Category: Course Overview & Information

OSCQR – Standard #11

OSCQR – Standard #11

Requisite skills for using technology tools (websites, software, and hardware) are clearly stated and supported with resources.

Review These Explanations

Any hardware, software, or technology applications that are required for successful participation in the course need to be introduced along with resources that support a full range of learner mastery. This information needs to be communicated out to learners early on, and reinforced throughout the term.

Hara and Kling (1999) cite that technology problems and ambiguous instructions frustrate online learners. Access issues need to be mitigated early on in order for learners to succeed.

Skill levels need to be established and explained so that learners know what level of expertise is required in order to fully participate in the course. These explanations should include beginner, intermediate, and advanced levels with full descriptions of which features are mastered to which extent at each level. This helps guide learners to appropriate resources to build their knowledge and skill levels. (Leach & Walker, 2001).

If learners are required to use third party content (publisher websites, online labs, assignment utilities, web-based subscriptions), links to associated resources, and explanations on how to access this content need to be included.

References:

Hara, N., & Kling, R. (1999). Students’ frustrations with a web-based distance education course. First Monday, 4(12), 5.

Leach, K., & Walker, S. (2001). Internet-based distance education: Barriers, models, and new research.

Refresh Your Course with These Ideas

General Suggestions

If learners are required to access third-party or web-based technology services and applications, include the following information in the course information documents, and along with any activities or assignments that require using this technology:

  • An overview of the tools available on the site, and which specific features will be used in the course.
  • Information on any fees that may be incurred, or subscriptions that need to be purchased.
  • Links to documentation, video tutorials, and quick reference guides.
  • A screen-cast video on how to access the tools and find online help, and add it to the course along with links to the places explored in the screencast video.
  • Detailed login instructions, including what to do if learners are unable to login or need to reset their passwords in the web-based tool.
  • A list of basic skills that learners need to navigate and operate in this platform.
  • How the technology will be used in the course, along with why the specific technology was chosen.
  • Quick links on the course home page to the IT Help Desk.

If learners are required to use specific hardware include the following information in the course information documents, and along with any activities or assignments that require using this technology:

  • Specifications on exactly what hardware is needed, including brand, model and average pricing.
  • Details on when learners will need to use the hardware.
  • Links to documentation, video tutorials, and quick reference guides.
  • What the ramifications will be if learners are not able to acquire or successfully use the hardware.
  • Details on compatible and/or substitute hardware.
  • A list of basic skills that learners need to operate the hardware.
  • How the technology will be used in the course, along with why the specific technology was chosen.
  • Quick links on the course home page to the IT Help Desk.

Also consider setting up a discussion forum dedicated to troubleshooting software and hardware technology issues, where learners can help each other.

Explore Related Resources

This Guide to Teaching Online Courses is the product of collaboration among a number of organizations committed to ensuring the quality of online instruction to secondary students in the United States.

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OSCQR has been developed by a community of online practitioners interested in quality course design. There are numerous opportunities for community members to offer suggestions, donate resources, and help with future development.

Discuss this standard in the comments section at the bottom of this page.

Contribute your own ideas or refresh resources by filling out the OSCQR Examples Contribution Form.

OSCQR – Standard #10RSI Dashboard illustration

OSCQR – Standard #10RSI Dashboard illustration

Course provides contact information for instructor, department, and program.

Review These Explanations

In addition to providing this information in the syllabus, including a contact information page in the course information documents opens opportunities for learners to contact and interact with course instructors, as well as department and program administrators. Be sure that there is a printable version of this information for learners to have on hand in case they are unable to access the online class and need to get in touch.

Interaction guidelines can be included along with contact information, and should indicate when and how the instructor prefers to be contacted. When posting department and program information, include hours of operation (if appropriate), and contact options if learners need to access to department or program resources outside of those hours.

Opening avenues for communication, and providing easy access to those channels supports learner-instructor interaction, and facilitates engaging in supportive contact and interaction, a key component of social presence. (Garrison, Anderson, & Archer, 2000).

Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2000). Critical inquiry in a text-based environment: Computer conferencing in higher education. The Internet and Higher Education, 2(2-3), 87-105.

Regular and Substantive Interaction (RSI)

How This Standard Supports RSIRSI Dashboard illustration

This standard can support regular and substantive interaction compliance by providing contact information and information to clarify expectations, roles, and communication plans and channels, all of which are essential aspects of a well-designed online course. Directing learners to ask questions and interact with the instructor about these topics, such as in an online discussion forum, further supports RSI, and is a good general practice. Scheduling a specific instructor-facilitated discussion on these topics demonstrates compliance with RSI.

Refresh Your Course with These Ideas

General Suggestions

  • Share expectations for contact including your your preferred, or required modes of contact.
  • Provide information on regular office hours, how/where to ask questions, or get extra help, where to go for advisement, how to contact or access any department or program information or resources, etc.
    • Share information about any required or optional online “office hours.”
    • Mention the specific purposes of specific areas in the course for asking questions.
  • If a student contacts you in a way or at a time that is not expected, or your preference, direct them to your preferred modes of contact.
  • Be explicit about how you would like them to address you, and what information they may need to include in certain communications to make sure you know who they are and what course (or institutions) they may be from.
    • Provide information on preferred ways of being addressed, including, for example, preferred pronouns, by first name, or preferred name, name prefixes, e.g., Dr., Mrs., etc., and ask learners how they would like to be addressed.
  • Make sure your students know specifically what to expect in terms of your response time.
  • Create a digital business card with your contact information and share it out via course announcements.
  • Model the use of the features in your LMS for contact information, such as profiles.
  • Include instructor, department, and program contact information in your syllabus and course information areas.
  • Develop a Key Contacts list and link to it from the course home page, making it easy for learners to access, download, and print as they enter the learning space.
  • Consider including an informal video introduction to the department and program staff, so that learners have a better idea of who they are reaching out to, and include that in the contact information area.
  • Remember to update your contact information if you are traveling to another time zone, or your availability changes in any way during the delivery of your course.
  • Recommend that learners print out Contact Information, so they have access to the information offline.
    • If you are using a syllabus quiz, or scavenger hunt orientation activity, be sure to include finding and printing out the Contact Information provided in that activity!

