UMass Boston OSCQR 3.1 Annotations

The OSCQR framework contains 50 standards for instructional quality and learner-centered support. The framework provides an opportunity for instructors to self-assess their coursework using current best practices in teaching and learning. These 50 standards meet the University’s expectations for exemplary course design.

The OSCQR Rubric and Process was developed by the Open SUNY Center for Online Teaching Excellence (COTE) and is adopted, edited and remixed with permission by UMass Boston’s eLearning & Instructional Support. The OSCQR Rubric and Process is licensed under a Creative Commons CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license and can be used by individual faculty members as a reflective practice; instructional designers to support continuous course improvement; or departments as part of a more formal course review process.

Section 1: Course Overview and Information

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1. Course includes welcome and getting started content.

By welcoming learners to the course and providing context for what they will be learning, the instructor sets a tone for success from the start of the course. Learners benefit from an overview of the course, with general information about the nature and purpose of the course, the course activities, grading structure, and where to find specific information on each.

Refresh Your Course with These Ideas

Course introduction can be created via text item or an instructor introductory video with accompanying captioning/transcript for ADA compliance.

  • Give a general course overview introducing the learners to the course topic and sequence.
  • Include instructions about how to get started and what to do first.
  • Consider creating a FAQ (or a self-test/quiz) addressing important elements in the course.
  • Set up an online conference for learner orientation.
  • Create avenues and set expectations within the course to demonstrate instructor presence and ongoing instruction and support.

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2. An overview is provided for the course, as well as in each lesson. Learners should know how to navigate and what tasks are due.

Adult learners benefit from knowing what they are about to learn, as well as the scope of work and amount of time expected. Providing an overview of the online course will prepare learners for what, when, where and why they will be learning.  An overview of each course module will provide information on, in advance, what content, interaction, and assessment will take place within a specific period of time. These “advance organizers” will help learners plan around conflicting priorities (school, family, children, work) and better manage their time.

The overall course orientation and/or overview should relay the same type of information that would be provided in a face-to-face class, including information from the syllabus, such as:

  • Course objectives
  • Required readings
  • Interaction guidelines
  • Expectations
  • Due dates

The lesson orientation should include at least a short introduction to the topic, indicate what materials need to be reviewed, and what assessments need to be completed. Remember to include due dates for every assignment and activity included in the lesson. This will help your learners stay on track!

Taylor, Dunn, and Winn (2015) write that ensuring learners feel comfortable within the online course setting – knowing how to navigate, and what is expected – will set learners up for success. Providing course and lesson overviews provide learners with a means to navigate so that they can stay on track and succeed in their learning.

Refresh Your Course with These Ideas

For Course Overviews
  • Provide a detailed written description of the types of learning activities learners will engage in, including all content, interaction, and assessment types included in the course.
  • Be sure to include the expected time required to participate and engage fully in the course each week throughout the term (e.g. “Please expect nine hours per week…”).
  • Create a short video tour of your course within the LMS using a screen-casting tool (i.e. Jing, SnagIt, Captivate, Mix). This can help learners better navigate the course space, by letting them see the structure of lessons and how to locate and access all course materials.
  • Create a course map or calendar to visualize the sequence of course modules, types of learning activities, anticipated duration of each activity, and indications of when assignments are due.
  • Bring attention to the most important elements of the online class, such as learning objectives, communication channels, required outside resources, and due dates.
  • Consider the questions learners might ask about the course (access, navigation, learning materials, due dates) and try to answer them within the orientation/overview.
For Session Overviews
  • Provide a more detailed description of learning content, activities, and assessments
  • An introductory paragraph about the topics to be covered within the session, and how they fit within the scope of the full subject being covered in the course.
  • A list of session specific learning objectives.
  • A list and/or explanation of key concepts that will be covered.
  • Assigned readings and associated resources to review, including dates that learners should expect to have completed each readings and/or resources.
  • Due dates for all assignments, even if stated elsewhere. These reminders will help learners stay on track.
  • A link back to the overall course schedule and/or course map.

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3. Course includes a deconstructed syllabus for learners that is clear and navigable.

A course information area should break the course syllabus down into smaller chunks of information for the learners to easily access and review. Deconstruction of the syllabus enables learners to find varied, discrete course information quickly with one or two clicks, rather than reading through the entire syllabus document.

A recommended approach to developing the course information area is to create individual documents (or pages) within the LMS with descriptive titles and relevance. This information can mirror the information in the syllabus, and provide an additional means through which learners can orient themselves to the online course.

Simunich, Robins, and Kelly (2015) found that courses with high levels of findability, based on careful development and placement of course information materials, have a direct impact on learner perceptions of course quality and experience, and successful learning outcomes. Clarity in naming conventions is key. In this introductory space it is extremely important to call content, interaction, and assessment items by their simple names – an exam should be referred to as an exam, a case study should be referred to as such, and the same for any interaction elements such as discussion forums.

Use active language to guide learners to take action – for example, course information pages can be titled, “Purchase Required Textbooks”, “Read through Interaction Guidelines”, “Print out the Course Calendar”, “Take Note of Office Hours”, and the like. These active statements act as key signposts for learners to navigate through the online course, and when the quickly want to find that information again – making for a high level of findability in your course.

Refresh Your Course With These Ideas

Each element you include in the Course Information area should steer learners to specific information. The best approach is to categorize your information.

