Online Course Review and Recommendations

There are many course review rubrics and scorecards faculty can use to assess course quality and get recommendations for improvement. Two of our favorites include SUNY’s Online Course Quality Review Rubric (OSCQR) and Quality Matters. Combining elements from rubrics like these with our own professional insights and GSU-specific recommendations, we’ve created the Course Review and Recommendations Checklist. Download a copy of the complete Course Review and Recommendations Checklist or review the components below.

Course goals are high-level statements that communicate the purpose of the course. They should be easy for students to understand on first read and often cover a wide range of knowledge and skills. Course goals inform measurable student learning outcomes (SLOs). 5-10 course goals is typical, but some courses may have fewer or more. Ideally, course goals would be written following creation of student personas, informed by historical outcomes data, connected to goals from other courses in the same academic pathway or major, and aligned with university-wide initiatives such as the QEP.

Recommendations

  • Roughly 5-10 course goals are provided in the printable and deconstructed syllabi.
  • Course goals describe the high-level purpose of the course.
  • Course goals are written in ways that can be understood by students on a first read.
  • Course goals explain to students how the course connects to their academic, career, and personal goals.

Resources

SLOs render course goals observable and measurable. Although SLOs can get pretty granular, a good rule of thumb is to start with 5-7 SLOs for each course goal. To help ensure that your statements are measurable, try looking at lists of verbs on Bloom's taxonomy.

Recommendations

  • Descriptive verbs are used to make clear how SLOs will be observed.
  • Roughly 5-7 SLOs are connected to each course goal.
  • SLOs are listed with the course goals in the printable and deconstructed syllabi.

Resources

Reviewing the amount of time required to complete coursework is important to ensure compliance and avoid overloading students.

Recommendations

  • Per GSU policy, each semester credit hour includes a minimum of 750 minutes of classroom or direct faculty instruction or equivalent and a minimum of 1500 minutes of out of class student work or equivalent. In a 15-week course, this works out to a minimum of 2.5 hours per credit hour per week.
  • The average weekly workload per credit hour should total three hours. For example, a three-credit course should require, on average, nine hours of work.

Resources

Being able to trace the connections between course goals, SLOs, assessments, and learning experiences helps to make sure that all components of your course have a purpose and are organized intentionally, efficiently, and in ways that promote student learning. When thinking about alignment, CETLOE recommends a backward design approach. In short, this means that SLOs are built from course goals, assessments are built from SLOs, and learning experiences are selected based on their ability to help students demonstrate mastery of SLOs on assessments. This is a different process than text/content-first approach.

Recommendations

  • All SLOs align with at least one course goal.
  • All assessment items connect to specific SLOs.
  • All SLOs align with learning experiences that will help students achieve the stated level of mastery.
  • All content and activities are connected to specific SLOs.

Resources

It's important that students know the purpose of learning activities, how the learning activity achieves the purpose, and how they'll be evaluated. TILT offers a method to make the purpose, task, and grading criteria clear for students. For each learning experience (readings, videos, activities, etc.): 1) explain the purpose of the assignment (What does it teach? Why is it relevant?); 2) describe the task student will be completing, providing examples with annotations, when possible; and 3) explain the criteria for grading, using rubrics and providing examples of work at different qualities where appropriate. Instructors can TILT their course by adding these descriptions to assignments, item description fields in iCollege, announcements, or other places where expectations are communicated.

Recommendations

  • The purpose, task, and evaluation criteria for all learning activities are clearly communicated with students.
  • Connections among course goals, SLOs, assessments, activities, and content are easy to trace.
  • Time-to-complete estimates are provided.

Resources

A course narrative provides consistent reference points throughout your course, helping to increase interest and engagement, facilitate threaded assessments, clarify connections between content, and communicate the relevance of course material. Narratives can take the form of stories, perspectives, themes, or other ways of intentionally drawing together course content.

Recommendations

  • A clear and simple narrative guides the design, organization, and presentation of course content.

Resources

Diversity in cultures and perspectives are encouraged in students and the historical and cultural processes by which diversity has been both included and excluded from constructing knowledge in the field is an integral part of the course design.

