IONA

Guidance for Online Courses

Guidelines for Constructing and Delivering Online Courses

General Guidelines:

In determining the amount of time and the tasks required as online equivalence to the traditional classroom work, it is well to start with the general guidelines used by the New York State Department of Higher Education:

Determining Time on Task in Online Education

Time on task is the total learning time spent by a student in a college course, including instructional time as well as time spent studying and completing course assignments (e.g., reading, research, writing, individual and group projects.) Regardless of the delivery method or the particular learning activities employed, the amount of learning time in any college course should meet the guideline of the Carnegie unit, a total of 45 hours for one semester credit (in conventional classroom education this breaks down into 15 hours of instruction plus 30 hours of student work/study out of class.)

"Instruction" is provided differently in online courses than in classroom-based courses. Despite the difference in methodology and activities, however, the total "learning time" online can usually be counted. Rather than try to distinguish between "in-class" and "outside-class" time for students, the faculty member developing and/or teaching the online course should calculate how much time a student doing satisfactory work would take to complete the work of the course, including:

  • reading course presentations/ "lectures"
  • reading other materials
  • participation in online discussions
  • doing research
  • writing papers or other assignments
  • completing all other assignments (e.g. projects)

The total time spent on these tasks should be roughly equal to that spent on comparable tasks in a classroom-based course. Time spent downloading or uploading documents, troubleshooting technical problems, or in chat rooms (unless on course assignments such as group projects) should not be counted.

In determining the time on task for an online course, useful information includes:

  • the course objectives and expected learning outcomes
  • the list of topics in the course outline or syllabus; the textbooks, additional readings, and related education materials (such as software) required
  • statements in course materials informing students of the time and/or effort they are expected to devote to the course or individual parts of it
  • a listing of the pedagogical tools to be used in the online course, how each will be used, and the expectations for participation (e.g., in an online discussion, how many substantive postings will be required of a student for each week or unit?)

Theoretically, one should be able to measure any course, regardless of delivery method, by the description of content covered. However, this is difficult for anyone other than the course developer or instructor to determine accurately, since the same statement of content (in a course outline or syllabus) can represent many different levels of breadth and depth in the treatment of that content, and require widely varying amounts of time.

This document can be found here.

Since Iona College recognizes three types of online courses: web-enhanced, hybrid (HY), and distance learning (DL), these guidelines should be applied according to the specific type of course with which we are dealing. Web-enhanced courses meet three times a week and emphasize traditional classroom work. Hybrid courses meet either once or twice a week and replace traditional classroom work with appropriate amounts of online work. Distance learning courses do not have any classroom meetings and do all course work online.

Before indicating what the specific guidelines are appropriate to these types of courses, it should be pointed out that online courses should only be offered to audiences for whom they are appropriate. Since students at the beginning of their college careers for the most part need more direct supervision and contact with the instructor, they should be placed in traditional or web-enhanced courses. If necessary for them to take hybrid courses, they should the type that meet for two class hours. Hybrid courses that meet for one class hour should be limited to upper-division courses. Distance learning courses are not generally regarded as appropriate for undergraduate day students. These DL courses should be limited to graduate students and returning adult students. Only under exceptional circumstances and with the explicit permission of the dean should distance learning courses be offered to day undergraduate students.

Specific Guidelines:

Web-Enhanced Courses

These courses use only a small portion of the available Blackboard functions. Normally, these no-frills sites will contain basic course information, the syllabus and perhaps some useful links to course related material. It is also beneficial to make use of the Communication page email function in order to contact students --as a class or individually-- when the need arises. Since most of work is done in the traditional manner and the interaction with the students takes place primarily within the classroom setting, there is really no need to develop any online equivalent work for this type of course.

Hybrid Courses

Hybrid courses normally meet two hours a week, with the third hour online. In some instances, a hybrid course can meet only for one class hour, with the other two hours online. If a course meets for one hour online, then 45 hours of equivalent online work is required; 90 hours if it meets for two hours online.

To meet the requirements, hybrid courses require a much more elaborate Blackboard site and the use of many more of the available functions than web-enhanced courses. For example, the Announcement page needs to be more detailed. Course information should not only include a syllabus and related material, but also give an overview of the online portions of the course as well as explicit directions for participating in the online activities. Finally, the Discussion Board area needs to be fully and effectively developed in order to encourage the interaction between students and the material, interaction between the students and the instructor, and interaction of students among themselves that online courses demand. The Discussion Board area of Blackboard is one of the best ways of encouraging this interaction because its activities are asynchronous and thus allows for the flexibility of schedule that online work is supposed to allow. While the Chat Room is useful, its synchronous demands can interfere with the flexibility that hybrid courses offer students.

In the Discussion Board, there should be an area in which online assignments are scheduled at regular intervals (typically, weekly or biweekly), with a clear indication of the deadline and word minimum attached to them. The word minimum is related to whether the assignments are weekly (fewer) or biweekly (more). The frequency and number of assignments will vary in terms of whether or not the course meets one or two hours online and what other online and course related activities are required of the students. Finally, there should be a clear indication as to how these assignments will be assessed and graded.