  • Course Welcome
    • Instructor Contact Information and Office Hours
    • Instructor Expectations
    • Schedule and Due Dates
    • Required Texts and Associated Materials
    • Learning Activity Overview
    • Interaction Guidelines
    • Grading and Assignment Rubrics
    • Campus Policies and Resources
    • Strategies for Success
    • Ask a Question (Open Discussion Forum)
  • If you prefer to use actionable titles, consider using the following:
    • Welcome to (list the course name and number)
    • Get to Know Your Instructor
    • Learn What I Expect from You, and What You Can Expect From Me
    • Go through the Course Schedule
    • Review Required Texts and Associated Materials
    • Discover How to Communicate and Interact in this Course
    • Explore Campus Policies and Resources
    • Understand How to Succeed in this Course
    • Ask a Question (Open Discussion Forum)
  • If you create a folder titled “Course Information Documents”, be sure to provide a subtitle or short description that will appear with the folder, akin to:
    • I encourage you to explore the documents in this folder for more information about the course learning objectives, grading criteria, learning activities, and expectations. If you have any questions or concerns, please reach out to me immediately.
  • Remember to Introduce the Course Information area in your course overview, and refer back to it consistently throughout your course. For example, in your discussion forum instructions, direct learners to the Course Information area for more information about interaction guidelines and expectations.

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4. A printable syllabus is available to learners.

Some learners prefer to print a syllabus for offline reference. An accessible PDF is required for easy printing and viewing in Blackboard.

Verify that you are using the most up-to-date versions of Adobe Acrobat and MS Word, when designing your printable syllabus. To verify a PDF is accessible in Acrobat Pro DC, use the Make PDF Accessible menu option.  To verify a MS Word document is accessible, use the MS Office Accessibility Checker.

MS Office 365 is available to the University community. Software can be downloaded at UMass Boston MS Office software download.

Acrobat Pro DC is available by contacting the IT Service Desk at software@umb.edu.

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  • For more information about creating accessible documents, please visit the eLearning Accessibility Blog.
  • To acquire the latest version of Adobe Acrobat Pro DC put in link
  • Download the latest version of MS Word from MS Office 365.
5. Course includes links to relevant campus policies on plagiarism, computer use, learner grievances, accommodating disabilities, etc.

Course has clear policies and/or links to institutional resources for learners regarding how to file a grievance, campus computer use policies, and the Ross Center for Disability Services. Instructors can reinforce this in a course information section. Learners should feel connected to their campus through their online courses.

For the UMass Boston campus, the “Help & Resources” web page is provided in the Blackboard template with links to administrative, academic, and technical resources available to the learner. The “My UMass Boston for Students” web page also contains links to administration, technical and academic resources available to the learners.

Find links to University policies on the umb.edu web site at University Policies & Student Rights.

Refresh Your Course With These Ideas

  • Create course information to address academic integrity in the online course using campus policies, examples, tutorials, lessons, etc.
  • Apply course design principles that promote academic integrity, for example incorporate formative assessments and explicitly define acceptable learner collaboration.
  • Provide links to campus policies in the course syllabus.
6. Course provides access to campus resources (technical help, orientation, tutoring).

Having easy access to support prepares learners for success in the online environment and reduces frustration.

For the campus, the “Help & Resources” web page is provided in the Blackboard course template with links to administrative, academic, training and technical resources available to the learner. The “My UMass Boston for learners” web page also contains links to administration, technical and academic resources available to the learners.

7. Course information states whether the course is fully online, blended, or web-enhanced.

Make clear what the course format is- completely online, blended or web enhanced. This information should be included in the syllabus and course information area. For blended courses, learners will need a clear understanding of the ratio between in-person meetings, synchronous and asynchronous requirements.

  • Fully online: All interaction, communication, assignments, assessments, and course related information is shared through the online course. Learners have the expectation of interacting only through the online course.
  • Blended or Hybrid: Interactivity between the instructor and learners occurs in both in-person meetings and the online environment. “Seat time” is usually required at a specific threshold, depending on the requirements of the campus. Check with the Registrar for your required “seat time.”
  • Web Enhanced: Instructor/Learner interaction occurs in-person mainly, with resources accessible in an accompanying online course, used at the discretion of the instructor. No “seat time” is expected to be replaced by online activity, unless clearly expressed by the instructor.
8. Appropriate devices required for accessing and participating in the course are communicated (e.g. mobile, publisher websites, microphone, webcam).

Learners will likely try to access their online courses on several different devices. The Blackboard 24/7 support link should be referenced (provide learners with this link http://umb.echelp.org) for help and expertise with any issues that arise from different operating systems and/or devices (e.g. Android phone, MAC OS).

With Blackboard Learn, some features of an online course are accessible from a mobile device, while others are not. This can be a potential source of confusion for learners. Be clear about what devices, including webcams and microphones will be required to access the course.

Accessing publisher content or other web content for the course may require specific devices or operating systems. These requirements should also be listed in the course information area in order to set student expectations and identify additional costs for the course.

Refresh Your Course With These Ideas

  • Create course information Items that contains a specific list of methods and devices that learners should be prepared to use during the course.
  • Provide examples using web links to any specific devices that they will need to purchase for the course.
  • Add hardware specifics if required for the course (eg. omni-directional microphone and headset, USB Flash Drive with at least 4GB of space).
  • Add technical support information for commercial publisher content.
9. Course objectives/outcomes are clearly defined, measurable, and aligned to learning activities and assessments.

