volume 44, number 1
Temple UniversityFaculty Herald

Setting Standards for Online Learning at Temple

Distance Learning Standards/Guidelines (DLS/G) Committee Report by Vicki McGarvey, Vice Provost for University College and Catherine Schifter, Associate Professor, Psychological, Organizational, and Leadership Studies

   Since Temple University is moving further into the realm of offering and accepting distance/online courses for academic credit, having quality guidelines for review committees is essential. The DSL/G Committee was also asked to develop guidelines and criteria for faculty teaching online courses and students participating in them. A more detailed description of the committee’s charge can be found here. The committee was made up of faculty and administrators and was co-chaired by Associate Professor Catherine Schifter of the College of Education and Vice Provost Vicki McGarvey of the University College. The committee’s membership can be found at the end of this report.

   First, we need to define a few terms before going further. At Temple, we offer courses using several technology-mediated methods, other than the traditional face-to-face course using a smart classroom with technology. We offer “distance” courses, which we have defined as those delivered through two-way videoconferencing, transmitting a live video/audio feed from one classroom where the teacher is physically present to another classroom where there are students present. With the two-way transmission, students in both classrooms can interact in real time with each other and the instructor. “Online” courses are offered strictly through Internet resources, such as Blackboard; interaction may be asynchronous, meaning students and the instructor do not interact in real time, but through e-mail, discussion boards, blogs, wikis, and the like. “Online” classes may also have synchronous components where the instructors and students meet together online in a “virtual” classroom. “Blended” courses are offered where some of the class meetings are on campus with synchronous interactions between participants, and some of the meetings are asynchronous. Each of these modes of delivery presents unique challenges to both the instructor and the student; however, what makes a good course a good course, does not change based on the course delivery method.

   Using research and documents national experts on distance/online learning, the report has the following 5 sections:

  The Guidelines for Evaluating Distance Courses address significant areas of concern, including: content presentation, learner engagement, accessibility and ADA compliance, student verification, communication strategies, development of a learning community, presence (or the instructor’s role), and assessment and feedback activities. Each of these is fully defined in the final report with examples, derived from the Quality Matters Rubric.

  The committee makes the following recommendations to ensure that faculty who teach distance courses have adequate preparation time and support in developing an appropriate course design and assessment activities to successfully deliver the course material in a distance format.

● Faculty must complete a course in teaching online, such as the Certificate in Virtual Teaching that includes instruction in meeting accessibility
needs/ADA compliance.
● Demonstration of a faculty member’s previous effectiveness as an instructor should be shown.
● Preparation for a distance course is more complex than a course meeting in a traditional format.

  The committee reported that distance courses require more oversight than traditional courses. They suggested that a model similar to that of the “writing intensive” or “general education” model in which departmental and school/college curriculum committees approved the course and then an additional committee would determine if the course met quality standards for delivery as distance learning course. This committee would serve as an online advisory committee and could also assist faculty members in developing their online courses. The committee has proposed the following possibilities, starting with the least intervention and working to the most robust level of review.

● Option #1: Create a checklist of criteria for local curriculum committee members to consult when reviewing a course proposal to ensure it meets distance quality standards.
● Option #2: Require a consultation or approval from a representative from the Distance Learning office, the TLC, or an experienced faculty member in the school/college before submitting a syllabus the curriculum committee.
● Option #3: The General Education or Writing Intensive model could be adopted: the local curriculum committee could review and approve a course to be offered. Then, a university committee would review its design before it could be offered online. The course would still be with the control of the local unit.

  Under all models, once approved, online courses should be scheduled for periodic review and courses currently offered online should be scheduled for future review.
  The committee recommended the following updates to the Temple Syllabus policy (02.78.13 Syllabi-Course) and making adaptations for online courses. The following was to be considered as a list of minimal requirements/functions to be included as a disclosure statement in online/blended course syllabi (or they could be posted in a required section in the Blackboard course area which lists University, Department, School/College/course policies):

● describe the variation of online - synchronous, asynchronous, blended
● describe the minimal tech requirements to access required tools/systems or link to this information in Computer Services
● describe the minimum hour requirements for the type of course, including clarification of expectations for course interaction with content and peers, along with accessing the course site
● link to computer usage policy
● link to OLL training for students’ success in online courses
● accommodations for disabilities
● description of how to access required and optional readings
● description of how to get access to technical help at all hours
● description of how to access other University resources as related to the course content
● include clear logic for the online course within the delivery tool/system - e.g., how to find things
● instructions for accessibility needs or concerns.

  The committee made the following recommendations to ensure that students who enroll in distance courses have the necessary equipment, technological skills and maturity to successfully complete a distance education course.

● Students must complete an online orientation prior to enrolling in an online learning or hybrid class.
● Departments should be encouraged to review student performance in distance courses and to set minimal criteria (such as number of credits or GPA) for taking certain courses online (particularly self-directed asynchronous courses or based on the level of the course) as appropriate.

Next Steps
The committee recommends the following:
1. The proposed “Guidelines for Use in Evaluating Distance Courses” be made available to all instructors who are developing online courses. The committee also recommends that a database of well-designed distance courses of various types be made available for use as models.
2. The proposed “Updates to the Syllabus Policy” be recommended to the Provost to be included in the next revision of the Syllabus Policy.
3. The recommendations for “Guidelines for Students taking Distance Courses”; “Guidelines for Faculty teaching Distance Courses”; and “Guidelines for approval of Distance Courses” be presented to the appropriate faculty and administrative bodies for further discussion and implementation.
4. The University should articulate its policy regarding the internal assignment of financial liability for any violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Distance Learning Standards Advisory Committee Membership February 2012
Eileen Aitken, Computer Services
John Bennett, Disability Resources
Gerard Brown, Center for the Arts (Tyler)
Stephanie Fiore, Teaching and Learning Center
Carly Haines, Distance Learning
Don Heller, School of Media and Communication
Alistair Howard, College of Liberal Arts
Darin Kapanjie, Fox School of Business and Management
Dominique Kliger, Distance Learning
Vicki McGarvey, University College (co-chair)
Judith Parker, College of Health Professions and Social Work
Beth Pfeiffer, College of Health Professions and Social Work
Robert Pred, Fox School of Business and Management
Norm Roessler, College of Liberal Arts
Catherine Schifter, College of Education (co-chair)
John Sorrentino, College of Liberal Arts
Sheri Stahler, Computer Services
Wendy Urban, College of Science and Technology  •