Best Practices for Online Courses. 100 Quality Indicators for Online Course Design

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1 Best Practices for Online Courses 100 Quality Indicators for Online Course Design The following criteria are meant to act as guidelines for the course development process. Some of these guidelines would not apply to a specific online course (i.e. group work or self-paced work). However, most of the criteria have been derived from repeated use in documents, guidelines, research studies, and recommendation made by faculty, researchers, and organizations involved with online teaching and learning. Course Instructional Design Before beginning the process of designing your course, look at the meta-design decisions for the overall instructional design. 1. Course instructional design requires students to engage themselves in the application of higher level learning objectives such as analysis, synthesis, and evaluation as part of their course and program requirements. 2. Course instructional design encourages active learning: Learners are engaged in active, hands-on, concrete experiences. Course uses active, learner centered learning activities, not passive presentations. 3. Course instructional design encourages group collaboration and cooperative learning. Peer-to-peer learning is highly encouraged. 4. Course instructional design allows the learner to work at his/her own pace and requires students to master each section s content before proceeding to later sections. Learning Goals and Objectives Learning goals and objectives define what is to be taught and what is to be learned. They serve as the foundation for the instructional design, development, delivery and assessment of an educational event. 5. Learning goals and objectives are defined clearly as part of the instructional design plan. 6. Learning goals are publicly available and communicated clearly and explicitly to the student. 7. Expectations for the students are clearly listed on the course site. This includes listing assignments, due dates, expectations, and grading rubrics. Learner-Centered Design McCombs & Whisler (1997) present the following working definition of learner centered: The perspective that couples a focus on individual learners (their heredity, experiences, perspectives, backgrounds, talents, interests, capacities, and needs) with a focus on learning (the best available knowledge about learning and how it occurs and about teaching practices that are most effective in promoting the highest levels of motivation, learning, and achievement for all learners). This dual focus then informs and drives educational decision making. 8. Course design considers the characteristics of target learners and the use of this information to inform the design of learning exercises with real-life examples that represent diverse, unique perspectives. 9. Learner expectations are explicitly asked for and addressed. 10. The learners learning style is taken into account in the design of course materials. 11. The learner is able to select from a menu of possible paths through the instruction. 12. Opportunities are provided for students to reflect on what they have learned, what they still need to know, and how they might assess themselves 13. Faculty and students agree upon expectations regarding times for student assignment completion and faculty response. 14. Learners receive individual attention from instructor. Motivating Learners If students feel they are part of a community of learners, they are more apt to be motivated to seek solutions to their problems and to succeed.

2 Student Orientation & Technology Help 15. Before starting an online program, students are advised about the program to determine: (1) if they possess the self-motivation and commitment to learn at a distance (2) if they have access to the minimal technology required by the course design. 16. Learners are supported through help aids, tutorials, and links to other kinds of training in order to maximize the capabilities of instructional media and tools. 17. Information is provided to learners on how to access "7 x 24" technical assistance and service. 18. Contingency strategies that will enable a quick recovery from technology-related interruptions are publicly available to learners. Instructions & Help with Course Materials and Assignments 19. Clear and easy to follow directions are included in the instruction. Clear Help screens/prompts are provided where needed. 20. The ability to click on a more detailed explanation is provided where appropriate. 21. Appropriate learner help aids provided, including glossaries, references, links, or tutorials. 22. An all class conference system with discussion threads is available for help and questions. Questions about course materials are posted in the course conferencing system in the appropriate thread, because most learners ask the instructor the same questions. Only s of non-general interest are sent to the instructor. Learner Progress 23. Learner s progress in course is clearly tracked and reported to the learner. 24. Plan in times to periodically discuss how well the class and individual groups doing. 25. Learner confidence is assessed as students progress through the instruction. Creating a Learning Community Social interactions between learners enrich the learning community and should be encouraged and supported throughout the instructional design of educational programs. 26. Activities and assignments address emotional and social presence. 27. Assignments require meaningful peer interaction 28. Students are offered opportunities to praise each other for their accomplishments 29. Opportunities for social interaction among faculty, students, and peers beyond direct instruction are part of the course design. 30. Course supports interaction, collaboration and the development of communities of learners 31. Course design uses instructional situation strategies and techniques for establishing and maintaining "learning communities" among learners Communication: Asynchronous Discussions The way in which the asynchronous conferencing tool is used can have a dramatic effect on student learning. Expectations, Rules, and Evaluation of Discussion 32. Be clear about your expectations of the learner s participation in discussion. Post examples of expectations for discussions by explicitly giving exemplars or scenarios for types of postings, such as a student who knows everything and a student who simply agrees and adds nothing substantive 33. Set rules and standards for good threaded discussion netiquette (network etiquette). 34. Require student participation (make grade dependent) and establish clear norms for participation and procedures for grading. 35. Discussion must be evaluated on quality of content and not length of postings or number of postings. (One idea is to evaluate a synthesis of the discussion.) Organization of Discussion 36. Discussion structure is simple and easy for students to understand.