Learners need to know how and what they are learning and what is required to demonstrate and connect to the course outcomes. The relevance of what they are learning is important (Knowles, 1984). Connecting objectives to activities provides context and relevance. Program objectives, course objectives and session level objectives should all be aligned. Objectives should be aligned with the learners’ perspective and appropriate to the level of rigor for the particular program of study. Ensure the activities and assessments are mapped to these outcomes. Knowles, M. (1984). Andragogy in Action. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Refresh Your Course With These Ideas

  • Avoid “busy work” or assignments not clearly aligned with stated outcomes.
  • Be transparent about how the assignments map to the outcomes.
  • Use verbs that are measurable in describing outcomes. “Learners will understand” is not measurable. How will learners demonstrate “understanding”? Preferred: “You will research and write a five page research paper to demonstrate your understanding of x” is a measurable activity.

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10. Course provides contact information for instructor, department, and program.

Provide opportunities for private communication with the instructor, include department and program information. This helps learners who are completely online get a sense of orientation and inclusion with the instructor and the overall program.

Refresh Your Course With These Ideas

  • Email address, office phone number, office hours, etc. should be prominently displayed in course, in the deconstructed syllabus area as well as on the printable version of the syllabus.
  • Add a link in the course information to a department or program web pages.

Section 2: Course Technology and Tools

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11. Requisite skills for using technology tools (websites, software) are clearly stated and supported with resources.

The level of skill required and preparatory knowledge for all software applications, devices and operating systems, including applications in Blackboard, should be included in a course information section and the syllabus.

For applications in Blackboard (VoiceThread, Turnitin, i>Clicker), learners should be provided with web links to relevant assistive resources provided by those companies (e.g. tutorials, support). In addition, requisite computer skills and appropriate browsers should be listed.

If additional software outside of Blackboard or apps are required by the instructor (e.g.Quizlet, MS Excel, Google Drive), make sure to provide requisite skills, access information, steps and/or technical tutorials necessary to access these resources.

Atomic Learning, which is UMass Boston’s free tutorial service, includes an extensive list of video tutorials for common software. Atomic Learning is provided in every Blackboard course on the Home page, make sure to point students to that resource. Atomic Learning is also located on the Blackboard page titled “My UMass Boston for Students.”

Refresh Your Course With These Ideas

If any technical equipment or software are used in the course, try including the statements below:

  • Learners should be proficient with MS Word;
  • Learners should be proficient with Internet Browser basics;
  • Required technology for this course;
  • Purchase your subscription for…;
  • Reference Manual for…;
  • For software tutorials, please go to…;
  • For troubleshooting …
12. Scaffold technical skills required for participation in course learning activities (orientation, practice, and application).

Learners should be provided ample time to set up, practice and troubleshoot applications like Collaborate Ultra, VoiceThread, ECHO360, Turnitin and others before final grading occurs. By providing an opportunity to practice with new technology, technical issues can be addressed and grading will not be affected.

Refresh Your Course With These Ideas

When introducing a new tool to the course;

  • Add information, if applicable, about installation of the software and where to go to troubleshoot problems.
  • Make sure to include orientation materials for the learners and how to get started.
  • Create an icebreaker activity that has little impact on the learners grade.  Give the learners a chance to experience the tool with little repercusion other than participation.
  • Once the learners have practiced with the tool, introduce the full activity.
13. Frequently used technology tools are easily accessed. Hide any unused tools on the course menu.

Sometimes the course can get disorganized, especially if the content has been used for multiple semesters or by multiple instructors.  By hiding unused content and tool links, learners will be able to navigate the course easily. Content and tools that are no longer used should be deleted from the course.

Refresh Your Course With These Ideas

  • Move content that is no longer used to an area that is hidden from learners.
  • Tools cannot be deleted from a course, instead delete the link to the tool.
14. Course includes a privacy policy statement for technology tools.
The instructor should be familiar with the software privacy policies to the degree to which learner data (identities, submissions, logons) can be monitored, collected, and distributed through the registration process or through social media for an external tool (Google, iTunes U, Padlet, Facebook, etc.).  Learners should know when software will share data, sell data or is automatically shared publicly, instructors should note this in the course information area and in the location where the software is used. Instructor should provide a brief statement in a course information area alerting learners that they are responsible for being aware of software privacy policies. The instructor should also note in the statement that an alternative option will be offered if requested. In addition, the instructor should be compliant with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). Each application has a privacy policy to guarantee it is compliant with the federal law. Instructors should inquire directly to any software company that is not provided by UMass Boston ITS.

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15. All technology tools meet accessibility standards.

Technologies and standards evolve at a rapid pace. UMass Boston looks to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Level AA for guidance in meeting its ITS accessibility commitments. WCAG 2.0 provides success criteria for measuring web accessibility and also provides useful metrics for products and services that are not specifically web-based.

It is recommended for each technology used, a vendor VPAT web link, if one exists, be provided in the course syllabus. In general, if the software tools are provided or supported by eLearning & Instructional Support, the products meet most accessibility standards and don’t require any additional work on the instructor’s part.

If the instructor uses additional external software tools, which are not supported by eLearning & Instructional Support or by ITS, the instructor must obtain a VPAT document for that software. The Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT) is a self-disclosing document produced by the vendor which details each aspect of the Section 508 requirements and how the product supports each criteria (Google, 2017).

For your convenience, eLearning & Instructional Support has created a web page of vendor VPAT templates for the most commonly used software products at UMass Boston. A link to this page is also available in the “Help & Resources” content area in each Blackboard Learn course. Always remember to use the most up-to-date version of software as these will most likely work best with screen readers. For more information about making accessible documents, please visit the eLearning & Instructional Design Accessibility Guide.

