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Fall 2020 Virtual Course Design Standards

All fall 2020 courses at Saint Louis University must – minimally – meet the following Fall 2020 Virtual Course Design Standards.

These criteria are a subset of the full University Online Course Design Standards developed by the University’s Distance Education Committee and approved by CADD in 2018. While less prescriptive and rigorous than SLU’s full Online Course Design Standards, these standards meet current requirements of both our institutional accreditor, the Higher Learning Commission, and the U.S. Department of Education (their requirements are also temporarily relaxed during this crisis).

This subset has been adopted specifically for fall 2020 to ensure quality distance education pedagogy institution-wide in case the COVID-19 pandemic again warrants virtual instruction.

To assist faculty in fall 2020 online course design, Blackboard courses will feature built-in elements of the Fall 2020 Virtual Course Design Standards. Additionally, this checklist provides instructions on how to customize Blackboard courses.

The staff of the Reinert Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning and SLU’s Distance Education Office are prepared to help you meet these minimum criteria. They can also share with you references from the rich scholarly literature on student learning that informs these standards. Please contact them early in your course planning process for assistance as needed.

Standard One: Basic course information is included in every course’s Blackboard site.  

The following elements of course information are required to be posted in every course’s Blackboard (Bb) site. A checklist is available to assist in adding information to Blackboard course sites.

  • A full course syllabus available as a printable document (typically in Word or PDF format).
    • Although elements of a syllabus may be presented in various sections of the course site, a complete syllabus (as defined by the academic unit or program and aligned with the University’s Course Syllabus Policy) must be present in the form of a downloadable/printable document.
    • This requirement ensures that the course syllabus is available beyond the life of the course, in case students or program leaders need to consult course policies/requirements in the future.
  • A full course overview that indicates where students should go first within the Blackboard site, where key course information is located on the site, a general description of how the course is structured (see Standard Two below), etc.
  • Course policies, as well as any applicable College/School policies (to be included within the syllabus or otherwise available on the Blackboard site); as noted below, standard University policies are automatically built into each Bb course site.
  • Instructor plans for response time and feedback on assignments.
    • Frequent feedback from the instructor increases learners’ sense of engagement in a course, timely feedback on assignments and promotes learning.
    • Learners are better able to manage their engagement in an online course when they know – upfront – when to expect instructor responses to: e-mails, discussion postings, assignments, etc.
    • Additionally, instructors must include, at multiple points throughout the term, how students will be informed about their current grade in the course.
    • Establishing clear parameters for response time can reduce the number of e-mails from students asking about feedback, and can enable instructors to establish sound boundaries for availability to respond to questions.
  • Virtual office hours and instructor contact information.
  • Etiquette expectations for online discussions, email, and other forms of communication and conduct.

Note: The following required elements will be pre-populated in all fall 2020 Blackboard course sites; there is no need to create or modify them.

  • Minimum course technology requirements, as well as information for students seeking resources to assist them in meeting those requirements.
  • University policies. 
  • Information for accessing student support services.
Standard Two: The course is organized by some form of discernible “units”: themes, topics, weeks/time period, etc.  
  • “Units” of all sorts serve as virtual “containers,” boundaries, or milestones for all the content and activities within a given unit of instruction. Organizing your virtual course by units — in whatever form is appropriate for the course — helps learners better understand the logic and flow of the course design, and enables them to better understand and organize their work for the course at various points throughout the term.
  • Units may include one or more concepts, themes, time periods, etc. They should contain all the key information — including links to all necessary readings/ content and required tools, information about all required activities, and (if appropriate) the distinct learning outcomes of the given unit — within the unit structure.
Standard Three: Copyright-protected course materials are accessed via links to SLU licensed content in Blackboard or to the SLU Libraries' Electronic Reserves system.  
  • Access to copyrighted materials used for instruction is granted based on evidence that an individual is a SLU student. When teaching in-person, the student’s presence in the classroom provides that evidence. With virtual instruction, evidence of an individual’s enrollment as a SLU student is verified using a SLU-issued username and password to access the copyrighted materials.
  • Under extraordinary circumstances, materials that cannot be licensed through the SLU Libraries or posted to Electronic Reserves may be posted to a password-protected location available only to students enrolled in the course. Contact your library liaison for assistance.
  • Distribution of/access to copyright-protected course materials should be limited to those materials necessary for course/instructional purposes, and to those selections that are necessary at a given time. For example, distribution of a scanned chapter or selection of pages (vs. an entire book/article) is prudent when only that portion of a full work is assigned.
  • See the “Course Content and Copyright Support” section of the Resources for Faculty Teaching Online page for additional information on Electronic Reserves and identifying licensed materials available through the SLU Libraries.
Standard Four: Course activities/requirements provide opportunities for multi-faceted interaction and support active engagement of students in the learning process.  
In a distance education context, it is essential that students demonstrate active engagement and that instructors actively foster interactions with and among students. Even the U.S. Department of Education and SLU’s accreditor, the Higher Learning Commission, require SLU to demonstrate that online courses foster meaningful interaction of three types:
  • Instructor-student
  • Student-course content
  • Student-student

Course designs should promote students’ active engagement in discovering, discussing, processing, or applying concepts and information. Reinert Center staff can assist you in developing and implementing strategies supporting active distance education.

Standard Five: The requirements for student interaction are clearly stated.
  • A clear explanation of the specific requirements for student interaction throughout the course helps students plan and manage their participation, and promotes students’ active involvement in the course.
  • Clearly-stated and detailed expectations also provide a better basis on which the instructor can evaluate student participation in the course. The more specific the description of expected interaction, the easier it is for students to meet those expectations and for instructors to evaluate student engagement.
Standard Six: The course explicitly addresses how and when instructors will provide regular feedback to students on their performance/achievement.
  • In face-to-face instruction, formative feedback to students often occurs during class meetings as well as ad-hoc conversations between instructors and other students. Additionally, instructors might be more readily accessible to respond to student questions.
  • In a distance education context, however, instructors must be more intentional about providing that same kind of formative feedback to students, and should account for it in their course designs and pedagogies.
  • Instructors should plan how they will engage students seeking verification that they “get it,” and that they are understanding the content.
  • Frequent, substantive, and timely feedback is critically important in the virtual learning environment, and doesn’t happen “naturally” in the ways that it can in a face-to-face context.
Standard Seven: The use of synchronous instruction is based on pedagogy, the instructor’s consideration of alternatives to synchronous instruction, as well as consideration of spring 2020 student feedback.
  • The propriety of, and/or the balance between, synchronous vs. asynchronous instruction should be informed by:
    • An understanding of the various contexts/environments of a course’s online students (including international and domestic students dispersed across multiple time zones)
    • An understanding of what pedagogical research in the appropriate discipline has shown to be most effective for students (and when and why)
    • An understanding of how students responded to the pivot to remote learning in Spring 2020; for many faculty, student responses to the end-of-term course evaluations will provide that data 
  • Faculty are encouraged to contact the Reinert Center and ITS to learn about software/hardware available to deliver instruction virtually. These resources can help faculty learn about their options for technologies to support distance education in their disciplines.
  • Input from faculty on needs for additional tools and technologies is being gathered. The University will use this information to identify technologies needed to deliver courses virtually and to allocate funding to obtain as many technologies as feasible.