Online Blogucation

The On-Going Struggle For Acceptance

In the 90′s Russell wrote the first and likely most well read defense of online education.  The piece, “No Significant Difference” was well written and well received.  But it was Twigg’s follow up, “Beyond No Significant Difference” that was an eye-opener for some.  Even back in 2001, Twigg discovered what many now know to be true.  Outcomes are more easily tracked and often achieved in online classes than they are in their on-ground counter parts. 

Now I know what you’re thinking.  Oh, the online guy is going to tell us how great online is…but hold on.  I know it’s still not the accepted, common-sense paradigm that many would hope it to be.  Just this week I read an article about how Ball State faculty are highly suspicious of online education.  While I feel that many faculty are simply uneducated about it and several predispositionary thoughts are actually faulty reasoning, it doesn’t change the fact that online education is still seen, by many traditionalists, as the ugly duckling of academia. 

So I get it.  Really, I do.  I hear it all the time.  I don’t agree with it and believe I can vigorously and credibly argue the points, but I get it.   So rather than my pushing my own biases about the importance and validity of online education, I wanted to share some other’s insights.

Two weeks ago, I attended our President’s Round Table.  It was in an extremely beautiful part of South Carolina – it was one of only 4 states I had never set foot in.  The conference itself was quite amazing.  Not just the food or setting (although Kiawah Island is quite impressive), but the ideas, innovations, and operational issues discussed were truly inspiring.  We had speakers from Harvard, Microsoft, and best selling authors talk about the trends in education, technology, and online learning which created wonderfully rich conversations that will shape the future of our business.

As well, the audience was not only ready to listen, but ready to share.  It was inspiring to watch Presidents, Directors of Online Learning, Provosts, and more brainstorm for, listen to, and constructively critique ideas in and around how to best serve students.  State institutions collaborated with for-profit schools who communicated with religious colleges who listened to community college leaders…it was fantastic!  Again, these leaders are ready to fight the good fight!

But what was actually most amazing to me, in the midst of all of the creativity and innovation, was a simple truth that was stated by several of these school leaders.  It started with one simple statement and then was reiterated several times throughout the week.  It started during a panel discussion where a Director of Online Learning simply said,

“We’ve found our online numbers to be well above our on-ground counterparts.  Not only have we found that the research about online courses producing and measuring better outcomes is true, but our retention and faculty survey numbers blow the face to face classes out of the water!  We’re double digit points above them…”

What?!?  Is that possible?  Someone from the crowd actually asked him to repeat the off-the-cuff remark.  But when he did, a few other Presidents expressed the same thing.  Online numbers for retention, satisfaction, and test scores were significantly higher than on-ground classes teaching the same materials. 

So, over the next two days, I asked people at our meals and during our breaks if they had similar experiences at their schools.  Many did.  Not all, but of the 30-40 leaders present, I heard at least 15 say that they had better numbers online than on-ground. 

So, while some are trying desperately to explain away the research of the past two years as poor studies with bad analysis or poorly constructed tests, there is something they cannot simply dismiss…online learning works better in some contexts, with some students, with some disciplines, with some programs, and with some content, than face to face learning.  Period.

Good luck and good teaching.


Season of Change

I had to turn the heater on in my car this morning. The Colorado mornings are getting chilly: in the 40s and 50s. It’s almost like Fall had been hiding behind the Labor Day corner, just waiting to pounce. Despite the cold (and my cold), I love fall and all that comes with it. Change is definitely upon us. Football is back, the leaves are turning, and everyone’s back in school.

With the coming of school, homework is now running rampant in my house. This is the first year that all three of my kids are in school of some sort. It’s fun and it’s challenging trying to keep up with all the basics that I’ve almost forgotten and that they are learning anew. The other night I sat down with my 9 year old daughter who’s in fourth grade to try and help her with her sudoku math homework problem. Wait. What? Sudoku math homework? I can see the connection, practicing logic and problem solving, but I don’t remember doing this in fourth grade. Do you? I remember Ms. Daniel, her glasses and her reading of Where the Red Fern Grows to our class.  I remember multiplication tables, homonyms, workbooks and chase at recess. I remember Ms. Daniel weeping the day of the Challenger space shuttle tragedy and the first time I failed an assignment. But Sudoku for homework? I don’t remember that being a part of my fourth grade.

As I watched my daughter solve the puzzle, I realized that Sudoku for homework wasn’t odd for her. It’s simply part of her reality; part of the life she knows and the memories she’s making. Just like tablet computers and texting and video on demand and charter schools and doing homework on interactive websites. These things are new and fun and show how far we’ve come in the last 20 years for me, but they’re how it’s always been for her and every child after her.