Explore Related Resources

If you’d like to better understand the “rules of the road” for online teaching and learning, 10 Principles of Effective Online Teaching: Best Practices in Distance Education is the perfect guidebook. Explore Chapter 2: Practice Proactive Course Management Strategies for related tips.
Aragon, S. R. (2003), Creating social presence in online environments. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, 2003: 57–68.

Share What You Know

OSCQR has been developed by a community of online practitioners interested in quality course design. There are numerous opportunities for community members to offer suggestions, donate resources, and help with future development.

Discuss this standard in the comments section at the bottom of this page.

Contribute your own ideas or refresh resources by filling out the OSCQR Examples Contribution Form.

OSCQR – Standard #9RSI Dashboard illustration

OSCQR – Standard #9RSI Dashboard illustration

Course objectives/outcomes are clearly defined, measurable, and aligned to learning activities and assessments.

Review These Explanations

Learning objectives and outcomes are essentially milestones on the learning pathway – milestones that learners need to achieve in order to succeed. Course objectives should express some level of mastery that learners will need to demonstrate as a result of participating fully in the course. Learners need to understand how what they are learning, and what they are required to demonstrate, are connect to the course outcomes.

All course content, learning activities, interactions and assessments should be in alignment with these objectives/outcomes. These relationships should be clearly explained in order to provide relevance of learning to the learners (Knowles, 1984). Objectives should address what learners need to know when they complete the module, course, or program, and aligned activities and assessments should showcase how learners have achieved those objectives.

Keep in mind that well written learning objectives are made up of four parts – the identity of the learner, the skill that you want the learner to demonstrate, the conditions under the learner will demonstrate that skill, and the criteria in place to measure mastery of that skill.

Overall course objectives should be clearly communicated via the syllabus and course information documents, and module objectives should be introduced at the beginning of every module.

References:

Knowles, M. (1984). Andragogy in Action. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Regular and Substantive Interaction (RSI)

How This Standard Supports RSIRSI Dashboard illustration

Online course objectives detail the course goals and expected learning outcomes for learners in the online course. This standard can support regular and substantive interaction by providing learners with opportunities to establish and discuss the relevance of the studied materials to their academic, professional, and personal lives. Giving learners the opportunity to interact with the instructor to discuss their reasons for taking the course, prior knowledge of course discipline/content, and expectations for the course are all good strategies that can be accomplished in the design and activities of the course. For example in an ice breaking discussion. Directing learners to ask questions and interact with the instructor about these topics as the course begins, such as in an online discussion forum, further supports RSI, and is a good general practice. Scheduling a specific instructor-facilitated introductory discussion demonstrates compliance with RSI.

Refresh Your Course with These Ideas

General Suggestions

Examples

  • Use verbs that are actionable and measurable in writing objectives/outcomes. Test each objective/outcome by detailing out exactly how you are measuring it, and how you will know learners have met set criteria.
  • Create a course or module map to share with your learners that details how each objective falls in sequence in the course, along with the activities and assignments that measure associated knowledge and/or mastery.
  • Use the 2nd person (you/your) tense in communicating the objectives, instead of a generic “learners will learn”. This personalizes the statement for your learners.
  • Reiterate the association and alignment of learning objectives by listing any associated objectives in the activity or assignment instructions.

Explore More Refreshing Ideas from the Teaching Online Pedagogical Repository (TOPR) at the University of Central Florida (UCF)

This Pedagogical Practice from TOPR explores the purpose and benefits of breaking down course objectives to the modular level, and provides an example of scaffolding learning across modules.

Relate Course Goals into Modular Measurable Learning Objectives
Creating clear and measurable objectives is key to developing purposeful and systematic instruction. One of the strategies instructors used is to relate course goals into one or more measurable learning objectives for each unit/module/week of your course. (Read more …)

Explore Related Resources

This site explores the “why” and “how” of assessment.
This poster from Fractus Learning lists each level along with a variety of associated action verbs you can use to guide the development of learning objectives.
This tools generates learning objectives based on a variety of set variables, with room to enter new values. Originally designed for academia, this tool is a fun way to generate new objectives!
McCracken, J., Cho, S., Sharif, A., Wilson, B., & Miller, J.. (2012). Principled Assessment Strategy Design for Online Courses and Programs. Electronic Journal of E-Learning, 10(1), 107-119.

Share What You Know

OSCQR has been developed by a community of online practitioners interested in quality course design. There are numerous opportunities for community members to offer suggestions, donate resources, and help with future development.

Discuss this standard in the comments section at the bottom of this page.

Contribute your own ideas or refresh resources by filling out the OSCQR Examples Contribution Form.

OSCQR – Standard #8

OSCQR – Standard #8

Course provides appropriate guidelines for successful participation regarding technical requirements (e.g., browser version, mobile, publisher resources, secure content, pop-ups, browser issues, microphone, webcam).

