Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Ensuring Online Course Quality

This post is the third in our new series dedicated to sharing SLATE member expertise on the same topic as our monthly meetings. Look for information below to get involved and write a post for us!

Amanda Ladig and Lisa Runda
Amanda Ladig and Lisa Runda
We are fortunate enough to have two guest authors this month: Amanda  Ladig and Lisa Runda, Distance Education Specialists in the Office of Distance Education at Indiana Tech. I attended their presentation "Trial & Error in Accelerated Online Programs" at the 2014 SLATE Conference, and was very impressed by their approach to online course development and quality. This post is written to accompany our February 19, 2015 meeting about Online Course Quality at Adler University.

Ensuring course content and layout quality in any online education program is a challenge. Ensuring the quality of accelerated online courses, offered year-round, demands the need for standardized structure and guidelines. At Indiana Tech, we face the challenge of developing, offering, and monitoring high-quality online courses in a fast-paced environment. We have created specific quality standards and guidelines so that our course developers and instructors know what is expected of them.

Course Development

  • Create standard development guidelines. For accelerated online courses, it is most often unrealistic to expect or even want every instructor to develop their own course content. Using one main developer ensures all content that is delivered to students, across multiple sections, is consistent and accurate. To maintain consistency in format at the program level, the Office of Distance Education at Indiana Tech has created standard developer guidelines. All online course developers must follow the guidelines when building a course and its content. The guidelines indicate the format that should be used in all areas of the course, including syllabus, schedule, and course module layout/organization. Each course module is required to have specific elements related to lectures and assessments, including peer to peer interaction via a discussion board.
  • Review!When a developer has completed all course development, the entire course is reviewed for content accuracy, academic rigor, and conformity to development guidelines. If changes are requested by the reviewer, the developer will make the changes and resubmit the course for review.

Rolling Out Courses to Students

  • Communicate requirements to instructors. When Indiana Tech offers multiple sections of one course in an online session, all of the content is populated from the development course. This ensures all students in the course, regardless of section, receive the same content. Instructors are given specific requirements regarding what they can or cannot change within their course—instructors can only change the course schedule and the professor profile. All other content must be left in the original format and cannot be altered without prior consent of the Office of Distance Education. Instructors are informed of these and other policies in an online faculty document, sent to all online instructors prior to their contract acceptance.
  • Review courses prior to releasing the content to students.Prior to the start of a course session, all instructors who are teaching in that session must notify the Office of Distance Education that their course is ready to be made available to students. Notification occurs after the instructor has updated the course schedule and the professor profile. At this point, the Office of Distance Education runs a quality control process on every course, ensuring that all elements of the course are intact and that course schedules are correct. After the Office of Distance Education has completed the quality control process, the courses are made available for students to access.
  • Monitor throughout session duration. Instructors must to adhere to key policies during a live session in order to provide an optimum learning environment for students. Instructors must respond to student emails and grade assessments within a timeframe specified by the Office of Distance Education. Courses are randomly checked to verify instructors are regularly accessing the course and grading within the designated period of time. Student concerns brought to the attention of the Office of Distance Education are also investigated and addressed with the instructor.
Managing quality control in-house takes substantial time and effort by both instructors and Office of Distance Education staff. However, the overall process has been streamlined with the creation of standard guidelines and policies. Hopefully, these tips will help other schools that also manage course quality in-house.

Amanda Ladig is a Distance Education Specialist at Indiana Tech. She works in the Office of Distance Education, managing online course development and online course preparation, and also assisting online course developers and instructors. She will graduate from Purdue University in May, with a master’s degree in Learning Design and Technology. You can contact Amanda at aeladig@indianatech.edu.

Lisa Runda is a Distance Education Specialist at Indiana Tech. She works in the Office of Distance Education, managing online tutoring, e-texts, new instructor orientations, Independent Study program, and providing overall assistance to online students and instructors. You can contact Lisa at llrunda@indianatech.edu.


Thank you to Amanda and Lisa for their insight! 

Are you interested in or have experience with one of the upcoming topics for the monthly SLATE meetings? Want to write a guest post on our blog sharing what you have learned about it? Email Stephanie Richter with your proposal to be considered for a guest post!