As I mulled this thought over and considered the environment surrounding my daughter’s education compared to the world that surrounded my childhood education, this thought came to me: learning is always contextual. We cannot help but learn within the environment that we are inside. We start by learning the language(s) that are spoken around us, repeating the gestures and customs that we see modeled. We come to expect to see and have the inventions and conveniences that have always been around us. But the cultural context in which we learn doesn’t stand still for us. Just as the seasons, it’s ever changing. What Heraclitus said is indeed true: Change is the only constant. And as our world changes around us, so too does what we learn and how we learn; many times whether we like it or not, whether we notice it or not. (You may not like the device, but how many conversations have you had in the last year containing the new word ‘iPad’?)

However, while learning is innately contextual, education must choose to be contextual. Education, at its core, might be described as intentional learning; which means that it includes choice. The choice of what to learn and how and why and when and to what degree. We can choose to make education contextual, or not. We can choose to be relevant to the industries of today or only to those of yesterday. We can choose to be aware (and think critically about) changes in culture around us, or not. We can choose to intentionally keep education changing for good, or we can opt out.

The reality of our educational culture is that it has always been in a state of change. Accreditation regulations change, federal aid changes, industries come and go, discoveries and advancements are made in nearly all subjects. Technologies and government programs and even people come and go.

This time of year always reminds me that, as educators, we have the intentional choice ever before us to fight change, accept it begrudgingly, or to come along side it and leverage it for learning.

What is your view of change? Is it something that is feared or tolerated? Do you leverage it toward your learning goals? Is it addressed in your course, in your class, on your team or at your institution?

Luke Cable | Academic Trainer & Consultant


Hallmark #9: Integrity / A Look Back

Well, here we are. Nearly to the end of our journey. Almost there. We’ve finally made it to Hallmark #9. It feels a bit like we’ve been climbing a Colorado 14ner and we’re nearly at the top. We have discussed the first eight Hallmarks of Quality from the Interregional Guidelines for the Evaluation of Distance Education (Online Learning) so we have only the final Hallmark to get through before our ascent to the peak is complete: Integrity.

When I first saw that integrity was the last hallmark my first thought was “Why list Integrity last?”. Was it an afterthought? Doubtful. Was it just part of a natural progression that landed it at the end? Maybe. Or was it specifically selected to be the end cap of what is seen as important, integral and paradigm shifting set of Hallmarks? This is where I place my bet. If for no other reason than this is the only Hallmark with both an asterisk to further information AND an emboldened note within the (already lengthy) first point of analysis/evidence.

While the official language of the hallmark is simply “The institution assures [ensures?] the integrity of its online learning offerings*”, let us make no mistake: this is not just about integrity in the general sense, meaning whole, undivided, unified, consistent or sound. This is about academic integrity.

So let’s take a look at what’s contained in Hallmark #9. First, the asterisk in the statement refers to the WCET paper Best Practice Strategies to Promote Academic Integrity in Online Education. This paper lists academic integrity best practice strategies in categories concerning the institution, curriculum and assessment as well as faculty and student support. It’s worth the quick read for high level tips that can be used to get you going or to validate what you may already be doing. Three of the hallmark’s analysis/evidence items are short and essentially mention that faculty, online orientations and institutional policies should emphasize and integrate academic integrity into their teachings and practices.

The first, most prominent and most impacting  analysis/evidence item is this one:

“The institution has in place effective procedures through which to ensure that the student who registers in a distance education course or program is the same student who participates in and completes the course or program and receives the academic credit. The institution makes clear in writing that these processes protect student privacy and notifies students at the time of registration or enrollment of any projected additional costs associated with the verification procedures. (Note: This is a federal requirement. All institutions that offer distance education programs must demonstrate compliance with this requirement.);”

The statement is composed of two parts: a) verifying the student and b) making the verification process, procedures and costs known. In part a), the key words are “effective” and “ensure”. “Effective” is a word that is open to interpretation by that fact that it doesn’t imply perfection, but only a high level of efficacy. And this is appropriate; pretending perfection is attainable is a way to quickly not get anything done. In contrast, “ensure” does carry the weight of making certain without exception or with guarantee. While these two can seem to be in opposition what we can strive for here is when we believe we’ve determined that the student registered for learning is the student who performed the work, that this is indeed true. No false positives or false negatives. Part b) strikes me as an attempt to included students in the effort of keeping academic integrity. The phrase “makes clear in writing that these processes protect student privacy” implies to me that there is a specific effort to communicate to the students that academic integrity is not solely about catching the “bad” cheaters, but protecting the quality, original work that many students choose to do. And that many times protecting good things has a cost. Most importantly though, it needs to be shown and communicated (and be true) that academic integrity is not first a matter of punishment but rather a matter of having a posture of quality between the students and the institution.

This hallmark can be a tall order, potentially a costly order. (For information on types, costs and thoughts on some student authentication / verification systems, see Jennifer’s blog on the student-centric Hallmark #7.) But this hallmark has merit and it makes sense. If students are not who they say they are and their work is not what they say it is, then where’s the purpose in anything that we’re doing (be it on-ground or on-line or somewhere in between)?

