Bridge to Quality: A QM Online Course Design Guide

Basic Edition*

Last updated: June, 2020

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How to Use This Guide

The phased, iterative approach outlined in this guide is best applied during a multi-week period set aside for course design. Each phase contains two or more sections organized in a tabular display. Each section contains several design steps organized in accordion lists. Select the “+” symbol to expand the accordion and “-” to collapse it. 

The process and steps recommended represent a path — where applicable — from emergency remote instruction successes to quality course design based on QM Higher Education Standards. Users of this guide should view the steps as a progression to achieving a quality online course that may ultimately meet QM Standards in an official course review.

Definition of Symbols

figure with spy glass standing on bridge facing right

This icon signals a Bridge Guide step or set of action items needed to complete one step within a section. Complete the step as much as possible before moving on to the next step in a section, but know that you can also come back — using the iterative approach — to refine or improve previous work.

three-pillared structure

This icon signals notations related to “foundational design.” Tasks with explanations next to this icon are directly related to designing a course to meet QM Specific Review Standards associated with the alignment of course components.

figure gesturing toward board with two figures listening in foreground

This icon signals notations related to synchronous components of a course and/or considerations for blended/hybrid courses. Refer to these for creating consistency between course elements used in the synchronous portions of a course with those used in the purely online format.

ambulance

This icon signals steps that you may have taken when using the QM Emergency Remote Instruction Checklist (ERIC) to transition your course from face-to-face to remotely delivered and/or hosted in an online platform (LMS or Google classroom). Not all Bridge Guide steps have ERIC equivalents.

alignment

This symbol indicates a Specific Review Standard included in the principle of alignment. When aligned, assessments, instructional materials, learning activities, and course technologies are directly tied to and support learning objectives.

Definition of Phases 

A phase of thoughtful pedagogic planning. Begin with foundational design: measurable learning objectives, aligned assessments, activities, materials, and technology. Plan your design (or evaluate your existing course) using an alignment map — a tool that identifies alignment gaps or mismatches. Assessments and course material are created in Phase 2.

Focus on designing activities, content, and technology to elevate presence, interaction and engagement in your course. Engaged learners feel a sense of belonging and are active participants in the online learning community. Active learning is vital to an engaging online course, and this phase will present a variety of considerations for engaging online learners.

Connect course components by organizing content into learning units. Use text or graphics to help learners connect learning activities and materials with learning objectives. Connect students with the appropriate information and resources to help them succeed.

Plan for Inclusivity

Due to the potential diversity of students enrolled in online, blended or otherwise technology-enhanced courses, aspects such as time zone, geographical location, language, and cultural/religious differences need to be taken into consideration. Instructors should acknowledge and show understanding of those matters and, whenever possible, make efforts to provide reasonable flexibility and accommodations for the increasingly diverse student population. Consider any issues your students might have in accessing required technology, including appropriate hardware and software requirements, as well as reliable internet access. Inclusion is a key determining factor in student success.

For example, ensure that assignment deadlines or dates/times for required synchronous sessions are very clear, reasonable and practical for all. Regarding language, keep in mind that English may be a second or foreign language to some students. When providing directions or explanations, use simple, professional, grammatically-correct English without idioms or slang heavily rooted in U.S. history or culture. If such language is relevant to the educational context, provide additional explanation or historical reference. In an effort to create a cohesive and safe learning environment, remind students to be sensitive to cultural or religious differences.

*QM members will have access to the Extended Edition of this guide — including a downloadable/printable PDF — in fall, 2020. 


Phase 1: Align

SECTION A — CONNECTING LEARNING OBJECTIVES AND ASSESSMENTS

  1. Begin evaluating alignment by first examining your learning objectives to ensure that they are measurable and at the right level for your students and the course.
  2. Next, you’ll start to use an “alignment map” to examine whether your assessments are aligned to your course objectives. In other words, consider whether your current assessments provide students with the opportunity to demonstrate that they have achieved the learning objectives. Each assessment should align with at least one learning objective. 

You can note on your Alignment Map where there is a disconnect between objectives and assessments, which can be addressed by editing or adding an assessment and/or an objective.

  • Design Step 1

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    Bridge to Quality Action Item

    Revisit your course learning objectives to ensure they use action verbs that can be assessed. Since your learning objectives form the basis for the entire design of the course, it’s important to create measurable course learning objectives, or course/program competencies.*

    (If you have module/unit-level learning objectives for your course, you’ll incorporate those later, in Phase 3.)

    This step corresponds to the first QM Alignment Standard. The other QM Alignment Standards will be noted with the foundational design icon shown at left. 

    *If you have institutionally-mandated course-level learning objectives that are not measurable but cannot be edited, you can temporarily plug in active/measurable verbs to move forward with your design.

    Relevant QM Higher Ed. Standard

    HE SRS 2.1 | The course learning objectives, or course/program competencies, describe outcomes that are measurable.

    alignment

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    Emergency Remote Instruction Quick Start: Not possible with time constraint.
  • Design Step 2

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    Examine the action verbs used in your learning objectives and ensure they are appropriate for the course level. 

    Make sure students have the chance to apply what they’re learning. Higher-level courses might focus more activities on the Bloom’s Taxonomy level of Application or above (analyze, evaluate, create, etc.).

    Relevant QM Higher Ed. Standard

    HE SRS 2.5 | The learning objectives or competencies are suited to the level of the course.

    alignment

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    Emergency Remote Instruction Quick Start: Not possible with time constraint.
  • Design Step 3

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    Plan assessments so they measure what students have been told they will be able to do when they complete the course.

    Begin to create an alignment map for your course. First assess alignment by ensuring that all assessments, both formative and summative, support the achievement of the course objectives. An example of lack of alignment: the learning objective is to “write a persuasive essay,” but the assessment is a multiple choice test. 

