Course Curation in 5 Steps

As I fly over this deeply troubled country of ours, my thoughts are on how to best facilitate two days of workshops. I’m going to get bloggy with it because I need to document how I’m trying to improve an iteration of my newest workshop segment. If all goes well, I hope to leave a group of faculty and their support staff feeling like they can do this work on their own. There are so many things I could write about, but I’m just going to think out loud.

In the business of instructional design, we call this workshop mission a Train-The-Trainer. In fact, I’m incredibly nervous because I feel like I’ve gotten pretty good results with helping folks adopt OER with already existing materials, but it’s been really tough helping teachers who either have little to work with in the way of licensed OER or they don’t like what exists. This work is not easy, and what I’m about to share with you may not be innovative at all to any of you.

Keep in mind that I’m working with teachers who are just learning about OER, and they are being empowered to do this work because of a grant. My context may not be yours in the wide wonderful world of OER.

It’s my job to not only share what I know but also to make sure faculty see the pleasure in this work. Redesigning your course using OER is fun. Joyful. Really! I have three points that help set up this workshop I call Course Curation in 5 Steps. I need a better title but I don’t have time for that creative thinking.

The first major point that I try to enforce is that language matters. Using the word “curate” versus “build” or “write” or “design” gets people thinking about how to put things together. Whether it’s from the course catalog of my jobby job or from the interwebs—we can all start somewhere.

The second major point is that licensing is not that hard. For the love of cats, people, I’ve seen workshops float like a lead balloon when people want to get deep dork about Creative Commons licensing. Starting with the complexities of licensing kills all faculty enthusiasm and it can embolden the skeptics in the room. The symbols and the acronyms are not easy for newbies at first sight. Instead, tell people to find what they like on the interwebs and then help figure out whether it will work for their teaching purposes. Put the creative in the commons, first, and Power To The People.

My third major point is that you may not like what you’ve committed to starting with as an OER curator. How many times have you said to yourself: Wow! Damn, I really love this textbook. (Prolly never unless you wrote it, but even then, most authors I know didn’t love their first edition). You have to see the long game and realize that in the short-term students save money. You have years to continuously improve. Don’t let your ego get in the way of saving students money. [end scene]

So here is my five step course curation exercise/workshop that worked quite well with a group of regional public university faculty who taught criminal justice, African American dance, and business. Smart driven teachers who taught me so much in two days. I rarely get to work with one discipline at a time thus the broad spectrum of questions in this exercise. In addition, I know I’ve curated this idea from a variety of people and sources, but I don’t have time to track all that down right now. I will eventually when I put something together that people can use. For now, I just need to think out loud.

If you see your work in any of these steps, then pat yourself on the back, and feel my smooches of gratitude on both your cheeks. Mwha! Mwha! If you have better ideas or if you want to share what you do, then I’m all eyes. Please share! If you want to criticize me or the work of my jobby job, then I’ll probably block you or not respond. I’m not taking any more of your shit, trolls, in 2017, you’re dead to me. A Memoir.

Riders ready? Watch the gate. beep beep beep.

Here we go.


Step 1: Gather your course assessment components and objectives.

Once you have your objectives and/or the major outline of the course (think of chapters of a text or your course modules or units), you’ll then want to gather your assessment ideas.

Now we do some writing! Brainstorm about The Five Big Questions of your course.

Here I have faculty write. What are the five questions you hope students can answer ten years from now? If you asked your students at the end of the course what it was about, what do hope they will say? How do you know students will get what you really care about with your discipline? If you met a former student on a train, what do hope she will say?

Here I’ll share the story of seeing one of my students who had just finished his PhD, and he recognized me in the bar car of an Amtrak train (classy, as usual). I didn’t remember him until he started talking, and then I blushed madly. I didn’t know what the hell I was doing as a teacher back then. He was one of my students when I was a graduate student (the first time). He said, “You know, Ms. Indrunas, you changed the way I have watched film documentaries for the rest of my life. Everything changed for me because of your class and I learned a lot.” That was 14 years ago. He made it to a PhD program. Wow. Seasoned teachers may relate to this story. Newer teachers will think, hope, and reflect. The point is to give them time to reflect on their teaching. Not just OER.

Did you catch that? We’re talking open pedagogy without calling it that. Yet.

Step 2: Refer back to your list of major questions from Step 1.

Think about what you will need to curate/gather/organize readings. Think of this step as part of the research for the course. “Readings” can be text, video, media, blogs, podcasts, etc. Do you have readings from the internet that you already use? Have you written something that you think is the best?