Imagine for a moment that you had just been given mid-field season tickets to your favorite sports team. And there you sit, at the season opener, soaking in the atmosphere: 70,000 excited people coming together to cheer a common cause; an immense venue where little expense was spared; the long tradition of the team and sport displayed; players, coaches, owners, concession workers, and so many other people who have worked so hard in the preceding weeks and days to prepare for this moment in time: The Game.

But now imagine that as the teams take the field and the crowd is roaring, the players do only as they please. They ignore the rules and the referees. They high-jack the scoreboard, steal the ball and generally create helter-skelter. Wouldn’t that be maddening? You might think “What in the world was all the effort and preparation for?”. And, truly, it would make a mockery of the sport, the event and everyone involved.

So too it is when learners choose to (or inadvertently do) cheat; it makes a mockery of the class, their peers, the institution and most importantly, their own learning. Is it the truth that no matter what we do, students are still going to try to (and find ways to) cheat? Definitely. Will students compromise their academic integrity by ignoring what resources are made available to them? Probably some. Do either of these things mean that we should stop (or lessen our efforts in) striving for academic integrity? Absolutely not. I think this line from Martin Luther King Jr.’s book Strength to Love says it well: “The ultimate measure of a man[/woman] is not where he[/she] stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he[/she] stands at times of challenge and controversy.” If we were to stop furthering our efforts toward academic integrity, even as it becomes more difficult to do, then we risk making a mockery of it all. Hallmark #9 reminds us that we must continue to make purposeful efforts to do establish cultures of academic integrity on our campuses.


Before we sign off from our ten week foray into The Nine Hallmarks of Quality, it seems only fitting that we should take a quick look back over where we have been and what the big picture looks like.

It was back at the end of June when Jeff first introduced the discussion of the Hallmarks and what they might mean for online education. Jeff talked about the consistency and transparency that these Hallmarks can bring. He asserted that these Hallmarks will give online educators another strong foundation to stand upon in the debate around efficacy of online vs. on-campus. But I think the most foretelling statement of Jeff’s was this: “They will illustrate what many of us have already researched and know: Online learning works when it is strategic, designed effectively, and measured evenly.” And as we’ve gone through the Hallmarks in detail I think we can see how they echo this underlying paradigm. One could say that the essential thought running through the Hallmarks is: Be purposeful and make it known.

When I look at the list of hallmarks as the pieces they are and how they come together as a whole, I see them fitting into four categories:

Hallmark 1, Hallmark 2 and Hallmark 3 fall into this category. Notice some of the words in the definitions of these Hallmarks: incorporated, appropriate, integrated. The theme here is for online education to be a part of who you are, for it to be infused in your character. It’s not an addition nor an appendage.

Do It Well
Hallmark 4 asks for rigor in creating the curriculum for online learning (why would we do it any other way?)  and Hallmark 5 asks for continual improvement of the curriculum. If you’ve made the decision to have online learning interwoven into the fabric of your institution, then you need to make the purposeful choice to do it well. Saint Francis de Sales said it succinctly: “Be who you are and be that well.”

Set Your Team Up for Success
Where faculty meets students is where the rubber hits the road of learning. To this end, Hallmark 6 and Hallmark 7 are directed toward the critical subject of supporting our faculty and students with resources, training and information. Give them the things they need; get rid of things that will get in their way.

As we’ve mentioned in the first part of our Hallmark 9 blog today, if all the other Hallmarks are fulfilled (the set up for “game time” is done well), but learning doesn’t happen with integrity, then it can all be for naught.

These categories and these Hallmarks together form a cohesive picture of successful online learning that is strategic, designed effectively and evenly measured.

On behalf of the Academic Training and Consulting team, we hope that this blog series has been beneficial to you, give you some insights, and helped to frame the future of online education as education that will lead the future of learning. Next week we’ll be back to our regularly scheduled blogging, so look for some exciting topics in the world of education and technology in the coming weeks!

Luke Cable
Academic Trainer & Consultant


Hallmark #8 – Resources

We are nearing the end of our series on the Interregional Guidelines for the Evaluation of Distance Education, and this week we will consider the 8th Hallmark, which concerns resourcing. These Guidelines can be found here as presented by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE).  

Hallmark #8 reads: The institution provides sufficient resources to support and, if appropriate, expand its online learning offerings.

I think of this Hallmark as essentially saying: “put your money where your mouth is.” In our discussion of the previous Hallmarks, we’ve seen that online education must be integrated into an institution’s mission and operations, and must have strong student and faculty support. Hallmark #8 supports those previously discussed ideas by stipulating that the institution must actually provide the budget and resources to make their online goals happen. We know that resources are tight everywhere, but dedicating resources to a distance education program is an important way to show that the institution values that program, and also funds the training and services that help set it up for success.

