Quality Online Instruction – A Template for Consistent and Effective Online Course Design

Author Information
Dr. Vance Burgess, Karen Barth, Cindy Mersereau
Institution(s) or Organization(s) Where EP Occurred: 
University of West Florida – Academic Technology Center (2008 Sloan-C Excellence in Faculty Development for Online Teaching Award)
Effective Practice Abstract/Summary
Abstract/Summary of Effective Practice: 

The University of West Florida (UWF) Academic Technology Center (ATC) developed an online course design template based on the Quality Matters (QM) standards that models a recommended online course structure. The template provides faculty with a straightforward starting point for online course design and a consistent framework based upon nationally recognized quality standards. Although initially developed for new faculty and adjuncts assigned online course load for the first time, many seasoned faculty began utilizing the online course design template to improve the consistency, navigability, and accessibility of their online courses at UWF.

Description of the Effective Practice
Description of the Effective Practice: 

UWF is a 12,000 student public, regional comprehensive university that has offered online courses for more than fifteen years. Fall 2011 statistics indicate that 23% of all UWF SCH/FTE are online (10,000 online course enrollments), 46% of UWF students enrolled in at least one online course and 20.7% of UWF students enrolled in only online courses.

The Academic Technology Center is dedicated to supporting faculty with the design, development and implementation of quality online courses at UWF. With over 400 fully online course sections offered each semester, both new and experienced faculty require course design or re-design support each semester, often with very limited design/development time available. ATC was compelled to develop a process to bring greater efficiency to the course design/development while maintaining the quality of online courses. 

ATC subscribes to the Quality Matters (QM) rubric standards for designing new online courses and as a strategy for improving existing courses. Utilizing the QM standards as a foundation, ATC created the online course template to facilitate efficient and effective online course design. With the QM Standards, ATC included clear instructions on how to get started in the online course; etiquette expectations; instructor and student introductions and communication expectations; a table highlighting the relationship among learning objectives, instructional activities and  related assessments; a list of commonly used technology plug-ins; student support resources; and the UWF plagiarism and academic integrity module. Finally, the template utilizes a Cascading Style Sheet (CSS) to ensure the accessibility of instructional content on all web pages.

The online course design template models a consistent, easy to follow course structure based on the principle of alignment in instructional design. It supports faculty by allowing them to focus their creativity on producing high-quality course content instead of worrying about online course design. The template supports students by providing a consistent and coherent learning environment that includes specific aspects and resources that help reduce anxiety and feelings of isolation of online learners. The following faculty satisfaction data indicates the template leads to increased faculty support, student support, and learning effectiveness.

Supporting Information for this Effective Practice
Evidence of Effectiveness: 

In August 2011, a survey was administered to 72 faculty members that requested a copy of the ATC course design template.  A total of 32 (44%) faculty responded to the survey.  Of these, 86% indicated they actually used the template as the framework for the design of their online course.  When asked about their satisfaction with each of the course design areas, faculty reported:

·         100% responded they would recommend the template to other faculty teaching online. 

·         95% reported they would use the template again if scheduled to teach another online course.

·         95% were satisfied or very satisfied the template supported alignment of tools, media, and student support resources to stated learning objectives.

·         85% were either satisfied or very satisfied with the template’s ability to align assessments, course content resources/materials, and learning activities to stated learning objectives.

·         85% were either satisfied or very satisfied with the organization and navigation built into the template.

·         85% reported they felt the template did not stifle their creativity in designing their online course.

·         84% were satisfied or very satisfied with the template’s ability to enhance accessibility of online course materials. 

·         37% agreed or strongly agreed students had made positive comments about the course as a result of using the template.

·         37% indicated they noticed improvement in student achievement as a result of using the template.

The following comments are open-ended responses from responding faculty:

·         Online students have less questions than in the same course the previous semester.

·         Fewer questions or statements like: "I'm so confused."

·         I think more students are taking advantage of all the course content now the course is organized differently. I think the separation of introduction, content, assignment, and summary pages makes for a better-organized course.

·         I believe the reduction in questions was a vote of confidence from the students this summer.

·         As a newer faculty member, it was wonderful to have this template to work with!

·         The template provides a great starting point and guide.

·         It helped keep me organized so that I could be creative!

·         The Veterans Services online courses began without the template. Our students appeared not to know exactly how to maneuver in the course. Once ATC shared the design template, I was able to modify courses and the students now appear to know how to maneuver the courses.

·         Yes, I have recommended the new template to my co-workers, and will continue to do so.

·         I think this is particularly helpful when redesigning a course or developing a new one.

How does this practice relate to pillars?: 

The ATC Course Design Template promotes learning effectiveness through consistent course design based on national standards of best practice (Quality Matters Rubric). The template breaks online instruction into separate categories (Introduction, Content, Assignments, Summary) that facilitate alignment of instructional resources, learning activities, and assessments with stated learning objectives. Faculty satisfaction survey results indicate the consistent look and feel of online courses developed with the template have reduced online student confusion/isolation and improved student performance.

UWF is committed to quality online instruction and demonstrates this by investing in the Academic Technology Center and Quality Matters. The online course design template provides scale by reducing faculty course design/development workload; thereby providing online faculty the ability for improved engagement and interaction with more students.

The ATC Course Design Template promotes access to clear and consistent instructional content that reduces online student confusion and promotes academic success. The template also provides integrated access to UWF student support and educational resources. 

Faculty survey responses indicate the course design template provides an effective course development tool that facilitates content organization while promoting creativity. This streamlined course design process produced UWF faculty satisfaction rates of 85% to 95%. All surveyed faculty reported they would recommend the template to other online faculty.

Student satisfaction results from a logical, consistent course design that allows them to focus on course content and interact with their instructor. According to faculty survey results, a significant percentage of students enrolled in courses based upon the template made positive comments about the coherent online learning environment furnished by the template.

Continuous Improvement Project:

Based on the feedback received from the faculty survey, ATC will conduct a formal research project to access student satisfaction and possible student learning improvement facilitated through the use of the online course design template. ATC will survey students currently enrolled in Human and Environmental Health courses to determine satisfaction with traditional course design, ease of use, etc. We will also look at overall course grade averages. During the Spring 2012 semester, ATC will survey students in the same online courses that were redesigned using the online course design template to measure any improvement in satisfaction and /or overall grades.

Equipment necessary to implement Effective Practice: 

Any web browser can view template pages; any LMS that is SCORM conformant could upload the template files. Pages can be edited external to LMS in any HTML editor.

Estimate the probable costs associated with this practice: 

Only costs associated are time required of faculty and design staff.

References, supporting documents: 

The Quality Matter Rubric Standards: http://www.qmprogram.org/files/QM_Standards_2011-2013-3.pdf

Template screen shot – Content menu:  http://uwf.edu/atc/images/Template_screenshot1.png 

Template screen shot – Module Introduction: http://uwf.edu/atc/images/Template_screenshot2.png

Template screen shot – Module Content: http://uwf.edu/atc/images/Template_screenshot3.png

Template screen shot – Module Assignments: http://uwf.edu/atc/images/Template_screenshot4.png

Template screen shot – Module Summary: http://uwf.edu/atc/images/Template_screenshot5.png


Contact(s) for this Effective Practice
Effective Practice Contact: 
Dr. Vance Burgess
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Effective Practice Contact 2: 
Karen Barth
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Effective Practice Contact 3: 
Cindy Mersereau
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