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Online Course Review

Online Course Review

Online Learning is committed to providing resources and tools that support quality online teaching and course design, and facilitate student success in online courses and programs. UT’s Engaged Online Course (EOC) Rubric can be used to assess how well a course aligns with a set of research-based standards. The EOC rubric includes a scoring system used during the Engaged Online Course Review Process to determine the level at which a course meets the standards. The Regular and Substantive Interaction (RSI) guidelines present essential information about student-instructor engagement and strategies that help faculty meet RSI requirements from the Department of Education.

Engaged Online Course Rubric (EOCR)

A cohort of instructional faculty and staff from across the university collaborated to evaluate industry-standard course design rubrics, specifically Quality Matters and the SUNY Online Course Quality Review Rubric (OSQCR), to identify components and standards appropriate for a custom UT rubric. Together, the cohort developed the Engaged Online Course Rubric (EOCR). The EOCR contains a set of guidelines that represent research-based best practices in online education. Focusing primarily on course design, the rubric helps ensure a course is structured to achieve the stated learning objectives/outcomes. Courses designed with the standards in mind remove barriers to quality online education and obstacles to student success. 

The EOCR contains seven general standards that cover essential aspects of a quality online course:

  • Course Overview and Information
  • Assessment/Measurement and Feedback
  • Course Content and Activities
  • Learner Interaction
  • Learner Support and Wellness
  • Course Technology and Tools
  • Accessibility and Universal Course Design

In the annotated version, each rubric’s general standards are expanded to include examples and annotations that help determine if the standard has been met, has not been met or is not applicable. The rubric consists of a scoring system that is used during the Engaged Online Course Review Process to assess the level at which a course meets the standards and highlights any areas needing improvement.

UT’s Engaged Online Course Initiative (EOCI) and Review Process

As the university expands student access through online education, it is important that online courses and programs must be well-designed, uphold academic standards, and facilitate the cornerstone of quality in an online educational experience: learner engagement.  

To support these efforts, UT has joined Quality Matters, the global organization leading quality assurance in online and innovative digital teaching and learning environments, and in conjunction, launched the Engaged Online Course Initiative (EOCI). The EOCI promotes excellence in online course design and teaching through a quality course design peer review process that uses a research-based rubric to evaluate and certify the quality of online courses at UT.  

Goals of the EOCI:

  • Leverage QM membership to develop a custom rubric supported by  research-based standards for quality course design
  • Develop an institutional process for reviewing and certifying online courses that meet quality standards
  • Provide ongoing support to faculty who design and teach online courses
  • Facilitate a culture of continuous improvement by integrating the EOC standards into course design and development processes

Learn more about the online course review and certification process.

Regular & Substantive Interaction (RSI)

Research shows that quality student/instructor interactions and instructor presence are key online course elements that foster student motivation and success (Baker, 2010; Cole, et al, 2017). In line with these findings, the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) requires that regular and substantive interaction (RSI) between students and instructors be provided in online courses for which students use Title IV funds (NC-SARA, 2021). Courses not meeting this requirement are considered “correspondence courses” and are not eligible for federal Title IV financial aid.

How can an instructor enable BOTH regular and substantive interaction in an online course so that it complies with federal regulations? The information on this page provides guidance and examples for meeting RSI requirements.

Regular Interaction:

According to the DOE, to qualify as “regular,” instructor/student interactions should be:

  • conducted throughout the course on a predictable, scheduled basis
    • In other words, students should know when they can expect to engage with their instructor, and opportunities for engagement should happen throughout the semester.
  • proportionate to the course length and amount of content/competency involved
  • initiated by a qualified instructor (i.e., accredited), who monitors student academic engagement and success; and
  • undertaken by the instructor who, based on concerns resulting from observing students’ engagement and, or at the request of a student, promptly and proactively engages with the student to provide the needed support.

Substantive Interaction:

The DOE defines substantive interaction as “engaging students in teaching, learning, and assessment, consistent with the content under discussion, and includes at least two of the following, although best practices in course design support using more than just two.

  1. Provide direct instruction of course content. (See note on lecture below)
  2. Assess and/or provide feedback on a student’s coursework.
  3. Provide information or respond to student questions about the course content or competency.
  4. Facilitate a group discussion regarding course content or competency.
  5. Provide other instructional activities constituting RSI, as approved by UT or UT’s accrediting agency.
    • A note on lectures: A real-time, synchronous video lecture would count as direct instruction. Based on the DOE’s April 2021 webcast, a recorded lecture ALONE would likely not count as direct instruction; however, if other activities or discussions emanate from the recorded lecture, it could be counted as direct instruction. Review the strategies document linked above for examples of meeting the direct instruction guideline.

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