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CSU Distance Education Standards and Guidelines

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Distance Education Standards and Guidelines

Introduction

Columbus State University has witnessed many courses offered in a distance learning format increase substantially over the past few years and this trend continues to grow. Several degrees and programs can now be completed solely through online delivery. Technological and pedagogical advances in distance learning are evolving rapidly which has greatly improved the quality of distance education to include more opportunities for student discovery and engagement.

The growth of distance learning offerings at colleges nationwide has led to the development of broad standards by SACSCOC. The Distance Learning (DL) Committee seeks to establish a policy framework for distance learning that is based on SACSCOC standards, Quality Matters standards, and best practices in distance learning. The purpose of this document is to outline the Institutional Standards and Guidelines for Distance Learning at Columbus State University.

Distance Learning Guidelines and Standards

SACSCOC and Quality Matters Standards

Objectives

  1. Provide students with important information about distance learning courses prior to registration and ensure students taking distance learning have access to institutional academic support resources (advising, library, Accommodation and Access, etc.).
  2. Ensure students are provided with a consistent and secure way to access distance learning course materials and grades through CSU's Learning Management System.
  3. Ensure a level of interaction and communication between students and instructor (as well as students to students) that is regular and substantive.
  4. Ensure the quality of distance learning courses to be acceptable to students, transfer universities, and local employers, and meet or exceed the quality standards defined in Quality Matters national standards.
  5. Minimize academic dishonesty by verifying students' identities prior to taking exams, ensure authentication of students enrolling in online courses, and by encouraging faculty to adopt instructional practices that minimize the possibility of academic dishonesty.
  6. Encourage faculty to keep up with advances in distance education through ongoing professional development.

Standards Statement

This document establishes minimum standards for distance learning courses based on input from distance learning faculty, guidelines from accrediting agencies (SACS), Quality Matters (QM), and distance learning best practices. These standards apply to all distance learning formats, and to the distance learning component of hybrid courses. Individual colleges, departments, and instructors are encouraged to adopt additional standards based on appropriate application needs.

Distance Learning Versus Correspondence Courses

Distance Learning Courses must meet the U.S. Dept. of Education definition for Distance Learning:

Distance education means education that uses one or more of the technologies listed in paragraphs (1) through (4) of this definition to deliver instruction to students who are separated from the instructor and to support regular and substantive interaction between the students and the instructor, either synchronously or asynchronously. The technologies may include:

  • The internet
  • One-way and two-way transmissions through open broadcast, closed circuit, cable, microwave, broadband lines, fiber optics, satellite, or wireless communications devices
  • Audio conferencing
  • Video cassettes, DVDs, and CD–ROMs, if the cassettes, DVDs, or CD–ROMs are used in a course in conjunction with any of the technologies listed in paragraphs (1) through (3) of this definition

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Learner Support Resources

Prior to registration, students have convenient access to CSU distance learning (DL) resources at CSU Online Home. The following information should be included in this web site:

Distance learning instructors will make this information available to students before enrolling in a course. This allows students to determine if the distance learning format is right for them and provides help for success. Class Schedules will provide a link for DL courses to CSU Online Home.

Institutional Support:

Students have adequate access to the range of services appropriate to support the program offered through distance education including but not limited to Disability Support Services, Academic Support Services, Library resources, and access to laboratories, facilities, and equipment appropriate to the courses or programs.

Innovative Teaching with Technology

Distance learning instructors will utilize best teaching practices and technologies that enhance the learning experience, are appropriate for the course content, and create a learning environment that actively engages students. Center of Online Learning (COOL) can assist with identifying and implementing appropriate course technology, course design, and teaching pedagogy. See http://dl.columbusstate.edu/ for resources.

The technology components of the course must be communicated to students before registration via instructor and/or department web sites. Students should be advised that they can use open computer labs at any CSU campus to access online course content.

All distance learning instructors will use the D2L (CougarView) course management system. Course content may be maintained on a separate web site, but D2L must be used as the portal for the course. D2L is the Course Management System approved by the University System of Georgia and is used by instructors system-wide. This ensures student familiarity, thereby minimizing the need for students to learn different online systems for each course. It also places course content and student information on a secure internal server (secure USG System server).

Learning Management System integration includes:

  • Grade Tool – The D2L grade program is convenient and secure for students and faculty. It allows faculty to communicate grades to students in compliance with federal privacy laws (FERPA). Grades should not be posted on a non-CSU server (Grades should be posted on a server hosted by CSU or USG System).
  • Announcements – Faculty should post announcements throughout the semester. The announcement feature is an efficient way to communicate information to all students.
  • Discussions – Frequent communication with distance learning students is critical to student success. The D2L discussion board allows students to interact with the instructor and each other.
  • Assignment – The Assignment feature allows students to submit assignments that are easily collected and graded by the instructor. Instructors can efficiently provide feedback and post the grade in the Grade tool. The assignment is archived and can be viewed by students and the instructor.
  • Content – Documents can be loaded from any Internet connection. They are secure because they are not easily indexed by online search engines such as Google. Course documents and links must be kept current. All documents and links within distance learning courses should be easily accessible for students and must be kept current. Distance learning courses must include learning materials that are appropriate for electronic delivery and accessible. These materials must have substantial learning value and align with Quality Matters standards for course materials.
  • Faculty and Student Profiles – Name, contact information (including CSU mailing address and phone number), office location, office hours, and a link to the instructor's web site (if applicable) must be included along with additional information at the discretion of the instructor or department.