Review These Explanations

Technology supports the online space, and instructors and learners both need to be aware of technology requirements for accessing and participating in all online course components. Learners may be accessing courses on desktop or laptop computers, and/or mobile devices. Having appropriate technology and knowledge of related issues–and their solutions–can limit obstacles to a successful online teaching and learning experience.

Learners are likely to become frustrated if technology issues arise when they are working in an online course, or accessing additional required material. If course materials include a textbook companion website, learners need clear instructions on how to access and navigate that site.

The SUNY Online Help Desk, or your campus-based help desk, should be referenced for help and expertise with any issues that arise from different operating systems and devices (mobile, laptops, etc.). Take advantage of SUNY Online Help Desk ( or your campus-based help desk) resources, including guidance on technology requirements for learners in online classes, and link to those resources in the Course Information/Syllabus materials. Also include links to textbook publisher reference and help sites, if using textbook companion websites in your course.

Research suggests that online students are increasingly using mobile devices to engage in and complete online course activities and assignments, (Magda & Aslanian, 2018). Designing online course content and activities with that in mind is, therefore, critical to the overall accessibility of the course.

Optimizing for mobile devices:

  • Test the course on multiple mobile devices.
  • Divide content into small, manageable chunks.
  • Minimize the number of ‘clicks’ to reach content and reduce scrolling.
  • Provide hyperlinks for embedded content.
  • Specify width in percentages, instead of pixels for iframes, etc.
  • Use PDFs as much as possible, when file attachments are necessary.
  • Communicate appropriate methods and devices for accessing and participating in the course (publisher websites, secure content, pop-ups, browser issue, microphone, webcam).
  • Ensure that directions for content are applicable for all delivery devices (i.e., mobile devices, laptops, or desktop computers).
  • Ensure any apps that are required for students are available on both Android and iOS mobile platforms.
  • Avoid the use of tables and multiple levels of indents.
  • Avoid placing text to the left or right of images.
  • Avoid content that does not work on mobile devices (such as Flash and Java).

Refresh Your Course with These Ideas

General Suggestions

  • The course provides a required materials section – usually part of the Course Information/Syllabus materials
  • Send or prepare automated announcements to reinforce awareness of the course technical requirements, and how to access technical assistance or support.
  • Interaction on these topics can be designed into the course, incorporated into ice-breaking activities at the start of the course, or other introductory activities to provide student support, and the opportunity for questions and answers around these access to technical support.
  • Have an Ask a Question area discussion forum specifically soliciting interaction with the instructor around Course Technical Requirements.
  • Collaborate with your colleagues to create quick reference sheet on the technology you expect learners to be using in your courses, and adopt it across your program, department, institution. Set a schedule to update it together on a regular basis.
  • Check with the IT department to see what reference guides are available for learners, and include those in your Course Information/Syllabus materials.
  • Test every element of your course on multiple types of devices (e.g., laptop and mobile device) before you go live. If you ask learners to access an external textbook site, be sure that you can access it as a learner first.
  • Ask learners at the end of the term for feedback on their frustrations with technology. This can guide the instructions and information you share the next time you teach the course.
  • Include this information in your course Welcome video, or create a separate screencast overview video detailing what devices and access methods will work best for the course (be sure to provide captions in your video, and/or a narrative script for your videos for accessibility).

Examples

  • From FAQs about SUNY Online – “You should have access to a computer with a high speed, broadband or DSL internet connection. Due to the nature of downloading and viewing rich media, dial-up connections are not recommended. You should also be using an internet browser that is supported by your campus.”Explore your course on your own mobile device to see which features work well, and which features can be troublesome.

Explore Related Resources

Shackel, B. (2004). A user’s experience. British Journal of Educational Technology, 35(5), 645-656. Retrived from https://ur.booksc.eu/dl/9028292/673b58 – .pdf.

Magda, A. J., & Aslanian, C. B. (2018). Online college students 2018: Comprehensive data on demands and preferences. Louisville, KY: The Learning House, Inc. Retrieved from https://49hk843qjpwu3gfmw73ngy1k-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/OCS-2018-Report-FINAL.pdf

Magda, A. J., Capranos, D., & Aslanian, C. B., (2020). Online college students 2020: Comprehensive data on demands and preferences. Louisville, KY: Wiley Education Services. Retrieved from https://edservices.wiley.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/OCS2020Report-ONLINE-FINAL.pdf

Share What You Know

OSCQR has been developed by a community of online practitioners interested in quality course design. There are numerous opportunities for community members to offer suggestions, donate resources, and help with future development.

Discuss this standard in the comments section at the bottom of this page.

Contribute your own ideas or refresh resources by filling out the OSCQR Examples Contribution Form.

OSCQR – Standard #7

OSCQR – Standard #7

Course information states whether the course is fully online, blended, or web-enhanced.

Review These Explanations

Learners need to know how they can expect to interact with course content, other learners, and the instructor. This includes knowing how much of their learning will be taking place online, and how much, if any, will be taking place face-to-face.

Along with campus listings, all initial communication from the instructor should clearly indicate whether the course is fully online, and if any course components require learners to come to a specific location (virtual or physical) at any time throughout the term.

For fully online courses, learners will need to know that they can access learning materials, interactions, and assignments at any time. Specific time frames can (and should) be established, but the main premise is that there is no requirement for everyone to be in the same place online at the same time.

If a synchronous session is scheduled, learners need to know when and how to access and participate in the session, and where to find links to session recordings if they are unable to attend.

