BEST PRACTICES - LEARNER SUPPORT

The information on these Best Practices pages comes from the State of California Online Educational Initiative (OEI) Peer Online Course Review (POCR) rubric, as well as information from SRJC's Distance Education Department regarding best practices, and SRJC Board Policy.

LEARNER SUPPORT

It has been clearly shown that students who have ready access to a variety of online support services are more likely to succeed in online courses. Learner Support resources may be accessible within or external to the course environment, and should address a variety of student services such as tools to familiarize students with the course management system, information about the instructor and how to contact him/her, etc.

ON THIS PAGE

Supplemental software
Course/institutional policies & support
Technical accessibility issues

Accommodations for disabilities
Feedback

SUPPLEMENTAL SOFTWARE

Course Review Rubric

Tips and Best Practices

Clear explanations of optional and/or required software including any additional costs are provided within the course

When software is required in a course, next to information on purchase options, include information on campus lab options. The SRJC IT department provides a page on Instructional Computer Labs.

Software required to use course materials is listed with links to where it can be captured and installed

It is important to link to any helper applications the student may need, such as Adobe Reader for PDFs or Flash, Open Office for Microsoft Office documents, QuickTime Player or Windows Media Player for media. This is an accessibility compliance rule and will be part of the requirements evaluated in an accessibility review of an online or hybrid course.

Common links

Links are located within the course where learners will use the software (i.e., near the materials requiring its use)

Link to helper applications or other required software where first used in the course. If there are many places in the course where the same software is required, including links in orientation areas of the course is sufficient.

COURSE/INSTITUTIONAL POLICIES & SUPPORT

Course Review Rubric

Tips and Best Practices

Software used for the course is adequately supported by the institution, including information for students on where they can obtain help

In the course syllabus or prominent place in the orientation or "Getting Started" section, put links to the Student Help Desk and CATE or Moodle student support.

Helpful links

All activities that might create educational records (as defined by the Family Educational Records Privacy Act) or that involve regular effective contact are conducted within district- or college-supported systems

  • When using publisher sites or other third-party sites that collect student data, be informed on how student data is collected and stored. Contact the publisher rep and ask about their FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) policy.
  • Password protection on components such as Message Lists and Gradebooks are particularly important in order to comply with FERPA law and is mandatory. (See Distance Education Policies page, #1, "...Authentication is Key" with sources of authority listed).

Institutional policies, materials, and forms relevant for learner success (for example, plagiarism policies) are clearly labeled and easy to find; links (if present) allow easy navigation from the course to the information and back.

  • It is highly recommended that a section of the syllabus should include plagiarism policies. Clearly define what is considered plagiarism (a search on the College Libraries site will give helpful information).
  • When assigning written assignments, it is best to repeat the plagiarism information with the assignment information.
  • Moodle allows you to require students to check a box stating the work they are submitting is their own.

Course/instructor policies regarding decorum, behavior, and netiquette are easy to find and written clearly to avoid confusion

Decorum in online classes can be unclear to some students who may confuse the online course environment with other, more social, online environments such as Facebook, Twitter, texting with friends, etc. Giving students a clear outline of what you expect in this area is important. Examples:

  • Will you allow "chat speak" in your forum posts?
  • Is crude language permitted?
  • When emailing you, do you prefer a specific salutation (first name, title, etc.)?
  • Do you want to encourage students to sign their emails with their full names (as opposed to trying to guess who pinkelephant@yahoo.com is)? 
  • Will you have a policy regarding conversational etiquette such as avoiding personal attacks?

Googling "online course netiquette" will yield some helpful advice that you may want to incorporate.

Links to institutional services such as the library, or writing center, are clearly labeled and easy to find

A section in your syllabus called something like "Helpful Campus Links" can provide students with easy access to these services.

TECHNICAL ACCESSIBILITY ISSUES

Course Review Rubric

Tips and Best Practices

Course materials are compliant with Section 508 and WCAG 2.0 (AA) and can be effectively used with equal ease by all students

See the Guide to Accessibility Compliance for CATE Users page or the Guide to Accessibility Compliance for MOODLE Users page for specific instructions on creating accessible online course materials. Access the Web Accessibility Checklist for a list of Section 508 and WCAG 2.0 standards with explanations of how to ensure compliance.

