Lessons Learned about Blueprint Courses: Introduction


NB: This is the first post in a series on what we learned in our Fall 2017 Blueprint Course pilot. This post provides an overview of our experience, and later posts address how we got buy-in from teaching teams and administrative stakeholders for our target courses (Lessons Learned about Blueprint Courses: Getting Buy-In), our experience with a "failed" Blueprint pilot course (Lessons Learned about Blueprint: When Blueprint Wasn't the Solution), and replacing a course copy workflow with Blueprint (Lessons Learned about Blueprint Courses: Replacing Course Copy Workflows).

In Fall 2017, the Wharton School piloted Blueprint Courses (Canvas Release: Blueprint Courses) as a way to meet the needs of teaching teams that need to maintain consistency across course sections and Canvas sites. When Blueprint Courses were introduced during summer 2017, our Courseware Team was immediately excited, and we identified several courses that would greatly benefit from the capabilities offered by Blueprint.

We rolled out Blueprint in four courses during Q1 of Fall 2017. All were multi-section, large-enrollment courses that needed consistent content across multiple Canvas sites. Each course represents a slightly different use case, and in a series of blog posts, I'll talk about how things went. I'll discuss some of the lessons we learned, what worked well and what worked less well, as well as where we encountered unexpected challenges with this new feature. Some of what I'll address in this series includes:

  • Selling Blueprint to teaching teams
  • Setting up a Blueprint template site
  • What syncs and what doesn't (and when)
  • Syncing LTI tools with Blueprint
  • Communication, planning, and managing enrollment in multiple Canvas sites
  • Replacing Course Copy workflow with Blueprint
  • Groups and group assignments with Blueprint Courses
  • Modules in Blueprint

Locked items in associated courses have a "locked" Blueprint icon.

(It turns out that organizing and syncing content with Modules in Blueprint courses is more complicated than we expected.)

The courses selected for the initial roll out of Blueprint were:

  • MGEC 611 -- a half-term core MBA course with four faculty members each teaching three sections, a small army of TAs, and several support staff. Previously, this course had a single Canvas site (with all 12 sections!) in order to maintain consistency. Some of the faculty, however, wanted to customize the content for their assignments and course materials. We selected Blueprint to provide the teaching team with a common starting point, the ability to keep content in sync (if they chose not to modify their Canvas sites), and the ability to customize content if they chose. This Blueprint course has four associated Canvas courses, each with three sections (more than 800 students in total).
  • WH 101 -- a new core course in the undergraduate curriculum, which had been piloted in spring 2017 (with about 30 students) and was rolled out in the fall to almost 700 undergrads. This course is team-taught by three core faculty members, with the help of about 36 TAs. The challenge for this course was to provide the teaching team with an easy way to manage and update four Canvas sites and to maintain consistency across those sites. There were a number of challenges posed by the complexity of the course organization, scheduling, and frequent updates and changes as the semester progressed. The teaching team also wanted the flexibility to be able to post announcements across all sections/Canvas sites at the same time. This Blueprint has four associated Canvas courses, each with three sections.
  • WH 201 -- a new core course in the undergrad curriculum being piloted in Fall 2017 in preparation for a larger roll out in spring 2018. This communications course was collaboratively developed by several faculty members, and it required content consistency across all sections. Further, course coordinators in this program wanted to prevent teaching team members from being able to make changes within a Canvas site. One of the challenges for this course was dealing with rapidly evolving content that needed to remain in sync, as the course continued to undergo development after the semester started. This Blueprint has six associated courses.
  • WHCP 611 -- a half-term core MBA course that is the first of several required communications courses. Staff in the Wharton Communications Program had been asking for years for a way to ensure consistency across Canvas sites and to prevent instructors from being able to make changes to that content. Blueprint was an ideal solution! We were a bit concerned about including this course in the pilot, as this half-term course has 56 associated Canvas sites in Fall Q1, and an additional 53 associated sites in Fall Q2. And if things didn't work as expected ... well, that could have been a lot of sites that needed fixing!

In future posts, I'll discuss the specific challenges presented in each of these use cases and how they were addressed by our Canvas admins and/or by the teaching teams. Our Blueprint pilot was a resounding success by just about every measure. And I gave an overview of what we did in the Fall Community Showcase (2017-11-1). One of the teaching teams has decided not to continue using Blueprint (and I'll discuss this decision in a future post), but their path forward would not have occurred without first trying Blueprint. (I'm preserving some mystery here, can't you tell?)

If you are thinking about using Blueprint, I urge you to read  @kblack ‌'s encyclopedic post Tips for Designing and Maintaining Blueprint Courses. And then read it again. And maybe a third time. Ken provides outstanding advice for planning and getting started.

And if there are topics from our experience that you'd like to hear about, please let me know!