An institution seeking accreditation (for example, by MSCHE), will be asked to include evidence documenting how they are meeting the 9 Hallmarks for their online education program. MSCHE provides two areas of evidence that would allow an institution to demonstrate that they are meeting Hallmark #8:


  • The institution prepares a multi-year budget for online learning that includes resources for assessment of program demand, marketing, appropriate levels of faculty and staff, faculty and staff development, library and information resources, and technology infrastructure;

  • The institution provides evidence of a multi-year technology plan that addresses its goals for online learning and includes provision for a robust and scalable technical infrastructure.

These seem pretty straightforward, as essentially the institution needs to demonstrate that they have allocated sufficient resources to support their online educational goals. To truly support their online venture, they need strong plans for marketing, faculty and staff support (including items laid out in this blog earlier), student support (as discussed here), a robust online curriculum (see discussion here), etc.  The institution must also show commitment to the technological aspects of online course delivery, including the technical infrastructure and a great LMS, such as Pearson LearningStudio (not so subtle hint!).

Working through these items should help the success of an online program and allow the institution to truly “put their money where their mouth is.” Good luck and happy budgeting!

– Gail E. Krovitz, Ph.D. –

Director of Academic Training & Consulting

MSCHE (2011) Interregional Guidelines for the Evaluation of Distance Education Programs (Online Learning). Retrieved online from:


Hallmark #6: Qualified Faculty & Effective Faculty Support

Of the 9 Hallmarks that we’ve been discussing over the past few weeks, this one is perhaps one of the most obvious yet challenging. I am often reminded of a lesson I learned when working at a grocery store in my teenage years. I was asked to stack 20-lb. bags of potatoes on a lower shelf, and so I just started piling them on. Before I knew it, they were sliding and falling off the shelf. My supervisor came over to me to help. He said, “How do you build a house? Begin with a solid foundation.” He then proceeded to stack the bags of potatoes in long rows, side-by-side, packing them so that each additional bag supported the weight of previous bags. Problem solved. (This may seem obvious to us “grown-ups,” but hey, I was a teenager!)

The same concept rings true when building and maintaining an online program — build a solid foundation. And in this case, that solid foundation consists of quality faculty members who are sufficiently trained and supported to do what they need to deliver learning experiences that meet all students’ needs.

Now, a bit of background — Hallmark #6 reads as follows, from the The Middle States Commission on Higher Education’s (MSCHE) Interregional Guidelines for the Evaluation of Distance Education Programs (Online Learning):

Faculty responsible for delivering the online learning curricula and evaluating the students’ success in achieving the online learning goals are appropriately qualified and effectively supported.

MSCHE provides six points by which institutions can provide evidence that they are meeting this hallmark. Let’s break these down one at a time.

  • Online learning faculties are carefully selected, appropriately trained, frequently evaluated, and are marked by an acceptable level of turnover

Hopefully, this is already happening in any institution’s on-ground program, and so applying the same principles here should be relatively easy. However, one must also consider the “appropriately trained” part of the statement. (See below, also.) It is not enough simply to know how to teach, nor is it enough to know how to use a Learning Management System. Knowing how to teach online is the key here. There are different methods for engaging students in online courses than there are in on-ground courses. Take the lecture, for example. Many on-ground instructors still stick to the time-honored 45-minute lecture format. However, video recording that same 45-minute lecture and presenting it in a sit-n-get format in the LMS is a quick way to turn students into zombies who would rather do anything other than watch an instructor drone on. Even the most exuberant of instructors loses something in the conversion from live to video. It’s important to acknowledge that we must train our online instructors on not only the appropriate use of video but also the whole host of methods for engaging students in the online world.

  • The institution’s training program for online learning faculty is periodic, incorporates tested good practices in online learning pedagogy, and ensures competency with the range of software products used by the institution

Clearly, this point follows directly from that above. A good framework to bear in mind when developing training for faculty is Mishra and Koehler’s (2006) “TPACK” or Technological-Pedagogical Content Knowledge. The authors ground their research in Shulman’s (1986) Pedagogical Content Knowledge. Shulman argues that teaching teachers how to teach (pedagogy) should not be separated from the content that they are teaching. To use a trite example, teaching one group of instructors how to lead discussions in a history course is different from teaching another group of instructors how to lead discussions in a biology course. Mishra and Koehler add to this by saying that learning to teach with technology — and specifically, in this case, online — also should not be separated either from the pedagogy or the content. TPACK is at the center of the convergence of three circles: technology; pedagogy; and content. By covering all three bases, we can meet this second point.

  • Faculty are proficient and effectively supported in using the course management system

If we meet the above two points regarding training, we’ve won half of this battle. The key here is support. It is not enough just to give faculty one training on the LMS and say, “Go forth and conquer!” An effective training program will include ongoing support, not just for technical question (i.e., a Help Desk) but also for questions around instructional design and best practices. Technology is ever-changing; therefore knowledgeable support staff who are up-to-date with new technological tools and systems are required for maximum faculty effectiveness.

