|Online Course Best Practices Checklist
From the Certified Online Instructor (COI) program and designation of the Learning Resources Network (LERN), the leading organization for faculty development in higher education, at TeachingOntheNet.org
1. The online course is organized by Units.
A “Unit” has a central concept or topic that distinguishes itself from other Units. Online courses should not be organized by weeks, chapters or other categories.
2. There is a warm welcome to the course.
A warm welcome helps with orientation and helps create a safe trusting online environment critical to online course success.
3. Expectations, including grading assignment expectations, are clearly stated.
Teachers should make it explicit, in writing, each and every expectation, and that expectation should be posted well in advance and in a highly visible location, preferably reiterated as needed and with the teacher taking some responsibility for making sure each student understands the expectations.
4. Announcements and updates are posted.
Updates and announcements, even just repeating a welcome are important for each unit or week, help remind students and keep clarity and communication open.
5. There is a different Welcome Page for each Unit.
There should be a different Welcome Page for each Unit, with new images or visuals, a slightly different warm welcome to the new Unit, and new information that helps maintain student interest and involvement.
6. There is a discussion rubric where points or guidelines for discussion comments are clearly stated.
Expectations for online comments, responses, questions and other online dialogue should be clearly stated so every student knows what is expected.
7. There is some, but not too much, online text provided.
Some online text is provided, but not too much online screen reading is required. Use print text books, audio lectures, slides, videos, pictures and other ways to convey information in addition to online text.
8. There are plenty of pictures, charts, color design, artwork and other visuals in your Welcome Pages, readings and other web pages in the online classroom.
While Baby Boomers (born before 1964) are used to just text, your students learn using media. Visuals are low or no cost ways to increase the learning of your students. Visuals are not “bells and whistles,” they are an integral part of communication and work in the 21st century.
9. There is at least one PowerPoint slide show per Unit, ideally with the teacher’s audio presentation integrated into the slides.
PowerPoint slides shows are a positive delivery method for content, providing a visual complement to the instructor’s audio presentation.
10. There is one or more audio presentations for each Unit in the course.
Your students learn in different ways. And the ideal is to mix is as many delivery formats for them to choose as possible. And your students don’t just learn from your words, they also learn from your voice, the tone, the emphasis, the energy, the authority, the engagement of your voice.
11. There are one or more activities for students to do in the course.
The activities can be online or offline projects. When students engage in activities, including creating content, the interaction increases their learning. Activities include but are not limited to PowerPoint presentations, online collaborative projects, role playing, debates and more.
12. Online discussion is organized by units.
Online discussion, with few exceptions, should be organized by units, with a different thread or area for each unit discussion. This helps students integrate the content and discussion in each Unit. In addition to threads by units, other kinds of discussion organization, such as small groups, or an informal ‘water cooler’ thread, are all good as supplements or additions.
13. The teacher is consistently and constantly involved in the online discussion.
The most important aspect of any student’s learning is the teacher. The teacher should be involved in the online discussion. In most cases the teacher responds to questions, provides encouragement, initiates new discussion topics, and identifies students who might need additional assistance. Whether the teacher makes a few or many comments, students need to feel the continual presence of the teacher in the online classroom and discussion.
14. Participants or students make a sufficient number of comments each week and unit.
While no specific number is recommended, it should be evident that participants/students make a sufficient number of comments each week or unit. Teachers may, or may not, require online comments, but even if comments are required there should be evidence of voluntary student interest and involvement in the online discussions.
15. There is sufficient evidence of replies and responses from students in the online discussion.
It is important that some voluntary reply/response comments from participants/student are evident. Online dialogue is another important way that we learn, so remarks should not simply be comments as isolated postings.
16. There are one or more ungraded self-quizzes for each unit.
One or more online self-quizes that are not part of a student/participant grade are a good learning tool. They also serve as a good feedback tool for both participants and the teacher.
17. There is some good visual design elements to the course.
There should be a good overall visual design of the course. From color to design to lines, borders, clip art, photos, color design, the visual design helps learners as part of design/navigation of the course.
18. There are more than three assessments used in grading.
We each not only learn differently, we also test differently. Multiple assessments help both the student and teacher. For the student, multiple assessments help respond to learning styles, but also aid in the student’s learning. For the teacher, multiple assessments give the teacher a better picture of how well each student is learning, and how the teacher can enhance the online course to increase learning.
19. There is intuitive navigation, making the course easily navigated by students.
The course is organized or structured with a main or welcome page, and other aspects of the course are easy to find from that central main page.
20. There is another good feature to the online course.
There is an obvious benefit or good feature to the online course that is not mentioned above. The feature may be dependent on the content and/or audience. Some examples include animations, simulations, drag-and-drop games, virtual tours, webquests or offline activities.
Bonus best practices online course feature.
We all are in the process of enhancing our online courses. We recommend that every online teacher make 1-3 improvements each time you offer your course.