3 37. Discussion groups should be small. 38. Plan to assign a group discussion leader for each topic/assignment and make learner responsible for encouraging participation. 39. Organize the interaction by focusing discussion with a task such as assigning specific roles. The discussion must engage learner in content. Assign individuals or small groups to play the role of teacher and of moderator for portions of the course. 40. Design of discussion prompts students to get feedback from instructor and peers. 41. Task should have a product or deliverable that brings closure to the discussion. This represents the core ideas from the discussion. This could be a document that synthesizes the main argument. Communication: Interaction When learners interact with one another, with an instructor, and with ideas, new information is acquired, interpreted, and made meaningful. Such interactions form the foundation of a community of learners. 42. Student interaction with faculty and other students is an essential characteristic and is facilitated through a variety of ways, including voic and/or The instructor is an active participant in the interactive components of the course Communication: Feedback Feedback: Knowing what you know or don t know helps focus the learning. Helps students assess their existing knowledge and competence. 44. A clear feedback policy is communicated to the learners. This policy is present on the course site and includes the length of time a student will need to wait for a response from the instructor. Instructor provides his/her availability to learners, including phone and Preparation is made for sending students acknowledgment feedback that confirms or assures student some event has taken place. When student submits assignment or question, instructor should acknowledge briefly s/he has received it: For example: I have received your assignment and will get back to you within a week with comments and your grade or points. I have received your question and will address it later this week when I have more time. Acknowledgments that will be used often can be preprepared. Communication: Synchronous 46. Synchronous conferencing opportunities are designed to meet specific goals such as helping students, meeting with groups, or social interaction. 47. Set rules and standards for good chat discussion netiquette (network etiquette). 48. Expectations in terms of evaluation (if applicable) are clearly communicated with examples of best practices. Content and Assignments Content robustness is concerned with the breadth and depth of the content included in or part of an asynchronous course and the extent to which students are required to interact with that content and with each other. A course has robust content if it goes well beyond the mere inclusion of a course syllabus and a few pages of instructor notes or readings. Content and Information Design 49. Design of content carefully uses and integrates informational resources. 50. Content is sequenced and structured in order to enable learners to achieve the goals articulated in the learning outcomes. 51. Students interact dynamically with content. 52. Instructor makes appropriate ancillary resources available as part of the course content. The course content and requirements are as demanding as a face-to-face course with identical or similar content 53. Course content is made available to students in manageable segments. 54. Clear, direct writing makes the content easy to absorb.