    Any misalignment you find can be addressed by either redesigning the assessment or editing the wording of the learning objective. At this stage in your design, you are creating an “assignment plan” by noting the type (exam, discussion, essay, etc.) and a brief description of the focus (e.g., students will take a summative essay exam where they will [insert relevant learning objectives here]). 

    Relevant QM Higher Ed. Standard

    HE SRS 3.1 | The assessments measure the achievement of the stated learning objectives or competencies.

    alignment

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    Emergency Remote Instruction Quick Start: Specifically explain how each activity or assignment is related to the course objectives and how you will evaluate submitted work.
     
    Just as you would in class, introduce an assignment by going over the instructions using text, audio, or video, providing relevant examples when useful/possible, and reminding students how the assignment is connected to learning objectives/outcomes. Include clear information, whether through an assignment prompt, rubric, or other means, about how the assignment will be graded.

 

QM Professional Development Options

If you need help with aligning learning objectives with the assessments, consider the Connecting Learning Objectives and Assessments workshop. If you’re interested in learning more about creating quality, aligned assessments, QM offers a dedicated web conferencing workshop package to help meet your assessment goals, called Assessing Learning Remotely.

SECTION B — CONTINUING YOUR ALIGNMENT MAP: LEARNING ACTIVITIES, INSTRUCTIONAL MATERIALS, AND TECHNOLOGY TOOLS

  1. Continue completing your alignment map by adding your learning activities. Learning activities are all the things that students will do during the course to achieve stated learning objectives. Learning activities online not only support students in meeting the desired learning outcomes, they also have many instructional connections that help students make sense of why they are completing the activities. 
  2. Next, you’ll add your instructional materials/content and your technology/tech tools to your alignment map. Instructional materials and technology are two critical components that are tied to any online learning activity. If either or both of these components are not aligned/not supporting the given activity, then the learning activity is difficult to complete. Students may feel they’re completing “busy work” because they do not understand why they have been asked to use the materials.
  • Design Step 1

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    Create and use activities that are directly relevant to, and support, the learning objectives of the course.

    Return to your alignment map, include and connect your activities to your course learning objectives. You’ve already included some learning activities under “Assessments,” here you would include everything you’re having students do to achieve the learning objectives that is not an assessment, such as an ungraded quiz, project or paper steps, or how you want students to engage with the instructional materials, such as “read,” “review,” or “summarize.” 

    Relevant QM Higher Ed. Standard

    HE SRS 5.1 | The learning activities promote the achievement of the stated learning objectives or competencies.

    alignment

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    Emergency Remote Instruction Quick Start: Not possible with time constraint.
  • Design Step 2

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    Choose and use instructional materials that are directly connected to the learning objectives. Whether you create, buy (have students purchase) or adapt free Open Educational Resources (OER), ensure these materials support the learning objectives.

    Return to your alignment map and describe how your instructional materials connect to each relevant assessment, and your course objectives. 

    Any misalignment you find can be addressed by either creating or finding new material to address a “gap” or eliminating or making material that is not aligned to an objective and assessment optional.

    Relevant QM Higher Ed. Standard

    HE SRS 4.1 | The instructional materials contribute to the achievement of the stated learning objectives or competencies.

    alignment

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    Emergency Remote Instruction Quick Start: Explain to your students how the learning materials help them complete courses activities and achieve the course learning objectives.
    Reflect on how you begin your face-to-face class sessions, and use that to create a module/unit introduction that is text-based or a short video that you record. You can post this as an Announcement or send via email. In this Module Introduction, explain to students how what they’re reading or watching that week connects to the course learning objectives.
  • Design Step 3

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    Choose and use tools that are directly relevant to, and support, the learning objectives of the course. Use technology and tools to support your pedagogical goals, rather than allowing technology to guide your design choices.

    Return to your alignment map and enter the tools and technology you plan to use with your course objectives. Ensure technology is supporting your learning goals, rather than setting them.

    Relevant QM Higher Ed. Standard

    HE SRS 6.1 | The tools used in the course support the learning objectives or competencies.

    alignment

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    Emergency Remote Instruction Quick Start: Not possible with time constraint.

 

QM Professional Development Options

If you need help with developing learning activities, QM offers the Using Instructional Materials and Technology to Promote Learner Engagement and the Assessing Your Learners workshops.

Phase 2: Engage

SECTION A — PROMOTE ACTIVE LEARNING AND ENGAGEMENT

Active, applied learning is vital for the online classroom, as passive learning often serves to further “distance” online students. In the design of your activities, strive for student engagement that supports active learning or learning by doing (application). 

Active learning can incorporate interaction as well, which is vital online to build a sense of belonging. Students can interact and engage with the content, with you, and with other students. All interactions should be meaningful. Course topic or class size may impact students’ ability to interact with one other, but students will always interact with their instructor and course material.

  1. As you continue your course design, determine how students will interact.
  2. Choose technologies that support the forms of interactions you want your students to participate in, but focus first on institutionally-supported technologies so students are assured appropriate technology help and security.
  3. Lastly, in this section, focus on your formative assessments and “knowledge-check” types of activities which engage students by providing them with opportunities to gauge their level of understanding and to receive feedback for improvement before moving on to summative assessments. Feedback can come either from you or via automated tools.
  • Design Step 1

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    Examine your learning activities holistically, and consider the degree or depth of opportunity your students have to apply what they’re learning while interacting with course material, peers, and their instructor. 

    Consider redesigning or creating new activities to promote greater interaction and active, applied learning if you feel more opportunities are needed. This step is a great opportunity to determine whether the type of activities you currently have are the best and most engaging and a chance to perhaps try activities beyond exams and essays.

     

    Relevant QM Higher Ed. Standard

    HE SRS 5.2 | Learning activities provide opportunities for interaction that support active learning.

    ambulance
    Emergency Remote Instruction Quick Start: Plan active learning opportunities and use course tools to meaningfully facilitate students’ interaction and active learning.
     