In this step, you answer the following questions:

  • How will my students understand major concepts in this course?
  • What are the core components to support my outcomes?
  • What are enhancements to the core components of the course?

Ideally in this step, faculty will have a conversation in small groups. I don’t try to get them to do anything in particular during this step but I think it’s important to give teachers time to talk to one another.

At this point, it might seem like I’m letting chaos reign and you’re damn right I am. We all need chaos to get to the creativity. Chaos, I’m ya girl.

Step 3: Review the sources you’ve gathered in Step 2.

In this stage, you answer the question:

  • What do we need to license, attribute, and/or cite on each page to adhere to the open licensing protocol?
  • What would my works cited or bibliography look like for this course?
  • What gaps exist that I can fill with my own materials?
  • How can my students help fill the gaps with their research?

Here I think it’s important to empower faculty as researchers and scholars. They know how to do research in their discipline, so this is familiar territory. The practice of using OER, with all its choices and histories, is overwhelming for faculty on a deadline.

For me, it feels like two different tasks to do the research and record the licensing. I don’t like to do both at the same time and I think it’s important for faculty to discover what they like to do. Then we can build from there.

Side note: If you are supporting faculty, then you need to guide them to consider users downstream (What up, Quill West). Help guide them away from freely available but not open (What up, Nate Angell). Help them license their stuff so that others can use it (What up, CogDog). Help them feel like they are autonomous yet completely supported (What up, Alexis Clifton and Alyson Day). Help them see that students can contribute to the curation of their content. (What up, Caulfield and Wiley).

Aside to the side note: Those folks I’m saying “What up” to are some of the people that I need to cite when I have more time to develop this part of my gig.

Step 4: Connect assessments to the content you’ve curated in Steps 2 & 3.

Ideally, you will be able to link several pages in your course to every assignment. Maybe not! In fact, total alignment makes courses feel like robotic MOOCs instead of glorious paths to be discovered by both the teachers and the students. Radical, I know.

This rigid alignment is all the rage these days, and I’m happy to find the workaround with faculty. Back when I went to college, my teachers called that “extraneous” content “Recommended Reading” and those were my favorite rabbit holes. Let’s make extra reading great again.

As long as your pages connect back to those Five Questions in Step 1, then I think we’re on the track. Sometimes teaching and learning is messy (What up, Collier), and if you aren’t down with that then you’re reading the wrong bloggy blog.

Okay, where was I?

In step 4, you want to answer the questions:

  • What will my students do to demonstrate their learning?
  • What are my formative assessments?
  • What are my summative assessments?
  • Why does any of this really matter? (emphasis mine)

Step 5: Identify what the worst you can live with for a few iterations. That’s right. Identify the lowest benchmark you can accept on Day 1 of the course. Yup. Not the highest. The lowest.

Be honest with yourself about the time you have to create the course. You have a deadline for course delivery, but you also have years to “complete” this course. You also have this thing called a life. Be generous. Be kind. You have years to perfect your course. 

Think continuous improvement! Forgive your future self for failing all of your high expectations. Love your present self for being so wise. 

Make a list of long-term necessities and “nice to have” elements of the course.

Here I have faculty write again. Most likely they are going to leave the workshop and not work on anything for a few weeks. This last reflection will help them sort out their next steps.

In this step, you want to answer the questions:

  • What are necessities for my course?
  • What can I live with being incomplete?

If I have time, I might do some pair-share. Maybe we’ll do a big group chat about it. Maybe we’ll run out of time. Maybe the whole thing will devolve into conversation about the value of open education. Maybe they will all wish there was a so they could slam the hell out of my teaching. Either way, I’ll learn and get better for the next workshop.

Here’s the thing.

My sneaky pedagogy here is to get faculty to use their Big Questions as titles of their modules, units, or chapters. These questions blow up the notion of the textbook. These questions blow up the possibilities of what faculty can teach their students. And how they do it.

These questions can blow up what a “book” and a “course” looks like. That’s the point.

These questions are really the heart of their pedagogy. If textbook affordability brought them to this point, then the answer is to get them to think about changing how they teach.

We’re creating a living document that isn’t sent in stone. That hopefully, somebody, somewhere, can use.

Truth be told, there are more than five steps. Way more. But these are the steps I can help faculty make.

Step by step by step by step by step.

About Alyson Indrunas

Always learning about instructional design, educational technology, professional development, adult education, and writing.
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