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Section 3: Design and Layout

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16. A logical, consistent, and uncluttered layout is established. The course is easy to navigate (consistent color scheme and layout, related content organized together, self-evident titles).

Create cohesive online course structure that is logically sequenced and paced. This includes consistency in learning design, assignments, and rubrics. Redundancy (the same information, e.g., due dates, rubrics, etc., appearing in several locations) is favored, as such repetition helps learners navigate easily to relevant information without searching extensively.

Use the Default Blackboard color scheme to guarantee easy navigation and consistency. There are many different themes for Blackboard and most are distracting and create confusing navigation. In addition, some of the themes significantly reduce reading comprehension.

Refresh Your Course With These Ideas

Sequence online course content and learning activities/tasks, interactions, collaborations into logical learning chunks. The sequencing should take into account the learning objectives/ outcomes, higher-order knowledge acquisition and application, and the options and limitations of the online teaching and learning environment.

There are numerous organizational strategies, such as simple to complex, cause and effect, sequential, etc. See Connie Malamed’s article “How to Organize Content” for more on this.

Dr. Camille Dickson-Deane from Montgomery County Community College developed these guidelines for designing online activities using A Simple Knowledge (ASK) System (Thompson and Thompson, 1983) as a knowledge based system that allowed users who wish to create, test, modify, extend and make use of his own knowledge base. To learn more about ASK, please visit, UCF’s Chunking Web Page.

17. Large blocks of information are chunked into manageable sections with ample white space around and between the sections.

The use of space is key to resting the eyes between paragraphs.  Space also helps to identify important content and ideas. The act of breaking information into paragraphs balanced by white space is called chunking.  Other types of media can also be chunked into digestible pieces.

Connie Malamed states “chunking refers to the strategy of breaking down information into bite-sized pieces so the brain can more easily digest new information. The reason the brain needs this assistance is because working memory, which is where we manipulate information, holds a limited amount of information at one time.” Chunking is critical for online or blended learning since learners are accessing the information when there is no instructor available, so a clear navigation and a guide to the information must be in place for learners.

Refresh Your Course With These Ideas

  • Instead of creating a 60 min recorded lecture, break the lecture into 10 min or less mini lectures.
  • When creating presentations in Powerpoint, reduce the amount of text on each slide to be no more than 5 pieces of information.
  • If an assigned reading is long, think about creating a suggested reading schedule for learners and only assign a few pages of the article each day. Have the learners annotate the reading each day to help refresh working memory.
  • Make sure to include a guide for each lesson for learners to easily follow, without asking for help.

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18. There is enough contrast between text and background for the content to be easily viewed.

When designing course headers, text or distinct visual backgrounds, make sure the background is quiet, meaning no patterns or images. The background should be a solid color that is of significant contrast from the text color. The greater the contrast between background and text color, the greater the readability. Black text on a white background is high contrast.

In addition to contrast, saturation of color is also important, which is the strength of a color. Primary colors red, blue and yellow are saturated, whereas a gray-green is a lower saturation.  As an example, place light gray text on a white background.  The light gray has a similar saturation to white and has low readability.  Now place charcoal gray on a white background.  Charcoal has a very low saturation and has high readability on a white background. Try this experiment again on a black background. A black background reduces readability for all text colors including white text. Choose a white background with black text for high readability.

When the background is busy, and text is difficult to read, not only does this strain the eyes, but it also causes word disruptions and low comprehension. In addition, do not use gradient backgrounds in PowerPoint for the same reasons.

Using the default theme ensures consistency for learners and accessibility for people with visual differences.

Refresh Your Course With These Ideas

  • Leave course banner as default configuration.
  • Leave the color theme as default.
  • Use black text on white background.
  • Do not use any patterned or image backgrounds to increase readability.

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19. Clear and consistent instructions are provided.

Clear instructions help learners to function in the online environment without having to repeatedly ask for clarification. It is recommended to repeat instructions throughout the course, consistently giving instructions at the point of need. Learners benefit from this repetition.

Refresh Your Course With These Ideas

  • Add a text item with a week by week schedule in the course information area.
  • In each lesson area, add a text item with clear directions for the learner describing the week’s activities.
  • Use full sentences when communicating to learners.
  • Do not redirect the learner to another course area for instructions. Make sure the instructions are located where the learner will engage with the content.
  • Add instructions to assessments including important dates.
  • Make sure learners know where to go to get additional help.
20. Course is free of grammatical and spelling errors.
21. Text is formatted with titles, headings, and other styles to enhance readability and improve the structure of the document.

Proper text formatting is important for high readability and comprehension.  Providing all learners with the most accessible content is of utmost importance.

Using underlining to show emphasis is not recommended. Underlined text often is used to denote a hyperlink. Use bold or italics to show emphasis.

Word processing software provides pre-formatted CSS headings, titles and styles for easy navigation. Use heading styles for titles and subtitles and normal text for paragraphs settings. Even lists should be formatted with either numbered or bulleted styles.

Paragraph text should be left-justified. Centered text creates strain for the eyes when moving from line to line. Centered text also interferes with reading comprehension.

In the Text Editor in Blackboard Learn, a Remove Formatting function is offered. Remove Formatting will strip any extraneous non-CSS characters from the content. The Remove Formatting button appears as a rectangular eraser on the first row, far right of the Text Editor toolbar.

