Creating a Repository of Tools to Promote Excellence in Online Teaching and Learning

Author Information
Carol A. McQuiggan, D.Ed., Manager & Senior Instructional Designer, Penn State Harrisburg
Laurence B. Boggess, Ph.D., Director of Faculty Development and Support, World Campus/Academic Outreach
Brett Bixler, Ph.D., Lead Instructional Designer, IT Training Services
Wendy Mahan, Ph.D., Senior Instructional Designer, The College of Health and Human Development
Institution(s) or Organization(s) Where EP Occurred: 
The Pennsylvania State University
Effective Practice Abstract/Summary
Abstract/Summary of Effective Practice: 

The Faculty/Staff Engagement and Professional Development subcommittee is composed of faculty, faculty developers, and learning designers from throughout the University, representing multiple colleges, campuses, and support units. They collaboratively identify, complete, and disseminate projects that have the potential to promote excellence in online teaching and learning, to increase faculty interest in online teaching activities, and to pursue collaborative endeavors within and outside the university to continue to build a strong foundation for faculty engagement in online teaching. This unique, cross-campus, interdisciplinary, and multi-unit approach provides multiple perspectives and addresses common needs in providing quality online teaching and learning experiences.

Description of the Effective Practice
Description of the Effective Practice: 

The Faculty/Staff Engagement and Professional Development subcommittee sits within a Penn State Online structure composed of the Penn State Online Steering Committee and the Penn State Online Coordinating Council. Understanding the structure is important to putting this effective practice into the context of a large multi-campus university, while also understanding that this practice could be implemented in an institution of any size.

The Penn State Online Steering Committee serves as the governing body for Penn State Online, reporting to the Provost. The Steering Committee has strategic leadership responsibility for Penn State Online, serves as the policy board for the e-Learning Cooperative and the World Campus, and as the governing board for the Penn State Online Coordinating Council, through which it encourages effective cross-unit coordination of several key functions. These key functions include the effective use of course development resources, professional development, establishment of standards, and innovation and research.

The Penn State Online Coordinating Council reports to the Steering Committee. It includes representatives of the key central University units involved in e-learning—Teaching and Learning with Technology, Undergraduate Programs, University Libraries, and the World Campus—and college-based e-learning development and support units. It meets bimonthly to develop University-wide best practices, standards, and procedures that will facilitate the growth of high-quality e-learning at Penn State.

The Coordinating Council is responsible for identifying opportunities for collaboration, promoting the effective coordination of resources across organizational units to achieve synergy and create capacity to address strategic priorities, and developing common standards to guide work across units. In some cases, the Council responds to requests from the Steering Committee; in other instances, the Council identifies issues and proposes remedies to the Steering Committee; and in other situations, the Council addresses operational issues and simply reports the results to the Steering Committee.

The Faculty/Staff Engagement and Professional Development subcommittee reports to the Coordinating Council at its bimonthly meetings. Its completely volunteer membership of faculty, faculty developers, and learning designers, includes representation from six campuses, nine colleges, and three support units, and all have some responsibility for and/or interest in online teaching and learning. It is co-chaired by the director of World Campus Faculty Development, maintaining a direct relationship with Penn State’s online campus.

Project ideas trickle down from the Steering Committee and the Coordinating Council, and also trickle up from the needs and practices of the subcommittee members and the faculty and administrators with whom they work. Using a team approach, the projects are designed for wide use and adaptability across the University and beyond.

Supporting Information for this Effective Practice
Evidence of Effectiveness: 

Resources developed by the Faculty/Staff Engagement and Professional Development subcommittee include the Penn State Quality Assurance e-Learning Design Standards, Hiring Guidelines for Online Program Lead Faculty, Online Course Authors, and Online Course Instructors, the Faculty Self-Assessment for Online Teaching, Peer Review for Hybrid Courses, and Faculty Competencies for Online Teaching. All are accessed via the Weblearning site (, and selecting the “Resources” tab for “Penn State Online Resources” (

Penn State Online has adopted the Quality Assurance e-Learning Design Standards (, providing a measure of quality assurance for online courses in order to best serve the e-learning needs of our students. For each of the twelve standards there is a link to a short description of the standard, a list of the required evidence that the standard has been met, suggested best practices, and resources to learn more.

