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Quality Standards for Online & Hybrid Teaching

As seasoned instructors, you know high quality instruction has clearly articulated learning objectives and is well organized, highly engaging, and learner-centered. High quality online and blended instruction also has these features but offers different opportunities for achieving these goals. Consider examining elements of your course in the areas below. As you review these best practices, we encourage you to customize them through the lens of your own academic unit or course. For a useful example, consider the Department of Industrial & Operations Engineering’s (IOE) Remote Learning Task Force Recommendations.

Course Setup & Structure

Think about the setup and structure of your online course as a roadmap for learners in the online learning environment, giving them a single access point to understand the expectations of the course, what to do in each session, and how to submit assignments. It also allows for adaptation to online learner communication needs that are unique to an online environment, such as asking questions or getting technical support remotely. Finally, course setup and structure includes considering ADA accessibility, technical requirements, and copyright rules specific to online delivery. 

Set up the online course in Canvas or another LMS and leverage functionality such as navigation features, course announcements, file posting, lecture posting, discussion boards, and assignments/quizzes. Alternatively, another tool such as a course website may be used to organize and centralize access to content and communications.

Why: The more modalities used (e.g., course lecture notes via a website, Canvas for exams, assignments distribution via email listserv, regular course communication via Canvas email) tends to increase learner questions, misunderstanding about how and when to receive communication from their instructor, and time spent managing course logistics for instructors. Giving learners one place to navigate course content, information and submissions decreases the number of modalities that learners access, and gives instructors one place to point all learners.

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Learners have access to a comprehensive syllabus with course objectives, grading scale, semester course schedule—including topics, assessment distribution and due dates—and clear expectations for online participation.

Why: Learners in an online learning environment rely heavily on the course syllabus to understand what expectations are for their engagement and to successfully complete the course. For in-person classes, learners know where and what time they need to be in class. In your online class, do they know what level of participation you expect from them? Clarity around online participation, especially live synchronous portions of the course is important in an online course. Are there specific times they need to be dialed in live? Consider posting those details upfront in the course syllabus, including the platform or tool (e.g., Zoom) being used, so learners know what is expected and can plan accordingly.

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Use a consistent and intuitive navigation system that aligns with the syllabus, enabling learners to quickly locate course information such as lecture files, assignments (e.g., labs), quizzes, discussions, and lecture recordings.

Why: For in-person classes, instructors guide and set the agenda of what is being covered for each session. For online courses, a roadmap should be made equally clear, through course design and navigation, about exactly what to do each session, where to find lectures, how they are progressing toward meeting course expectations, and how to submit assignments.

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Ensure all tools and content, including recordings, meet ADA accessibility standards, and refer learners to the related university policies and services for additional accommodations. Communicate technology requirements, for both hardware and software, with clearly stated instructions for use. Minimize technology requirements as much as possible to serve the broadest possible learner audience.

Why: Learners have adapted to in-person instruction for years. For some, the transition to online will require additional accommodations they may not have previously needed (increased use of screen-readers, captioning, more time for exams, etc). Also, technology requirements may come with additional technical/bandwidth considerations for learners. Minimizing the hardware and software required in the course reduces these potential challenges.

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Adhere to the current University policies for the use of third-party copyrighted material or provide evidence of appropriate copyright clearance.

Why: Due to the scale and delivery mode of online courses, it is especially important to ensure all materials are used properly to avoid infringements.

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Activities & Assessments

When preparing your lectures, content, activities, and assessments, consider leveraging the opportunities of the online format. We have heard many stories about people doing things online that they previously thought were not possible. Alternative pedagogies for content, assignments, exams, and other assessment strategies can support learners online and uphold the academic integrity of the College’s academic Honor Code. Lastly, fulfilling basic audio-visual production requirements and quality standards help learners remain engaged with the content you are creating.

Use alternative pedagogies for content, assessment, assignments, exams, and other assessment strategies to leverage the opportunities of the online format, support learners online, and uphold the academic integrity of the College’s academic Honor Code.

Why: We have heard many stories about people doing things online that they thought were previously not possible. What does this look like for our courses? Does this mean you are not bound to specific class/lecture meeting times? That class discussions can be done via discussion boards, blogs, or chats, where instructors are reporting they are hearing from more learners, because those that were less likely to speak up in class were more likely to participate when they could plan their remarks? This is a time to be bold and daring.

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Ensure recordings can be played remotely over a standard internet connection using a video player with user controls (e.g., with search, captions, video quality/speed adjustments). In addition, ensure video background and lighting are adequate and sound is clear for effective comprehension of digital media content.

Why: User controls allow the learner to pause and rewind the video and search content as needed. Reducing distractions and quality issues in the video helps learners remain engaged with the content. Consider the learner experience when creating your videos, such as repeating or paraphrasing questions, making videos available in a timely fashion, and providing direct links to external videos (e.g., YouTube) instead of streaming them during the lecture recording.

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Use various techniques, applied methods, and practices to promote experiential learning online and leverage asynchronous learning opportunities.

Why: Incorporating practical and experiential learning opportunities for online learners will allow them to learn by doing and to apply course content remotely. For example, create scenario-based discussion boards for learners to interact around course content and share understanding; have learners observe a recording of a simulation or lab and comment on their observations; incorporate online simulations to allow learners to explore different solution paths to a problem, or assign offline learning activities with a debrief to others in the course (e.g., use breakout rooms in Zoom and then reconvene).

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Engagement & Interactivity

Engagement and inclusivity requires advanced planning and course design in an online environment with a geographically distributed group of learners who may be dealing with low technology bandwidth, schedule challenges, health issues, and family care responsibilities, all of which can impact the learning experience. Consider your course design plan and communications to support a learning environment that addresses these challenges and needs, and demonstrate presence by engaging actively and frequently. Finally, consider implementing strategies to promote both peer-peer and learner-instructor interaction in an online environment, such as redesigning office hours for online interactivity.

Demonstrate presence by engaging actively and frequently throughout the course.

Why: Often some of the most valuable components for learning are stories, applications, anecdotes, asides, and the organic dialogue that doesn’t always appear on course slides. As seasoned instructors, you know what this looks like—now it’s a matter of finding a way to maintain the authenticity of who you are as an instructor, and helping learners experience learning, even if they aren’t in the classroom with you. Engagement can be more challenging in an online environment with a geographically distributed group of learners. Building community by posting announcements, anticipating needs, and addressing issues proactively helps establish presence and also reduces redundancy in responding individually to learners. 

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Offer strategies and expectations for how learners will interact with each other in the course and provide opportunities for interaction both peer-peer and learner-instructor.

Why: Interaction among peers and between the learner and instructor is natural in an in-person classroom environment. In online learning, the instructor must proactively create a strategy and associated structures to foster interactivity. On campus, students learn about where to go for help, or how to contact you if you have a question. In the online space, give learners the same direction, about how best to reach you if they need help—or where to go if they have questions. Do they email the GSI or instructor? Do they come to the instructor for course content but go somewhere else for technical support questions? Do they have a form where you are asking them to submit questions? Should they come to live office hours? Are you using Piazza in the course? Do they email you the question, and then you will address it in the lecture or announcements, or should they wait for individual responses?

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Adapting for your use

The minimum quality standards are intended to be best practices, rather than a checklist to be completed. As you prepare for the upcoming term, we encourage you to adapt these recommendations and resources to the specific needs of your course or academic unit. For a helpful example, consider IOE’s Remote Learning Task Force Recommendations below. This report offers norms and best practices for supporting online learning, providing flexibility for instructors, and ensuring consistency for learners.

For more resources and information on these standards, please contact our learning design team at NexusDesign@umich.edu

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