Academic Continuity: Course Preparation
Designing courses for delivery using distributed education technologies requires attention to critical details to ensure that students can locate the information and materials they need in order to meet course requirements and that they can interact with the teacher and with other students in the class. Radford University utilizes the course design model developed by Quality Matters™ (QM) as a means of guiding faculty in the development of quality courses.

2.1. Quality Matters

The QM Rubric was designed and is maintained to be consistent with current research and best practice in the design of courses for delivery using distributed learning technologies. The rubric contains eight "General Standards" with specific standards and indicators subsumed under each standard:

General Standard 1: The overall design of the course is made clear to the student at the beginning of the course.
General Standard 2: Learning objectives are clearly stated and explained. They assist students in focusing their effort in the course.
General Standard 3: Assessment strategies use established ways to measure effective learning, evaluate student progress by reference to stated learning objectives, and are designed to be integral to the learning process.
General Standard 4: Instructional materials are sufficiently comprehensive to achieve stated course objectives and learning outcomes and are prepared by qualified persons competent in their fields.
General Standard 5: Meaningful interaction between the instructor and students, among students, and between students and course materials is employed to motivate students and foster intellectual commitment and personal development.
General Standard 6: Course navigation and the technology employed in the course foster student engagement and ensure access to instructional materials and resources.
General Standard 7: The course facilitates student access to institutional services essential to student success.
General Standard 8: The face-to-face and online course components are accessible to all students.

Courses that meet the QM quality standards exhibit alignment among all of the standards, but alignment is critical across standards 2 - 6:
Alignment.png
Note that the Roman numerals reference standards 2-6.
Once you have developed your plan for communicating with students, your attention should focus on being certain that your course is developed in a manner that will maximize the learning opportunities for your students.

2.2. Learning Management System


Two terms with very similar acronyms function as the primary tools for the conduct of courses using distributed education technologies. The definition or a course management system provided by Meerts (2003) is typical. A second term must also be considered in order to fully understand the functions and capabilities residing in this technology. A learning management system (LMS) is often used synonymously with CMS in applications in higher education. The LMS, however, more appropriately refers to "a Web-based software system that can assist in planning, implementing and assessing the learning process, allowing students access to the learning process independent of place and often independent of time." (Petherbridge and Chapman, 2007)

For the present discussion, LMS (learning management system) will refer to software that both manages the course tools and provide tools and resources that permit students to access and engage in a course indepoendent of time and location.At Radford University at the present time, the LMS that is available to faculty and students is WebCt/Blackboard.

2.3. Course Design and LMS Navigation

1. Be certain that your course in the LMS contains a clear overview and schedule of activities.
2. Provide clear directions for students to access all elements in the course, including what to do first.
  • Create a folder named "Read Me First" or "Start Here" that contains essential course information and guidance for accessing course information, materials, and resources.
  • At the first class meeting, conduct a course "tour" to acquaint students with icons and other conventions that will facilitate access to course resources.
3. Provide a clear statement of "rules of conduct" in participation in online activities:
  • Use a rubric or other appropriate assessment tool to evaluate student participation in discussions
  • Clarify writing expectations; e.g., use of correct English grammar and spelling as opposed to popular - text-messaging - online usage.
  • Provide links to the Student Handbook and Honor Code
4. Clearly describe minimum skills students will need in order to engage in learning activities in an online environment:
  • Ability to use email with attachments
  • Ability to save files in different program formats
  • Ability to access and utilize network servers, especially the h: drive
  • Ability to access and use software programs specific to the discipline/content
  • Ability to use spreadsheets

2.4. Learning Objectives

1. Course learning objectives describe precisely what students should know and be able to do.
2. Objectives should describe student performance in measurable, observable terms. Examples of measurable objectives include the following:
  • Select appropriate tax strategies for different financial and personal situations.
  • Describe the relationship between the components of an ecosystem.
  • Compare and contrast acceptable approaches to graphic design for instructional materials based upon principles of figure and ground as described by Lohr.
3. In most instances, course content may deal with objectives or outcomes that are not measurable, particularly those that fall in the Affective Domain.
4. Measurable objectives should be written at the course level as well as at the unit/module level. "
Measurable course and module/unit-level learning objectives form the basis of alignment in a course." (Quality Matters Rubric) All objectives (course and unit/module) should be written from the students' perspective. That is, they should be:
  • stated clearly for all course delivery formats;
  • written in a way that allows students to easily grasp their meaning;
  • written in a manner that specifies the learning outcomes for students;
  • free of jargon, confusing terminology, unnecessarily complex language, and puzzling syntax; and
  • presented in multiple channels in addition to being printed in the course syllabus.
5. Mastery of content should be appropriate for the type and level of the course:
  • Lower-division courses should address content mastery, critical thinking skills, and core learning skills.
  • Upper division and graduate courses may more specifically address objectives related to the specific discipline in addition to those identified for lower division courses.
  • For more information, see the brief notes "Core Learning Skills and Content Mastery"

2.5. Assessment of Learning

1. Assessment strategies applied during an emergency situation should use multiple approaches to measure effective learning, evaluate student progress by relative to stated learning objectives, and designed to be integral to the learning process.
2. Assessments should align with learning objectives.
Examples of alignment of objectives and assessments include the following:
  • A problem-solving analysis evaluates critical thinking skills
  • A multiple-choice exam verifies knowledge of vocabulary or dates or places.
  • A composition assesses writing skills.
3. Provide clear directions for students regarding dates that assignments are due, how assignments should be submitted, and when and how grades will be posted.
4. Assessments and grading should be equal to assessments and grading for the class taught face-to-face.
5. Assessments should be varied in order to provide multiple ways for students to demonstrate mastery and to accommodate different learning styles.

