By Rhonda Gregory, Director of Distributed Education
Developing courses for online or hybrid delivery can be a challenge for faculty. Just simply uploading all your regular, on-ground class materials and tests isn’t good enough; in fact, experience and research has shown that this approach actually has worse outcomes for everyone involved. So what do we do? Are there best practices that we can learn from to be better online teachers? What do our students need from an online course? If questions like these have ever crossed your mind, don’t despair. Distributed Education is here to help!
We’ve compiled a checklist of best practices associated with teaching online courses. The checklist is broken down into four easy parts: before the course begins, the first week, throughout the course, and the last week. Look back at this list often to see which “to-do” items you can start to use to improve your course. If it helps, create reminders on your calendar to accomplish routine tasks for your online courses.
The best online classes don’t just happen. They are developed over time and are designed with student learning in mind. Distributed Education understands this, and we have worked with faculty to create the course development process and timeline. The time frames listed are suggested; some will take longer, some less time to complete. The key here is in the process; each step is important to the overall goal of creating an engaging, successful course.
In order to provide the best learning experience possible for our students, Vol State has adopted the Quality Matters Higher Education Rubric, Fifth Edition, 2014 (QM) as a baseline for our online and hybrid course development standards. The QM standards assure that the online components of these courses promote learner engagement and provide students with all the tools and information they need to be successful learners. For more information regarding QM, please visit their website: Quality Matters (link opens in new window).
We are systematically building and evaluating our online and hybrid courses based on the QM standards. All newly developed or redeveloped courses will undergo an internal QM review with three evaluators: 2 faculty and 1 distributed education personnel. Courses must “meet” all 3-point essential standards and earn an overall score of 85% or higher. Existing online and hybrid courses will undergo review once every 3-years, with the initial round of reviews beginning spring 2016.
In addition to the Vol State standards for development and instruction, online course materials must be designed to comply with accessibility guidelines so that higher education is accessible to individuals of all abilities. This is true for all courses – online, hybrid, on-ground, and any combination thereof. Documents such as course syllabi, lecture notes, study guides, handouts, PowerPoint slides, videos, podcasts, etc. can be made accessible to students who use assistive technologies. The resources below will help you learn more about these guidelines, and various training workshops are available throughout the year to give you hands-on practice and experience making documents accessible.