All non-text communications technologies support multiple digital channels with automatic provision of alternate media accommodations in real time

Videos shall have synchronous captions, audio files shall have transcripts offered as an alternative.

Course materials are HTML-based and employ formatting styles to create semantic structure that facilitates consistent meaning and sequencing across all digital media types

Whenever possible, it is best to create an HTML page rather than a PDF or Word doc. Those creating course sites by coding in HTML should adhere to modern standards of using semantic structural tags (headings, lists, etc.), and ensure that navigational systems are consistent. Instructors using CATE, Moodle or other learning management systems need to be aware of using headings and lists when the content warrants, and ensure that navigational systems are consistent.

All instructional materials can be opened via free and accessible programs or applications, and links are provided for students to download the application with supporting information on how to use the program or application

When linking to PDFs, Word docs, PowerPoint files, Excel documents, or media files, provide a link to the free helper application needed for students to access the files. This will include Adobe Reader for PDFs, Open Office for Word, PowerPoint and Excel documents, QuickTime Player for QuickTime videos, Flash Player, etc. 

Quiz and assessment activities can be completed with equal ease via the keyboard and assistive technologies without adding cognitive load, and provide individual student-based parameters for time, number of attempts, feedback, and completion

Learning management systems (LMS) should provide for this rubric. Write clear instructions for quiz parameters such as amount of time allowed to take the quiz, number of attempts, etc. Disabled students needing more time for quizzes are required to go through the Disabilities Resource Department to be granted the extra time. The instructor will need to know how to make allowances for extra time in the LMS.

ACCOMMODATIONS FOR DISABILITIES

Course Review Rubric

Tips and Best Practices

There are no pedagogically-essential learning activities or instructional media that are inherently inaccessible, or in the presence of such inaccessible materials, a DSPS approved plan for accommodation is in place and ready to be provided as necessary for each inaccessible learning activity or instructional media.

Consult with the Distance Education Assistive Technology Specialist to check links to third-party sites, quizzes, surveys, or multi-media in your course materials. If the resource or media cannot be made accessible, alternative resources for the disabled will be explored. If accommodation is needed, a plan should be in place to implement accommodation prior to the teaching of the course.

Course CMS settings are configurable by faculty to allow individual student-based accommodations to be provided within the CMS.

CMS systems used by SRJC are vetted for accessibility compliance. Most issues have been addressed. If a disabled student has an issue with the CMS, the Distance Education Assistive Technology Specialist should be contacted to help address the issue.

Links to CMS technical support as well as contact information for DSPS support are consistently provided and easy to find, and accompanied by a module within the CMS explaining how to request services or report a problem

Instructors should provide links in their syllabus to the Student Help Desk, Canvas Help for StudentsCATE Help for Students or Moodle Help for Students, and the Disabilities Resource Department contact information. Instructors are the first line of support for CMS help for students. Students should be encouraged to contact their instructor first when encountering issues with the CMS.

An instructional material inventory of any inherently inaccessible learning objects is provided, and referenced to the accompanying course outline with plans for accommodating students with disabilities for each inaccessible learning object or activity

Instructors are required to meet with the Distance Education Assistive Technology Specialist for review of their course materials every six years. Instructors teaching a course online for the first time are required to have their course materials reviewed before the start of the class. Instructors will be sent email notifications when it is time for an accessibility review for a course. The Distance Education Assistive Technology Specialist will track the accessibility issues of a course in a Distance Education tracking system available to the instructor.

FEEDBACK

Course Review Rubric

Tips and Best Practices

Learners have the opportunity to give feedback to the instructor regarding course design and course content both during course delivery and after course completion

Feedback From Students: Gathering feedback is an important activity for improving your course. Anonymous surveys for the beginning, middle, and end of the course are highly effective. Early feedback allows an instructor to change direction if necessary; feedback at the end of the course will provide good overall information about the effectiveness of the course.

Feedback mechanisms allow students to participate anonymously in course evaluation