Course Orientation

Each course should have a prominent START HERE icon or signal to help students navigate the course or complete a course orientation. Course information must clearly communicate the method and deadline for the course orientation.

Student Complaints and Course Evaluations

Course Syllabi must include information about how to resolve student complaints, grievances, and grade disputes. This can be accomplished most easily by including a link to the student handbook. A link for allowing students easy access to the complaint process should be included in the course syllabus https://online.columbusstate.edu/complaint/. Distance learning instructor evaluation procedures must be adequately communicated to students. CougarView provides a link to course evaluations near the end of each semester, but additional links can also be provided within CougarVIEW-D2L's main login page.

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Interactivity

Interaction between students and between students and the instructor is essential for quality education. Distance learning courses must be designed to ensure the level of interaction is regular, substantive and instructor-generated. Distance learning and interactive technologies make it possible to greatly exceed the amount of interaction in a traditional classroom course. Time constraints of students should be considered when designing the interactive and communication requirements of a course. Grades for interaction should be appropriate and clearly communicated to students. Instructors are encouraged to use grading rubrics to help communicate to students effectively and allow for consistent grading.

Quality

Content and effectiveness measures for each course will be evaluated at the department level. Distance learning faculty will be evaluated using the procedures established by each college, the standards in this document, and additional procedures or standards that may be developed by the department/college. A Department Chair, or other faculty member appointed by the Department Chair to assist with faculty evaluations, may review an instructor's courses in CougarVIEW (or other platform if D2L is used only as a portal). This is equivalent to conducting a classroom observation in a traditional classroom course. New distance learning courses and distance learning courses taught by instructors for the first time should be carefully reviewed to ensure that they meet the standards established by the department and this document.

Students must be required to master the same course objectives, at the same level, as students in the on-campus course. While the teaching/learning activities need not be the same, effective and appropriate resources must be used. These resources must provide students with the same expertise and support they would receive from an on-campus class experience. At a minimum, distance learning students must complete an equivalent amount of quizzes, papers, exams, and other learning activities as on-campus students in a similar course.

Course & Program Integrity

Instructors should be aware of the possibility of students getting help from others on work completed outside of monitored exams. While some online quizzes may be used as learning tools and papers/projects may be prepared outside of a monitored environment, if a substantial proportion of the course grade is to be earned on activities such as exams, these exams should be administered by authorized proctors or proctoring agencies approved by the college. Instructors must incorporate a variety of tools to ensure that students are doing their own work.

Maintaining Test Security in Online Courses:

  • All courses must use D2L portal for access and require student authentication using the student's login and password to access course content.
  • The course should require students to complete a mixture of assignments including quizzes, tests, homework, written assignments, and/or activities.
  • All instructors are recommended to implement student I.D. and security processes for testing including Proctor U, Keyboard recognition, the use of a Testing Center, or other existing or evolving student verification resources.

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Required Training & Professional Development

In order to effectively prepare and support faculty members for engaging in online instruction, to include identifying and incorporating research-based design and delivery strategies and technologies in their online learning courses, faculty members are expected to maintain an ongoing dialog with the Center of Online Learning (COOL).

Prior to designing or teaching an online course for the first time, faculty members should contact COOL to help identify areas for professional development with respect to online course design, pedagogical strategies, assessment strategies, learning management system competencies, supplementary eLearning application skills, and strategies for meeting Quality Matters Rubric Standards.

At a minimum all new CSU faculty members and other faculty members teaching online for the first time are expected to complete CougarVIEW training, Quality Matters Training, Accessibility Course Design Training, and use the CSU Common Course Template.

  • CougarVIEW Training - Because CougarVIEW is CSU's Learning Management System and the only supported system for the delivery of electronic course content it is expected that all faculty will complete the CougarVIEW orientation workshop.

  • Quality Matters Training - Because the Quality Matters Rubric serves as the reviewing framework for online learning courses, it is expected that faculty members who design or teach these courses will complete the Quality Matters APPQMR course and any further update training with the release of a revised QM rubric prior to the design or redesign and review of their courses.

  • Accessible Course Design Training - As outlined in the Online Course Accessibility Policy to ensure CSU's compliance with all laws pertaining to the accessibility of electronic instructional content, it is expected that all faculty will complete the Accessible Course Design training.