Recommendations

  • Course discussions and assignments encourage and value diverse perspectives.
  • The diversity of thought and background among individuals who have contributed to the field is recognized.
  • Where relevant, the emergence of dominant paradigms or norms is explained, especially as such formation relates to power asymmetries among different groups.

Consistent and logical course organization helps students find resources quickly and ensures that they progress through course content in the right order and at the right pace. Inconsistencies in style, placement of objects or instructions, or navigation across courses add to students' cognitive load and distracts from learning.

Recommendations

  • The course is delivered via the iCollege digital learning environment.
  • Where external learning technologies (such as textbook platforms) are used, iCollege remains the course’s organizing hub, coordinating learning activities and course communications.
  • iCollege's Daylight theme or PressBooks is used as a style template.
  • A consistent and uncluttered layout is established using the default navigation and layout.
  • Colors and fonts are consistent throughout the course.
  • The style of icons and other graphics is consistent throughout the course.
  • Course components such as assignments, rubrics, content items, and discussions are structured consistently, with easy-to-find instructions and expectations.

Recommendations

  • A Welcome Module precedes the content modules.
  • Content modules are organized by topic.
  • Content modules all have the same flow of activities.
  • A Wrap-up Module concludes the course.

Recommendations

  • The course navigation bar uses the iCollege default, promoting consistency across courses and more effective use of help resources.
  • Links to student success and student support resources are included in the Welcome Module as well as in-context throughout the course.

Gradebooks can do much more than collect student scores. Effective gradebook setup can help make expectations transparent, let students know where they stand in a course, trigger automated communications, and provide engagement and performance information to instructors and staff dedicated to helping students succeed.

Recommendations

  • iCollege serves as the official course gradebook.
  • Learners have easy access to a well designed and up-to-date gradebook.(OSCQR)
  • All gradebook items include due dates.
  • Students are provided instructions on how to sign up for email and/or text messages to remind them of due dates.
  • Scheduled announcements remind students of important due dates, assessments, and events, as well as any related evaluation criteria.

Recommendations

  • Grading schemes, whether point-based, weighted, or combination thereof, are clearly explained in the syllabus and reiterated throughout the course.
  • Letter grade cutoffs are clearly outlined in the syllabus and consistent across courses in the same program.

Recommendations

  • The gradebook is structured so that learning analytics tools can regularly and accurately assess and report student progress to the instructor, the students, advisors, and academic coaches. (Please ask your instructional designer for any specific gradebook item names that will assist the learning analytics team.)
  • Intelligent agents are set up to remind students of important upcoming due dates and assessments.

Recommendations

  • Banner course notes state the course modality, specifics about any in-person meetings or proctored exams, note that course content is delivered via iCollege, list any course-specific fees, and link to other relevant information, including online-student orientations. Instructions on how to access iCollege and iCollege FAQ’s are provided.
  • Course Welcome Announcement is available before the start of the semester, introduces the instructor, welcomes the student, offers a high-level overview of the course, creates some sense of enthusiasm, provides instructions on how and when to get started, and uses the {FirstName} replacement string to personalize the announcement.
  • Information about the course is included on a GSU program website. Information could include the syllabus, prerequisites, connections to other courses in the academic program or pathway, etc.
  • Course start date is set. Generally, the course start date corresponds to the first day of the semester and allows student access at 12:01a. In some cases, the start date for a course is before the official start of the semester.

Recommendations

  • Expectations for regular feedback and instructor response time are clearly stated in the syllabus, in discussions, and on applicable assignments. (OSCQR)
  • Auto-graded practice and low-stakes assessments are abundant and provided automate feedback, including links to support and supplemental resources.
  • Regular online office hours are clearly communicated with students.