    Consider how students will continue to interact with one another, you, and course material by engaging with collaborative tools (e.g., Google docs, Wikis, Voice Thread), synchronous tools (e.g., Zoom, WebEx, Collaborate, Skype), and tools for asynchronous, online interaction (e.g., discussions, blogs, journals).
  • Design Step 2

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    Continue examining your activities, but now look at which tool or technology is being used. Determine how those tools support students engaging with one another, the instructor, and the course. As with the previous step, take the opportunity to focus on active engagement. 

    What do you want students to do? Typical interaction types and tools that can support those interactions:

    • Engage with you or other experts: announcements, email, video conferencing meetings, social media, instructor blog
    • Reflect on their learning: blogs, journals, concept or mind mapping tools, ePortfolios
    • Collaborate with other students on a final product: Group tools, wikis, Google docs, using breakout rooms for collaboration
    • Engage with each other: Discussion forums, blogs, peer feedback, using breakout rooms for think-pair-share

    Relevant QM Higher Ed. Standard

    HE SRS 6.2 | Course tools promote learner engagement and active learning.

    ambulance
    Emergency Remote Instruction Quick Start: Plan active learning opportunities, and use course tools to meaningfully facilitate learners’ interaction and active learning.
     
    Consider how students will continue to interact with one another, you, and course material by engaging with collaborative tools (e.g., Google docs, Wikis, Voice Thread), synchronous tools (e.g., Zoom, WebEx, Collaborate, Skype), and tools for asynchronous, online interaction (e.g., discussions, blogs, journals).
  • Design Step 3

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    Provide smaller, formative assessments as these are the primary way your students (and you) know whether or not they are understanding course material and concepts. It’s vital to include check-your-understanding assignments that create opportunities for you to provide robust feedback when it matters. 

    For example, use the LMS to develop reading quizzes before your next class meeting. Short, frequent quizzing helps you see where they are having trouble. Repetition reinforces learning. 

    Evaluate the timing and sequencing of the assessments to ensure that students have time to put your feedback to use.

    Relevant QM Higher Ed. Standard

    HE 3.5 SRS | The course provides learners with multiple opportunities to track their learning progress with timely feedback.

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    Emergency Remote Instruction Quick Start: Provide learners with timely feedback to enable them to track their learning progress.
     
    When teaching remotely, it’s important to include acknowledgement feedback as well – let students know, for example, that their assignments have been received. Additionally, provide informative feedback in a timely manner, so that students can use it to improve future coursework. If possible, consider including “knowledge check” types of activities via low-stakes, simple quizzes or simplified online discussions that reflect the activities you’d already planned for in-class work.

 

QM Professional Development Options

If you’d like to learn more about engagement and active learning online, there are several relevant web conferencing workshops in the Assessing Learning Remotely package. If you need help with developing learning activities, QM offers the Using Instructional Materials and Technology to Promote Learner Engagement and the Assessing Your Learners workshops. 

SECTION B — CHOOSING AND CREATING CONTENT

  1. Instructional materials include several considerations for the online learning environment. As professional educators, we model the academic integrity that we expect from our students by clearly identifying the source material and appropriate copyright. 
  2. In this section, examine your content for currency, and look holistically at your content to ensure a variety in type. 
  3. Keep in mind that students should be able to easily access and use all material. For example, videos should be relatively short and have clear audio, and have closed captions. All content, including text in the course itself, should be readable.
  4. Finally, be proactive in meeting accessibility requirements for text, images, and multimedia. When choosing content, focus first on material that is already accessible, and explore ways to create accessible content yourself.
  • Design Step 1

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    Review the instructional materials in your course to ensure that students aren’t engaging solely with one type of instructional material, such as only the textbook or only recorded lectures. 

    A key benefit of the online classroom is the ability to incorporate engaging materials, including multimedia materials, such as videos, interactive games, podcasts, etc. to increase cognitive engagement, present subjects from different perspectives or in ways that respect different learning preferences. 
    Many quality materials are available for educational use. Check with your textbook publisher to see what materials have already been created for your use.

    Relevant QM Higher Ed. Standard

    HE SRS 4.5 | A variety of instructional materials is used in the course.

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    Emergency Remote Instruction Quick Start: Not possible with time constraint.

  • Design Step 2

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    Ensure that the materials in your course represent timely ideas and practice within your discipline. This does not pertain to older, foundational pieces and does not immediately dismiss older textbook options.

    Relevant QM Higher Ed. Standard

    HE SRS 4.4 | The instructional materials represent up-to-date theory and practice in the discipline.

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    Emergency Remote Instruction Quick Start: Not possible with time constraint.

  • Design Step 3

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    Review your course, including any new or redesigned instructional components, journal articles, linked works, materials, etc. to ensure that all non-original work is appropriately referenced.

    Images used in presentations must include an appropriate citation, even if they are only used in synchronous settings. Model for your students the attribution practices you expect from them, and that are in compliance with any governmental copyright laws and institutional policies.

    Relevant QM Higher Ed. Standard

    HE SRS 4.3 | The course models the academic integrity expected of learners by providing both source references and permissions for use of instructional materials.

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    Emergency Remote Instruction Quick Start: Provide appropriate citations and permissions for the materials you use in your course.

    Focus on material and images that are Creative Commons licensed and learn more about Fair Use and other copyright laws by connecting with your institutional librarians. Share your sources of information to help students better understand proper attribution and how to avoid plagiarism.

  • Design Step 4

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    Ensure your course materials facilitate readability and minimize distractions. Readability includes breaking up large blocks of text that are read on-screen. 

    Check font size, type, and color. For example, a small font may be too difficult to read, and using color alone to convey meaning should be avoided.

    Color-coding should not be used unless other ways of noting difference are also included. 

    Avoid too much color or images that are purely decorative and do not add to students’ learning, as this could be a cognitive distraction for some students.

    If displaying materials during a synchronous session, ensure readability of those materials, such as presentation slides, or any material you might share from the web.