  • The office or persons responsible for online learning training programs are clearly identified and have the competencies to accomplish the tasks, including knowledge of the specialized resources and technical support available to support course development and delivery

This point is fairly straightforward, and I interpret this to mean that having a few go-to faculty super users is not enough to be considered a “training program.” Unfortunately, this happens often at smaller schools that do not have the budget to run their own training program. Fortunately, Pearson eCollege has the Academic Training & Consulting team, who can be engaged on an as-needed basis for training as well as the faculty instructional support discussed above.

  • Faculty members engaged in online learning share in the mission and goals of the institution and its programs and are provided the opportunities to contribute to the broader activities of the institution

While this point may sound a little too general to be implemented accurately, it is fairly straightforward: keep faculty in the loop. Too often, institutions with online programs — especially those that use a lot of adjunct instructors — simply put their faculty in front of computers and have them teach. But there is no broader context as to why they should teach for this institution, why they should teach online, what principles of the institution are important within all courses (online or otherwise), etc. Therefore, a structured communication system, be it via email distribution list, newsletter, or whatever, is required and indeed useful to make sure that all faculty are a part of the institution and serve to meet the institution’s mission and goals.

  • Students express satisfaction with the quality of the instruction provided by online learning faculty members.

Regarding this final point, the reader can probably see that it addresses the value of student evaluations of instructors and ensures that the data from these evaluations actually matter. Like Brian McKay Epp’s previous blog post about formative and summative evaluations of student work, it is important to have both formative and summative evaluation of instructors’ abilities to teach online. Insofar as formative data are used to reflect proficiencies and deficiencies in instruction, the information can be used to tailor training programs that meet individual instructors’ needs.

In sum, Hallmark #6 is a valuable and well-thought-out list of measures that ensures that faculty are ready to be the solid foundation of your online learning program. Pearson eCollege’s Academic Training & Consulting team is ready to help your institution meet this hallmark!

Works Cited

Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE). (2011, February). Interregional Guidelines for the Evaluation of Distance Education Programs (Online Learning). Retrieved Aug. 4, 2011 from

Mishra, P., & Koehler, M. J. (2006). Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge: A new framework for teacher knowledge. Teachers College Record 108 (6), 1017-1054.

Shulman, L.S. (1986). Those who understand: Knowledge growth in teaching. Educational Researcher, 15(2), 4 - 14.

Rob Kadel, Ph.D. | Training & Pedagogy Group, Academic Training & Consulting | Pearson eCollege


Hallmark #5: Evaluation

This is the fifth in a series of posts on the 9 Hallmarks of Quality for Distance Education programs that were developed by the Council of Regional Accrediting Commissions (C-RAC) earlier this year.

The institution evaluates the effectiveness of its online offerings, including the extent to which the online learning goals are achieved, and uses the results of its evaluations to enhance the attainment of the goals (MSCHE, 2011).

As institutions seek to develop a culture of assessment that meets increasingly stringent accreditor requirements, a myth prevails that a pre-defined template exists that elegantly solves this ill-structured problem. The truth is that accreditors defer most of the responsibility to the institution who must set their own mission (Hallmark #1), program goals, and individual course outlines that provide the learning experience required for students to demonstrate mastery of the curriculum. They evaluate the extent to which a school has developed an assessment approach that measures curricular and instructional effectiveness and shows how data is used to further the continuous improvement of student learning.

While this may be frustrating to read, there are definitely patterns and best practices that scholars of teaching and learning have developed which synthesize characteristics of successful accountability programs.

First, institutions must be purposeful in their assessment program which means there is a plan for what data to collect and how it will be used to improve student learning. A holistic assessment approach includes both formative and summative assessment within courses and at the program level so students have the ability to remediate their weaknesses before it’s too late. Programs new to assessment usually begin with evaluation of program level goals and move into course level assessment as they mature. Ideally, most assessment can be embedded within the course so faculty of record can gather the data as part of their ongoing student assessment workflow.

This leads to a second major challenge in that perfection can be the enemy of good – or even the ability to get better. Our partners often tell us they’re not ready for assessment and we see academic leaders go through numerous models in their heads without ever actually implementing anything. Getting started creates informed use which yields better questions and action plans going forward.

As we consult on assessment and methods to integrate technology into the outcome management process, we nearly always expose what seem like obvious gaps in curriculum and instruction. This is part of the continuous improvement process and the important thing is to remedy that gap and to then look for the next most critical issue to resolve.

Finally, I’ve often heard assessment experts encourage academic leaders to actually scale back the volume of data they’re collecting. As mentioned earlier, data is meaningless unless you take the time to analyze what you’ve gathered to diagnose gaps and to implement improvement action plans to address the gaps. So, you might consider assessing random samples of student artifacts instead of trying to assess every student each term or you can assess all students against an outcome but only evaluate the outcome every two years.

Our consultants have developed the following modules to support educators in meeting requirements for Hallmark #5.