Refresh Your Course With These Ideas

  • Clear formatting once text is copied and pasted into Blackboard. Use the the CSS styles to properly format text.
  • Looking at the outline view in a word processing software will show if text is properly formatted.

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22. Flashing and blinking text are not used.

Flashing and blinking text may cause adverse reactions, such as migraines or seizures.  It may also cause distractions for the learner. Blinking reduces the readability of text and increases eye strain. Not only can these be extremely dangerous to a learner with photosensitive epilepsy, but it can be distracting and unnecessary.

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23. A sans-serif font with a standard size of at least 12 pt is used.

Sans-serif fonts are the most accessible for on-screen viewing, meaning the flares on letters have been removed.  Limit the amount of fonts you use in any one context.

The smaller a font size is the more difficult it is to read.  Font size smaller than 12pt can create eye strain. Even though most computer screens have magnifying capabilities, it is still best practice to not use a font smaller than 12pts. Also don’t type in ALL CAPS. Large sections of type in ALL CAPS decreases readability.

Blackboard’s default is Arial 12pt.

Refresh Your Course With These Ideas

  • Use Arial, Tahoma and Verdana for on-screen reading.

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24. When possible, information is displayed in linear format instead of in a table.

Tables can be a barrier to learners who use screen readers.  Instead, when possible reduce the table into a linear or outline format. When tables cannot be reduced to a linear presentation, try to use the simplest configuration for the table.

Refresh Your Course With These Ideas

  • Make sure the course schedule is presented in a linear format with a summary and titles.

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25. Tables are accompanied by a title and summary description.

Provide clear titles for the table to help all students navigate the table layout. Adding a thorough summary of the table will help learners understand the context of the table and why it is important.

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26. Table header rows and columns are assigned.

Provide clear descriptions of row and column headers to help all students navigate the table layout.

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27. Slideshows use a predefined slide layout and include unique slide titles.

Developing lecture presentations is an essential task for instructors. In order to produce the most accessible presentation content be sure to use the most updated version of the presentation software.

Use template layouts/themes when building your slideshows. Here are some additional guidelines for slideshows:

  • Don’t use blank slides.
  • When choosing layout themes choose color combinations that provide high contrast.
  • All images that are critical to understanding should be alt-tagged with complete descriptions. Decorative images should be identified as such.
  • Title each slide.
  • Use font sizes larger than 20pt., if you are projecting a slide, font size should be a minimum of 28 pt.
  • Use san-serif fonts with high readability like Arial and Verdana.
  • Use simple language and limit the amount of text. Chunk your content.
  • Leave sufficient white space around the text to increase comprehension.

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28. For all slideshows, there are simple, non-automatic transitions between slides. In addition, use of animation is avoided.

In order to produce the most accessible presentation content be sure to use the most updated version of the presentation software.

Use template layouts/themes when building your slideshows. Here are some additional guidelines for slideshows:

  • Use of animation should be avoided.
  • Use of transitions between slides should not be used.
  • Use of blinking text should be avoided.
  • Make sure to remove any automatic timing from your presentations.

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Section 4: Content and Activities

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29. Course offers access to a variety of engaging resources that facilitate communication, collaboration, and content delivery.

External readings, assignments, discussions, interactive content, and online assessments (formative and summative) should be aligned clearly to learning objectives. Learners benefit more from engaging activities that align to course objectives than the simple presentation of content.

Refresh Your Course With These Ideas

  • Incorporate assessments and feedback tools (e.g., OER, Turnitin, McGraw Hill, My Mathlab, etc.), publisher test banks, quizzes, surveys, video, audio, etc.
  • A scavenger hunt can be used to help orient learners to an online course at the beginning of the term (Chen, H-L and Staber, G., n.d.). This activity works like a traditional scavenger hunt, as one gives the learners specific instructions as to what they are to look for in the course. By completing the activities, learners navigate through the online course and become comfortable with where things are located. One might also give learners instructions for locating institutional resources or learner services. Use Scavenger Hunts to orient students.
  • Add weekly quizzes which check understanding (formative assessment) for the assigned reading to keep online learners on task. These quizzes should not impact grading, allowing students to take quizzes multiple times.
  • Use VoiceThread to engage students in a discussion which accompanies the lecture.
  • Use the Blog tool to have learners engage in peer to peer discussion and reflection on topics.
  • The Journal tool is shared between the learner and the instructor, use the tool to create a regular self-reflection activity.
30. Course provides activities for learners to develop higher-order thinking and problem-solving skills, such as critical reflection and analysis.

Cognitive presence is the extent to which learners are able to construct and confirm meaning through sustained reflection and discourse (Garrison, Anderson, & Archer, 2001). Where the learner thinks critically, he or she goes through the process of constructing knowledge, inquiring, exploring, and thinking. Bloom’s Taxonomy is a well established framework that identifies and explains some of these skills:

  • Remember (the lowest use of critical thinking)
  • Understand
  • Apply
  • Analyze
  • Evaluate
  • Create (the highest use of critical thinking)

Refresh Your Course With These Ideas

  • Create activities that allow learners to reflect individually and as a group about what they are learning, how they know they are learning, and what is helping and hindering their learning.
  • Create activities that provide opportunities for learners to be puzzled (the notion of adequate challenge and perplexity), giving them the opportunity to recognize problems and construct knowledge through collaboration and interaction (collaborative inquiry).
  • Repurposing the six-word memoir format as an academic exercise has unlimited possibilities using mobile devices and the affordance of texting and social media. In online/blended courses, the six-word memoir may be implemented using a variety of repositories such as Blackboard, a blog, social media space, etc.
  • UCF education professor Debbie Kirkley uses learner blogs to fulfill the requirement of learners to keep a journal throughout the semester to reflect on course projects and their experiences. Blog as a reflection tool
  • Supporting college learners to develop critical thinking skills is an overarching goal in higher education. Learners with developed critical thinking skills have the ability to evaluate their own arguments as well as others, resolve conflicts, and generate well-reasoned resolutions to complex problems (Behar-Horenstein & Niu, 2011). Using a guided approach to support critical thinking in online discussions

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31. Course provides activities that emulate real world applications of the discipline, such as experiential learning, case studies, and problem-based activities.