For blended courses, learners will need a clear understanding of the ratio between synchronous and asynchronous requirements. A blended class combines the components of a face-to-face course and an online course with the instructor balancing out the time learners spend in both places. In a blended course, learners might meet face-to-face once a week and spend the rest of the week online, exploring readings, participating in asynchronous discussions, completing projects, etc. To be considered a blended course some combination of content, interaction, or assessment would need to take place online and some needs to be in the classroom.

A web enhanced course is a face-to-face course that has online components added, like a course web page with resources, or an LMS course site with handouts, online exams and additional resources included. Learners need to know exactly what will be required of them in the online space, and how to access and interact with the course online companion site.

Refresh Your Course with These Ideas

General Suggestions

  • Include information about the structure of the course (online, blended, web-enhanced) in the course syllabus.
  • Indicate whether the course is fully online, blended, or web-enhanced in the first few messages sent out to learners.
  • Be explicit in the course welcome video about the online components of the course, and indicate when and where learners need to meet – online and/or in-person.
  • Create a course map that illustrates a timeline of online and offline content, interaction, and assessment elements required each week in your course.
  • Describe the relationship between online activities and in-class activities in a blended or web-enhanced course.
  • Create a course calendar that includes assignment due dates, and dates for virtual office hours or face-to-face sessions in a blended or web-enhanced course.

Explore Related Resources

Aycock, A., Garnham, C., & Kaleta, R. (March 20, 2002). Lessons learned from the hybrid course project. Teaching with Technology Today, 8(6), 1-6.
Dziuban, C., Hartman, J., Moskal, P., Sorg, S., & Truman, B. (2004). Three ALN modalities: An institutional perspective. In J. Bourne & J. C. Moore (Eds.), Elements of Quality Online Education: Into the Mainstream (pp. 127-148). Needham, MA: Sloan Center for Online Education.

Share What You Know

OSCQR has been developed by a community of online practitioners interested in quality course design. There are numerous opportunities for community members to offer suggestions, donate resources, and help with future development.

Discuss this standard in the comments section at the bottom of this page.

Contribute your own ideas or refresh resources by filling out the OSCQR Examples Contribution Form.

OSCQR – Standard #6RSI Dashboard illustration

OSCQR – Standard #6RSI Dashboard illustration

Course provides access to online learner success resources (support services, orientation, academic honesty, tutoring, technical help).

Review These Explanations

As more online services are available on-demand (24/7), online learners turn to campus services with high expectations. Easy access to online student supports and services such as technical help, orientation resources, tutoring services and other available online learner supports and services will limit frustration, and enable learners to find and access the help they need, when they need it.

In many cases, links to campus and SUNY Online supports and technical help will be included on the LMS home page, with instructions on how to access various offices, such as IT departments via phone, email, or ticketing system. As many learners bypass the home page, it is important to include this information within the Course Information materials, or within specific course assignments that may require direct technical assistance.

Providing direct links to online learner supports, such as library and tutoring services within the Course Information materials, as well as within individual assignments, will make it easier for learners to be aware of, become familiar with, and access these resources. When including links to tutoring, or orientation resources, provide the instructor’s perspective on the benefits of using these services to further their learning goals and succeed in the course and/or program. Learners should also know what non-academic student supports are available, and how to access them.

Connecting online learners to support services and  resources at the course level will open opportunities to explore available services, and more fully use those services to their benefit.

Regular and Substantive Interaction (RSI)

How This Standard Supports RSIRSI Dashboard illustration

This standard can support regular and substantive interaction by making it clear how the instructor intends to support online learner success, making it clear how the learner can get help, or access materials and resources for assistance, and by providing suggestions, and opportunities for interaction, question and answer, clarification, advisement, and direct learner support on these topics. Supporting online learner success is one of the main roles and responsibilities of the online instructor, which can be articulated in both the design and expectations set for interaction and delivery of the course. Directing learners to ask questions and interact with the instructor about these topics, such as in an online discussion forum, further supports RSI, and is a good general practice. Scheduling a specific instructor-facilitated discussion on these topics demonstrates compliance with RSI.

Refresh Your Course with These Ideas

General Suggestions

  1. On many SUNY campuses links are inserted into online courses to help learners easily find/navigate to relevant administrative, academic, and technical resources available to the online learner. The content and links are typically maintained by campus staff to ensure that they are current and easily accessible.
  2. Provide explicit details on how to contact appropriate services. For example, create a short screencast video, with an overview of where to locate and how to access learner support services and resources, and include it in the course information materials area of the course.
  3. Include links to online tutoring, writing, library services in relevant assignments and/or course projects.
  4. Ask the tutoring, writing, library services to provide you with a video orientation that you can share in your course information, or assignment areas.
  5. Invite a learner support staff member to a virtual class meeting to give an orientation and overview of the academic and non-academic resources, supports, and services available for online learners.
  6. Create a folder of materials to help scaffold self-regulated learning strategies and support online learner success. Refer learners to those resources during the course, and provide a forum for asking questions or seeking assistance.
  7. Set up automated announcements that highlight the technical help, orientation resources, tutoring services, and other available online learner supports, that are timed to align with assignments, or other term events where additional assistance might be needed.
  8. Regarding academic honesty, the example below (couches in a positive way) how the online course design can alert learners to use of an academic integrity tool:
    • The purpose of using this tool is to improve academic integrity, foster fairness, and promote original thinking. The software tool generates a report that shows you how much of your work “matches” another’s work.  This will allow you to make the necessary revisions to your work so that your integrity is not called into question. The goal is to enable both you and me to assess the authenticity and originality of your written work.
  9. There are a number of things that online instructors can do to support online learner success. Online learners can also support their own success. Being aware of the best practices and strategies that support online learner self-regulation and self-efficacy can inform online course design and approaches to online teaching and learning.