  • Creating a Culture of Assessment
  • Writing Quality SLOs
  • Rubric Design
  • Curriculum Mapping (Institution > Program > Course)
  • SLOs and Impact on Course Design (Curriculum mapping within a course)
  • Fostering Faculty Ownership of Campus Assessment Culture
  • Closing the Loop - Ensuring that SLO Data Impacts Curriculum & Instruction

In addition to the purposeful management of student learning, Hallmark #5 also requires institutions to monitor and set goals for both in-course retention and student persistence through a degree program along with the effectiveness of an institution’s academic and support services (MSCHE, 2011). Again, our consultants can work with you to develop custom reports to track and monitor progress for retention and persistence with student activity and completion data from the LMS. We can also help to identify at-risk students to support the requirement to measure effectiveness of academic and support services although this component certainly requires additional offline analysis of process and services at the institution.

Let us know if you have recommendations for any additional content area we should develop or if you’d like more information on our consulting services.

Works Cited

Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE). (2011, February). Interregional Guidelines for the Evaluation of Distance Education Programs (Online Learning). Retrieved July 18, 2011 from

Brian Epp, M.Ed. | Assessment & Analytics Group, Academic Training & Consulting | Pearson eCollege


Hallmark #4: Curricula

We are continuing the series that explores the new set of outcomes from which online education will be evaluated. These outcomes represent elements of standardization and quality espoused by every regional (and now national) accreditor for implementation in December 2011.

As you may remember from previous posts in the series, we’ve looked at the following three Hallmarks: (1) Mission & Purpose, (2) Planning, and (3) Governance & Academic Oversight. Curricula is the 4th focus in the series of 9 Hallmarks of Quality for the Evaluation of Online Learning.

Hallmark #4: Curricula
“Curricula for the institution’s online learning offerings are coherent, cohesive, and comparable in academic rigor to programs offered in traditional instructional formats.”

From this statement, you may have immediately picked up on subjects revolving around the comparability of online programs to their on-ground counterparts. You may have also noticed reference to considerations of academic rigor, a concept which many have regarded as a characteristic of traditional education but a challenge (even an impossibility) for online ed (Sloan-C, 2010).

Even though this hallmark addresses the goals of coherence, cohesion and comparability between delivery modalities, you may be surprised to find that it also encompasses aspects of the student experience that you may not have originally gleaned.

For instance, consider that if your online courses and/or program would ever require an online student to come to campus, be it to take a test at a lab or to complete a special project, these expectations would have to be explicitly disclosed to the student upon their matriculation in an online program:

“Expectations for any required face-to-face, on-ground work (e.g., internships, specialized laboratory work) are stated clearly;”

While it is an effective (and expected) practice to inform students of such expectations ahead of time, this has not always been the case, and forecasting such needs will certainly layer implications to the administration of online programs.

Further, reflect on the implication that the general expectation will be that faculty and staff constituents of online programs would be well-versed in best practices of online learning, and that such knowledge would make itself evident and be reflected in the curriculum.

“The curricular goals and course objectives show that the institution or program has knowledge of the best uses of online learning in different disciplines and settings;”

We can begin to envision the initiatives that will need to be launched and the processes that will need to be evaluated in regards to the development of faculty and staff constituents and the observable manner in which such expertise will be infused in the development and deployment of the curriculum.

One may have initially considered the Hallmark of Curricula to be largely a faculty concern. However, there are also notable elements in the Analysis/Evidence that carry significant administrative responsibilities. Consider the following:

“Curriculum design and the course management system enable active faculty contribution to the learning environment;”

“Scheduling of online learning courses and programs provides students with a dependable pathway to ensure timely completion of degrees;”

“The institution or program has established and enforces a policy on online learning course enrollments to ensure faculty capacity to work appropriately with students;”

How will administrators go about ensuring that the Institution’s choice of course management system and the Institution’s policies and procedures concerning online course delivery will allow for “active faculty contribution”? Further, how will program administrators contend with the balance of administrative process regarding course offerings while planning for and delivering each online student a dependable pathway to program completion? With the great variance of online class sizes and faculty load, what will it mean for institutions to establish and enforce course enrollment policy that ensures faculty’s ability to address student needs? These, and many others, are the implied administrative responsibilities of the Hallmark of Curricula.

To complete our brief exploration of this fourth, in a series of nine Hallmarks of Quality, following are the remaining points of Analysis/Evidence as provided by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE, 2011):

“Curricula delivered through online learning are benchmarked against on-ground courses and programs, if provided by the institution, or those provided by traditional institutions;”

“The curriculum is coherent in its content and sequencing of courses and is effectively defined in easily available documents including course syllabi and program descriptions;”

“Course design and delivery supports student-student and faculty-student interaction;”

“Course and program structures provide schedule and support known to be effective in helping online learning students persist and succeed.”

Stay tuned for next week as we continue this series on the 9 Hallmarks of Quality in the Evaluation of Online Programs. We hope you enjoy exploring these along with us!

