How to Make a Successful Open Course: An Interview with Leah Macvie

This post is by Leah Macvie, an overall rockstar P2PU Member, on best practices in making a successful P2PU course. Leah has run several courses at P2PU, including Open Badges 101 and Clean, Fit, Healthy and Well. Leah is an Instructional Designer at Canisius College, and has just started her PhD. You can find her on Twitter at @leahmacvie. This post can also be found as part of How do I Create a Course?

VMG: So, how many courses have you launched at P2PU?

Leah: Good question, only 2, and I’m working on my third. You know, when I joined the DIYU course, that was really my first time being in P2PU at all, and I have a lot of experience because I’m an instructional designer by day, so I have a lot of experience with being in different course management systems. Part of the struggle is figuring out what each one can do, how each one works really.

When I started to construct the Challenge, it’s always about getting over those first few hurdles to figure out what you want to do, and visualizing what you want it to look like. And the first course, like I tell my faculty, just go really barebones, get the content up, and maybe for the next one you can put a few images in there, and for the next one, I decided to do more video.

VMG: So, you kinda iterated, adding more complexity as you went along?

Leah: I think that’s the way to do it! And only focus on one familiar thing, one technology at a time. The first one I did have a video introduction, and the next one had more images…also, if you know a little bit of code it really helps with things like adding bullet points. You’re always going to come across some quirks to get over with every CMS (Content Management System).

VMG: Hear ya.  So you said a little bit about your approach, where did you start in designing your course?

Well, the first two I did–I did the Badge course, and for the next one, it’s kind of a strange course for P2PU, but I went with it–it’s the Clean, Healthy and Fit Challenge. My thing was, I’m sedentary all day long, and you try to squeeze in some times for exercise. That’s why I wanted to do that kind of course, is because for *me* it’s a challenge.

When I started the badges course, I came up with an outline, what are the things I want to do first, second, third etc. And I was actually doing the Challenge at the same time, so I could learn how badges worked, and then I started having conversations with different people, on Twitter or Facebook, and see the direction they think badges are going, and to build up your personal learning network, and then finally to complete this culminating project of everything you’ve learned along the way.

With the second one, I had an outline of each term in “Clean, Healthy, Fit and Well” title, and I broke each lesson up that way, and broken up each lesson. Each lesson had an intro video about what I think about it, and then here are some more resources and tasks for you to look at.

VMG: Awesome. So you 1.) thought about your audience, or the folks on P2PU, 2.) you thought about some core projects or an outline of a course and put it on P2PU, 3.) you asked other people, and consulted others to build that audience, and then 4.) you saw how all the tasks hung together and fleshed out the tasks a bit more. Would that be a good summary of what you said?

Leah: Yeah, and the final portion of that, which most people might not think about, is that I had no idea when I gave the blog post to Alison to post it, all of a sudden it was like “whoah, there’s are a lot of people in this course!” And I got emails every day that folks were joining and posting, which I didn’t even expect. You don’t really know what to expect when you put up a challenge, but that was a side effect.  And the other thing, people as they joined were immediately helping others, and I always tell my online instructors that you need to be okay with giving up a little bit of control, you’re not going to be the only guide on this learning journey. So that was fun to see, people helping each other, and folks became co-leaders in the course, and then, the third thing, people started giving me resources, you know, I would have 6 tasks, and they would help me add it up to 10. I’ve been adding tasks from these great resources people have provided, like people at Mozilla and the greater badges community at different levels, and so that helps with the maintenance and keeping the course current.

VMG: What expectations did you have of people coming to the course? Their level? Their goals? What surprised you?

Leah: I expected, because I’m in education that people would be interested in this in K-12 or professional development, but there are also a lot of areas who are interested in this whole badge thing, including who are interested in technology and networking as well.  There were people thinking about it even terms of courses like religion, I mean, you could apply badges to pretty much everything. But the badges topic is applicable to anyone who is interesting in things like a free school or courses online.

VMG: What would you do differently (now that you’re creating your first course)? What do you takeaway most about this learning experience?

Leah: I mean, like I say, I keep trying to push the envelop more, but I wanted to offer more feedback to the P2PU folks, not to say “Hey this would work way better” but to see if we can push the CMS a bit further, to incorporate some more abilities in there, anything from creating tables, to inserting tables, to integrating a Picasa button or a Flickr button, and also, speaking to the open content, there could be a box for extra reading or resources that is directly pulled from open content.

VMG: Any other sage words of advice to people just starting out?

Leah: Yeah, I would say that coming up with a theme would be useful, if you’re pretty okay with developing graphics or have some graphic design experience, or you can even use Microsoft or open clip art. When I say a “theme” say you want to do a circus theme with your challenge, so that people see a consistency throughout, like in colors that you’re using, the graphics that you’re using, and to pick graphics from one designer or part of the same collection, or you can develop your own graphics or icons that represent your course. That way, when people go through all of the courses, they know which ones are yours?

VMG: So you kind of build up your personal brand on P2PU?

Leah: Hey! There you go! You pushed on another one of my hot buttons! I mean, you really should! You should really have your website and contact info around so people know how to reach you.

VMG: Thank you Leah! I think we’re all caught up on what makes an awesome P2PU course–can’t wait to see your next one!

Key Takeaways:

  • Work incrementally: build an outline, flesh it out, work on one technology at a time.
  • In brainstorming course ideas, think about what you are passionate about or interested in.
  • Think about your audience. Build your personal learning network both inside and outside P2PU (on Twitter, etc).
  • Your course will explode with interested folks–that’s great, and be prepared!
  • Do the course yourself as you facilitate it–helps you locate bugs and improve.
  • Think about your participants as co-facilitators who can help you.
  • Don’t be afraid to build your personal brand on P2PU–leave your mark with graphics and your info.
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