    Relevant QM Higher Ed. Standard

    HE SRS 8.2 | The course design facilitates readability.

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    Emergency Remote Instruction Quick Start: Not possible with time constraint.

  • Design Step 5

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    Ensure that the audio quality is good for all videos and audio files, and avoid videos that are too long. Ten to fifteen minutes or less is a good rule of thumb for video length. 

    Longer videos can always be “chunked,” which is best for technology, accessibility, and brain-based learning.

    Be aware of video resolution so that playback controls remain visible on the screen.

    Relevant QM Higher Ed. Standard

    HE SRS 8.5 | Course multimedia facilitate ease of use.

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    Emergency Remote Instruction Quick Start: Consider using short multimedia pieces for interaction, and make sure students have easy access to any software, plugs-ins, etc. they’ll need to access the multimedia content.

    If you’re comfortable, explore using video as a way to connect with your face-to-face students, by posting short webcam announcements, recording shorter online lectures, or giving students screencasted feedback for assignments.  Whether it’s existing video material or a new recording you create, however, refrain from sharing videos longer than 10 minutes. Instead, consider breaking up longer videos into shorter chunks.

  • Design Step 6

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    Providing accessible material is vital to online student success and also ensures your courses are in compliance with governmental policies regarding accessibility. 

    All students should be provided with accessible text and image files, including web pages. Software such as MS Office and Adobe Acrobat Pro include accessibility checkers you can use., Seek accessible material from the beginning. Examine any publisher material or resources you are using to ensure their accessibility. 

    Determine if PDFs you wish to use are image scans or have selectable text. Connect with your appropriate institutional accessibility office early on for guidance.

    Relevant QM Higher Ed. Standard

    HE SRS 8.3 | The course provides accessible text and images in files, documents, LMS pages, and web pages to meet the needs of diverse learners.

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    Emergency Remote Instruction Quick Start: Not possible with time constraint.

  • Design Step 7

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    Multimedia content — such as videos or simulations — has specific accessibility considerations. Videos should be captioned, and any interactive content, including publisher material, should be accessible. 

    Source accessible videos and connect with your institutional accessibility support office for more guidance.

    Synchronous interaction has unique accessibility concerns, including live captions for synchronous presentations.

    Relevant QM Higher Ed. Standard

    HE SRS 8.4 | The course provides alternative means of access to multimedia content in formats that meet the needs of diverse learners.

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    Emergency Remote Instruction Quick Start: Not possible with time constraint.

 

QM Professional Development Options

If you need help with creating and assuring your content is accessible, QM offers the Addressing Accessibility and Usability workshop as well as the Making Materials Accessible dedicated web conferencing workshop series. QM also offers the Instructional Materials for Online Teaching dedicated web conferencing workshop series, which helps connect the materials to objectives and different approaches for content in the online classroom. QM also provides the  Accessibility & Usability Resource Site (AURS) as a free, public resource to help you with making your materials accessible. Community members created the content and monitor discussion forums.

SECTION C — UTILIZING TECHNOLOGY 

Institutions choose, acquire, and support specific educational technologies to foster digital learning. Focus first on institutionally-supported technologies so students have dedicated technical help if needed, and have protections for their privacy and data. 

If your course has needs for technologies beyond those that are institutionally-supported, it is incumbent upon you as the instructor to understand the privacy and data protections for students in addition to the accessibility level of the tool that will impact your students. 

In this section, focus on ensuring that: 

  1. The course uses a variety of technology and tools.
  2. Students can protect their privacy. 
  3. The technologies used are accessible.
  4. Students can receive help to appropriately use the technology.
  • Design Step 1

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    Determine which technologies and tools students will use and examine them for type and function.

    Take a holistic view of the technology used to ensure that the course is not designed only around one technology. For example, a course might only use discussions, but a blog or reflective journal might be a better pedagogical fit for one or more of the existing discussions. Other technologies — such as videos or apps — may be useful to integrate depending on the discipline.

    Relevant QM Higher Ed. Standard

    HE SRS 6.3 | A variety of technology is used in the course.

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    Emergency Remote Instruction Quick Start: Not possible with time constraint.

  • Design Step 2

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    Check with your appropriate institutional office to see what policies regarding protecting student privacy and data are in effect. 

    Consider that choosing to use technologies not vetted by your institution might pose a data risk to you, your institution and/or your students. Be sure to read the provider’s Privacy Policy and determine how students can protect their privacy and data. Communicate to students clearly how they can protect their privacy and data.

    There are unique privacy and security risks with synchronous technologies. Consult with your appropriate institutional office and also read the privacy policy for any non-institutionally supported synchronous technology that you choose to use so that you are aware of how you and  your institution protect students’ data and privacy in synchronous interaction. Then, communicate those policies and protections to your students.

    Relevant QM Higher Ed. Standard

    HE SRS 6.4 | The course provides learners with information on protecting their data and privacy. 

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    Emergency Remote Instruction Quick Start: Provide learners with information on protecting their data and privacy for tools introduced or recommended throughout the course.

    As the easiest approach, keep all course work inside your institutional LMS. For anything outside of that where students will have to create an account, submit material, etc., ensure that FERPA and other institutional policies regarding student privacy are being followed.

  • Design Step 3

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    Technologies — such as the LMS — that online students are required to use should be accessible. 

    Check with the technology provider and/or your appropriate institutional office to secure the accessibility statement, which can be linked or included in your course. 

    Evaluate the accessibility of tools and technologies that are not supported by your school or district. Ask the vendor for the Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT) to evaluate how accessible the technology is for your students.

    Synchronous technologies may have unique accessibility considerations. Ensure all technologies that students are using in all modalities are accessible.

    Relevant QM Higher Ed. Standard

    HE SRS 8.6 | Vendor accessibility statements are provided for all technologies required in the course.

