Jan 09 2017

Is Your University’s Online Course Up to Code?

Scorecards offer benchmarks for digital learning and instruction.

Thanks in part to the rise of massive open online courses, online higher ed programs are growing significantly. An estimated 5.8 million students are enrolled in online courses, the Online Learning Consortium (OLC) reports.

As online teaching increases in popularity, so does the need for online faculty evaluation, reports the Conferences at New Prairie Press in a report titled “Effectively Evaluating Online Faculty”:

“The quality of faculty and instruction are critical to the success of any program, and even more so in an online based program, therefore, having an effective evaluation method that functions to both evaluate and mentor those who teach in an online setting is vital to the success of the program.”

Since 2010, OLC has maintained a Quality Scorecard Suite to establish benchmarking tools and standards to help schools evaluate the quality of their online courses. In December 2016, OLC announced the creation of three more scorecards to evaluate course design, instructional practice and digital courseware, PR Newswire reports.

“Just as educators continue to seek out ideal learning environments and share effective practices for advancing quality, OLC will continue to expand the Quality Scorecard suite to support and guide their efforts,” says Kathleen Ives, OLC’s CEO and executive director, in the news release.

Evaluating an Online Course Can Breed Success

Debbie Morrison, a blogger for Online Learning Insights, says surveys of years past have found that many believe online courses are of lesser quality than face-to-face courses.

“I suggest that online educators can and should tackle the quality issues in their own courses, and that they do so by assessing their course holistically,” writes Morrison.

Thanks to OLC’s original scorecard, which focuses on administration of online programs, universities have been able to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of their courses in terms of institutional support, course development and design and student engagement.

In 2015, keeping with current trends, OLC issued a scorecard for blended learning programs.

OLC’s latest scorecards are in line with what is new in online education, as more and more schools, like California State University, Northridge, are making sure their courses are designed accessibly:

  • The quality course teaching and instructional practice card is an in-depth review to check on course design, accessibility, content, engagement and learning outcomes.

  • The digital courseware instructional practice scorecard helps “in building an effective classroom experience for students” and touches on learning foundations, course fundamentals, and faculty and student engagement.

  • The course design review scorecard was designed in partnership with the State University of New York’s Open SUNY program — a portal that combines all of the online offerings from SUNY’s 64 campuses. This card looks at “50 instructional design and accessibility standards” and also has advice for action plans that teachers can design after evaluation. “Through our partnership with OLC, even more online learning professionals and institutions will have access to high quality professional development opportunities focused on the latest trends and established best practices in higher education,” says Kim Scalzo, executive director of Open SUNY, in a press release.

Using tools for evaluation regularly have helped online programs flourish in recent years. Jill Langen, president of Baker College Online, told Inside Higher Ed in August 2016 that the OLC scorecard system has helped them identify areas where they need improvement and subsequently boost accessibility and record keeping.

Inside Higher Ed reports that some of Florida International University’s online programs were redesigned using metrics from Quality Matters, an organization also dedicated to course review and evaluation. They found that students in those redesigned courses had given higher ratings for the class and professor and also received grades that were a fraction higher.

“We, as institutions that provide online education, need to very aggressively utilize Quality Matters or organizations like the OLC so that we have some kind of external, standardized benchmarks that help us show others that we have quality, and that we hold ourselves to our standards,” says Langen.


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