Maintaining Documentation Files for an Online Course Build

From E-Learning Faculty Modules


Contents

Module Summary

In building an online course, there are often all sorts of back-up contents that should be preserved. These materials include the following:

FORMAL DOCUMENTATION

  • authorizing documents (like contracts, letters from grant funders, and others),
  • grant reports,
  • course sequence learning objectives and outcomes, and others

WORK DOCUMENTATION

  • project stylebooks,
  • project logos, style skinning files, opening and closing / crediting slides for videos, and others),
  • templates (such as for slideshows, transcripts, video, digital learning objects, and others),
  • paper prototypes, roughs and drafts,
  • raw digital files (like b-roll, captured and unedited videos, imagery, and others),
  • course sequence files,
  • rubrics and assessment files,
  • pilot testing files and other test data, and others

THIRD-PARTY CONTRACTS

  • copyright releases,
  • actor and voice talent media releases, and others

These files may be contained in a master folder that is unpublished (hidden) but which rides with the online course. (In the Canvas LMS, the Files link would have to be hidden from learners, so this unpublished file would not be findable.) These files would have to be updated as needed. (For example, so companies only offer a conditional copyright release that will require applying every few years.)

Having a documentation folder enables institutional memory, protection of legally relevant files, and smoother project handoffs.

Takeaways

Learners will...

  • consider the importance of having a documentation folder related to an online course build (for the sakes of institutional memory, legal protection, and project handoffs
  • review some examples of files that require digital preservation
  • contemplate file versioning for digital preservation
  • consider ways to protect the project documentation data from data leakage and potential misuse
  • think about when project documentation files require updating

Module Pretest

1. Why is it important to have a documentation folder related to an online course build?

2. What are some types of files that require such digital preservation?

3. What is “file versioning” for digital preservation? Why is this possibly important? What is a README file?

4. What are some ways to protect the project documentation data from data leakage and potential misuse?

5. When might the project documentation files require updating?

Main Contents

1. Why is it important to have a documentation folder related to an online course build?


Having a documentation folder enables (1) institutional memory, (2) protection of legally relevant files, and (3) smoother project handoffs.

Institutional memory here refers to the organization’s sense of history for each course build.

In terms of legal considerations, each online course likely has some aspect related to intellectual property, rights releases (such as media rights), funding agreements, and accessibility accommodations. Having a record of the respective legal documents is important for legal purposes and for online course revisions, going forward.

To the third point, the instructional designers and development teams that originated a course may not be the actual ones who update the course. Generally speaking, online courses should be updated annually. Having the backup files handy (riding with the actual master online course) enables the work to go forward without having to chase files down through various individuals or going through various servers (or worse yet, not having the necessary files).


2. What are some types of files that require such digital preservation?


There are three general categories of file types that require digital preservation. One is the formal documentation, often related to the funding agency. The second is work documentation, which relates to the creation of the online course. The third are third-party contracts. These may be with content providers or actors and voice talent, and so on, just to make sure that the contents of the online course are properly (legally) acquired.

FORMAL DOCUMENTATION

  • authorizing documents (like contracts, letters from grant funders, and others),
  • grant reports,
  • course sequence learning objectives and outcomes, and others

WORK DOCUMENTATION

  • project stylebooks,
  • project logos, style skinning files, opening and closing / crediting slides for videos, and others)
  • templates (such as for slideshows, transcripts, video, digital learning objects, and others),
  • paper prototypes, roughs and drafts,
  • raw digital files (like b-roll, captured and unedited videos, imagery, and others),
  • course sequence files,
  • rubrics and assessment files,
  • pilot testing files and other test data, and others

THIRD-PARTY CONTRACTS

  • copyright releases,
  • actor and voice talent media releases, and others

Certainly, other files may be required as well. In general, the work documentation tends to be the largest folder. Having raw files though enables a wider range of development into the future, especially for any re-dos of digital learning objects and videos, especially. What may have been left on the cutting room floor in the first round may have use in later ones.

As for literal file types, these would be text, audio, image, video, and proprietary file types based on various authoring tools.

If there is interest in capturing a look-and-feel, it is possible to (1) take screenshots and / or (2) print web pages as .PDF files. These are additional files to those used to create a project.


3. What is “file versioning” for digital preservation? Why is this possibly important? What is a README file?

File versioning for digital preservation generally refers to going with generic and popular file types, so that data will not be lost when software companies with proprietary software discontinue the software or stop doing business. Much of the online content has an HTML version, and HTML is considered open-source and human- and machine- readable. Basic text files (.txt, .rtf) are considered accessible. Popular MS Word files are also considered generally universally accessible (with some caveats).

Some practical ways to protect data include the following:

  • saving lead-up developmental files (such as text drafts of a digital learning object that is later developed using an authoring tool),
  • versioning files to a simpler version once an object is finalized,
  • extracting video from a camcorder and changing that to a .avi file (or other formats)…to enable the highest resolution file (compressed .mp4 files are very “lossy” to enable smaller file sizes for web delivery and streaming of video)

Versioning and redundancy require extra work, and the doubling or tripling of files (with digital memory costs) may not be worth it. If the learning objects date out before they might be redesigned, then having the backup files may be unnecessary.

Finally, a README file is a play on the tradition of having a simple text file accompany new software to tell human users how to install the software and to let them know what the various files in the folder contain. A similar file may be created for such documentary files, to enable easier access to the file contents and clearer understandings of the folder contents.


4. What are some ways to protect the project documentation data from data leakage and potential misuse?


The project documentation is considered insider data (some of it sensitive), and this is not for broad sharing.

Such project documentation folders should not be viewable by users. If the learning management system (LMS) is used to host the project documentation contents, the File link should not be viewable to users (in the Canvas LMS).


5. When might the project documentation files require updating?


Online courses should generally be continually updated, particularly when an online instructor or team is made aware of learner concerns.

  • Feedback from prior learners should be collected and responded to (way more often than annually). Such learner feedback should be addressed right away.

In general, in the absence of learner suggestions for improvements, online courses should be updated annually (at the bare minimum).

  • Link decay should be addressed.
  • New learning contents may be captured and shared.
  • Any cases of inaccessible digital contents should be addressed.
  • If there are new laws and policies that apply, those should be addressed.
  • If technologies have been changed, then updates should be made.

Given the above, there may have to be changes to project documentation files…and new files should be versioned in with informative titles and number labels for versioning (without covering over older files). The updates to the project documentation folder should be “non-destructive,” without loss of original files.

Examples

(There are no publicly available project documentation folders that this author has to share. Remember that most of these are unique to a project and are insider documents.)

How To

There are lots of right ways to create project documentation folders. What is suggested here is one general approach, and there are likely many ways to improve this approach. The processes will also differ based on the organization with responsibility over the online courses.

Possible Pitfalls

There are several risks linked to this practice.

  • There is a risk of data leakage.
  • There is a risk of having incomplete information. For example, the team may forgot to archive the project files.
  • There is a risk of a failure of digital preservation of the files (in terms of proprietary software).
  • There is a risk of data loss if servers are wiped out.

These risks may be mitigate with proper attention to details and proper follow-through. Handle the online data with care. Archive all major project files and all minor ones, too. Use digital preservation best practices. Save a backup version offline.

Generally, the risks of not documenting a project outweigh the risks of documenting.

Module Post-Test

1. Why is it important to have a documentation folder related to an online course build?

2. What are some types of files that require such digital preservation?

3. What is “file versioning” for digital preservation? Why is this possibly important? What is a README file?

4. What are some ways to protect the project documentation data from data leakage and potential misuse?

5. When might the project documentation files require updating?

References

Extra Resources