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    Emergency Remote Instruction Quick Start: Not possible with time constraint.

  • Design Step 4

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    Determine all the different technical support students might need (e.g., LMS, hardware, software, etc.). Communicate to students about the support available and how they can connect with that support office or person. 

    Include links to any relevant technology training that students could complete as another means of technical support and help.

    Students may have unique support needs for synchronous technologies. Ensure they know what help is available and how to obtain assistance.

    Relevant QM Higher Ed. Standard

    HE SRS 7.1 | The course instructions articulate or link to a clear description of the technical support offered and how to obtain it.

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    Emergency Remote Instruction Quick Start: Identify where you and your students can receive prompt support for technology used in the course, and inform students in advance about what technologies they will need to acquire and/or use and how to find support.

    List the technology help contact information for your institution, as well as a brief description of the help that is offered. Include links for software students might need to download, such as web conferencing software, as well as links to student tutorials for using the technology.

SECTION D — ESTABLISH PRESENCE & FACILITATE INTERACTION 

The elements of Teaching, Social, and Cognitive Presence comprise the Community of Inquiry Framework, and they all begin with the design of your course.
In this section: 

  1. Create and communicate the planned interaction between you and your students, and also explain to students how to interact with you, with peers, and with the course itself.
  2. Design introductions for both yourself and your students, which helps increase the feeling of "presence" in the online course.
  • Design Step 1

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    Quality online teaching relies heavily on teaching presence, which begins with the design of the course. Whether in the syllabus, in the assignment instructions or in discussion forums, let students know how and when you will interact with them — either as a group or by providing individualized feedback. 

    Provide realistic time frames so they know when to expect to hear back from you. Being present online means interacting with students in multiple ways at multiple times each and every week, just as you would face-to-face. However, like everything online, it must first be planned into the design of the course. Communicate to students all the ways you will be present with them throughout the course.

    Relevant QM Higher Ed. Standard

    HE SRS 5.3 | The instructor’s plan for interacting with learners during the course is clearly stated.

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    Emergency Remote Instruction Quick Start: Tell learners what to expect from you and when to expect it.

    Tell students when they will receive an answer to an emailed question (e.g., 24 hours, 48 hours, etc.) and when they can expect assignment grades and feedback.

  • Design Step 2

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    Even experienced online students need guidance on how to interact with each other, their instructor and the course itself. What does “participation” look like in an online class? State how much time students can expect to spend on coursework each week. Describe how students should interact with peers on the discussion board and elsewhere.

    If there are different requirements for interacting synchronously, include policies and guidelines for synchronous discussions and materials that are appropriate to share during synchronous interaction, as well as consequences for inappropriate behavior.

    Relevant QM Higher Ed. Standard

    HE SRS 5.4 | The requirements for learner interaction are clearly stated.

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    Emergency Remote Instruction Quick Start: Address communication and interaction expectations.

    Explain to students how they should contact you (email, via online office hours, through the LMS, etc.), how often they should log in to the class site, which activities are synchronous vs. asynchronous, and any guidelines for communicating with peers (e.g., professional communication, “Netiquette,, etc.).

  • Design Step 3

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    Online students need guidance and directions on how to communicate professionally in different formats — including digital and written communication. Include course policies that ask students to log in a certain number of times per week to ensure they are keeping up with the pace of the course. Provide information on course “netiquette” and digital communication with peers.

    Synchronous interaction, whether online or face-to-face, often has different communication guidelines. Develop guidelines for students communicating via web conferencing, especially how they should approach any synchronous interaction that is connected to assessment (e.g., a synchronous discussion connected to a grade, delivering a presentation to the class, etc.).

    Relevant QM Higher Ed. Standard

    HE SRS 1.3 | Communication expectations for online discussions, email, and other forms of interaction are clearly stated.

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    Emergency Remote Instruction Quick Start: Address communication and interaction expectations.

    Explain to students how they should contact you (email, via online office hours, through the LMS, etc.), how often they should log in to the class site, which activities are synchronous vs. asynchronous, and any guidelines for communicating with peers (e.g., professional communication, “Netiquette,” etc.).

  • Design Step 4

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    Welcome students to the course the same way you would on Day 1 of a face-to-face class. 
    Include information on why you love teaching the class, your academic background and what students can expect from you as the instructor. Provide a picture with text or create a short video so students can hear your voice, see you, and experience your communication style.

    Use synchronous class time to introduce yourself, and model professional, synchronous communication for students.

    Relevant QM Higher Ed. Standard

    HE SRS 1.8 | The self-introduction by the instructor is professional and is available online.

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    Emergency Remote Instruction Quick Start: Not possible with time constraint.

  • Design Step 5

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    Include a self-introduction discussion activity that guides students to introduce themselves, such as giving their academic background, major, their goals for the class and a picture. 

    You can get a bit creative with student introduction prompts, as they are a great way to elevate social presence and get students connected and engaged early on.

    Synchronous introductions might be done during class time for smaller classes. Otherwise, you could consider using the option of creating an introduction assignment within the LMS, and then extend the conversation to the next synchronous session.

    Relevant QM Higher Ed. Standard

    HE SRS 1.9 | Learners are asked to introduce themselves to the class.

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    Emergency Remote Instruction Quick Start: Create a sense of community by encouraging and guiding learners to introduce themselves in the online classroom/platform and/or engage in online discussions.

    An early “introduction discussion” activity gets students using the LMS discussion tool, which they may need for upcoming assignments. If the class has already begun, however, students may have already done an in-class introduction. In this case, consider a different angle for a “get to know you” discussion post, such as describing where they’re logging in from. Activities such as these may seem unimportant, but they can be vital in helping students feel connected to you and their peers in ways that build rapport and camaraderie.

 

QM Professional Development Options

If you need help with developing presence, QM offers the Creating Presence in Your Online Course workshop.