Relevance is central to adult learning. (Malcolm Knowles) When the adult learner can apply a learning activity to practical value beyond the duration of the course, relevance is established between the stated learning objective, the learning activity, and the assessment of that activity.

Refresh Your Course With These Ideas

  • Experiential learning – Many online instructors assign “offline” activities to learners, and have the learners “debrief” in the online environment. Many online Nursing courses have “clinical study” requirements that require learners to document their experiences in the online environment. Foreign language learners could be required to have interactions with native speakers (online) and summarize their experiences. Case studies – These are often leveraged best as small group activities or discussion forum artifacts.
  • Problem-Based Learning is an instructional strategy in which learners learn the subject matter of a course and the related skills by solving real-world problems and reflecting on their experiences of solving the problem/s. In Problem-Based Learning, learners may be given a specific course-related problem to solve or they may be provided with a selection of related problems from which they can choose. Problem-based Learning
  • Researchers agree that learners retain more when active, learner-centered techniques are employed and that fun and engaging learning experiences foster higher information retention (Bonwell and Eison 1991). When teaching large classes online, this can be difficult, but faculty still want to create an environment that is personal and interactive (Carbone 1998). Faculty want to get to know their learners and they want to provide them with opportunities to get to know them and each other (Phillips 2008). So how can faculty foster increased learner interaction and engagement with the material, with the faculty member, and with other learners? This entry discusses one way to facilitate learner-to-content, learner-to-learner, and learner-to-faculty interaction using popular culture in large online classes across disciplines (Alvermann, Moon & Hagood, 1999). Use pop culture to energize online discussions

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  • Knowles, M. (1975). Self-Directed Learning. Chicago: Follet.
  • Knowles, M. (1984). The Adult Learner: A Neglected Species (3rd Ed.). Houston: Gulf Publishing.
  • Knowles, M. (1984). Andragogy in Action. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
32. Where available, Open Educational Resources, free, or low cost materials are used.

UMass Boston is committed to using low cost instructional materials wherever possible in order to reduce the financial burden on learners. Your campus librarian is a good resource for help.

UMASS Boston open resources are available on the Open Educational Portal.

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33. Course materials and resources should adhere to copyright and licensing laws, properly cited in the course syllabus.

Resources and materials in the course should all be properly cited. In doing so, instructors and programs model good academic citizenship.

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34. Text content is available in an easily accessed format. All text content is readable by assistive technology, including a PDF or any text contained in an image.

Text is the basis of all courses, so it is critical that text be accessible to all learners in every part of the course. Text should be 12 pt or larger, using a san-serif font like Arial, Tahoma or Verdana. Text should be left justified and formatted using paragraph structure. Include plenty of white space to reduce eye strain and increase comprehension. Avoid using color, ALL CAPS or underline to show emphasis, instead use bold and italics.

In addition, all uploaded text sources, like readings or articles must also be accessible.  Resources or readings that are photocopied are not accessible and should be removed. Background color should be high contrast to the text color for better readability. Make sure that the text is not located within or over an image.

For more information about making accessible documents, please visit the eLearning & Instructional Design Accessibility blog.

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35. A text equivalent for every non-text element is provided (alt-text, captions, transcripts, etc.).

Non-text elements like images, or media enrich the understanding of content and engage learners. To make non-text elements accessible add alternative text, (sometimes called “alt-text” or “alt-tag”). Alternative text is not a description of the element but contains the text equivalent focused on content and function of the element. The alt-text should be appropriate for the context of which it is being used. Decorative images should also contain alternative text, however it would be better to remove them.

There are two ways to include alt-text to images:

  • Add text around the image that explains the content and function. Additionally, a hyperlink can be added that will lead to a sufficient explanation of the content.
  • Add the text equivalent to the non-text element through an alt-text feature. Blackboard and Powerpoint have the ability to add alt-text to an image.

Transcripts or captions should be added to media where possible. Transcripts do not need to be an exact copy of the video, but should be an equivalent.

Refresh Your Course With These Ideas

When including non-text elements in a course, make sure to:

  • Include a transcript for all media, videos can also be captioned.
  • Add alt-text to decorative images.
  • Add alt-text to any image that conveys content or function.
  • Make sure all learners have access to the Document Conversion Tool within each Blackboard course.

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36. Text, graphics, and images are understandable when viewed without color. Text should be used as a primary method for delivering information.

Learners with visual challenges may not be able to discern colors. Text should be used as the primary source of information within the course. Color should not be the only way a learner can understand the context.

