The first rubric I will look at in this first of a seven-part series looking at course evaluation rubrics is the California Community College’s Online Education Initiative rubric.
Who wrote it?
This rubric was created by the California Community College Chancellor’s Office to provide a checklist demonstrating that the online courses offered through the Online Education Initiative align with state standards; the accreditor, ACCJC’s Guide to Evaluating DE; and national standards (iNACOL). After reviewing the rubric, I think they did a good job of meeting and even exceeding those standards.
There are a couple of things I liked about the OEI rubric right away – it recognizes established standards (expressed in the rubric) and its primary use is for self-evaluation. This rubric is supported by a useful website from the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office called “Online Course Design Standards.” This page contains an explanation of how the rubric came about and there are links at the bottom of the page that provide the latest two versions of the rubric and training materials. Most importantly, it is all offered to the public with an open license (Creative Commons, CC-by which is their most flexible licensing) making it free use, unlike other options, such as “Quality Matters.” In their discussion of the license they ask for feedback which I think means that they are aware of the organic nature of our current understanding of how online education works.
What problems does this solve?
According to the site, “The Rubric is intended to establish standards relating to course design, interaction and collaboration, assessment, learner support, and accessibility in order to ensure the provision of a high quality learning environment that promotes student success and conforms to existing regulations.”
This has the potential to solve a number of issues with online courses, including communicating to instructors who are new to online learning what some of the differences might be between online and face-to-face teaching. In my experience, an instructor’s first impulse is to recreate as much as possible what happens in the face-to-face class online which we know doesn’t work.
“In order for a course to be offered as a part of the Online Education Initiative (OEI) course exchange, it must meet established standards relating to course design, instruction, and accessibility that are intended to promote a quality learning environment that conforms to existing regulations. Prior to the submission of a course for OEI consideration, it is helpful for the faculty member to review these guidelines and conduct a self-evaluation. The outcome of this self-evaluation is a component of the OEI Course Application process.” I think that self-evaluation component of this process is absolutely critical no matter which rubric you are using. The main reason is that the individual instructor is often the only person who understands the degree of interactivity a course might have. Each instructor has a different way of implementing successful online teaching techniques. If there is evidence for the implementation of successful teaching, it often has to be located first by the instructor. Instructors can use the rubric not only to fix problems with a less successful course but also to identify why the course or aspects of the course are successful.
What is in it?
The rubric has five sections each with several elements that are assessed in the first three (A,B, and C) as either Incomplete, Aligned, or Additional Exemplary Elements (which recognizes “design choices that further enhance the student experience in the online learning environment.” Sections D and E are marked either Incomplete or Aligned because they address elements that are required by law to be present.
Section A: Content Presentation
“The 13 elements for quality course design in this section address how content is
organized and accessed in the course management system. Key elements include
course navigation, learning objectives, and access to student support information.”
Section B: Interaction
“The 8 elements in this section address instructor initiated and student initiated
communication. Key elements of quality course design covered in this section include
regular effective contact, student-to-student collaboration, and communication activities
that build a sense of community among online learners.”
Section C: Assessment
“The 8 elements in this section address the variety and effectiveness of assessments
within the course. Key elements include the alignment of objectives and assessments,
the clarity of instructions for completing assessments, and evidence of timely and regular
Section D: Accessibility
“The 23 elements in this section are reviewed to determine if a student using assistive
technologies will be able to access course content as required by Section 508 of the
Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (also known as ‘508 Compliance’).”
Section E: Institutional Accessibility Concerns
“The 4 elements in this section cover accessibility of external tools and third-party
content. While the accessibility elements in Section D are primarily under the control of
faculty when developing a course, the elements in Section E may be outside the purview
of the instructor which would require additional consideration or intervention at the
I would estimate that a 5-unit online English 101 course could be reviewed by an experienced course reviewer using this rubric in about 6 to 8 hours. It is thorough, addresses the standards it claims to, and recognizes some of the difficulties in evaluating accessibility. There are opportunities in online course evaluation to create a larger project outside of the corporate model such as Quality Matters. The Creative Commons license on the OEI rubric means that others can not only use the rubric, but can share research data such as any changes in student success and completion rates for courses that were reviewed versus those that were not. The OEI rubric is an important step in that direction.
I will be looking for more research into the successful use of this rubric.
If you have any additional information or experiences with this rubric, please feel free to post a comment below.