3 Lessons for Epic Program Design: The Air University Customer Story
By Rob Humenik
November 12, 2021
USAF F-16

Embarking on a curriculum alignment journey can feel like a daunting task. Figuring out if your curriculum mapping matches your student learning objectives can seem impossible if you only have a 2-dimensional spreadsheet view of your institution’s programs. If you try to do it all without a plan? You and your team may find themselves quickly lost. 

Mike Hower, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel and the Strategic Advisor to the Air University/Arizona State University Strategic Partnership, spoke at Coursetune Camp 2021.  He shared how the Air University team set goals and followed a detailed plan for integrating Coursetune into its programs. He also shared some valuable lessons the team learned along the way.

The curriculum design challenge

Air University (AU) was established in Alabama in 1946 to provide education for members of the newly-formed United States Air Force. It also has an online campus where Mike works today.

“AU is the intellectual and leadership center of the Air Force,” Mike explains, “It was established to be the hub for all Air Force education. All Air Force officers, enlisted members, and civilian employees participate in an Air University program at some point in their careers.”

“The school I work for today,” Mike continues, “was established in 2015 to consolidate many disparate online programs into one cohesive organization to better serve our students, the Air Force, and the nation.”

Courstune is going to help

Mike’s school, known as the “eSchool,” has three certificate programs and an online graduate degree program. The student body is mainly Air Force officers progressing through their careers. AU supports 25,000-30,000 learners per year.

“Over the remainder of this year and into next,” says Mike, “We’re expanding to become a new organization that’s going to grow. As the Air University Global College, we’ll add support for three new certificate programs and about 8,000 or more new students each year.” 

“In the fall of 2019, we established an intra-governmental agreement with Arizona State University (ASU),” Mike explains, “ASU hosts our LMS on Canvas. ASU created a custom student information system specifically for us and designed it to support our orders and our different types of forces. ASU has also provided us with an enterprise helpdesk 24/7 to support our students all around the world, whether they’re in a foxhole in Iraq or Afghanistan or flying out of Edwards Air Force Base in California.”

Unlike many other institutions, AU has two unique factors that add complexity to their instructional design approach.  

The Air University customer story

First, its programs are subject to oversight by the United States Congress and the United States Department of Defense. “Between guidance from Congress, the Department of Defense, and the Department of the Air Force, there are over 400 different requirements across all three of our different levels of instruction — basic, intermediate, and senior. And we must design to meet all of those requirements in our courses,” says Mike.

Additionally, every course that AU delivers must be taught in the exact same way. “So that one student doesn’t have an advantage over another,” explains Mike. “It means our courses need to be designed to work well together and follow instructional design best practices.”

With all these considerations, AU must have an organized approach to curriculum design. They need an alignment mindset. 

“We have so many spreadsheets to track all of these requirements that it’s scary. And they’re never up to date,” says Mike, “Coursetune is going to help us eliminate that and a lot more.”

Coursetune helps us consistently improve

A strategic approach to instructional design

When looking at all the factors at play, you can see that AU needed a clear plan and tool to help them achieve their goals.

Mike puts it this way, “Coursetune will help us provide for a cadre of more than 250 professional instructors located worldwide. Many haven’t set foot on the eSchool campus or talked with another faculty member person-to-person other than via Zoom.” With more than 200 monthly courses, or 2,400 seminars a year, he says, “Coursetune will help us to improve our courseware consistently.” He is also optimistic about Coursetune’s ability to perform. “What we need is a tall order, but we think the tool is up to the task.”

With Coursetune as the tool, Mike and the team at AU created a plan with five strategic goals:

    1. Improve design work before building new courses through program-level pre-planning.
    2. Speed up the core elements of good instructional design — course planning, analysis, and design — which are often overlooked or considered only as an afterthought.
    3. Support faster course development to decrease the amount of time it takes to build a quality course.
    4. Standardize ad hoc processes for maintaining courses and training faculty members on how to teach.
    5. Enhance evaluation by creating a culture of continuous courseware improvement.

These goals are audacious, and as the team began adopting Coursetune and started to see results, they learned three valuable lessons.

Lesson:1 Kick the tires

Lesson One: “Kick the tires before takeoff.”

The first lesson from AU should be familiar to any pilot: “Kick the tires before takeoff.” In aviation, this means doing a full check-out of an airplane before zooming down the runway.  This is no different with Coursetune.  “We wanted to understand Coursetune’s capabilities and its limitations,” Mike says, “along with how it would fit into all of our curriculum plans.”

“However, as we explored the tool,” Mike says, “we learned that we didn’t have a good understanding of our internal needs.” They had to ask questions of themselves like,

  • “What do we want Coursetune to do?”
  • “Why do we want Coursetune to do that?”
  • “How do we expect Coursetune will help us at the course, program, and institutional level?”