- Rachel Cubas, M.Sc -
Academic Trainer & Consultant
Assessment & Analytics Group, ATC Team


(MSCHE), M. S. (2011). Interregional Guidelines for the Evaluation of Distance Education Programs (Online Learning). Philadelphia: Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

Sloan-C. (2010). Class Differences: Online Education in the United States, 2010. Babson Park: Babson Survey Research Group.


Hallmark #2 – Planning

Fasten your seatbelt and hold on to your hat! This week we are going to talk about planning in regards to the Middle States Accreditation plan. While I say that a bit facetiously it is actually a little piece of the canvas which is part of a bigger more exciting piece of work.  By standardizing accreditation requirements nationwide for higher education online learning programs, those of us firmly planted in online learning programs can take a huge leap forward to demonstrate (with statistics, research and data) that what we are doing is not only catering to a growing market’s demands but doing so because the pedagogy and statistics show that our students are learning and competing and often exceeding their counterparts in fully online programs.

There are 9 hallmarks in the Middle States Accreditation plan and today we look closely at #2-Planning. On a side note, I will give you some background into this series of blogs. After an introduction to the overall Distance Education Programs--Interregional Guidelines for the Evaluation of Distance Education (Online Learning) each person on our team (the Academic Consulting team at Pearson eCollege) took a hallmark to focus on and fully explain. In the draw, I drew #2 Planning.

Now, as I plan for this blog (I deliberately chose the word plan in case you missed that) I can see how apropos it is that I have the planning topic. I am a planner to the point of a clinical neurosis some might say. I am the person who, when the seatbelt light goes off on an airplane as we pull into the gate, I get up and find my car keys and my credit card so when I get off the plane and get to the end of the very long walk to my car, I can jump in, start the car and proceed to pay for parking. Downtime is used for reflection and analysis but it is also a moment or two that can be used to take care of details and save time later on. So from the planner’s perspective, let’s look at hallmark #2.

With that statement of credibility (I am qualified to talk about planning because I am a neurotic planner in my day to day life), let us take a look at how EduKan, the consortium of online campuses for 6 Kansas community colleges, leads by example when it comes to these accreditation hallmarks. Some institutions will fret and have to hire consultants to comply when this becomes standard whereas other institutions, such as EduKan, will simply look at the list and say: “we already do that.”

Hallmark #2 reads:
The institution’s plans for developing, sustaining, and, if appropriate, expanding online learning offerings are integrated into its regular planning and evaluation processes (MSCHE Standard 2).

From the guidelines, analysis and evidence of this hallmark will review:

  • Development and ownership of plans for online learning extend beyond the administrators directly responsible for it and the programs directly using it;
  • Planning documents are explicit about any goals to increase numbers of programs provided through online learning courses and programs and/or numbers of students to be enrolled in them;
  • Plans for online learning are linked effectively to budget and technology planning to ensure adequate support for current and future offerings;
  • Plans for expanding online learning demonstrate the institution’s capacity to assure an appropriate level of quality;
  • The institution and its online learning programs have a track record of conducting needs analysis and of supporting programs.

So in asking how EduKan’s director Mark Sarver addresses the topic of planning, he replied that all aspects of the planning guideline are addressed through their Strategic Planning committee. The Strategic Planning committee for EduKan includes representatives from all jobs and roles within the organization. The group includes but is not limited to: academic deans, advisors, instructors, registrars, other administrators et. al. They devise a 3 year strategic plan which is created and agreed upon by all members of the committee. It is all encompassing to include goals, budget planning, technology planning, and indicators of success. The stakeholders on the committee then take the plan back to their respective groups and gain approval from those groups. As the committee meets every three years, they check the indicators of progress, document successes and adjust or re-define goals for the next three year plan. Statistics, reporting and data analysis provide the documentation needed to assure the required appropriate level of quality. The process is ongoing and it includes every role in the EduKan system to gain buy-in from all those with a role in the success of the online program and the consortium as a whole.

EduKan is not unique in this process. All institutions have a similar program or committee that examines, develops, implements and then reviews their overall plan for successfully educating the students who attend their institution and enrolls in their courses. If they have always been a traditionally on ground campus, this will have to expand to include the online goals above. If they already have an online component to their offerings, they will have to be sure they can document that they are addressing the analysis components above. Of the 9 hallmarks soon to be part of the accreditation process for online learning programs, number two might be one that you can check off as already being in place. Good luck!

-Pamela Kachka, M.A.Ed.-
Academic Consultant


Hallmark #1

As Jeff Borden mentioned last Wednesday, this week marks the first blog in a nine week series where the ATC Team will highlight each of the 9 Hallmarks for Quality Online Education.  If you missed it last week, the regional and national accreditors have agreed on a set of outcomes they will use to evaluate online institutions. So let’s take a look at the first hallmark: 

 Hallmark 1

Online learning is appropriate to the institution’s mission and purposes

As I sat down to think about what I would write, I found myself stumped. What could I write about?  This one‘s a “no-brainer”.  We’ve all been taught that, no matter what the industry, corporations, non-profits, all organizations MUST have a mission.   But as I continued to read the analysis/evidence section, I realized this is about more than simply having a mission, it’s about making sure online learning fits into the overall institutional mission.

