A Case for Quality Course Design

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post detailing my institution’s efforts to qualify educators to teach online. Our college was piloting a peer review system where faculty would assess each other’s courses using SUNY’s Online Course Quality Review Rubric (OSCQR) which specifically targets quality online course design. To prepare for the peer review process, my dean asked each of us to self-assess one of our courses and to identify areas for improvement and growth. I chose to review a graduate course that I was currently teaching. The course is a seven-week class that focuses on tools and technologies for online teaching in K-12 environments. I figured if I was teaching a class on online teaching, I should assess whether my course design was high quality or not. And the OSCQR rubric helped me to that end. I’ve already identified several areas for improvement for the next time I teach this class.

I’m sure some folks look at the exhaustive list of standards in the OSCQR rubric and wonder whether all that stuff is necessary. The rubric attends to design and layout, interaction, technology and tools, and a host of other areas. Is that stuff really ALL important? Does it really have an impact? While the authors of the OSCQR offer research to back up the elements they have included in the rubric, I thought I’d share a different perspective. The graduate course I assessed using the OSCQR rubric ended this weekend. Sunday afternoon, I received an email from a student in the class. Here’s what they wrote:

This course was my first one back after having a baby last fall and I felt that this course was organized in a manner that was manageable for me as I balanced going back to work full time, having a toddler, and taking graduate classes. Your outlining of class expectations was so clear and easy to follow, your course readings and assignments were meaningful yet manageable, and having the set schedule of module due dates and discussion reply due dates was much appreciated.

Even more so than that, everything I learned in this course I felt was relevant to my own classroom practices and I was able to start implementing many of the elements almost immediately. Many others will be implemented moving forward as well. Although this was an elective course for my program, it is definitely one I will recommend others to take if they are able.

Thank you for all of the great resources and ideas to ensure my students are getting the best possible online instruction I can offer!

I do not feel the post-course survey would have quite gotten my appreciation across, hence the email. Thanks again!”

Just to be clear, I’m not sharing this email to pat myself on the back or anything. Instead, I’m offering it as a rationale for quality online instruction. When a rubric like the OSCQR offers standards like “A logical, consistent, and uncluttered layout is established.” or “Course objectives/outcomes are clearly defined, measurable, and aligned to learning activities and assessments,” this student is the reason why. Or maybe I should say students like this one are the reason why. I can’t imagine the amount of juggling and multitasking that my students have to do to navigate their personal, professional, and educational lives. If quality online course design can help to reduce some of the barriers to learning, I’m game.


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