Why not develop a course in the open?

Last week I attended the Spring workshop for ETUG: the BC Educational Technology User’s Group.

Among the many great presentations I saw was one by Paul Hibbits, who spoke of doing course development openly, meaning not just sitting in your office trying to develop and plan a course on your own, but doing it more publicly. You can see slides for his presentation here, and they are embedded below.

Basically what he did was do all his planning on a public space (he chose Workflowy and made it open to view), and sent out messages on Twitter and other social media sites to get feedback. The most interesting part, though, was that he got a list of emails of the students in his class (the one he was developing) and sent them the planning document so they could (a) get a better sense of what the class will be like before it starts, and (more importantly) (b) give feedback. He didn’t actually get any feedback from students, which, as he mentioned, isn’t surprising because after all they’re going to be students of yours and don’t want to give a negative impression. But he did offer them an option to give anonymous feedback, so I’m a bit surprised that no one took that option.

As I sat there and listened to the presentation and discussion, I thought: “Duh…why didn’t I ever think of this?” I like to open up my teaching practice while it’s happening, and I reflect on it quite a bit in this blog, but why not actually share my outline, learning objectives, assignments/activities before it happens and see if I can get feedback from anyone?

I’ve heard in various “open” forums that sharing not just the product but also the process is important, and I know from DS106 that it’s crucial for learning how to do things that people share not just what they’ve created but how they did it. But why I never thought to do that with my teaching, I have no idea. So I’m very glad I attended this session!

 I am in the process of developing a second-year course on moral theory for Fall 2014, so I’m going to follow Paul’s lead and make my planning process public. I just have to decide whether I’m going to use Workflowy or something else. Google docs would work too. Paul said he tried a mind map, and it didn’t work so well, and I’m just not personally very drawn to doing my own mind maps, so I think I’ll go some other route. Suggestions?


  1. I thought the same thing a little while back…so I started! I’m developing a series of three faculty development courses (non-credit) at http://kumu.tru.ca/Course:OL_Delivery. You are welcome to take a look!

    I like Hibbits’ ideas of seeking input from various stakeholders via social media channels and thing I may start to do that a little.

    1. Hey, that’s excellent! I like the idea of doing it on a wiki, so others can easily collaborate (assuming one is collaborating on planning). I decided to start with a Google Doc b/c I wanted to set it so that anyone could comment but not edit (so I don’t have to deal with strange edits when making it public). Other programs don’t quite do what I want: Workflowy allows you to let others edit if you want, or just view…but not comment so far as I can see. Hackpad allows others to comment (and edit?), but they have to sign up for an account with hackpad to do so, which will deter some people from commenting I think. I’m pretty sure anyone can comment on a Gdoc even if they don’t have a Google account…but maybe I’m wrong about that?

      On our university wiki the only people who can edit are people at our Uni, and I think there could be a “comment” function through the “discussion” part of each page, so that could work too…but again, only for people who are logged in, and that’s only UBC faculty. Finding a sharing tool with the functionality I want is proving a bit difficult. I’ve started a Gdoc and will share it as soon as I have the skeletal outline filled in a bit more.

      I am mildly familiar with the community of inquiry model and the three kinds of presence, but not as familiar as I’d like to be. So it’s interesting to me to read over the courses!

  2. From the point of view of someone who until recently was actually a student, it isn’t very surprising that Paul’s students did not provide any feedback. I wouldn’t be surprised if the students registered for Fall 2014 Moral Theory didn’t respond at all, either.

    The reason is that the students haven’t read any of the material listed in the course outline, and so they honestly wouldn’t be able to judge the content of the course. They might be able to make general requests on what they would like the course to look like, but then again, as you point out, it is difficult for a student to make this kind of request since it was their choice to take this course, and that if they are going to request changes even before the course began, they are implicitly suggesting that they rather would do something else than study the material which the professor is about to present.

    There are other reasons for why students might feel reluctant to comment on a syllabus-in-progress which a professor shares online, but I won’t go into them here.

    On the other hand, this kind of open activity is valuable for other professors who are teaching similar courses. So I think that whatever means professors use in order to publicize their syllabi-in-progress, it ought to be a medium where professors could engage comfortably and effectively with each others’ ideas.

    1. Yes, this makes sense. One might be more likely, perhaps, to get feedback from registered students in an upper-year course where students may be more familiar with the material, at least to some degree, than in a first or second-year course? But then again, the other factors come into play as well. It could still be valuable for students insofar as it allows them to see before the course begins what it’s all about and what they’ll be doing in it, so they can decide earlier rather than later whether they want to stay registered.

      And perhaps the most valuable aspect of open course planning is for other instructors and for the instructor planning the course to get feedback from them. And I agree that having a medium, a platform that others are comfortable with is important. That argues against, for me, some sort of application or site that few are familiar with and that requires a separate account to use. Google docs is good from the standpoint of the former criterion, because many are familiar with it, and one can set the document to allow anyone with the link to comment, so it doesn’t require a Google account to do so. So far it’s the only platform I’ve found that fulfills both of those criteria, so that’s what I’m working with right now.

      I’ve got a start on a planning document for PHIL 230 for Fall 2014, and will post it on my blog as soon as it’s just a bit more finished.

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