Support Online Learner Success

  • Be timely in your interactions and with your feedback.
  • Encourage learner self-assessment and self-reflection.
  • Provide opportunities for students to make choices in course assignments that allow them to relate them to their real lives, or to use their skills and interests.
  • Encourage peer evaluation.
  • Encourage peer support and peer interaction and collaboration in the course to address and alleviate the sense of isolation online students feel.
  • Provide a course schedule with assignments and due dates to make planning and time management easier.
  • Use the grade book make learner self-monitoring of progress in the course easier.
  • Leverage early alerts systems, such as Starfish, to identify learners at risk and take preventive action.
  • Provide exemplar/model assignments.
  • Create an environment where students feel they have access to you, their classmates, resources, and help – and where their questions can get answered.
  • Recognize and acknowledge student success, effort, and accomplishments with course work, life challenges, and with technology used in the course.
  • Draw student attention to how the skills they develop in your course and the material they learn will be useful in their real life and will help them be successful in the future.
  • Reassure students that they can be successful in your course and give them tips on how (for example, collect stories from and suggestions from past students in the form of advice for future student).

Support Academic Honesty

Explore More Refreshing Ideas from the Teaching Online Pedagogical Repository (TOPR) at the University of Central Florida (UCF)

This Pedagogical Practice from TOPR explores the purpose and benefits of using screencasting tools. Explore the possibilities of using these tools to connect learners to services and help centers.

Use Screencasts to Provide Learners Tutorials or to Explain Harder to Grasp Concepts
Screencasting refers to as a digitally recorded playback of computer screen output which often contains audio narration (Udell, 2005). Faculty choose to use them to record portions of lectures to provide overview, describe procedures, present concepts, focus attention and elaborate content. (Read more …)

Explore Related Resources

Burns, S., Cunningham, J., & Foran-Mulcahy, K. (2014). Asynchronous Online Instruction: Creative Collaboration for Virtual Student Support. CEA Critic, 76(1), 114-131.
Carnevale, D. (2007). Late-Night Stress on the IT Help Desk. Chronicle of Higher Education, 54(11), A29.
Whipp J.L., &  Chiarelli, S.,  (December2004) Self-Regulation in a Web-Based Course: A Case Study, Educational Technology Research and Development, Vol. 52, No. 4 : 5-21.

Share What You Know

OSCQR has been developed by a community of online practitioners interested in quality course design. There are numerous opportunities for community members to offer suggestions, donate resources, and help with future development.

Discuss this standard in the comments section at the bottom of this page.

Contribute your own ideas or refresh resources by filling out the OSCQR Examples Contribution Form.

OSCQR – Standard #5

OSCQR – Standard #5

Course includes links to relevant campus policies on plagiarism, computer use, filing grievances, accommodating disabilities, etc.

Review These Explanations

Learners should be able to connect to their campus through their online courses, and that includes connecting to learner services, policies, and procedural guidelines.

Policies need to be communicated to online learners, with course links to associated learner services offices at the institution. Links should bring the learner to:

  • The policy, in clear language.
  • Guidelines on the policy, including how the policy is enforced.
  • Contact information for policy related offices and personnel.
  • Where to go for additional resources.

This information can be added to the course syllabus, and introduced by the instructor in the course welcome, or course information documents.

Refresh Your Course with These Ideas

General Suggestions

  • The course design can embed these Campus Statements and Policies into the flow of the course by creating opportunities for interaction around these topics.
    • Send or prepare automated announcements to reinforce awareness of the information, or to provide an opportunity for instructor-initiated conversations / discussion about these topics.
    • Interaction on these topics can be designed into the course, incorporated into ice-breaking activities at the start of the course, or other introductory activities to provide student support, and the opportunity for questions and answers around these topics.
    • Have an Ask a Question area discussion forum specifically soliciting interaction with the instructor around content presented in the Campus Statements and Policies.
    • Assign a quiz that covers pertinent campus policy information, and incorporate an adaptive release, so that learners are unable to proceed unless they score a passing grade on the quiz.
  • Create an area in the course for Campus Statements and Policies that is separate from the Course Information/Syllabus (to un-clutter and focus the Course Information/Syllabus on academic aspects).
    • Examples of course and program level policies:
      • Late Policy
      • Academic Honesty Policy
      • Plagiarism Policy
      • Netiquette Expectations
      • Disability Services and Accommodations
      • LMS Privacy Statement
      • Learning Management Accessibility Statement
      • Basic Computer Skills requirements
  • Provide links to Campus Statements and Policies in the Course Information/Syllabus materials.
  • Create a handout with this policy information for learners to print on demand, or a FAQ to guide learners to appropriate resources for additional help/support/guidance.
  • Model adherence to all campus policies within your course, including plagiarism, academic integrity, and support for learners with disabilities.
  • Modeling the acknowledgment of the work of others and ensure that course materials respect copyright, creative commons, and fair use guidelines.
  • Provide links to examples, tutorials, lessons, or other campus resources that assist learners understand how to interpret and apply campus policies.
  • Apply course design principles that promote academic integrity, for example incorporate formative assessments and explicitly define acceptable learner collaboration.