Phase 3: Connect

SECTION A — ORGANIZING YOUR CONTENT INTO MODULES

  1. First, organize your course into learning units, also called modules. For example, you can organize by week or by thematic unit. This is the organizational structure that you will construct in the learning management system (LMS). Check with your appropriate institutional office to determine if there is an LMS template that can help you get started with good navigation, incorporated help links, or other institutional resources. Begin building your course in the LMS at any point in Phase 3. 
  2. At this point in your design, you have completed an alignment map, which gives you a macro-level view of your course. Your next step is to organize all your aligned assessments, activities, and materials into modules.  As you organize, determine the sequencing of assessments so that students have time to receive and use your assignment feedback. 
  3. Each module has its own, discrete set of learning objectives called module objectives, which is what you will create next. What you are having students do in each module serves as the blueprint for writing your module objectives. Writing your module objectives can serve as a final alignment “check,” as you look to the content/activity/assessment alignment within the module and write that as an objective that begins with an “active” or measurable verb. 
  4. Finally, check to ensure your module learning objectives align well with your course learning objectives by filling them in on your alignment map.
  • Design Step 1

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    Create measurable objectives for your modules/units/weeks and connect them to your course-level objectives. 

    It is easiest to draft these after you’ve designed an individual module by examining what students will do/perform in the assessments.

    The module objectives state in discrete, concise language what students will be able to do by the end of that module. Writing the module objectives is a reflection of the alignment between the content and the activities/assessments you have in each learning unit. Taken as a whole, aligning your module objectives to your course learning objectives is the final step in completing the alignment map of your course. (If you’ve gotten to this step, well done!)

    Relevant QM Higher Ed. Standard

    HE SRS 2.2 | The module/unit-level learning objectives or competencies describe outcomes that are measurable and consistent with the course level objectives or competencies.

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    Emergency Remote Instruction Quick Start: Not possible with time constraint.
  • Design Step 2

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    Write objectives so students can easily understand what is expected in terms of learning achievement. Include them in places that are easy to locate such as the syllabus or Start Here area. 

    Students need to understand from the first day what they will be able to do by the end of the course.

    Relevant QM Higher Ed. Standard

    HE SRS 2.3 | Learning objectives or competencies are stated clearly, are written from the learner’s perspective, and are prominently located in the course.

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    Emergency Remote Instruction Quick Start: Not possible with time constraint.

 

QM Professional Development Options

If you need help with developing modules, QM offers the Designing Your Online Course workshop which enables you to create a module using an alignment map, providing a framework for organizing modules/units/weeks of your course. The Designing Your Blended Course workshop may fit your needs if you plan to offer a blended or hybrid course.

SECTION B — MAKE CONNECTIONS FOR STUDENTS

In this section, make learning connections transparent, just as you would face-to-face when introducing a topic, an assessment, or an activity that asks students to engage with the content. Online, we often can’t tell if students know why we’re asking them to focus their learning efforts in a particular way or if they think something is “busy work.” Students may not understand why they are being asked to, for example, read a certain chapter or view a particular video if they don’t see the connection to doing well on an assessment or achieving a learning objective. These connections can be made in various ways, including text and graphics, but think of it as directly communicating to students the alignment of course components.  

Guide your students purposefully along the learning path you’ve designed by:

  1. Helping them connect their use of course materials to completing learning activities. 
  2. Connecting the activities to objectives.
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    Incorporate alignment visibly into your online course by connecting what students are reading, watching or otherwise engaging with to how they will use the material on specific activities. This facilitates achievement of course objectives. 

    Explain each piece of material and include it within the associated assignment prompt.

    If you are using the flipped approach, remind students of the material-activity linkage prior to beginning activities while together in a synchronous setting. Alternatively, remind students how the material they are interacting with during a synchronous session is connected with upcoming learning activities.

    Relevant QM Higher Ed. Standard

    HE SRS 4.2 | The relationship between the use of instructional materials in the course and completing learning activities is clearly explained.

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    Emergency Remote Instruction Quick Start: Explain to your students how the learning materials help them complete courses activities and achieve the course learning objectives.

    Reflect on how you begin your face-to-face class sessions, and use that to create a module/unit introduction that is text-based or a short video that you record. You can post this as an Announcement or send via email. In this Module Introduction, explain to students how what they’re reading or watching that week connects to the course learning objectives.

  • Design Step 2

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    Explain to your students how the activities required of them are related to the objectives they are designed to support. 

    Make this relationship clear via the layout of the module by including a course map, via announcements or module introductions — similar to how you would make connections for students in-person.

    Especially if you are using the flipped approach in a hybrid or synchronous course, use class time to reinforce the connection between what students are doing (activities) and their achievement of the learning objectives.

    Relevant QM Higher Ed. Standard

    HE SRS 2.4 | The relationship between learning objectives or competencies and learning activities is clearly stated.

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    Emergency Remote Instruction Quick Start: Specifically explain how each activity or assignment is related to the course objectives and how you will evaluate submitted work.

    Just as you would in class, introduce an assignment by going over the instructions using text, audio, or video, providing relevant examples when useful/possible, and reminding students how the assignment is connected to learning objectives/outcomes. Include clear information, whether through an assignment prompt, rubric, or other means, about how the assignment will be graded.

 

QM Professional Development Options

If you need help with developing modules, QM offers the Designing Your Online Course workshop which enables you to create a module using an alignment map, providing a framework for organizing modules/units/weeks of your course. The Designing Your Blended Course workshop may fit your needs if you plan to offer a blended or hybrid course.

SECTION C — ASSESSMENT CHECK

In Phase 1, you created your aligned assessment ideas/plan, now create the digital assessments, such as exam or quiz questions, discussion or journal prompts, or group activities. This is not listed as a separate step below, as you’ve already designed the plan for aligned assessments, and the creation of those assessments can happen in various ways, such as constructing exam questions or reflective journal prompts directly in the LMS or creating scenarios that form the basis for a class discussion.