Recommendations

  • Learners have opportunities to get to know the instructor via a welcome announcement, welcome module, bio in syllabus, discussion post, or other means. (OSCQR)
  • Resources or activities build a sense of class community, support open communication, and establish trust. These could include icebreakers, bulletin boards, "meet your classmates" and "ask a question" discussion forums, etc. (OSCQR)
  • Learner-to-learner interaction and constructive collaboration is encouraged and facilitated, and the structure and expectations of such interactions are clearly outlined. (OSCQR)
  • Student groups are created that foster teamwork, compromise, and leadership.
  • Course interactions value contributions from diverse sources and perspectives. (OSCQR)
  • Learners have multiple opportunities to provide descriptive feedback on course design, course content, course experiences, and ease of online technology. (OSCQR)

Recommendations

  • The iCollege course overview provides a brief statement about the course, including the Course Prefix, Course Name, and Course Number.
  • The iCollege course overview directs students to the Welcome Module.

Recommendations

  • A Welcome Module has been created, is set to be visible to students, and is the first module listed in the iCollege Table of Contents. (OSCQR)
  • A downloadable syllabus is included as a Word (.docx) file and uses heading styles (H1, H2, etc.) to improve accessibility. The downloadable syllabus is added as its own content item within the Welcome Module, i.e. it's not a link of file included as part of another Content item. (OSCQR)
  • A deconstructed syllabus provides each section of the syllabus copied from the downloadable syllabus and added as its own Content item in the Welcome Module. (OSCQR)
  • Requirements for any synchronous meetings are clearly communicated at the start of the course.
  • Welcome Module provides access to learner success resources such as technical support, tutoring, advising, coaching, and other resources. (OSCQR)
  • Technology requirements, including appropriate methods and devices for accessing and participating in the course are communicated. (OSCQR)
  • Course grading policies, including consequences of late submissions, are clearly stated in the printed/deconstructed syllabus and at the point of the graded item. (OSCQR)
  • Links to campus policies on plagiarism, computer use, filing grievances, accommodating disabilities, etc. are clearly provided. (OSCQR)
  • A captioned Course Welcome video introduces students to their instructor(s), provides a description of the course, and explains how the course might connect to student goals (personal, vocational, or academic).
  • It's clear how students can and should contact the instructor(s). (OSCQR)
  • A content-based, low-stakes assessment is given during the first few days of class. This assessment serves as roll verification. Follow-ups, possibly automated, are scheduled for students who do poorly or fail to complete the assessment.
  • A survey is included at or near the end of the Welcome Module. The activity encourages students to begin thinking about course content and how they plan to meet requirements as outlined in the syllabus.
  • Students are required to participate in an early discussion board that introduces themselves to the class in a manner that is relevant to the course goals. (This can be used as a roll verification activity)
  • A Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) Discussion Board provides answers to common questions and also a place for students to ask and answer new questions.

Recommendations

  • All assessment items are aligned to student learning outcomes. (See Alignment under Planning tab above)
  • All assessment items are aligned with supporting content and activities. (See Alignment under Planning tab above)
  • Course includes frequent practice opportunities and low-stakes assessments that help both learners and instructors gauge mastery of student learning outcomes.
  • Criteria for the assessment of a graded assignment are clearly articulated. Rubrics are used when appropriate and students can see examples of work of varying quality.
  • Concrete steps have been taken to limit cheating and promote academic honesty, including but not limited to use of proctoring labs and technologies, plagiarism prevention tools, varied activities and assessment types, and randomized test questions.
  • Learners are provided structured pauses for reflection and metacognition. These can include pre-tests, automated self-tests, reflective assignments and surveys, discussion posts, etc. The key is to encourage students to reflect on what they know, examine how their academic behaviors are (or aren't) promoting learning, and plan changes that will promote improved outcomes.

Recommendations

  • Content and multimedia are up-to-date and engaging.
  • All content is aligned with stated course goals and student learning outcomes. (See Alignment under Planning tab above)
  • Content is divided into segments to facilitate embedded formative assessment and metacognition.
  • No-cost or low-cost textbooks or content are utilized, if possible. (OSCQR)
  • Text is available in an easily accessed format, preferably HTML. All text content is readable by assistive technology, including a PDF or any text contained in an image. (OSCQR)
  • Course materials and resources include copyright and licensing status, clearly stating permission to share where applicable. (OSCQR)
  • All video is accurately captioned.