Examples

Explore More Refreshing Ideas from the Teaching Online Pedagogical Repository (TOPR) at the University of Central Florida (UCF)

These Pedagogical Practices from TOPR explore the purpose and benefits of creating a syllabus quiz or course contract assignment to ensure that learners have reviewed essential course documents and policies

Use Syllabus Quiz to Familiarize Learners with Course Policies and Expectations
In the online environment, it is important to provide clear expectations, policies, and grading expectations and to ensure that learners are familiar with these policies and expectations (California State University, Chico, 2014). You may have a very detailed syllabus. However, learners may not carefully read all of these details. By creating a syllabus quiz with questions specific to your course policies, expectations, and routine, you will provide support by helping learners become familiar with these important items. (Read more …)
Create a Course Contract Assignment to Help Learners Understand Course Policies
It is very important to design an online course in a way that supports learners to get started on the right foot (Chico, 2009). When a learner starts an online course, they read the essential course information (syllabus, course expectations, instructor introduction) and learn about the course policies and expectations. Otherwise, miscommunications can happen due to a lack of understanding of the essential course information. To address this, one strategy is to create a Course Contract Assignment for learners to complete during the first week. (Read more …)

Explore Related Resources

Floyd, D. L. and Casey-Powell, D. (2004), New roles for student support services in distance learning. New Directions for Community Colleges, 2004: 55–64.

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OSCQR has been developed by a community of online practitioners interested in quality course design. There are numerous opportunities for community members to offer suggestions, donate resources, and help with future development.

Discuss this standard in the comments section at the bottom of this page.

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OSCQR – Standard #4

OSCQR – Standard #4

A printable syllabus is available to learners (PDF, HTML).

Review These Explanations

Keeping learners on track is a core part of teaching online, and the more information you can provide in advance, the fewer problems and obstacles your learners will encounter. Creating a syllabus is fundamental aspect of any course design process. Providing a syllabus in a format that is easy to find in the online course, and available for learners to access, download, and print at their convenience is equally essential.

Many learners prefer a document that they can print and refer to offline, or keep for their records. Producing a syllabus in a format that is readable and printable (not editable) is the goal. PDF and HTML file formats are recommended over DOC formats.

Refresh Your Course with These Ideas

General Suggestions

Explore Related Resources

Turn Your Syllabus into an Infographic

Chang, S. L., & Ley, K. (2006). A Learning Strategy to Compensate for Cognitive Overload in Online Learning: Learner Use of Printed Online Materials. Journal of Interactive Online Learning, 5(1), 104-117.

Podolsky, T., & Soiferman, K. (2014). Student Academic Reading Preferences: A Study of Online Reading Habits and Inclinations. Online Submission.

Share What You Know

OSCQR has been developed by a community of online practitioners interested in quality course design. There are numerous opportunities for community members to offer suggestions, donate resources, and help with future development.
Discuss this standard in the comments section at the bottom of this page.

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OSCQR – Standard #3RSI Dashboard illustration

OSCQR – Standard #3RSI Dashboard illustration

Course includes a course information area and syllabus that make course expectations clear and findable.

Review These Explanations

Simunich, Robins, and Kelly (2015) found that courses with high levels of findability, based on careful development and placement of course information materials, have a direct impact on learner perceptions of course quality, experience, and successful learning outcomes.

Creating an area in the course for Course Information/Syllabus materials, provides the opportunity to present course information into well-labeled smaller chunks of information for the learners to easily access and review. The intent is to enable learners to find varied, discrete course information details easily and quickly with a scan of document heads and subheads, or one or two clicks, rather than having the information buried in obscure nested folders/documents, or a convoluted and lengthy syllabus .pdf.

A recommended approach is to create a dedicated Course Information/Syllabus area that is positioned prominently in the course for easy access, and to present the information clearly with attention to descriptive and relevant titles. This information can mirror the information in the syllabus, and provide an additional means through which learners can orient themselves to the activities and expectations of the online course.

Think about Course Information/Syllabus materials from the online learner’s perspective and use them to anticipate and address learner questions, build trust, support online learner confidence, and lessen the sense of online isolation. Use Course Information/Syllabus materials to:

  • Define the instructor’s role and responsibility to learners.
  • Explain the roles and responsibilities of the learners.
  • Provide clear learning objectives/outcomes.
  • Establish course expectations and plans for evaluation, assessment, and feedback.
  • Describe course activities and familiarize learners with how the course functions.
  • Provide information on how, when, and where course communications and interactions with the instructor and between learners will take place.

References:

Simunich, B., Robins, D. B., & Kelly, V. (2015). The Impact of Findability on Student Motivation, Self-Efficacy, and Perceptions of Online Course Quality. American Journal of Distance Education, 29(3), 174-185. (https://doi.org/10.1080/08923647.2015.1058604)

Key findings have implications and support for the deconstructed syllabus, well named modules, etc. “Findability may have a significant effect on self-efficacy and motivation, as well as student perception of the instructor.”

Video that explains these results.

Regular and Substantive Interaction (RSI)

How This Standard Supports RSI

RSI Dashboard illustrationOnline courses support regular and substantive interaction by including communication plans for regular, predictable, and substantive instructor-to-learner interaction, and clearly stated expectations for timely and regular feedback from the instructor. Overall course expectations regarding instructor and learner roles, course communications, interaction, collaboration, assessments/ evaluation, and instructor-learner, learner-learner and learner engagement need to be explicit, clear, and easy to find. The course syllabus provides course details such as purpose, description, credit information, learning outcomes, learning activities, methods and criteria for evaluation, plans for regular and substantive interaction, plan for formative assessment, and any other requirements. Directing learners to ask questions and interact with the instructor about these course information and syllabus topics, such as in an online discussion forum, further supports RSI, and is a good general practice. Scheduling a specific instructor-facilitated discussion on these topics demonstrates compliance with RSI.