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37. Hyperlink text is descriptive and makes sense when out of context (avoid using %22click here%22).
Hyperlinks are an integral part of any course, giving learners access to rich resources for deeper understanding. Hyperlinks should be styled in the default font style. Hyperlinks should look like hyperlinks. Do not change the color or style of a hyperlink. Do not title hyperlinks “click here,” “more information,” “contact me,” “select here,” etc. Hyperlinks should clearly indicate the destination of the URL. When research articles have very long URL addresses, change the text associated with the link to something descriptive and shorter. On the other hand, links should not be too short. Example: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1nrrF1wqsyS10mwF7zrmkLzuBMdb8H4 change to Activity #1 Google Doc

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Section 5: Interaction

Click on a standard title to read more about it and reveal associated resources.

38. Learners’ expectations for timely and consistent feedback from the instructor are clearly stated (questions, email, assignments).

Learners will experience less frustration if they know what to expect. State the expectations learners should have for answers to their questions, grades, and private communication in the course information and activities. By setting learners’ expectations upfront, instructors avoid having a lot of questions asked via the Course Questions and Answers discussion forum or by email, thus reducing time on extra tasks.

Refresh Your Course With These Ideas

  • State office hours and contact information in both the deconstructed syllabus and in the PDF syllabus.
  • Make sure to subscribe to the Course Questions & Answers Discussion Forum.
  • Use synchronous tools to hold office hours.
  • Try providing audio feedback to students, many tools offer that option and it helps turn around grading faster. In addition, audio of your voice will help increase rapport with learners.

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39. Learners’ expectations for interaction are clearly stated (netiquette, grade weighting, models/examples, and frequency of contributions).
Expectations for assignments, class participation, proctoring, due dates, and attendance requirements should all be clear to the learner. Adult learners expect and benefit from understanding the parameters and rationale of the learning activities. Outlining clear expectations, as well as what standards should be upheld when working on particular activities, helps learners be successful and reduces frustration caused by ambiguity. Provide clear guidelines for synchronous (in-class) and asynchronous (online) participation for blended courses.

  • Reference netiquette info and model respect in discussions.
  • Clearly outline the expectations for discussion participation, for example, the timing and number of contributions.
  • Indicate how learner participation will be graded.
  • Include instructions about spelling and grammar expectations.
  • Specify and give examples of how learners should title their discussion posts. Discussion post subject lines give learners an opportunity to practice summarizing and clear communication, skills that are important in the professional world. It also helps other learners find their posts more easily because the content is summarized in the subject line.
40. Learners have an opportunity to get to know the instructor. A casual tone is used.

Social presence is the ability of learners to project their personal characteristics into the community of inquiry, thereby presenting themselves as ‘real people.’ (Garrison, Anderson, & Archer, 2001). When learners understand the background of their instructor, the “distance” between instructor/learners is mitigated. The tone and approach of the instructor in regard to self-introduction will serve as a model for learners. It is important that learners feel the instructor is easily accessible, and willing to communicate consistently throughout the course.

Refresh Your Course With These Ideas

  • An instructor introductory video with accompanying script or a closed caption video is a wonderful way for learners to get to know the instructor.
  • Communicate effectively to establish and maintain social presence in the online class community.
  • Create an instructor profile/contact, content, images/photos, announcements, instructions for activities with personal “voice” to establish the instructor’s social presence and credibility in the course.
  • A document/page that explains what learners can expect from the instructor (feedback expectations, login frequency, discussion participation) can help them feel at ease with understanding a particular classroom management style.
41. Course contains resources or activities intended to build a sense of community, support open communication, and establish trust.

Building a sense of community mitigates the solitude of the online learner. Courses that promote community help learning occur “in a social context” (Dewey) and mitigate the perception of a correspondence course. At least one of the following should be used; ice-breaker, introduce yourself, meet your classmates and/or water cooler discussion forum.

Refresh Your Course With These Ideas

  • Build and encourage rapport with and between online learners and the instructor via the communication tools available in Blackboard.
  • Create opportunities for social, non-course related discussion. Design a way for learners to introduce themselves personally (requesting a profile/contact image/avatar, likes/dislikes, hobbies, interests, etc.).

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42. Course offers opportunities for learner-to-learner interaction and constructive collaboration.

Incorporate group work and peer review assignments as appropriate to support social, teaching and cognitive presence. By requiring learners to engage with each other, the design of such activities requires them to assume more responsibility for their own learning. This often leads to a deeper level of engagement. The instructor’s role changes more to facilitator, moderating and evaluating the quality and quantity of interaction between learners.

Refresh Your Course With These Ideas

To encourage collaboration between learners use;

  • Blackboard features: discussion forums, peer reviewed assignments
  • Third party tools: Google Docs, Voicethread, Diigo
  • Learning activities: discussions (with rubrics), debates, collaborative writing assignments, learner-led discussions (requiring learners to form their own prompts

Using branching story lines within an interactive decision-making video is an engaging method of enhancing the learning process for digital natives. Each short video segment along the path of the branching story line presents the viewer with a dilemma (decision point) and a subsequent choice of how to proceed. As the viewer makes decisions and proceeds along the storyline, s/he creates a unique viewing and learning experience for him/herself. Using branched videos to engage students.

43. Learners are encouraged to share resources and contribute knowledge from diverse sources of information.

Inviting learners to reach out beyond a textbook or assigned readings empowers them to understand a wider scope of research and perspectives. When exposed to different information sources, learners have the opportunity to discern the integrity of those sources and (possibly) share those perceptions with each other.