Recommendations

  • Module description fields provide information describing the course goals and student learning outcomes in each module, assignments in the module and their due dates, as well and how the content in this module conects to previous and upcoming modules.
  • All content items align with assessment items. (See Alignment under Planning tab above)
  • A captioned module welcome video augments and extends information provided in the Module Description field.
  • Content modules begin with pre-tests that explore students' expectations, gauge prior experience and confidence with the content, and assess current content knowledge.
  • Content titles are descriptive.
  • Content item descriptions assist with navigation and help make the flow of the course transparent.
  • Publisher content is integrated into iCollege and is placed in the correct sequence in the iCollege Content Tool. Grades from external learning platforms are pushed to the iCollege gradebook. If "deep linking" to specific publisher content is not possible, instructions for how to access the specific content are provided in iCollege, within the regular flow of the iCollege content.
  • The Content Module includes TILTed discussions, auto-graded quizzes, reflective surveys, and assignments. (See Transparency in Teaching and Learning under Planning tab above)
  • Requisite skills for using technology tools (websites, software, and hardware) are clearly stated and supported with resources at the time the tools are used. (OSCQR)
  • An end-of-module survey encourages students to reflect on the content, assess their strategies for getting the work done, provide feedback on the module.

Recommendations

  • Expectations for student interaction are clearly stated (netiquette, grade weighting, models/examples, rubrics, and timing and frequency of contributions). (OSCQR)
  • Expectations for instructor participation are clearly stated.
  • Discussion prompts encourage divergent individual thinking or consensus building.
  • End dates of discussions are added to Course Calendar.

Recommendations

  • All assignnments are TILTed. (See Transparency in Teaching and Learning under Planning tab above)
  • When appropriate, a grading rubric that is aligned to course goals and student learning outcomes is provided in the assignment instructions.
  • When possible and appropriate, students are provided examples of work of varying quality.
  • Student access to plagiarism detection is enabled, when appropriate.
  • Due dates of assignments are added to Course Calendar.
  • Links to relevant support resources (e.g., online tutoring, technical support, library resources, discussion forums, review sessions, office hours, etc.) are provided along with assignment expectations.

Recommendations

  • All quiz items are aligned with specific student learning outcomes. (See Alignment under Planning tab above)
  • Learners are informed when a timed response is required. Proper lead time is provided to ensure there is an opportunity to prepare an accommodation. Steps for requesting accomodations are clearly communicated.
  • Students have chances to practice tested concepts in no-stakes or low-stakes settings prior to summative examination.
  • Randomized question libraries are used, when apppropriate.
  • Student receive immediate feedback, including links to remediation and supplemental materials, when possible and approrpriate.
  • Links to technical support are embedded in Quiz introductions, especially when proctoriring tools or lockdown browsers are used.
  • Quiz due dates are added to the Course Calendar.

We encourage you to complete do-it-yourself reviews or partner with colleagues to review each other’s courses. If you would like to have your course reviewed by a CETLOE design professional, fill out the form below and we’ll be happy to review your course on a first-come, first-served basis. 

Request Review 

 

Teaching Methods for Successful Online Learning

Leading a successful online course goes beyond checklists and structure, relying as well on sound teaching methods. The following items provide learning science backed principles that we feel should guide your course design process, and are adapted from a set created by Digital Promise and the Institute for Applied Neuroscience, available in their original form, here.

Learning is a continual process that leads to the development of new knowledge as well as changes in existing knowledge. Helping students understand that many aspects of learning, including strategy and effort, are under their control fosters students’ beliefs in their own agency to learn. When students see failure as an opportunity to find out what they do not know (and adjust their learning strategies accordingly), rather than as an indication of self-worth, they are more likely to persevere. Students may also appreciate learning more about the processes that other insights in this series explain.