  1. In this section, first develop instructions/prompts for those assessments to ensure students know what to do and how they will be evaluated. Clear prompts or rubrics lessen clarifying questions from students as they are completing course assessments and is the online equivalent to discussing upcoming assignments in a face-to-face class. 
  2. It’s also time to define how work is graded, explain how students will be evaluated, and place the grading policy in the course so students have this information on the first day.  
  3. Lastly, you’ll take a final, holistic view of your assessments to ensure they are of various types and are also appropriately sequenced to allow students to progress to the appropriate level of mastery.
  • Design Step 1

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    Create assessments that are appropriate to the course level, and are structured and sequenced to encourage cognitive growth and mastery. For example, larger papers might be sequenced from topic to outline to draft and then to final paper. 

    Take a holistic view of the types of assessments in the course, and ensure that students have multiple ways to check their understanding and demonstrate their learning achievement. For example, you might include discussion of a case study or a private, reflective journal to augment a number of course quizzes and exams.

    Relevant QM Higher Ed. Standard

    HE 3.4 SRS | The assessments used are sequenced, varied, and suited to the level of the course.

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    Emergency Remote Instruction Quick Start: Not possible with time constraint.

  • Design Step 2

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    Explain to students how each assessment will be evaluated by using clear instructions and connecting their work to both evaluation criteria and achievement of course objectives. 
    You might do this through text associated with the assessment, by creating a clear assignment prompt via a rubric, or in other ways that work well for your course and your students.

    If there are graded components of synchronous interaction, students will need clear directions or instructions for how their participation, etc. will be evaluated.

    Talk through assignment prompts and take additional questions during a synchronous class session or during office hours.

    Relevant QM Higher Ed. Standard

    HE SRS 3.3 | Specific and descriptive criteria are provided for the evaluation of learners’ work, and their connection to the course grading policy is clearly explained.

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    Emergency Remote Instruction Quick Start: Specifically explain how each activity or assignment is related to the course objectives and how you will evaluate submitted work.

    Just as you would in class, introduce an assignment by going over the instructions using text, audio, or video, providing relevant examples when useful/possible, and reminding students how the assignment is connected to learning objectives/outcomes. Include clear information, whether through an assignment prompt, rubric, or other means, about how the assignment will be graded.

  • Design Step 3

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    Ensure the point value (or percentage value) of all assignments and assessments is clearly communicated, including weighted components. Explain how grades will be calculated. Include policies for late or missed work.

    If there are grades attached to synchronous activity, the grading policy for those assignments might need additional explanation.

    Relevant QM Higher Ed. Standard

    HE SRS 3.2 | The course grading policy is stated clearly at the beginning of the course.

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    Emergency Remote Instruction Quick Start: Provide instructions on how learners can access their grades.

    Explain to students how they will receive grades, how to view grades online, etc. Depending on how long you will be remote teaching, you may want to set up an online gradebook so that students can determine their current course grade as well.

 

QM Professional Development Options

If you need help with assessments, QM offers the Assessing Learning Remotely dedicated web conferencing workshop series, Assessing Your Learners, and Connecting Learning Objectives and Assessments workshops to help with these design decisions.

SECTION D —TELL YOUR STUDENTS HOW YOUR COURSE IS STRUCTURED & HOW TO GET HELP

In the face-to-face classroom, students know where to sit in your classroom and that the instructor will be in the front of the room. Online, the framework for how to get to the course, what to do once students log in, how to find assignments, and how to move through the course is not readily apparent. You must make these things visible for your students. Now that the design has been completed in the alignment map and then built in the learning management system or other digital learning environment, tell students: 

  1. How to proceed through the course. 
  2. What the relevant course and institutional policies are.
  3. How they can access help online.
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    Course navigation and organization can have a significant impact on student learning. If students cannot quickly locate important course items, they may waste time, feel frustrated, and/or experience an increased cognitive load, all of which can negatively impact learning. 

    Add direction on how to move to the next item in the course. Let students know where they are and where they should go next.

    Ensure that students’ movement between course elements is logical and that students know how to navigate between online materials and synchronous interaction.

    Relevant QM Higher Ed. Standard

    HE SRS 8.1 | Course navigation facilitates ease of use.

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    Emergency Remote Instruction Quick Start: Organize your course online to guide students along the learning path and help them progressively navigate through the course each week.

    Focus on organizing weekly modules/learning units into folders that contain the materials and assignment information students will need for that week. If possible, also add explanation and context by including a module introduction and/or summary, information on how materials and assignments are connected to learning objectives, and assignments prompts and/or rubrics.

  • Design Step 2

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    Create a Start Here area on the course home page. Include your text or video “welcome message,” the syllabus and schedule, and the first few things you want students to do to get started. Use text or a captioned “course orientation” screencast to explain to students what to do first and where to find important course tools and components.

    If connecting with students synchronously, dedicate time during the first meeting to help orient students to how they can get started interacting with web conferencing software, etc.

    Relevant QM Higher Ed. Standard

    HE SRS 1.1 | Instructions make clear how to get started and where to find various course components.

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    Emergency Remote Instruction Quick Start: Provide explicit directions and comparisons of the structure of the online version with the face-to-face version, clearly identifying where students can find course components and what they should do to get started.

    Explain how the remote class will be structured, if students need to log on for synchronous sessions (and how), where they can find assignment information, and how they should submit assignments.

  • Design Step 3

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    Describe the focus and purpose of the course, making real-world connections if possible. Provide an overview of the schedule, highlighting some prominent activities, so students will have a basic understanding of the types of learning activities they will be engaging with. Take students through a typical module to showcase the structure via a screencast or other means.

    Determine the module structure and the “pace” of the course. State if you want students to complete activities in a certain order, such as read/watch first, then complete a particular assignment.