4 55. Presentation of material has been thoughtfully prepared according to principles of visual design and human computer interface design principles (See Online Information and Web Page Design checklist). Assignments 56. Course assignments should be directed toward providing learners with the necessary skills, knowledge, or experiences to meet the goals and objectives of the course. 57. The learner outcomes are listed at the beginning of or before a lesson. 58. Expectations for assignments are explicitly communicated. 59. Course assignments cause students to work at the higher levels of Bloom s taxonomy and employ critical thinking strategies 60. Course assignments include collaborative, problem-based learning activities that reflect how the knowledge learned in the course is to be used. 61. Course assignments provide students with an opportunity to practice and apply concepts and skills 62. Course assignments cause students to apply the knowledge or skills of the course in realistic and relevant ways. Assignments use (where applicable) real-life experiences through simulation and application. 63. Assignments explain clearly how technology is to be used by student 64. Assignments and projects should be structured so that students can provide feedback to each other on them. 65. Course assignments and projects require students to make appropriate and effective use of resources external to the course, including print, library, Web-based and other electronic resources 66. Web-based assignments clearly state how the Web may be used in completing the assignment Deadlines and Due Dates 67. There is an explicit statement of what learners should do each (day or week) that they are enrolled in the course, when assignments are due and evaluations scheduled. 68. Any learner procrastination is addressed at the earliest possible time. 69. For projects or complex assignments, students should be given a structure with deadlines that are spread throughout the semester. Modules 70. Learner has the option to test out of taking an instructional module if s/he so chooses if a passing score on a pre-test is achieved. 71. Modules indicate the time a learner of average ability might expect to spend on each one. 72. Modules are carefully paced, with a sequential exposition (new materials build on previous materials, and the use of a variety of approaches, including summaries, visual material, and illustrative examples as appropriate. 73. At the conclusion of a module, unit or lesson, there are suggestions or directions available so that the learner will know where to go for ongoing learning. Group Projects 74. Project teams are comprised of 3 or 4 individuals. 75. Project team conference areas are available for each project team. 76. Project team assignments have due dates and clear expectations. 77. Plan to provide evaluative feedback by summarizing and reflecting on each week s discussion. 78. Notify learners that you will be monitoring group discussions and giving specific feedback to guide students by asking questions or encouraging them to find their own solutions. 79. Assessment is made by examining the project team discussion threads, completed projects, portfolios, assistance to other learners, and submitted answers to specific questions.

5 Course Research 80. Learners are instructed in the proper methods of effective research, including assessment of the validity of resources. 81. Learners have access to sufficient library resources that may include a "virtual library" accessible through the World Wide Web. 82. Assignments that direct students to specific Web sites provide hints for searching the Web. Practice Activities 83. Course design enables learners to assess their progress, identify areas for review, and to reestablish immediate learning or lesson goals. 84. Practice opportunities are frequent and are adequate to ensure mastery and retention. 85. Learners have a place and time to "try out" what is being learned in the instruction in order to solidify the learning and to promote a realistic experience. 86. Practice activities are dynamic, challenging and engaging. 87. Practice requires application of content, not just recall of facts and rules. 88. Feedback on practice activities is clear and instructive and is provided for all answer choices. Evaluation New paradigms of online instruction call for new paradigms of evaluation, according to some faculty. Linda Harasim, author of Teaching Online, suggests that formative feedback as well as summative evaluations should consider a multiplicity of evidence beyond written exercises and tests. 89. Quizzes and testing are tied to course objectives that are clearly congruent with the learning goals articulated to the learner and are consistent with the skills required of the learner. 90. Assessment and measurement strategies should accommodate the special needs, characteristics, and situations of the distance learner. 91. Feedback on assessments is clear and instructive and is provided for all answer choices. 92. Tools or strategies are available to all learners to test their subject knowledge before, during and after the instruction. 93. Course design provides examples or models of different quality performances to act as a guideline at the beginning of course or assignment. 94. Testing requires application of content, not just recall of facts and rules. 95. Summative evaluations consider a multiplicity of evidence beyond written exercises and tests, such as participation by students in class discussions, and project work. Formative and Summative Evaluation of Course and Instructor 96. Course design includes regular opportunities for students to anonymously offer formative evaluation of the course and instructor through online surveys. 97. An End-of-Course Summative Evaluation is designed for the specific qualities of the online course teaching and learning context. Media and Technology Tools Instructional media and supporting software tools have enabled distance educators to address the two primary barriers to distance education: the learner's feeling of remoteness and isolation, and the time it takes to complete an instructional transaction. 98. Course design reflects a thorough analysis of the role of the instructional media and supporting tools in achieving course learning goals and objectives, an understanding of the impact of the use of technology, and careful consideration of the characteristics of the distance learner. 99. Selection of instructional media and tools reflects their accessibility to the widest range of learners in the program s target audience Media used supports content and objectives and are not an end in themselves. Students are motivated through the appropriate use of visual and auditory stimuli. The course makes appropriate use of digitized images and graphics whether internal to the course or external via the Web.

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