The assignments should be keyed to online sites and documents to which links are available, for example, on the Course Document page. There should be a brief explanation of the nature of the document/site and how it can best be used. However, assignments can also be keyed to an assigned print material. But the assignments based on this print material should be submitted online.

Not only the number of pages assigned, but the difficulty of the text --whether it is online or in print-- should be taken into consideration when determining the amount of time an assignment demands. It should also be noted that online texts often require more time to read than print texts if they are hyperlinked to other sites. That is, many online versions of a text --for example, this is the rule for Wikipedia entries-- are linked to other relevant sites that offer further explanation of and information about the original material. So students may take much longer in reading a page of online material when it is linked to many other such pages. In calculating the amount time-on-task for some online assignments, this factor should be taken into account.

Next, there should be a separate, distinct interactive site in the Discussion Board area in which students initiate threads and replies to the threads of others (typically, weekly or biweekly). As noted above, the frequency and number of threads and replies will vary in terms of whether or not the course meets one or two hours online and what other online activities are required of the students. This site should be focused on the substantive content of the course. There should be another separate, distinct site, in which students post material on the technical aspects of the course i.e., how to navigate the site, trouble with opening a document or with an assignment, sharing helpful links and in general allowing the students to interact in supportive and helpful ways. Participation in this area of the site may be graded or, as sometimes happens, be used as a source of extra credit.

Blackboard allows for the creation of online tests and exercises. But in view of the difficulty with monitoring the testing process, most instructors teaching hybrid courses still rely on tests given and monitored in the classroom. Blackboard is bestused to create exercises that help students review material and prepare for the in class test. Course cartridges containing tests and exercises can also be loaded onto the Blackboard site. However, it should be noted that these course cartridges requirethe purchase of textbooks from the publishers and are subject to licensing requirements.

Term projects can be done online in ways that rely on peer review (students commenting on each others work) as well as the instructor's input. If term papers are required, they can be submitted to the course site directly or sent by regular email.

When substantial online activities are involved in a course, it is important that students receive prompt feedback, especially if they fail to fulfill the requirements of the online portion of the course, for example, not posting material by the deadline or not meeting the word minimum. In general, students should know that their work is being evaluated in a timely fashion and that they are regularly notified about their progress.

Distance Learning Courses

These courses require either a 135 (three credits) or 180 (four credits) equivalent hours of online work. In developing DL courses, the key is to remember that because they are conducted entirely online, they must achieve the regularity of classroom courses by insuring that the students participate in a large number of activities that occur frequently over the course of the entire semester or trimester. Some of those activities have already been discussed above as well as some suggestions about calculating time on task.

With DL courses, it cannot be emphasized enough that it is crucially important to give regular assignments (at least weekly) that require specific readings (most often links the instructor has posted in an appropriate area of the Blackboard site), reaction to the readings, minimum number of words required, and a clear deadline when the assignment is due. Next, there must be a separate, distinct interactive site in the Discussion Board area in which students initiate weekly threads and reply to thethreads of others. This site should be focused on the substantive content of the course. There should be another separate, distinct area in which students post material on the technical aspects of the course, i.e., how to navigate the site, trouble with opening a document or with an assignment, sharing helpful links and in general allowing the students to interact in supportive and helpful ways. They should be required to make regular weekly postings. As noted above, while Blackboard allows for the creation of online tests and exercises, there is the difficulty of monitoring the testing process. However, judicious use of the time limit function in test creation can make the results more accurate. In addition, tests and/or assignments can stress essay answers rather than short answer or true/false tests. Many instructors have found it useful to devise online tests that follow an open-book model. In other words, if possible, do not confine questions to asking for information only, but stress questions that call upon students to understand and interpret the material. Again, course cartridges containing tests and exercises can also be loaded onto the Blackboard site. But as noted, these course cartridges require the purchase of textbooks from the publishers and are subject to licensing requirements. They may also raise the same monitoring problems associated with Blackboard-created tests.

In DL courses, online term projects that rely on peer review (students commenting on each others work) as well as instructor's input could be used. And of course, term papers or other forms of research can be required and submitted to the course site directly or sent by regular email.

It is extremely important in DL courses that the instructor promptly read and evaluate student postings and alert them immediately when deadlines, word minimums etc. are not met. Progress reports should be emailed to students on a regular basis; the dates when these reports will be sent should be indicated at the beginning of the semester.

Summary:

In developing online course sites, instructors should:

  • acquaint themselves with the general state guidelines about time on task equivalences for online courses
  • develop Blackboard sites that contain an appropriate array of online activities that fulfill the time-on-task requirements
  • calculate the hours students would spend on these activities based on their number, frequency, and difficulty.

Instructors who are developing Blackboard sites, especially those new to online teaching, should consult with members of their department who have already taught hybrid or distance learning courses. In addition, workshops will be offered by CELTIC and the Coordinator of Online Learning which will not only explain in more detail these guidelines, but more importantly, will offer concrete suggestions about building a course site that implement the guidelines.