In the context of WebCt/Blackboard, Radford University provides an assessment option for faculty that could be potentially useful in a situation in which the academic continuity plan is activated. Respondus is a powerful test creation and management tool that faculty can use to author test and quizzes and publish them to WebCt .

Respondus can be used to write tests from scratch, import from an existing WebCt course, import from a publisher's files or import from your own MS Word or Text documents. The CITL provides some excellent resources and training to assist faculty in using Respondus. Most immediately, faculty are encouraged to download a copy of the Respondus User's Guide Many of the leading textbook publishers also provide teaching resources (including assessment materials and test questions banks) correlated with textbooks. In this context, publisher test banks in Respondus format are available for many of the leading textbooks in higher education. Instructors who adopt a participating textbook can download the test bank using their Respondus, software. A web site is available for faculty to determine which textbooks have Respondus-formatted test banks.

2.6. Instructional Materials

  • First of all, students should have access to appropriate instructional materials in order to satisfy course and unit/module objectives.The instructional materials used in the course should align with the course and unit/module learning objectives of the course by contributing to the achievement of those objectives and by integrating effectively with the tools and media selected for their delivery to the student. To the extent possible (given the circumstances in wihci the class is functioning), students should have access to authoritative materials other than standard textbooks, monographs, and articles.
  • Students should have little difficulty in determining the purpose of all content, materials, resources, technologies, and instructional methods used in the course, and how each will help them achieve the stated learning objectives. It is clearly stated which materials are required and which are recommended resources.
  • Course materials should consistently be selected to provide breadth, depth and currency:
      • Breadth: The course materials are robust and create a rich learning environment for students. Instructors should provide meaningful content in a variety of sources, including the textbook(s), PowerPoint presentations, websites, lecture notes, outlines, and multimedia.
      • Depth: The level of detail in supporting materials is appropriate for the level of the course, and provides depth sufficient for students to achieve the learning objectives. For example, an upper-level capstone course should include significantly deeper materials than those required for an introductory general education course.
      • Currency: The materials represent up-to-date thinking and practice in the discipline. Some examples: an introductory computer course should include recent trends such as podcasting; an English writing course should discuss the purpose of Internet research; a chemistry course should include computerized models to demonstrate chemical operations

2.7. Opencourseware and Open Source Materials

Creative Commons is a nonprofit corporation dedicated to making it easier for people to share and build upon the work of others, consistent with the rules of copyright (Copied from the web site.). Most opencourseware materials subscribe to the Creative Commons licensing policies. It is a good idea to check this when selecting any prepared course materials for use in your classes, particularly if you plan to modify the content in any way.
Consider utilizing opencourseware materials to supplement content:

  • OCW Finder helps people find free online courses called OpenCourseWares (OCWs). Universities and other OCW providers can register their courses with OCW Finder to help people find them. OCW Finder was developed at the Center for Open Sustainable Learning at Utah State University. Development was partially funded by the Andrew W Mellon Foundation.
  • MIT OpenCourseWare (OCW) is a web-based publication of virtually all MIT course content. OCW is open and available to the world and is a permanent MIT activity.
  • Universities with the Best Free Online Courses is an article posted by Education-portal.com and provides some insight into the possibilities for utilizing this resource to supplement instruction and course resources.
  • Education-portal.com is an expansive site that includes a wide range of sources for free online courses.
There are a number of sources available for free instructional materials that have been developed by college and university faculty as well as other authorities in most disciplines. Again, you should check to see if the author(s) ascribes to the Creative Commons license policies. The most immediately visible indication is the presence of the Creative Commons logo: creative_commons.png
Exemplary sources include the following:

  • MERLOT: an extensive, searchable, rated (mostly free) database of learning objects provided by instructors.
  • MIT OpenCourseWare: free access to over 1,700 courses, readings, audio and video clips provided by instructors at MIT.
  • Annenberg Media Programs: Annenberg Media discovery learning programming, includes audio and video clips, for educational use. You can link to any of the clips in their web site and enhance the content of your course. Free sign up is required for first-time users.
  • Quia Web: offers the Web's most extensive collection of educational tools and templates. You can subscribe for a FREE 30-day trial; yearly subscriptions are around $49.
  • Social E-technologies in Plain English: a website that explains some social e-technologies in plain English.
  • read/write/think: site to support teaching literacy; a combined effort of both the International Reading Association and the National Council of Teachers of English. This site offers teaching ideas and resources that apply to the many areas we discuss: early literacy, content knowledge support (as in reading in science, etc.), vocabulary, comprehension, and the like. As well, ideas are searchable by grade level, topic area, or broad area of inquiry.