  • Common Course Template – A common CougarVIEW course template is provided to ensure consistency across online courses in the support of student success. The template was designed based on online learning best practices, Quality Matters, and accessible course design. The goals of the template are to facilitate accessibility and promote consistency across CSU online courses. The template includes an Orientation module, which is pre-populated with standard CSU policies, resources for students to access technical and academic support, and netiquette information. The template also contains areas where the instructor must add course-specific information. To request a copy of the template please send an e-mail to onlinelearning@columbusstate.edu.

To supplement this training, faculty should become familiar with the online learning resources located on the Center of Online Learning web site. This site offers links to instructional design resources; course development and improvement resources; online teaching, assessment and evaluation resources; accessibility resources; and technology-related guides and tutorials.

Appendix A

1. Learner Support and Resources

Prior to registration, students have convenient access to CSU distance learning (DL) resources at CSU Online Home. Institutional Support: Students have adequate access to the range of services appropriate to support the program offered through distance education including but not limited to Accommodation and Access Support Services, Academic Support Services, Library resources, and access to laboratories, facilities, and equipment appropriate to the courses or programs.

SACS Reference

  • Students have adequate access to the range of services appropriate to support the program offered through distance and correspondence education. (SACSCOC 2012)
  • Academic support services are appropriate and specifically related to distance and correspondence education. (SACSCOC 2012)
  • Students have access to and can effectively use appropriate library resources. (SACSCOC 2012)
  • Access is provided to laboratories, facilities, and equipment appropriate to the courses or programs. (SACSCOC 2012)

2. Innovative Teaching with Technology

Distance learning instructors will utilize best teaching practices and technologies that enhance the learning experience, are appropriate for the course content, and create a learning environment that actively engages students. The technology components of the course must be communicated to students before registration via instructor and/or department web sites. Students should be advised that they can use open computer labs at any CSU campus to access online course content.
All distance learning instructors will use the D2L (CougarView) course management system. Course content may be maintained on a separate web site, but D2L must be used as the portal for the course. D2L is the Course Management System approved by the University System of Georgia and is used by instructors system-wide. This ensures student familiarity, thereby minimizing the need for students to learn different online systems for each course. It also places course content and student information on a secure internal server (secure USG System server).

Student Complaints and Course Evaluations: Course syllabi must include information about how to resolve student complaints, grievances, and grade disputes. Distance learning instructor evaluation procedures must be adequately communicated to students.

SACS Reference

  • The technology used is appropriate to the nature and objectives of the programs and courses and expectations concerning the use of such technology are clearly communicated to students. Students enrolled in distance education course are able to use the technology employed, have the equipment necessary to succeed, and are provided assistance in using the technology employed. (SACSCOC 2012)
  • Students in distance or correspondence programs have an adequate procedure for resolving their complaints, and the institution follows its policies and procedures. (SACSCOC 2012)

3. Interactivity

Distance learning courses must be designed to ensure the level of interaction is regular, substantive and instructor-generated.

SACS Reference

  • Programs and courses provide for timely and appropriate interaction between students and faculty and among students. (CS 3.4.4)

4. Quality of the Distance Learning Course

Students must be required to master the same course objectives, at the same level, as students in the on-campus course. While the teaching/learning activities need not be the same, effective and appropriate resources must be used.

SACS Reference

  • The faculty assumes primary responsibility for and exercises oversight of distance and correspondence education, ensuring both the rigor of programs and quality of instruction. (SACSCOC 2012)
  • Comparability of distance and correspondence education programs to campus-based programs and course is ensured by the evaluation of educational effectiveness, including assessments of student learning outcomes, student retention, and student satisfaction. (SACSCOC 2010)
  • The institution has clear criteria for the evaluation of faculty teaching distance education courses and programs. (SACSCOC 2012)

5. Course and Program Integrity

All courses must use D2L portal for access and require student authentication using the student's login and password to access course content.
The course should require students to complete a mixture of assignments including quizzes, tests, homework, written assignments, and/or activities.
All instructors are recommended to implement student I.D. and security processes for testing including Proctor U, Keyboard recognition, the use of a Testing Center, or other existing or evolving student verification resources.

SACS Reference

  • Documented procedures assure that security of personal information is protected in the conduct of assessments and evaluations and in the dissemination of results. (SACSCOC 2012)

6. Training and Professional Development

Because the Quality Matters Rubric serves as the reviewing framework for distance learning courses, it is expected that faculty members who design or teach these courses will complete the Quality Matters APPQMR course prior to the design or redesign and review of their courses.

SACS Reference

  • Faculty who teach in distance and correspondence education programs and courses receive appropriate training. (SACSCOC 2010)
  • An institution offering distance or correspondence learning courses/programs ensures that there is a sufficient number of faculty qualified to develop, design and teach the courses/programs. (SACSCOC 2012)

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