Collaborative Course Development

Collaborative course development is a course design model where “students are asked to play more formative, active roles than in traditional models, with the intent of vesting students in their educational processes” (Aiken, Heinze, Meuter, & Chapman, 2016, p. 57). The theoretical foundation for the approach rests on ideas of collaboration, empowerment, and choice, all of which have been shown to increase student engagement. The goals of the model are achieved through six specific practices that offer some unique ways to develop shared ownership for the course. Not all can be used with every kind of content, but most can be adapted and all stand to make experiences in the course unique.

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Collaborative course development is a course design model where “students are asked to play more formative, active roles than in traditional models, with the intent of vesting students in their educational processes” (Aiken, Heinze, Meuter, & Chapman, 2016, p. 57). The theoretical foundation for the approach rests on ideas of collaboration, empowerment, and choice, all of which have been shown to increase student engagement. The goals of the model are achieved through six specific practices that offer some unique ways to develop shared ownership for the course. Not all can be used with every kind of content, but most can be adapted and all stand to make experiences in the course unique.

Syllabus building. On the first day of class, students receive a syllabus template that only includes information about the instructor and a list of major headings: course objectives, professor responsibilities, student responsibilities, assignments, exams, and grading system. The final heading reads “My BIG QUESTION (What I really want to know is ­­­­________).” Students work on the syllabus template individually first and then in groups in which they try to reach consensus. Then the instructor facilitates a whole class discussion during which the top grading schemes may be posted, discussed in terms of pros and cons, and then voted on. At the end of the period, all the syllabus templates are collected, and the instructor synthesizes the information, using it to create the course syllabus. Interestingly, the syllabus includes 10 to 15 of the BIG QUESTIONS, which have been integrated into the course schedule. They might be answered during a lecture or scheduled as a weekly discussion topic.

This activity could easily be modified so that the syllabus template contains material under some headings but not others. Another option is to list a set of possible assignments or exam formats for students to discuss and then collectively select.

Flextures. These are flexible lectures. “As opposed to topics prescribed and laid out in order, professors in CCD [Collaborative Course Development] courses might regularly (or periodically) enter the class, go to the board and give a list of five or six topics/issues/activities for the day's class” (Aiken et al., 2016, p. 59). There's only time for two or three, so the students decide, thereby setting the agenda for that class session.

This does require more preparation, organization, and flexibility on the part of the professor, so when it's first adopted, it may only occur occasionally. As the materials accumulate, it becomes a more regular feature of the course. The flexibility may be an especially welcome feature for those who've taught the course for a while and would like the challenge of confronting the content differently.

Elective choice assignments. This might be three different case studies that deal with similar issues and require related applications of course content, or they may be three distinct assignments. Students can also be given a choice about the weight of assignments—what counts more or less, the quizzes or the exams? The papers or the final exam? Again, teacher workload is an issue, but implementation here can be gradual as well. The design challenge involved when students are completing different assignments is making sure that each collection of assignments provides the experiences and knowledge needed to realize course objectives.

Creative theory building. This option works better with some kinds of content than others. In the marketing course for which the model was developed, it worked well with students constructing a theory that explained why celebrity endorsements work. In science fields, it could be a hypothesis-generating activity. In either situation, it engages students because it gives them the opportunity to feel as though they're doing the work of the discipline. They're using their knowledge of the field to explain phenomena or to predict results.

Competitive experimentation. Here students compete in groups. In the marketing class, the task was to create the best experimental design to test a marketing issue. Designing experiments would also work in the sciences. In problem solving classes, it could be problem creation. In writing courses, it could be potential paper outlines. Again, students get involved because it's an authentic assignment. It has meaning and doesn't feel like busy work.

Collaborative assessment. Students contribute potential exam questions or problems. What they propose becomes a course test bank, and some of their questions do end up on the exam.

In a follow-up article, this faculty research team reports the results of an empirical analysis of the model and these six practices. Four undergraduate marketing courses were taught using these six techniques, and they were compared with a group of control courses that used traditionally structured classroom techniques. They hypothesized that the CCD courses would have higher levels of student engagement, higher student satisfaction, higher levels of perceived learning, and higher ratings of the instructor. All four of those hypotheses were confirmed at statistically significant levels. “These findings imply that enhancing collaboration, empowerment and choice can have a significant positive impact on course outcomes” (Aiken, Heinze, Meuter, & Chapman, 2017, p. 47).

They also predicted that students with high preferences for consistency, the ones who tend to like things to stay the same and resist change, would not be more engaged or satisfied or say they learned more in the CCD course. That hypothesis was not confirmed, nor was one predicting that students with strong senses of independence and individualism would not rate the course more highly on these measures. “CCD processes and procedures appeared to trump preferences for consistency or their needs for individuality” (Aiken et al., 2017, p. 47).

References: Aiken, K. D., Heinze, T. C., Meuter, M. L., & Chapman, K. J. (2016). Innovation through collaborative course development: Theory and practice. Marketing Education Review, 26(1).

Aiken, K. D., Heinze, T. C., Meuter, M. L., & Chapman, K. J. (2017). The impact of collaboration, empowerment, and choice: An empirical examination of the collaborative course development method. Marketing Education Review, 27(1), 39–50.