Substantive interaction is defined as direct interaction between the learner and the instructor to engage learners in course teaching, learning, and assessment activities. This direct instruction from the instructor includes:

  • Assessing or providing feedback on a student’s coursework.
  • Providing information or responding to questions about the content of a course.
  • Facilitating a group discussion regarding the content of a course or competency.
  • Other instructional activities approved by the institution’s or program’s accrediting agency.

Regular interaction requires an institution to ensure, prior to the student’s completion of a course or competency, that there is the opportunity for substantive interactions with the student on a predictable and scheduled basis commensurate with the length of time and the amount of content in the course or competency.

The online course syllabus could include an Instructor Communication Plan that specifies how, when, and where communications, interactions, and feedback with/from the instructor can be expected.

The syllabus could also contain a section labeled Regular and Substantive Interaction such as:

As your instructor, I plan to interact and engage with each of you on a regular basis throughout the term to support your learning. I will provide direct instruction related to the course’s learning objectives, respond to your questions, grade and/or provide feedback on your submitted coursework, post regular announcements, and engage in the course discussion areas regarding academic course content when appropriate.

Refresh Your Course with These Ideas

General Suggestions

  1. A prominent area in our course dedicated to Course Information/Syllabus materials is intended to help your learners find their way through the most important details related to participating, and succeeding in the online course.
    • Course information documents provide instructor explanations. The instructor’s intentions live in these documents, set tone, and convey the voice of the instructor.
    • Course information documents make course expectations explicit, and detail specifics about course communications, assistance/help, contact, interactions, office hours, etc.
    • Create a set of Course Information Documents
  2. Provide a searchable syllabus document with clear and consistent heads and subheads, or a deconstructed syllabus that presents categories of course information in separate documents organized in an outline type format to make course information and expectations explicit, clear, and easy to find.
  3. Provide rubrics, strategies for time management, and examples/models of previous student work.
  4. Clarity in naming conventions is key. In introductory course information and materials it is important to refer to content, interaction, and assessment items consistently and using simple titles/labels – an exam should be referred to as an exam, a case study should be referred to as such, and the same for any interaction elements such as discussion forums. Adding additional contextual information to course material titles/labels further improves course organization, clarity, and findablity.
  5. Use active language to guide learners to take action – for example, course information pages can be titled, “Purchase Required Textbooks”, “Read through Interaction Guidelines”, “Print out the Course Calendar”, “Take Note of Office Hours”, and the like. These active titles act as key signposts for learners to navigate through the online course, and when the quickly want to find that information again – making for a high level of findability in your course.

Examples

  • Each element in the Course Information/Syllabus area steers learners to specific information by categorizing course information:
    • Course Welcome
    • Instructor Contact Information and Office Hours
    • Instructor Expectations
    • Schedule and Due Dates
    • Required Texts and Associated Materials
    • Learning Activity Overview
    • Interaction Guidelines
    • Grading and Assignment Rubrics
    • Campus Policies and Resources
    • Strategies for Success
    • Ask a Question (Open Discussion Forum)
  • Example actionable titles:
    • Welcome to (list the course name and number)
    • Get to Know Your Instructor
    • Learn What I Expect from You, and What You Can Expect From Me
    • Go through the Course Schedule
    • Review Required Texts and Associated Materials
    • Discover How to Communicate and Interact in this Course
    • Explore Campus Policies and Resources
    • Understand How to Succeed in this Course
    • Ask a Question (Open Discussion Forum)
  • A dedicated course folder (module, or area) titled Course Information/Syllabus, may be enhanced by the use of a subtitle, or short description that will appear with it as an advance organizer, to aid in findability. For example:

    I encourage you to explore the documents in this folder for more information about the course learning objectives, grading criteria, learning activities, and expectations. If you have any questions or concerns, please reach out to me immediately via the course messaging tool.

  • Remember to introduce the Course Information/Syllabus area in your Course Overview, and refer back to it consistently throughout the course. For example, in your discussion forum instructions, direct learners to the Course Information area for more information about interaction guidelines and expectations.
  • Learner-Centered Mindful Syllabus Checklist (PDF)
  • Learner-Centered Mindful Syllabus Checklist (Printable Text)
  • The Chronicle’s How to Create a Syllabus Advice Guide webpage
  • Syllabus Creation Guide
  • Review your Syllabus.
  • Revise your Syllabus.

Explore More Refreshing Ideas

This video explores at approaches to orienting learners to the online course, and setting expectations through an introductory module, or course information area:

Explore Related Resources

Fisher, E. A., and V. H. Wright. 2010. Improving online course design through usability testing. Journal of Online Learning and Teaching 6 (1): 228–245. Irizarry, R. 2002.
Morville, P. 2005. Ambient findability. Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly.

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OSCQR has been developed by a community of online practitioners interested in quality course design. There are numerous opportunities for community members to offer suggestions, donate resources, and help with future development.
Discuss this standard in the comments section at the bottom of this page.

Contribute your own ideas or refresh resources by filling out the OSCQR Examples Contribution Form.

*OSCQR – Standard #2RSI Dashboard illustration

*OSCQR – Standard #2RSI Dashboard illustration

Course provides an overall orientation or overview, as well as module-level overviews to make course content, activities, assignments, due dates, interactions, and assessments, predictable and easy to navigate/find.

Review These Explanations

Adult learners benefit from knowing what they are about to learn, as well as the scope of work and time commitment expected from them. Providing an overview of the online course will prepare learners for what, when, where and why they will be learning, and an overview of each course module will provide information on, in advance, what content, interaction, and assessment will take place within a specific period of time.

