I had a recent experience working with a large group of subject matter experts (approximately 17 teachers, curriculum writers, and program specialists). The goal was to create a course outline in one 7-hour design session. As you can imagine, gaining consensus with a group of this size can be quite a challenge. It was by far the largest group I’ve worked with for this purpose. By structuring the day carefully, applying strategies to engage the group, and using design templates, I was able to keep the group focused and productive, and I felt some of the methods I used would be beneficial to share.
Prior to the Session
Before meeting with the group, I talked with key stakeholders for the project to collect as much background information as possible about the proposed course, including course goals, targeted audience, and technology requirements. Understanding the targeted audience, teachers, helped to determine what form this course should take. Also, I reviewed any available content prior to the design session and read an evaluation report relating to the curriculum upon which the course would be based. By gathering this information beforehand, I was able to ramp up and was well positioned to guide the design meeting, using the course goals as my guide.
An important strategy I used was to recognize and elicit the feedback from all members of the group as a lead in to the actual course outlining. Each person attending the meeting had a valuable perspective to contribute, so I devoted time to let them share their ideas relating to the course we were planning. An added benefit of encouraging participation from everyone was that the individual participants seemed to have more of a vested interest in accomplishing the goals of the meeting when they were actively contributing. I do think it’s important to keep some structure, though, so I had some guiding questions that I used to organize this conversation.
Identifying Key Questions
In my experience, different strategies work for different clients when it comes to developing a course. With this particular group, it was helpful to first identify what key questions teachers might have about the course content, since this training was intended to support teachers in using a particular curriculum. Using this strategy, we were able to identify 4-5 key questions relating to the curriculum, and related sub-questions for each key question. These questions then formed the basis for identifying our course objectives. For each key question, we translated it into what a teacher would need to know or do to answer each question. Using this process, we soon had a list of learning objectives for the course.
Keeping the Group on Track
Once we identified our objectives, we were able to use the key questions we started with as our lesson themes under which each set objectives resided. To help keep things moving throughout the design session, it helped to return to the course goals when we were going off on a tangent.
I used a course outlining template to sequence the lessons and objectives we were identifying. I projected the various templates onto a screen for the group as we worked so they could see the outline being developed. Next, we mapped any curriculum elements that already exist to the objectives and identified gaps to help support the rapid build out of this course. Finally, we brainstormed ideas for interactivity to support each topic in the course.
The clients were very happy with the results of this session, and the course outline holds potential for us as a future project. While the outlining session was challenging, it reconfirms in my mind the importance of striking a balance between structure and flexibility when designing, especially with large groups.