Documenting the Course Development Process

by Aaron Bannasch

Recently, the Big 10 Academic Alliance conference invited School of Professional Studies and the Office of Distance Learning representatives to share highlights about our online course development process. The conference organizers asked for the presentations to be delivered as recorded videos that were viewed online by a small audience before the conference and discussed during a meeting during the conference. To keep the production of the video presentations simple and efficient we repurposed some existing materials when possible. The segments of the video that made use of existing material, such as previously recorded videos, graphics templates, or outlines from other presentations about similar topics, were assembled much quicker than parts that required new content to be created and saved time; the entire set of videos was delivered in under 3 weeks. This observation, that repurposing existing material that was captured or created for a different purpose, led to me seeking out examples of other ways that organizations document and describe what they do.

As it turns out, this idea of documenting processes is not new. Many other organizations and industries use a similar strategy to not only create efficient communications but to develop products or manage projects as well. Even documenting processes and repurposing content wasn’t a trend in content marketing, the practice of being deliberately aware of processes and able to describe those processes to others using narrative techniques is a valuable enough skill worth pursuing.

Why Tell Stories about Course Development?

There are a lot of ways that the course development process is documented and shared with others. Course development often culminates in online Course Presentations, Course Showcases, Blog Posts, Conference Presentations, and other cumulative communications featuring artifacts from the development process. Whether sharing with an external audience or reflecting on your processes individually, having a routine for documenting how you do what you do can be helpful. It can help you quickly share your project status with others without a lot of extra effort, and it can make your personal reflections and process improvement much more organized. To begin creating a framework for the documentation of our online course development processes at SPS, I looked at patterns across various artifacts that we’ve generated to share our processes with others. I’ll include a few examples of each in this post, with suggestions for how you can adapt some to your needs easily.

Sharing with an External Audience

Perhaps you discovered something during your course development that others will find useful. If you documented as you went, then returning to any of the documentation that relates to that discovery makes it easy to put together a report or presentation. If you anticipate the possibility of sharing with an external audience, you can identify items that to share as you develop your course. If you have even more specific details about your eventual audience, you can develop a documentation strategy that includes tools and techniques that will make your documentation that much more accessible to the recipient.


When documenting for your own internal use you might not have to adapt as much as you would for an external audience. However, documenting something in a way that may seem obvious to your mental state in the moment can leave you confused later on when time has distanced you from the context. Making notes to your future self can help you trace back to what you were thinking in the moment, allowing you to remember the significance of something long after the event occurred.

Quick Tips for Documentation

Documenting with text makes it easy to retrieve information fast through use of search tools. However, text isn’t always the most useful or tool for documentation. When using audio or video recording tools or visual aids such as sketches and graphics to document a process, make sure to include accompanying text notes and metadata to help you retrieve it later on. You can use tools, such as collaboration software, that presents information in a narrative timeline with descriptive verbs. When you write messages, create tasks, or participate in meetings or other group activities, use a prose structure instead of shorthand to make it readable to others who aren’t as embedded in the project. Documentation doesn’t have to be completely objective, you can shape and interpret activities and information as you go to fit narratives that align with larger communication strategies of your organization or adapt them to specific audiences in advance.

What other reasons might you document your course development process? Share your thoughts by completing a survey or posting a comment to this article on the Distance Learning website.

By documenting the collaborative process of creating courses, Distance Learning staff are able to reflect on the development experience as well as share their knowledge with others. The following videos were produced for the conference attendees, administrators from other universities in the Big 10 Academic Alliance.

Online Course Development Process

Reba-Anna Lee, Director of Online Program Development, and Dan Murphy, Director of Online Learning Technologies, introduce the mission of the Distance Learning department and share some facts about the course development process and Quality Matters standards.

MUSEUM 370: Museum Origins and Issues

Learning Designer Kristina Wilson describes the goals and outcomes of the revision process for MUSEUM 370. Multimedia Coordinator Patricia Chrastka, Content Editor Christine Scherer, and Instructional Technologist Aaron Bannasch highlight how each of their roles were involved in making the course accessible and engaging for students.

CIS 496: Information Technology Writing and Communication

Learning Designer Jacob Guerra-Martinez describes the goals of the revision process for CIS 496, including making a real-world-based group activity work in a collaborative, asynchronous online environment.

IDS 425: Learning Environment Design

Learning Designer Jessica Mansbach describes the goals of the newly developed IDS 425 course and introduces SPS Instructor David Noffs who shares his experience using a learning technology created at Northwestern, Nebula.


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