In Practice:

  • Provide feedback that focuses on the process and helps students see both the productive effort and the effective strategies they used. Encourage students to employ a growth mindset by reminding them of their progress while supporting them to work through challenges.
  • Foster an environment where mistakes and failure are fodder for reflection and positive discussion, so students feel supported and safe to learn from mistakes. Use discussion questions to reframe failure as fodder: Have you ever felt proud of making a mistake? Have you ever discovered something new after making a mistake?
  • Frame assessments as opportunities for students to show themselves what they know and can do at that given moment versus a diagnostic that labels them.
  • Vary the stakes of your assessments by making sure you have low or no points assessments along with your major assignments.
  • Make sure to focus on feedback towards success rather than purely correction of error. This includes quiz question feedback that helps students find the correct answer in their review.
  • Include post-assessment metacognitive quizzes that help students identify the studying practices they employ most successfully.

When students are invited to think deeply about subject matter, they can better build strong memories. Deep thinking and a focus on making connections also allow students the time to make meaningful connections between the material, their own lives, and the world around them. When students see how material relates to their lives and interests as well as other concepts they already know, they have frameworks for understanding the material more easily and can learn it more deeply.

In Practice:

  • Introduce strategies, such as see-think-wonder and claim-support-question, to guide students’ thought processes and to encourage active engagement with content.
  • Ask increasingly complex questions that require students to build connections between the content you’re teaching and their background knowledge or other topics of interest
  • When presenting new material, ask students to identify and summarize important points, including their own perspective on the ideas they selected. Invite them to discuss their ideas with a partner.
  • Integrate semester-long projects with feedback checkpoints throughout the semester so students deeply consider the content and processes of the domain.
  • Be transparent in the ways that skills learned in the course could be related to the lived experience of the students.

To foster deeper learning, the learning process needs to be productively difficult. Learning is like sports: while practice is not always fun and drills can be difficult, a deliberate training process leads to improvement. Having students work at the edge of their mastery while maintaining high expectations pushes them past their current abilities, engages the brain deeply, and lays the foundation for strong learning.

In Practice:

  • Be upfront about the frustrations that can come with productive struggle. Teach students how learning works (including the connection between effort and learning) so they can understand how challenging their brains supports deep learning.
  • Use language like “I believe you can do this” to communicate high expectations and encourage students to persist through challenges. This language also reassures them that this is a desirable difficulty and that real learning is happening!
  • Strategies that work for advanced learners may not work for all students; differentiate lessons in order to provide learners at all levels with appropriate supports.
  • Ensure that the Description field of assessments provides rubrics, examples of previous work, or other information about grading that will help to set proper expectations of work.

Retrieval activities, like self-testing and low-stakes quizzing, that ask students to practice remembering the information they’ve been taught by retrieving it from their long-term memory actually change the nature of memory by strengthening the path to memory and enriching the memory itself. In this way, retrieval practice leads to stronger and more enduring learning.

In Practice:

  • Encourage students to use self-tests to assess what knowledge is not easily retrieved and to flag for more retrieval practice. Flashcards can be a useful self-testing tool.
  • Teach students to pause during studying to try to recall key ideas.
  • Make quizzes low-stakes, predictable (not pop!), simple, and quick. Having students generate questions for quizzes can be doubly beneficial!
  • Use tools like Kaltura Quizzing to segment online videos and build in retrieval activities.

The same amount of content taught or studied but spaced over time can dramatically improve learning and retention. Additionally, switching between different content (e.g. different types of math problems) requires increased effort for students (a desirable difficulty) and can highlight when different strategies are most appropriate. All these factors can produce more durable learning, in turn allowing students to more flexibly access what they learn in later situations.

In Practice:

  • Break up the teaching of concepts over multiple classes, revisiting the key concepts during subsequent sessions (sometimes called ‘spiraled’ teaching).
  • Intermix the content you teach. Reach back to prior concepts when you teach new ones.
  • Encourage your students to break up their studying of a topic into multiple days or weeks, studying the information more than once and allowing a good amount of time in between study sessions.
  • Work with colleagues across your program to determine ways that concepts can be reinforced through their degree to develop further mastery.

