quality online instruction. Thirty refereed case studies of standards-driven online course development in higher education since 2004 are annotated and analyzed for common principles, procedures, or recommended practices. Discussion explores strategic planning for faculty and online administrators, including four phases of implementation, faculty support needs, barriers to engagement, and instructional and technology characteristics faculty must weigh carefully in specific pedagogical designs

I like the first sentence – faculty engagement. From there it starts to lose me with “standards-driven” and extracting “common principles, procedures, or recommended practices” from case studies. Not to mention strategic planning and the idea of four phases.

Reminded of something from Papert (1993, p. xiii)

Intellectual activity does not progress, as logicians and the designers of school curricula might want us to believe, by going step-by-step from one clearly stated and well-confirmed truth to the next.

It sounds like this articles is taking a very teleological approach, while I’m an ateleological kind of guy – my prior summary of the difference between teleological/ateleogical.

But must allow biases to prejudice reading. Must be objective.


This is an annotated bibliography that aims (Mears, p. 10)

to provide an overview of
faculty-centered, peer reviewed online higher education course development models

where “course development models”

may reflect a systems approach to structuring the production of teaching courseware and implementation processes by targeting specific learning objectives and aligning them with both learning and interactive media strategies, utilizing a range of expertise

This might be done by:

  • purchasing courseware;
  • using teams of faculty and instructional designers; or,
  • individual faculty using varying strategies.

The literature chosen must cover at least one of three aspects

  1. standards-driven faculty development for online instruction;
  2. faculty see a fit between the model and the pedagogy/curriculum they use; and,
  3. effects of uniform online delivery on quality.

I really do hate words like uniform and consistency when used to describe learning, teaching or course design. I much prefer Chris Dede’s comparison of learning to eating, sleeping and bonding (1m39s mp3 audio).

Ahh, it is perhaps not the first time this reaction has been formed. Mears (2011, p.11)

Embedded within this assumption is the notion that
a standards-driven model provides a framework for quality rather than similarity (Lewis et al., 2011; Olson & Shershneva, 2004; Seok, 2007; Shelton, 2010); quality standards may be shown to support the intellectual richness that is the promise of academic freedom in higher education (Lewis et al., 2011; Lam & McNaught, 2006; Olson & Shershneva, 2004; Shelton, 2010).

In extracting principles from these case studies, one of the aims is to address some of the concerns about “uniform delivery of standards-driven instruction”, including

  1. Compatibility between different pedagogies and computer-based instruction;
  2. Impact on academic freedom;
  3. Intellectual challenge of coursework; and,
  4. Competitive difference for institutions.

Uniform delivery

With the LMS, and print-based distance education before it, there was a tendency to what I called “quality through consistency”. It appears that “uniform delivery” is the more academic term and refers (Mears, 2011, p. 29)

course development models that follow “a common format for course structure” to “provide consistency for both instructors and students” (Knowles & Kalata, 2007, p. 5). Uniform delivery is not a proxy for quality, but standards applied uniformly can maintain the quality of content while gaining efficiencies in interoperability and re-use or collaboration among institutions (Seok, 2007).

Must remember that.


The following are some of the more interesting references from the annotated bibliography

Graham, L. & Thomas, L. (2011). Certification in distance learning for online instructors: exploration of the creation of an organic model for a research-based state institution. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 4(1).

The mention of organic makes this sound interesting, maybe some ateleological type thinking.

Eib, B.J., & Miller, P. (2006). Faculty development as community building: An approach to professional development that supports communities of practice for online teaching. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 7(2), 1-15.

The community aspect sounds interesting.

Green, N., Edwards, H., Wolodko, B., Stewart, C., Brooks, M., & Littledyke, R. (2010). Reconceptualizing higher education pedagogy in online learning. Distance Education, 31(3), 257–273. Charles Stuart University, New South Wales Australia: Routledge. doi: 10.1080/01587919.2010.513951

I hear the lead author is a very talented and insightful academic, teacher and researcher. Plus some of the theoretically underpinnings appears potentially useful to my mumblings and bumblings around course design.

Ward, M., Peters, G, & Shelley, K. (2010). Student and faculty perceptions of the quality of online learning experiences. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 11(3), 58-77.

Might have some application locally in what I’m doing. Ahh, it’s focused on synchronous teaching. Still possibly useful as I dislike synchronous. Apparently the authors develop arguments around the weaknesses of asyncrhonous.


Chickering, A. W., & Gamson, Z. F. (1987). Seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education. AAHE Bulletin, 39(7), 3-7.

Mears, L. (2011). An Overview of Faculty-Centered, Peer-Reviewed Online Course Development Models for Application within Accredited Institutions of Higher Education. Higher Education. AIM Capstone 2011; Linda Mears. Retrieved from https://scholarsbank.uoregon.edu/xmlui/bitstream/handle/1794/11398/Mears-2011.pdf?sequence=1

Papert, S. (1993). Mindstorms: Children, Computers and Powerful ideas (2nd ed.). New York, New York: Basic Books.

2 thoughts on “Faculty-centered, peer-reviewed online course development models

  1. Interesting post.

    And something we have been actively considering at online courses on WizIQ. There are teachers who are more experienced than others. Teachers starting out look forward to them for not only course material but also review. Also, in some cases, there are many courses where multiple teachers teach one course.

    The course development also goes a step forward with students giving feedback and providing some references via Web Quests for the future course development too. So, yes interesting times for us and peer reviewed online course development methods.

  2. Pingback: Harnessing learning analytics to inform/improve learning and teaching « The Weblog of (a) David Jones

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