In other words, quality online programs aren’t just a whim.  They aren’t implemented because every other college has online courses.  Quality programs are not quick money-making ventures designed to support the REAL programs.  Quality programs require extensive planning where the leadership answers questions like:

  •  How will online courses integrate with the current offerings?
  • How will online courses impact the student experience? 
  • Do we want online courses to attract new students to our programs or will we design them to support current student needs?
  • What will be the look and feel of our online environment?  How does this fit into our current environment?

 Most of us have at least heard about online programs where these questions likely were not considered prior to implementation - programs that offer a certain online course once every two years and students just have to wait.  Or we’ve heard about the institution known for its liberal arts education that suddenly offers an online MBA program for Executives.  Neither example assumes bad programs, but Hallmark #1 provides the guidance to help insure that online programs are properly incorporated into the big picture.

In some parts of this country, Chick-Fil-A is a fast food tradition.  Its most popular menu option being a chicken breast deep-fried in a pressure cooker and served a variety of ways: in a salad, as a sandwich, etc.  Chick-Fil-A is also known for their advertising campaigns where cows advocate that we all “Eat More Chikin”.  If you aren’t familiar with the restaurant and their ad campaign, visit the Chick-fil-a Cow Campaign.  This campaign has a national footprint and a 20 year history.  As a Chick-fil-a fan, I would be extremely concerned if the corporation suddenly decided to sell hamburgers. Such a move would cause me to question the leadership.  I’d wonder whether Chick-fil-a can cook a burger?  I would be concerned about the cow campaign.  What about the name of the restaurant? But the Chick-fil-a mission is to “Be America's Best Quick-Service Restaurant”.  So if they did decide to sell beef, they’d have to do extensive planning to address concerns like mine, but they could certainly make a case for it.  The point being, the accreditors are not concerned that institutions with online programs have a mission.  They are concerned that the program fits in, that it has a place in the big picture.  Even when it’s a reach, like beef at Chick-fil-a, that’s OK, as long as the planning work gets done and everyone can explain how all of the pieces fit together!

Kimberly Harwell

Reporting Analyst and Consultant


“One –minute” Papers in Online classes

As a formative assessment the “one-minute paper” has been well used by faculty. It can provide huge benefits for instructors to early identification of the definitions, concepts or theories that students do not understand. Cross and Angelo (1988) popularized this technique as one of a wide variety of quick “classroom assessment techniques” (CATs) —designed to provide instructors with anonymous feedback on what students are learning in class. Usually at the end of a class session or the beginning of the next session students are asked to write a one-minute paper in response to such questions as:

• What was the most important concept you learned in class today?
• What was the ‘muddiest’ or most confusing concept covered in today’s class?
• What do you still have questions about?

While this technique has been successfully used by on ground instructors for quite some time, to immediately alter course curriculum to clarify points for students, it has not commonly found its way over to the online environment. I believe the reason is that much of our online teaching is asynchronous and we have not been sure the technique would be as valuable or the process even feasible. It certainly would be difficult for the student to remain anonymous as initially designed. However, my belief is that with a slightly different work flow we can use the proven technique to great benefits for ourselves as instructors and our online students.

One common way we establish our online courses are through the use of modules or units. To integrate the “one minute paper” instructors can develop a small “one-five minute” quiz instead of a paper at the end of each section or module. You can use specific questions (fill in the blank, matching or multiple choice) to see if the students correctly understand surface level learning concepts and short answer questions to dive into deeper learning. The quiz may be set to a time limit of one to five minutes. The emphasis needs to be on immediate student reflection of learning. Try to use no more than 3-5 questions. This technique could certainly allow and should encourage students to briefly review their notes before proceeding to the “unit or section “quiz. You may also choose to place the quizzes before a new unit or multiple times within a module depending on your discipline and pedagogy.

It is important to explain to students that this is just one way for instructors to help ensure the knowledge opportunities provided to students are sufficiently meeting their learning needs. One-five minute knowledge checks on the concepts also provide a glimpse of what may appear on future course exams or required research papers and projects which could then lead to reduced student anxiety. As an incentive for the students to provide explicit and serious responses I would suggest some form of integration into your course grading schema.

In my online classes I have received very positive student feedback of the process and this has allowed me to regroup and provide multimodal learning opportunities. When we are face to face we can often look at the class and understand quickly the students that have no idea what we are trying to convey. It is even apparent at times that no students grasp the concept. Online this ability to perceive your students depth of learning is often not discovered until we issue summative assessments. Allowing formative assessment techniques to enhance and capture those “teachable moments” leads us all to greater real-time student success.

Angelo, T. A., & Cross, K.P. (1993) Classroom Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers, Second Edition. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Karen R. Owens, Ph.D. / Academic Assessment Consultant / Pearson eCollege