The Birth of Scaffold Designer

By K16 Solutions in Blog  |  April 15, 2021

Blog Post by Dr. Rachel Waite

The Birth of Scaffold Designer

When necessity, and experience, is the mother of invention


When the founders of K16 solutions first envisioned their company, they did so having spent over two decades inhabiting about every space imaginable in the higher education sphere: adjunct faculty member, faculty member, faculty manager, program dean, instructional designer, curriculum manager, instructional technologist, student services—and that’s just off the top of my head. They knew the problems faced by institutions of higher learning, and they knew that a school’s challenges were, in the end, a student’s challenges. And likewise, that a student’s challenges were the school’s. A faculty member’s challenges impact their students; a student’s challenges impact faculty and the school. Ultimately, the bottom of the bottom line is student success. A student’s success is the faculty’s is the institution’s.

The K16 founders’ experience in these academic and administrative spaces orbited around the development of a quality online course, and they had it down to an exact science. A 12-week cycle to develop or redevelop an 8-week course, a cycle whose players included the faculty subject matter expert, a curriculum manager, an instructional designer or two, and a program dean to review it all—dot the i’s and click the links, tie it up in a bow, and deem it ready for thousands of awaiting students. It was a machine, and on its face, the process worked. Until it fell on its face, as I assure you it could—and it did. 

It worked until it didn’t…almost immediately

The first time I wrote a course as a subject matter expert, this machine was evident. I’d be developing two different courses, and for each of our development kick-off meetings was an outline of content deliverables and due dates. That day and each week that followed our weekly meetings brought together our development teams: me, my project manager, our instructional designer, and occasionally our program dean. Each week, I’d submit my content and wait with bated breath until it was loaded into the course and I could see the course unfold; except that I couldn’t, because “each week” was not how course content was uploaded.  I’d write quizzes and exams, populate flashcards and interactives, recommend videos and interactives, and I couldn’t wait to see how they’d appear in and relate to the course; except videos and interactives would be uploaded last, so I’d have to wait to see them. Two weeks went by, four weeks flew, and by week eight all the content was finally submitted, and then I waited some more. Where’s my course?? Whew, there it is, and now I could double-check content and placement, test links, and verify point loads. A few and sometimes more than a few emails to the ID to fix margins and text boxes. And why does it take so long for them to get back to me? Oh, that’s right, there are dozens of “me” in this cycle. Then, one last check from the program dean with requests for edits, more emails to the ID, and finally the course is on the shelf and ready to roll. Ok, that was fun, though maybe a little intense in the end. I hear BIO 201 had to be bumped because they lost their SME and HSM 300 is still waiting for weeks 5-8 to be loaded and they’ll have to teach the old shell this time because it won’t be ready. What a relief mine’s done!

Herding cats on a tight schedule

The first time I managed a course development cycle, I managed 14 courses, so 14 SMEs. Then, a week into the cycle, I had 16 since two more courses had been pulled from someone else’s too-crowded schedule. We were a relatively new online institution, so we had no program managers yet, and we leaned heavily on our IDs to keep our SMEs on a regular schedule of submitting their content deliverables on a weekly basis. We were developing a slew of new programs, and the job was to condense the old, 8-week courses into new, 6-week courses. My previously familiar 12-week cycle to develop an 8-week course had been trimmed to a 5-week cycle to develop a 6-week course. 

So, 16 SMEs for 16 courses and 4 IDs. It was like herding cats. Despite their many excellent efforts, SMEs sometimes submitted content out of order or overlooked content altogether. They missed deadlines, they missed meetings, lectures were either too short with too many visuals to make up for it or were too long and dry with no supplements. Point totals didn’t line up because they were done manually and there wasn’t agreement between the syllabus, the graded items, and the gradebook. Not to mention, our poor IDs had too many courses because I was just one of many project managers who each had a  list of courses just like mine. They had so much material to load that they barely got the finished product to me in time for checking, much less in time for edits. And the familiar cry of the SME, “where is my course?!”  While I wholeheartedly empathized, I finally could understand clearly that there were just so. many. courses.

So yes, the process worked until the number of new programs and new courses for those programs overwhelmed the schedule, which happened quickly. Or it only worked until the ID’s course loads became so heavy that development fell behind in the cycle, which was often. It worked until the program dean’s course loads became so heavy that courses were bumped to the next cycle, and sometimes, bumped again. And again. Would a student notice if she was enrolled in a 3-year old course? It worked until a SME dropped out mid-development. What if a larger institution wanted to engage their faculty to support their IDs and create a faster development cycle? And what if a different school, a smaller school, wanted the same quality, the same great student outcomes, the same curriculum alignment, and the same great student experience but didn’t have the kind of course development army enjoyed at larger institutions at their disposal? 

What if there were a tool that lets teachers teach?

Fast forward to the future, when K16 had already created Scaffold Migration, a glass-shattering course migration tool that broke down the walls between two LMSs, or two versions of the same LMS,  that couldn’t talk to each other. Once upon a time, that same pen-and-paper, four-person team, 12-to-16-week-or-more per-class course development cycle had to be applied to each course to be migrated, one at a time, by hand, any time a school wanted or needed to change their LMS and move their courses from the old to the new. No wonder so many schools stayed with a stale, outdated LMS longer than they intended. No wonder school budgets shook at the sight of an upcoming LMS switch. Scaffold Migration allowed schools to redefine their timelines as months became weeks, weeks became days, days even became hours. Schools could migrate a course in the morning—exams, gradebooks, and all—and be teach-ready that evening. Not tens at a time, nor even hundreds, but thousands of courses at a time. With K16’s faculty and student focus, it’s only natural that the one thing educators have become focused on would be next in their sights: the online classroom.

Of course, there’s a proverbial “backstage” in an LMS, and one would think that a few clicks and up goes the content. For some users, this might be the case, an online instructor might or might not have the extra savvy to build and design online courses, and a face-to-face instructor more likely might not. The often intimidating, certainly lengthy, and seemingly impossible task of building a course straight into the LMS requires time, skill, and resources; so many pages to navigate, so many doors to get to the same place, too many fields to populate, and too little time to do it. And code—don’t forget the code. Faculty members are experts in their subject, but usually not in course design or course design layout, and it’s all too easy to populate the obvious content first. This could mean missing content or repetitive content; it could mean resorting to the PDF and by-email classroom, and driving even more distance between student and teacher than often already exists in an online learning environment. 

That’s where our founders broke the mold again. After Migration would be a revolutionary course development tool, fully configurable to the institution—faculty friendly, and outcome-focused—to allow faculty members to develop their courses behind the backstage. Outside the LMS, yet fully integrated. Providing a methodical, step-by-step process to permit a faculty member to create a comprehensive, parallel, and objective-driven course, and to push to an ever-expanding list of LMSs, including Canvas and Blackboard Ultra, with more on the way. Scaffold Designer is that needed solution to crowded course development cycles, to overtaxed IDs and courses waiting too long for creation or updating, to faculty frustration over course development headaches, and to student confusion over missing or misaligned content. Where was this solution when I was developing courses and managing course developments?!

It’s here now. And it’s driven by K16 Solution’s commitment to course design excellence, driven by faculty focus, and ultimately, by everyone’s bottom line in higher education: student success.