Refresh Your Course With These Ideas

  • Collaborative research projects, citation of information sources, constructing knowledge, creating shared references for all to use.
  • Add Web 2.0 technologies and services such as blogs, microblogs, wikis, multimedia sharing services, RSS feeds, podcasting, content tagging services, social networking sites and other social software.
  • Discussion forums and assignments can be designed in a way to require learners to find and cite sources other than their assigned texts.
  • Some instructors create and curate a “Shared Reference” document/wiki that aggregates diverse information sources submitted by learners.

Section 6: Assessment and Feedback

Click on a standard title to read more about it and reveal associated resources.

44. Course grading policies, including consequences for late submissions, are clearly stated in the course information area and syllabus.

Learners need to know how their work will be assessed in a clear and transparent manner. Grading policies should be explicit on how each requirement plays a part in the course grade.  Learners need to understand how each assessment is weighed or proportioned. Clearly state how participation and late work will be assessed.

Refresh Your Course With These Ideas

  • Make grading policies explicit and easy to find in the course documents, such as the syllabus.
  • Add a course grading section to the deconstructed syllabus area.
  • Each assessment should include grading information.
  • Grading should be available to the learners at all times, make sure to keep grading in a timely manner.
45. Course includes frequent and appropriate methods to assess learners’ mastery of content.

Consistent and regular assessments help learners demonstrate their progress and deficiencies. Formative and summative assessments should be used throughout the course giving learners ample opportunities to achieve mastery.

Refresh Your Course With These Ideas

  • Use weekly “post-first” discussion forums to assess learner progress.
  • Use journals/blogs to encourage self-reflection and assess learner growth.
  • Incorporate assessments and feedback tools (e.g., Turnitin, McGraw Hill, MyLab, Merlot, OER, etc.) publisher test banks, quizzes, surveys, video, audio, etc.
  • Quizzes with multiple attempts, give learners a chance to attain mastery with low-risk.
  • For paper assignments, incorporate a draft and a final version giving learners more time to master the subject matter.
46. Criteria for the assessment of a graded assignment is clearly articulated (rubrics, exemplary work).

Establish and communicate clear grading schema. Rubrics are recommended as a best practice for communicating criteria and achievement levels for particular assignments. Provide examples of work that model the performance you require of learners.

Create rubrics and rubric-related instructions, guidelines, and documentation available in the course information area so that learners can access it prior to the activity. Provide examples of how the rubric is applied; create links to them in appropriate/relevant locations in the course.

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Third party rubric resources:

47. Learners have opportunities to review their performance and assess their own learning throughout the course (pre-tests, automated self-tests, reflective assignments, etc.).

Self assessment has been shown to play a role in self-efficacy, fosters learners’ abilities to construct meaning, and promotes metacognition. There are many ways to allow learners to self-reflect, through journals, blogs and assignments.

Refresh Your Course With These Ideas

  • Use journals to give learners a chance to self assess regularly during the course
  • Implement a Tuning Protocol: Online protocols have been found to be effective in structuring and supporting meaningful learning in online discussions (Zydney, deNoyelles, & Seo, 2012), which can positively impact future class assignments. One protocol is called the Tuning protocol. It reflects the analogy is of tuning a piano – a key is played, and if the sound is flat, adjustments are made until the key is tuned correctly. In this strategy, a learner posts his/her work, others provide feedback, and the learner then reflects and makes adjustments to the original work.
48. Learners are informed when a timed response is required. Proper lead time is provided to ensure there is an opportunity for learners to prepare.

As the semester or course progresses, learners can lose focus on due dates and timed activities. Even though the schedule is available in multiple places, it is beneficial for the learners to also have triggered reminders.  Keeping learners on-task is one of the most critical aspects of learner success. Use communication tools to keep learners active and informed.

Refresh Your Course With These Ideas

  • Use tools like announcements, and email to keep students on task.
  • Frequently send communications to keep an open dialog between instructor and learners. Learners will be more likely to keep in touch if they hear from the instructor often.
  • Subscribe to the Course Questions & Answers discussion forum to keep feedback flowing to learners.
49. Learners have easy access to a well designed and up-to-date grade center.

The grade center should be easy to navigate and clear. My Grades should be available to learners on the Blackboard course menu.  If external grade sources exist, such as MS Excel, it is important to keep all grades in one source. Manual columns can be added to the Blackboard Grade Center.

Refresh Your Course With These Ideas

  • Link to the grade center on the course menu via “My Grades.”
  • Learners benefit from easily viewing missing assignments.
  • Short assignment titles/headings in grade center maximize the number of columns on a single screen.
  • Check the visibility of My Grades from Student Preview.
50. Learners have multiple opportunities to provide descriptive feedback on course design, course content, course experience, and ease of online technology.

Assess the efficacy of the online teaching and learning process. Traditionally, for a course, there is a summative evaluation of the instructor’s performance. However, little is learned from these evaluations about how the course functioned. Online courses should allow learners to frequently provide feedback to the instructor about the course and activities. All courses can gain critical insight from the learner’s perspective. Learner feedback provides the instructor an opportunity to test whether activities are properly aligned to objectives.

Refresh Your Course With These Ideas

Create learning activities that ask learners to reflect and express what they are learning, how they know they are learning, and what is helping or hindering their learning using a journal, blog, survey, etc.

Create course elements that provide opportunities to collect feedback, such as:

  • a suggestion box to collect informal feedback.
  • a survey to collect descriptive feedback anonymously.
  • a discussion to collect feedback at the end of an activity.
  • Use tools such as Dropthought to collect feedback on activities.

Get Help

Have a question? Email elearning@umb.edu.