    If the course has any type of synchronous or hybrid component, purposefully design the activities accordingly. Decide what students will do on their own and what the class will do when they meet virtually or in person. Consider the flipped pedagogical approach, where students engage with instructional material on their own in preparation for application or dialogue when the class convenes. Clearly explain in the syllabus, on the Home Page, etc. how the class will be structured, and explain how this structure will help students learn.

    Relevant QM Higher Ed. Standard

    HE SRS 1.2 | Learners are introduced to the purpose and structure of the course.

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    Emergency Remote Instruction Quick Start: Provide explicit directions and comparisons of the structure of the online version with the face-to-face version, clearly identifying where students can find course components and what they should do to get started.

    Explain how the remote class will be structured, if students need to log on for synchronous sessions (and how), where they can find assignment information, and how they should submit assignments.sm.

  • Design Step 4

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    Include in your syllabus any online-learning specific course or institutional policies, for example:

    • Attendance
    • Participation
    • Accessibility
    • Online Student Conduct

    Add any policy addendums you might need for hybrid, hyflex, or courses with a synchronous online component. For example: How can students “make up” a missed class session if they could not connect due to technology issues? If there are options for attendance in a “Hyflex” course, state all options clearly to help students decide the best modality for them, and explain if students can switch modalities.

    Relevant QM Higher Ed. Standard

    HE SRS 1.4 | Course and institutional policies with which the learner is expected to comply are clearly stated within the course, or a link to current policies is provided.

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    Emergency Remote Instruction Quick Start: Directly identify any relevant changes to any course and institutional policies.

    Let students know immediately if there are changes to due dates/times for assignments.

  • Design Step 5

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    Ensure students are aware of and can obtain all the technology they will need to be successful, including: 

    • Hardware requirements
    • Whether they can use their mobile device
    • Software needed such as Microsoft Office

    Students using synchronous technologies may have additional technology requirements. Explain if students will need a headset and webcam, what web conferencing software the class will use, and how to obtain it.

    Relevant QM Higher Ed. Standard

    HE SRS 1.5 | Minimum technology requirements for the course are clearly stated, and information on how to obtain the technologies is provided.

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    Emergency Remote Instruction Quick Start: Identify where you and your students can receive prompt support for technology used in the course, and inform students in advance about what technologies they will need to acquire and/or use, and how to find support.

    List the technology help contact information for your institution, as well as a brief description of the help that is offered. Include links for software students might need to download, such as web conferencing software, as well as links to student tutorials for using the technology.

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    Describe the technology-related skills students will need to be successful online students. 

    This might include, a certain level of skill in using software — such as Microsoft Word — or even basic skills such as searching the web and uploading documents. 

    Determine whether or not students will need additional time to learn a new piece of software or tool. Include that time within the workload of the course.

    Students using synchronous technologies need a certain level of skill to be successful. Create a screencast or share a tutorial that shows students how to use tools during a synchronous session, such as screen sharing, using breakout rooms, etc.

    Relevant QM Higher Ed. Standard

    HE SRS 1.6 | Computer skills and digital information literacy skills expected of the learner are clearly stated.

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    Emergency Remote Instruction Quick Start: Identify where you and your students can receive prompt support for technology used in the course and inform students in advance about what technologies they will need to acquire and/or use, and how to find support.

    List the technology help contact information for your institution, as well as a brief description of the help that is offered. Include links for software students might need to download, such as web conferencing software, as well as links to student tutorials for using the technology.

  • Design Step 7

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    Identify expectations, whether in the syllabus or elsewhere, for prerequisite knowledge/courses or any skill or competency requirements students must meet before beginning the course.

    Relevant QM Higher Ed. Standard

    HE SRS 1.7 | Expectations for prerequisite knowledge in the discipline and/or any required competencies are clearly stated.

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    Emergency Remote Instruction Quick Start: Not possible with time constraint.

  • Design Step 8

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    Connect with the appropriate institutional office or person for accessibility, and communicate to students: 

    • The services available. 
    • Relevant course and/or institutional policies.
    • Who they should contact and how if they need an accommodation.

    There may be unique accommodations needed for certain synchronous technologies and tools.

    Relevant QM Higher Ed. Standard

    HE SRS 7.2 | Course Instructions articulate or link to the institution’s accessibility policies and services.

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    Emergency Remote Instruction Quick Start: Explain to students how to access the institution’s accessibility services and be responsive to learners who need assistance in accessing digital course materials.

    Provide the contact information for your institutional office for accessibility and direct students to reach out early and proactively if they think they might need an accommodation.

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    Determine the services online students will need to support their academic success — such as library, tutoring or testing services. 

    Determine the academic support services online students have access to. Provide links to those services and include all contact information.

    Relevant QM Higher Ed. Standard

    HE SRS 7.3 | Course instructions articulate or link to the institution’s academic support services and resources that can help learners succeed in the course.

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    Emergency Remote Instruction Quick Start: Articulate quick and easy ways for learners to find appropriate academic or student services support offices and resources.

    Provide information about support offices and resources that might’ve altered services due to the shift to remote teaching. For example, check with your library to see if they have information for how to access resources from off-campus, and ask tutoring centers if they’ll be continuing tutoring via synchronous web sessions.

  • Design Step 10

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    Online students still need student support services — such as help with advising, registration, financial aid, and, especially, counseling. Ensure that online students know what support services are available and how to connect with those service offices and/or people.

    Relevant QM Higher Ed. Standard

    HE SRS 7.4 | Course instructions articulate or link to the institution’s student services and resources that can help learners succeed.

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    Emergency Remote Instruction Quick Start: Articulate quick and easy ways for learners to find appropriate academic or student services support offices and resources.

    Provide information about support offices and resources that might’ve altered services due to the shift to remote teaching. For example, check with your library to see if they have information for how to access resources from off-campus, and ask tutoring centers if they’ll be continuing tutoring via synchronous web sessions.

 

QM Professional Development Options

If you need help with designing your course to help your students get started, QM offers the Design That Welcomes Your Learners workshop.