These “advance organizers” will help learners plan around conflicting priorities (school, family, children, work) and better manage their time.

The overall course orientation and/or overview should relay the same type of information that would be provided in a face-to-face class, including information from the syllabus, such as:

  • Course objectives
  • Required readings
  • Interaction Guidelines
  • Expectations
  • Due dates

The module orientation should include at least a short introduction to the module topic, and indicate what materials need to be reviewed, and what activities and assignments need to be completed. Remember to include due dates for every assignment and activity included in the module. This will help your learners stay on track!

Taylor, Dunn, and Winn (2015) write that ensuring that learners feel comfortable within the online course setting – knowing how to navigate, and what is expected – will set learners up for success. Providing course and module overviews provide learners with a means to navigate the course so that they can stay on track and succeed in their learning.

References:

Taylor, J. M., Dunn, M., & Winn, S. K. (2015). Innovative Orientation Leads to Improved Success in Online Courses. Online Learning, 19(4).

Regular and Substantive Interaction (RSI)

How This Standard Supports RSIRSI Dashboard illustration

Online course and module overviews support regular and substantive interaction by including specific explanations, instructions, and details on how, when, where, and by whom online course communications, interactions, discussions, asking for help, getting questions answered, feedback, etc., will take place. Directing learners to ask questions and interact with the instructor about these topics, such as in an online discussion forum, further supports RSI, and is a good general practice. Scheduling a specific instructor-facilitated discussion on these topics demonstrates compliance with RSI.

Refresh Your Course with These Ideas

General Suggestions

  1. Anticipate the questions learners might ask about the course (access, navigation, learning materials, due dates) and address them within the orientation/overview.
  2. Provide a discussion forum where learners can ask course or module-level questions g,et clarification, or ask for help from the instructor.
  3. Schedule a specific time frame for interaction with the instructor for learners to get clarification or ask course- and module-level questions.
    1. This could be documented in the course calendar, and sent out as an announcement.
    2. Announcements can be set up in advance and scheduled to be released in conjunction with the course start, and subsequent module starts.
  4. Use learner-centered language, and address what the learner will experience.
  5. Address a single learner. Use second person singular, e.g., “You will learn…” vs. “Course participants will learn…”

Examples

Course Overviews

  • Provide a detailed written description of the types of learning activities learners will engage in, including all content, interaction, and assessment types included in the course.
  • Be sure to include the expected time required to participate and engage fully in the course each week throughout the term (e.g., “Please expect nine hours per week…”).
  • Create a short video introductory overview tour of your course within the LMS using a screen casting tool (e.g., screencast-o-matic, SnagIt, Captivate, Screencastify). This can help learners better navigate the course space, by letting them see the structure of learning modules and how to locate and access all course materials.
  • Create a course map or calendar to visualize the sequence of course modules, types of learning activities, anticipated duration of each activity, and indications of when assignments are due.
  • Bring attention to the most important elements of the online class, such as learning objectives, communication channels, required outside resources, and due dates.

Module Overviews

For module overviews, provide a more detailed description of learning content, activities, and assessments, including:

  • An introductory paragraph about the topics to be covered within the module, and how they fit within the scope of the full subject being covered in the course.
  • A list of module-specific learning objectives.
  • A list and/or explanation of key concepts that will be covered.
  • Assigned readings and associated resources to review, including dates that learners should expect to have completed each readings and/or resources.
  • Due dates for all assignments, even if stated elsewhere. These reminders will help learners stay on track.
  • A link back to the overall course schedule and/or course map.

Explore More Refreshing Ideas from the Teaching Online Pedagogical Repository (TOPR) at the University of Central Florida (UCF)

These Pedagogical Practices from TOPR explore the purpose and benefits of creating a course orientation module and advance organizers for your online course, including links to example artifacts and scholarly references:

Course Orientation Module
A Course Orientation Module serves as the orientation to an online course. Creating an Orientation Module is very similar to the events that can occur in first night of a face-to-face class. The purpose of this module is to help learners master the course routine, expectations, and organization as well as ensure that learners are familiar with the LMS and have all of the hardware/software required for the course. Providing this online orientation will provide learner support by helping learners become familiar with your course. (Read more …)
Advance Organizer
An advance organizer is relevant introductory materials presented in advance in any format of text, graphics, or hypermedia (Ausubel, 1968). Instructors may use an advance organizer to present a framework for module content. Ausubel’s idea of an “advance organizer” is to relate what a learner already knows to the new content to be learned and thus increase retention. Advance organizers should be at a higher level of abstraction, generality, and inclusiveness than the content to be presented. (Read more …)
Use Scavenger Hunts to Orient Learners
A scavenger hunt can be used to help orient learners to an online course at the beginning of the term (Chen, H-L and Staber, G., n.d.). This activity works like a traditional scavenger hunt, as one gives the learners specific instructions as to what they are to look for in the course. By completing the activities, learners navigate through the online classroom and become comfortable with where things are located. One might also give learners instructions for locating institutional resources or student services. (Read more …)

Explore Related Resources

Beckford, M. M. (2015). The Online Learning Orientation Session. Distance Learning, 12(4), 43-50. Retrived from
Candy, P. C. (1991). Self-direction for lifelong learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Share What You Know

OSCQR has been developed by a community of online practitioners interested in quality course design. There are numerous opportunities for community members to offer suggestions, donate resources, and help with future development.

Discuss this standard in the comments section at the bottom of this page.

Contribute your own ideas or refresh resources by filling out the OSCQR Examples Contribution Form.