Concerned with quality assurance, the Educational Policy Committee of the College of Arts and Sciences at Seton Hall University adopted the Quality Matters™ (QM) rubric as a best practice for developing online courses. To assist faculty in meeting the QM standards, a master course template populated with generic university materials that support elements of the rubric was created. The template also serves to ensure quality and academic rigor, and to aid in student and faculty satisfaction and retention. The template contains information that may not be known by faculty, such as hardware and software requirements, the university’s statement for students with disabilities, and technology support information. Because the template is populated with generic content, it can be used university wide. In addition, the template provides a consistent learning environment for students, facilitating their ability to find materials in new courses.
The goal of this initiative was to create an online course template that was pedagogically sound, easy to navigate, and consistent, while still allowing academic freedom and addressing academic rigor. This goal came from a need to support students who were enrolled in an online undergraduate degree program and who did not have the requisite core courses. Core courses such as History, English and Math were placed online to retain those students, but there was a need to ensure quality and consistency of those courses. The Educational Policy Committee adopted the Quality Matters™ Rubric as a best practice and foundation for the creation of these online courses. Two Instructional Designers were trained to use the rubric, one of whom is a certified course reviewer. The template materials address several elements of the rubric and provide items such as tutorials, the university grading policy, and descriptions and links to student support services. The following are descriptions of some of the materials provided in the template course: A sample “Welcome”’ announcement that includes information about navigation within the course and how to locate specific course information is provided and is customizable by the faculty. This information provides faculty who are new to online teaching with an idea of what students need to get started in their course. The template also includes instructions to the students on what to do first and a brief introduction to the course (e.g., “This is an online course. We will not meet face to face”) and well as a warm welcome from the faculty member. The “Begin Here” menu button includes screen shots of Blackboard icons and what they represent (i.e., folder, item, website link). This section also includes menu descriptions and the tools and resources that can be found within them. “Begin Here” helps students who may not be familiar with Blackboard, as well as those who have not used specific tools like the Wiki. This area is also customizable depending on what tools the faculty has chosen to use in the course. “Faculty/Staff Information” provides suggestions on what faculty should include about themselves, based on the QM rubric, such as their preferred method of communication (email, phone, cell phone, AIM), contact information (mailing address), office hours, and response time for communication. It is suggested that faculty include a biography and photo (150x150 pixels) to help the students get to know them. It is important to build a sense of community from the beginning. The “Technology” area provides a list of hardware and software requirements, links to free software (RealPlayer, Acrobat Reader) as well as installation instructions. In addition, a list of minimum technology skills necessary to be successful in an online course, such as attaching a document, using MS Word, and sending email, is provided for students (). Information and links to the University’s Computer Training Center and helpdesk are also available. A folder located within “Technology” called “Student Resources” contains information and links to the Student Resource Center, library services, and Blackboard tutorials. The materials in “Course Information” are also customizable by faculty. For example, the sample discussion board participation requirements list what students need in terms of details and guidelines for participation. There are reminders for faculty to address specific topics, such as providing a clear late policy and expected turnaround time for and location of feedback and assignments. In addition to the sample materials and guidelines, a sample unit structure is provided so that faculty can see an example of how best to organize their course materials. Chunking course materials ensure that all of the materials and resources students need to successfully meet the stated course objectives are located in one place. This enables student to focus on the task at hand.
The Educational Policy Committee (EPC) in the College of Arts and Sciences at Seton Hall states that once a face to face course is offered online, it becomes a new course. New courses may be offered up to three (3) times before the course needs to be presented to the committee for review. To date, any course which was developed using the template and the Quality Matters™ rubric has passed the EPC’s review unanimously. Because of the success of the template, the School of Business, College of Nursing, and College of Education at Seton Hall all have courses in development using the template model and Quality Matters™ as a framework. In addition to the materials made available in the template course, faculty are able to provide students with a consistent learning environment that ensures program/college branding and reduces the stress of students when moving from one course to another. All of the information is located in the same place, thus enabling students to focus on the course content and their goals rather than where to submit assignments.
Providing a template populated with helpful and relevant university information and student resources aids in both student and faculty satisfaction and retention. Since the template and the online courses are developed based on a quality assurance rubric, it insures that online course meets academic standards and is constantly revised to better serve the students and enhance both the student and faculty experience. The template serves the entire university community since materials are consistent and are always being revised to reflect changes in technology. The standards on which we build the online courses (Quality Matters™), aids in the educational policy review process and program accreditation. Faculty benefit from the template because of the materials they do not need to provide content such as technology tutorials and student resources. For those faculty who are new to online teaching and learning, the template provides a strong foundation and structure on which to build their course. This reduces their anxiety as well as development time. Students benefit from the template materials and consistent structure of the course. They are able to focus on the course content rather than finding a syllabus or instructions on uploading an assignment. We strive to make the technology seamless so that faculty and students are engaged in teaching and learning. We build the online courses with an understanding that the students are not from Seton Hall University, not able to come to campus, have dial-up, have no knowledge of Blackboard, have never taken an online course and are returning to school after a number of years. Thinking this way allows us to address a variety of student needs from the beginning.
A course management system was used to create the course template.
Aside from course management system, there are no costs associated with providing a template for online courses. It is important to note that additional costs were incurred because we wanted to support the Educational Policy Committee by becoming a Quality Matters™ institution and training two instructional designers in applying the rubric.