The Hiring Guidelines ( are used to help guide the hiring process for online program lead faculty, course authors, and course instructors. The subcommittee is currently using these guidelines to suggest interview questions to accompany each guideline document in the near future.

The Faculty Self-Assessment for Online Teaching ( tool was packaged as open source and licensed with Creative Commons in order to share as broadly as possible. The tool was the result of a literature review, focus group input, and usability testing, and was vetted at a well-attended Sloan-C Conference presentation. To date, the tool has been shared with over thirty colleagues representing academies, community colleges, state colleges, and universities throughout the United States. It has also been shared with three doctoral students for potential use in their dissertations. We are hoping that all of our tools can be shared as broadly.

The Faculty Competencies for Online Teaching ( were derived from research conducted by a team at Penn State’s World Campus, which the subcommittee used to develop a document detailing those competencies alongside additional guidelines, examples, and best practices. They provide faculty and administrators with a better understanding of the instructional requirements of online teaching.

The Peer Review for Hybrid Courses ( is based on the “Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education,” a summary of fifty years of higher education research that addressed good teaching and learning practices. This process was designed, implemented, and assessed by the subcommittee based on a need shared by the campus learning designers and faculty.

The Web Learning @ Penn State ( site continues to evolve and grow, with a newly revised site just launched on August 29th. A member of the Faculty/Staff Engagement and Professional Development subcommittee is a contact for each of the site’s webpages.

Together, these resources, collaboratively designed and shared broadly, have provided access to tools that increase the quality of our online courses. They identify and share best practices for online teaching and learning, identify and share competencies for online teaching success, and establish and share guidelines for creating quality online courses and hiring qualified instructors.

How does this practice relate to pillars?: 

Learning Effectiveness: The effective practices supported by the subcommittee in the area of learning effectiveness are most evident in the Faculty Self-Assessment for Online Teaching, which stresses the skills needed by online instructors to be effective online teachers. This will be enhanced when the redesign of the tool is completed to align with the Faculty Competencies for Online Teaching. The Competencies also provide an opportunity for faculty professional development, as do the Peer Review tools. Two current projects, the New Instructor Orientation to Online Teaching Checklist, and the New Faculty Manual, will contribute to faculty development and the core elements of quality online learning.

Scale: Some of our newest tools contribute to the scale pillar. The Checklist for Administrator Review and Approval of Online Courses and the Course Revision Worksheet both contribute to continuous improvement. The Checklist for Administrator Review builds administrative awareness of the scope of faculty authoring of online courses, and how new courses fit within a program of study. It also addresses the need for a course to not be dependent upon one faculty member to teach, addressing the need for faculty capacity. The Course Revision Worksheet creates more awareness as to the personnel who need to be involved in a revision, and the overall scope of work required.

Access: The “Resources” ( the Faculty/Staff Engagement and Professional Development subcommittee have built and provided on the Web Learning @ Penn State ( site provides the Penn State University community access to resources that promote best practices in online learning and sets standards for excellence in hiring online faculty. Because it is a public site, access is also provided more broadly beyond the University. By building and providing these tools broadly, all e-learning design units at Penn State have access to the same tools which overlap in their communication of quality standards, providing students with online courses that are designed with the same quality framework. We hope to learn more about how these units are using these tools and, even more important, learn how they are impacting design considerations. Then we would like to learn how those design considerations are impacting student learning and their access to quality online courses.

Faculty Satisfaction: Our subcommittee and the broader committee structure we are nested in serves the “support” and “institutional study/research” aspects of the institutional factors related to faculty satisfaction. We provide all of the institutional supports in a unique, cross-campus, interdisciplinary, and multi-unit approach. We provide opportunities for innovation by asking online instructors to engage in self-improvement. As more and more instructors teach online and more administrators are responsible for hiring and developing them, we need a way to ensure self-learners have optimal materials at their disposal for just-in-time learning. The tools we create and disseminate do this.

Equipment necessary to implement Effective Practice: 

There is no special equipment necessary to implement this Effective Practice. The Faculty Engagement subcommittee uses the resources already available within their various units. The Web Learning @ Penn State ( site is used for broad dissemination.

