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Digital Education team blog


Ideas and reflections from UCL's Digital Education team


Just how good is your online course?

By Clive Young, on 25 September 2013

bbrubricOne of the perennial problems for both academic colleagues and learning technologists is trying to judge the educational value of online courses. Especially in blended learning the online ‘course’ is often just a component of a broader learner experience, and its role really can only be understood in the context of how it supports or extends ‘live’ activities. Thus what looks to a learning technologist like an unsophisticated ‘list of links’ in Moodle may actually support a rich classroom-led enquiry-based learning activity. It is hard to tell without speaking to the lecturer (or students) involved.

Nevertheless for modules which are wholly online or have a high use of technology a consensus has emerged as to what components are necessary to enable a ‘good’ course. One very practical example of this is the Blackboard Exemplary Course Program Rubric, which has gradually developed as a kind of sector standard since it was established in 2000, back then under the WebCT flag. The eight page rubric actually supports Blackboard’s Catalyst course competition (only open to Blackboard users, of course!) but the document can also be read as a platform-neutral checklist of good design, as applicable to Moodle as it is to Blackboard. Using the rubric course designers can evaluate how well their own course conforms to ‘best practices’ in four areas; Course Design, Interaction and Collaboration, Assessment and Learner Support. Each area is broken down into separate areas, with a checklist of ‘incomplete’ to ‘exemplary’ examples.

  • Course Design covers how clear the course goals and objectives are, the way the content is presented and any use of media, how learning design encourages students to be engaged in ‘higher order’ thinking and generally how the VLE is used to help student engagement.
  • Interaction and Collaboration includes communication strategies (an aspect so important we are considering including in the UCL Moodle baseline), how a sense of learner community is developed and ‘logistics’ i.e. quality and expectations of interaction.
  • Assessment is essentially about how assessment design aligns with the learning outcomes, the expectations on students and any opportunities for self assessment.
  • Learner support highlights the importance of orientation to the course and the VLE, clarity around the instructor role, links to institutional policies, accessibility and the role of feedback.

In short this is really a very useful checklist for people already running or currently designing programmes with a high online component and well worth a look. Using a checklist does not guarantee an ‘exemplary’ student experience but is simply a way to ensure that what are nowadays commonly regarded as critical components of success are fully considered in the course design and planning. Some of the sections may need some ‘interpretation’ or localisation and that is hopefully where E-Learning Environments can help!

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