The level of a student’s interest has been shown to be a powerful influence on learning. Additionally, when students have a sense of control over their own learning, and the opportunity to set goals that are not only personally meaningful but also have the potential to benefit the world, their intrinsic motivation improves. As a result, they are more likely to persist longer at academic tasks and to process information more deeply. Motivation does not replace the important foundational importance of helping a learner engage in behaviors that help them encode, consolidate, and retrieve memories. Likewise, engagement should be directed toward the actual material to be learned.

In Practice:

  • Support interest and autonomy by providing some level of choice. Allow students to choose their own books to read or to select their preferred format to complete an assignment. Offering a limited number of options (3-5) is often the most motivating.
  • Invite students to generate purposeful, self-focused goals such as, “gain skills I can use in a job to help others,” and learn material to “become an educated citizen that can contribute to society.” Doing this encourages students to develop an internal drive for learning and find meaning in mundane schoolwork.
  • Create tasks and projects that challenge students to write and design for authentic audiences and purposes, including projects that help their local community or are connected to a cause they care about.

When students feel that they are part of a positive, supportive learning community, this can reduce anxiety, allowing them to focus on learning. Building stable, trusting relationships with students supports their self-worth and promotes their sense of belonging.

In Practice:

  • Create a classroom environment that nurtures positive peer relationships. Foster peer-to-peer interactions through well-designed cooperative learning activities and by modeling positive, constructive language.
  • Explicitly teach social and emotional skills, like empathy and kindness, and help students practice using them in multiple contexts.
  • Use trauma-informed practices, such as teaching coping skills and building caring relationships between teachers and students. These benefit all students.

Students are highly tuned to social dynamics and research shows that certain collaborative and relational interactions can drive learning. Harnessing this social drive in the classroom can take students further than they can go alone. Working collaboratively towards a common goal, rather than dividing a project into parts that can be done individually, encourages students to discuss, think about ideas they might not have considered, and learn more than they would if working individually.

In Practice:

  • Promote collaboration and exchange of ideas by structuring projects to require shared learning and co-creating rather than splitting tasks.
  • Encourage students who are working on teams to get to know one another to better understand each other’s perspective. As students build stronger relationships with fellow team members they can move beyond superficial questions to ones that are deeper and more challenging.
  • Ask students to take the perspective of others (e.g. of the people who you are teaching about in social studies or literature) to help students tie the learning to themselves and to a broader perspective.
  • Having students prepare to teach is a powerful way to engage the social brain, whether or not they end up teaching the material! Teaching others often benefits the tutor the most, so be sure to give all students the chance to be tutor as well as tutee, or to compare notes on the lessons they prepare.

Learning will be impaired if students’ basic physiological needs are not met. Students with good overall physical well-being have better cognitive skills than when they are in poor condition. Aerobic exercise can transiently improve the brain’s plasticity and can increase hippocampal volume (a key part of the brain involved in learning new information). Sleep is critical for solidifying learning from the day, and is one of the most important (and easiest) ways to strengthen learning. Basic nutrition is also important for brain health.

In Practice:

  • Students need plenty of daily movement and exercise, including recess and PE.
  • Teachers can educate parents about the effects of the blue light from digital screens on children’s sleep quality and can recommend putting devices away at least an hour before bed.
  • Students can boost their test performance by putting some sleep between learning and the test!

Elements of the physical environment can play a role in determining whether the classroom will be conducive for focus and learning. Exposure to sunlight, as well as views of nature from the classroom, has been shown to boost student achievement, well-being, and behavior.

In Practice:

  • Encourage your students to study in environments more conducive to learning, such as in quiet spaces with a relative lack of interruptions.
  • Ensure that the digital learning environment is easy to navigate, reducing cognitive load and keeping students focused on what's important.
  • Encourage your students to study outdoors from time to time, or create assignments that require students to go outside.

Again, we encourage you to complete do-it-yourself reviews or partner with colleagues to review each other’s courses. If you would like to have your course reviewed by a CETLOE design professional, fill out the form below and we’ll be happy to review your course on a first-come, first-served basis. 

Request Review