The team arrived at the five strategic goals outlined above by combining answers to their internal questions with external information on how the tool is designed to work. Their inquisitive approach – both inwardly and outwardly reflective – helped guide them toward success.

Lesson 2: Don't shoot for the moon

Lesson Two: “Don’t shoot for the moon on your first flight.”

“Coursetune offers a ton of amazing features,” explains Mike, “Trying to implement all of them at once is like trying to build one big rocket to achieve all your goals at once. The first time you press the fire button, you’re probably going to fail. Why? Because rockets are complex.”

To combat complexity, the AU team took “baby steps.”

They set up “stages” to guide their implementation. The first stage focused on their first two strategic goals – Improving program-level pre-planning and speeding up course-level planning, analysis, and design. 

The second stage contained their secondary goals – support faster curriculum development, augment course implementation, and enhance the evaluation process. This stage is faculty-centric.

The stages were only part of the equation. The team also established “Success Factors.” These factors are the detailed outcomes that the team wants to accomplish with Coursetune.

Mike puts it this way, “For stage one, we really wanted to eliminate spreadsheets. We wanted to visualize all our programs in terms of requirements, structure, outcomes, and objectives. With Coursetune, we can scaffold content across courses and courses across programs.  By doing this, we value our student’s time — they don’t repeat things unnecessarily throughout their entire nine, ten, or fifteen-course program.”

Lesson 3: You can't get to the moon without mission control

Lesson Three: “You Can’t Get to the Moon without Mission Control.”

Mike sets up the third lesson this way, “At the heart of any mission, whether it’s air or space, is mission control. While the pilots and the astronauts do the work, it’s the people behind the scenes that make everything go. These are your managers, your trainers, and your coordinators. They develop the plan, and they run the mission.”

“With Coursetune,” he says, “you need a mission control, too.”

The mission control team should plan how Coursetune will integrate with your institution and consider questions like:

  • “How will Coursetune support accreditation?”
  • “How will Coursetune support design?”
  • “How will we get reports out of Coursetune?”
  • “What are those reports are meant to do?”

“Your mission control team will create procedures for faculty and conduct training. They’ll ensure faculty members understand how to use the tool,” says Mike, “Most importantly, they’ll make sure everybody is following the same standards. Hence, your reports are actually meaningful and show you the timely information you need.”

The results so far

When we spoke with Mike, AU was nine months into its implementation. So far, the team’s plan seems to be working.

“With our goals and success factors well-defined,” says Mike, “We started by doing what all good military leaders do, we planned. And then we planned again. And then we planed some more. Why?. Because for us, failure is not an option.”

Mike continues, “We finished configuration of the system in October of 2020. We spent the rest of the year discovering the best way to enter our initial data. Things like requirements for mapping, how to structure programs, and how to build courses and activities.”

“We’ve spent the better part of 2021 in ‘Pre-Planning’ – figuring out the best way to organize our data, developing training, and loading our current courseware.  We are now just beginning on ‘Planning, Analysis, and Design’ where we are building out each of our existing 100-plus courses, defining activities, mapping activities to objectives, and eventually mapping everything to program outcomes and our 400+ requirements.”

As 2021 wraps up, they will continue moving forward.

Coursetune has a ton of amazing features

“While COVID has put us behind a bit, we still expect to finish all of the stage one activities this fall and then begin stage two.  We hope to have enough of stage two complete by the middle of next year to make a full fielding determination by the start of the fall semester.”

What will that look like?

“That fielding determination will involve establishing Coursetune access and training for all 80+ full-time faculty and our 250+ adjuncts,” says Mike, “And full integration of Coursetune into all of our processes from soup-to-nuts…planning-to-evaluation…launch-to-landing.”

By setting clear goals, asking the right questions, and empowering the team to establish the proper parameters, Mike and the AU team are on their way to a successful mission.

Mike concludes, “Coursetune has been able to handle about every task we’ve thrown at it. For those that it couldn’t, we’ve suggested several feature updates. Some of them have already been built, tested, and fielded by the product team. To me, that’s a great sign of customer service and responsiveness!”

Ready to launch your instructional design flight plan?

Coursetune provides one place to design, manage, and plan your curriculum. Our unique, patented, visual curriculum maps equip you with a common platform. One that helps faculty, staff, and leadership focus on the big picture while revealing how learning objectives, competencies, and standards impact student outcomes. Coursetune supplies you with the communication and workflow tools that promote collaboration and unlock innovation across your institution.

Set up some time for a demo or discussion. Or click the help button on the lower-left, and chat with us.

Coursetune 2x

Stay in the loop with the freshest ideas in instructional design: bite sized course and curriculum tips

    Coursetune