Estimate the probable costs associated with this practice: 

There are no direct costs associated with this practice. The indirect costs are the time the subcommittee members spend on specific projects, but they are offset by the opportunities they provide for their own professional development and by the tools they create that afford new efficiencies and quality processes. No one person or unit could have created these tools alone, but by collaborating across units, common needs are being met with resounding success.

References, supporting documents: 

As the transition is made to our newly designed website (, we plan to gather web analytics on its traffic. We are also planning to survey the various Penn State eLearning design units as to their use of the various tools, both to increase awareness and to learn of implementations. Within implementations, we hope to dig more deeply to learn about the effectiveness and transformative possibilities of the various tools. If possible, we would even like to link design and teaching/learning decisions made based on tool use, and improvements in student learning. We will identify research partners and submit proposals to Penn State’s Center for Online Innovation in Learning (COIL).

A number of our tools support and/or are aligned with the research-based "Competencies for Online Teaching Success" (

Other Comments: 

New projects marinate in the subcommittee and extend into the University and beyond just as the Faculty Self-Assessment for Online Teaching tool did. This is additional evidence that the subcommittee has a proven track record of innovation, honing to best practices, and then generous dissemination - traits Sloan-C supports.

Projects that have been completed and will be added to the Web Learning site very soon:
1. The Checklist for Administrator Review and Approval of Online Courses was created to guide an administrator through an initial review of an online course that has been developed by a faculty member from their unit in collaboration with a learning designer. It is yet another tool to ensure quality review; in this case, by program administrators. It gives the administrators a checklist of items to review, and a feedback loop with the learning designer and faculty author.
2. The Course Revision Worksheet is intended for use by course development teams to communicate the reasons for a course revision, the specific course items in need of revision, the percentage of revision needed for each course item, the personnel who need to be involved in those revisions, and the total percentage of effort that will be required. This information can then be used to assign the appropriate resources to the course revision project. This is also a learning document in that it creates an awareness of the needs for revision and the effort required by a potential team of people.

Our work continues on these current projects:
1. Asteria - This will be a decision support tool for faculty to use to match pedagogical purpose with an educational technology. Two approaches for use are planned. Users may approach this tool with an unfocused search in which they simply want to explore different tools. There will also be a focused approach available in which faculty who know what they want to do pedagogically can search for the appropriate tool. The intent is to have the focus on the user’s pedagogical purpose, and not be tool-driven.
2. An update of the Faculty Self-Assessment for Online Teaching tool to align with the Faculty Competencies for Online Teaching - The current tool will be revised to align with the Faculty Competencies for Online Teaching.
3. New Instructor Orientation to Online Teaching Checklist - A number of Penn State’s eLearning units have a new instructor orientation. They are comparing their orientations in order to develop a checklist of core elements to share as a basis for different units to use and adapt for their own use. This will also be able to be used for new units developing their own orientation. The checklist end users will most likely be learning designers and faculty developers.
4. New Faculty Manual - The Faculty Manual will provide faculty new to online teaching with a comprehensive manual to which they can refer as they are teaching online. The team will use the World Campus faculty manual to create a common manual for faculty that can be adapted by individual units.
5. Online Mentoring Program Pilot - Through a partnership with the Schreyer Institute for Teaching Excellence, a mentoring program is being developed to provide instructional support for those teaching online, and to create opportunities for networking with others teaching online. They are reading about the Community of Mentoring practices, and are putting a research lens on the project as they plan to move forward.
6. New Online Faculty Interview Questions based on the Hiring Guidelines - This will be a logical companion piece to the Hiring Guidelines already available on the Web Learning site.
7. Best Practices Examples - Listening to faculty needs, the subcommittee is collecting examples of best practices (instructor introduction, discussion rubric, team project structure, various learning activities, providing effective feedback, flipped classroom design, etc.) and plans to host them on the Web Learning site for all to access and use.

Contact(s) for this Effective Practice
Effective Practice Contact: 
Carol A. McQuiggan
Email this contact:
Effective Practice Contact 2: 
Larry Boggess
Email contact 2: