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Center for Teaching Excellence

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Quality Standards for Online Courses (QSOC)

The Quality Standards for Online Courses are based on the following nationally recognized standards: Blackboard Exemplary Course Rubric, Quality Matters Rubric, Aurora Institute (formally iNACOL), and SUNY Online Course Quality Review Rubric (OSCQR). The standards can be used in a variety of ways, including, but not limited to:

  • Faculty conducting a self-review of their course.
  • Faculty designing their online courses.
  • Instructional Designers assisting faculty with designing courses.
  • Instructional Designers conducting a review of a course.
  • Internal peer reviews by units.

Below is an online version of the QSOC standards. You can access a PDF version of the standards and other resources in the “Checklists and Resources” section to the right.

Course Overview, Introduction, and Student Resources

It should be clear how students get started with the course. Consider including a “Getting Started”, “Start Here” or similar section in Blackboard that includes pertinent course introduction information. An introductory video that walks students through the course is another way to provide clear guidance on how to get started with the course.

Include how the course is structured. Clearly state your methods of collecting and returning work and where students can find various course components including the syllabus and schedule, student resources, course policies, and procedures.

A detailed syllabus, which includes a schedule of modules, should be easily located within Blackboard. Modules can be organized by chapters, units, weeks, topics, or other organizational structures. A primary purpose of a syllabus is to communicate to your students what the course is about, why it is taught, where it is going, and what will be required for them to complete the course with a passing grade. Because students will view your syllabus as a kind of "contract," it is important to be as clear as possible, and to avoid changing major aspects of the syllabus after the first day of class.

View Steps to a Good Syllabus, Syllabus Best Practices, and Syllabus Templates on the Center for Teaching Excellence’s website for additional information on creating a quality syllabus.

Safeguarding academic integrity in the online environment is essential. It is important to minimize the potential for academic integrity violations. Your syllabus should clearly outline academic integrity expectations. Below are some suggestions:

  • The design of assessments should minimize opportunities for academic integrity violations (e.g., by use of date/time restrictions, randomized questions, Respondus Lockdown Browser or Respondus Monitor for timed tests, ProctorU, SafeAssign for graded written work).
  • Include a clear policy on acceptable use of social media as it relates to course content.
  • Create a clear policy on the dissemination of course materials and assignments external to the course environment.
  • Include course requirements for students to demonstrate understanding of Academic Integrity expectations (e.g., complete an academic integrity quiz, sign an Honor Code agreement, etc.)
  • Highlight the need for students to report academic integrity violations that are not their own to avoid complicity.
  • Include specific penalties for not adhering to academic integrity expectations.

Additional Resources

Include the technical requirements students will need for the course, such as Internet access, types of Internet connections, software, hardware and if students will need additional technology. Include the minimum technical skills needed and how the technology relates to the course.

Example minimum technology requirements include:

  • Reliable Internet access
  • Webcams, microphones, Virtual Reality Goggles, etc.
  • Links to downloadable resources (e.g., Office 365, Adobe Reader, other software)

Example technology skills include:

  • Use the Blackboard Learning Management System
  • Use Zoom
  • Create documents in Microsoft Word
  • Create a PowerPoint presentation
  • Download and upload documents
  • Check email

Consider including practice opportunities for students to engage with technologies (e.g., Blackboard tests, environment check for proctored tests, microphone, and camera check) at the start of the course or prior to the due date for activities and assignments.

Include necessary information about technology support from the University or 3rd party vendors. The DoIT Service Desk is a single point of contact for computer, technology and IT-related questions and support (including Blackboard). 

Assistance can be obtained in any of the following ways:

  • Submit a request online through the Self-Service Portal
  • Search the online Knowledge Base
  • Chat online with a Service Desk technician. Available Monday-Friday, 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.
  • Call the IT Service Desk at 803-777-1800 or submit a service ticket at (24/7 Blackboard Support)

Include any course or institutional policies that students need to be aware of. This is where expectations are set for student behavior as learners and as people. Decide which policies are included based on your course. It is strongly suggested to include policies regarding academic integrity and late submission. Other policies may include student conduct, incomplete grades, withdrawal without penalty, confidentiality, or course communication.

Additional Resources

Include a grading policy that is clearly stated and includes the grading scale, weights of each graded assignment, and explanation of how grades (A-F) will be assigned.

The Pass-Fail grading option is an option that can be selected by students for a course.  If students select this option, performance in the course does not affect their grade point average. If Pass-Fail is an option for your course, your syllabus must indicate the minimum grade (points, percentage) required for a “pass”.

Required only for 500-600 level courses: Different requirements for undergraduate versus graduate credit should be clearly identified in two distinct grading scales. According to ACAF 2.03, "Course syllabi must specify how the requirements for the course are quantitatively and qualitatively different for undergraduate and graduate credit. Requirements for graduate credit must reflect additional depth and rigor relative to requirements for undergraduate credit. Failure to complete the differential requirements for graduate credit should result in at least one letter grade deficit for the course.”

Provide instructions to articulate or a link to an explanation of how the University’s academic support and student support can assist students in effectively using the resources provided; including how to access:

Provide students with the contact information for the Student Disability Resource Center (SDRC). SDRC empowers students to manage challenges and limitations imposed by disabilities. Students with disabilities are encouraged to contact you to discuss the logistics of any accommodations needed to fulfill course requirements within a timely manner. To receive reasonable accommodations, students must be registered with the Student Disability Resource Center (1705 College Street, Close-Hipp Suite 102, Columbia, SC 29208, 803-777-6142).

An instructor introduction helps create a sense of community between you and your students. The introduction also assists students with getting to know you.  Instructor self-introductions can include the following:

  • Name and title
  • Photo and/or video
  • Teaching philosophy
  • Personal information
  • Research interests

Include a video introduction and/or text introduction in Blackboard.

Additional Resources

Having students introduce themselves to peers at the start of the course helps create a sense of community. Consider including prompts for student to respond or specific questions for students to answer.  Ice breaker activities can be used to help create a sense of community.

Include the accessibility policies/statements for technologies used in the course. Accessibility policies can be included in the course syllabus or the “Getting Started” section of the course. Example technology accessibility policies include:

Include the privacy policies or statements for technologies used in the course. Privacy policies can be included in the course syllabus or the “Getting Started” section of the course. Example technology privacy policies include:

Course Interactions

Include an appropriate combination of student-instructor, student-content, and student-student interactions. Clearly state the requirements for student interaction. 

Example activities for student-instructor interactions include:

  • Discussion boards moderated by you
  • Your participation in public or private blogs
  • Assignments submitted for feedback from you
  • You and your students participating in synchronous sessions on Zoom
  • Hosting virtual office hours

Example activities for student-content interactions include:

  • Textbook readings
  • Assigned articles
  • Simulations
  • Videos (instructor created or 3rd party)
  • Chapter notes
  • PowerPoint Presentations

Example activities for student-student interactions include:

  • Group discussions
  • Group projects
  • Group case studies
  • Peer critiques
  • Peer instruction
  • Peer reviews
  • Synchronous debates on Zoom

Include a netiquette statement that highlights guidelines for communicating online.

Additional Resources

Clearly state the communication and feedback turnaround time to students. Consider creating a communication plan. Plan what and how you will communicate with students. Consider responding to emails within 72 hours. State how long it will take you to provide feedback on assignments.

Provide information on how students should communicate with you. Include your office hours in your syllabus. Include the best way to communicate with you (e.g., telephone, Zoom, instant messaging).

Instructional Design

Structure your course in manageable sections so students can easily locate course content. Include all course content (readings, videos, assignments, assessments, etc.) within the module. Modules can be organized by chapters, units, weeks, topics, or other organizational structures. Course content should be logically sequenced in the order students access the materials. 

Learning outcomes describe the measurable skills, abilities, knowledge, or values that students should be able to do or demonstrate as a result of a completing your course. Learning outcomes are student-centered rather than instructor-centered, in that they describe what the students will do, not what the instructor will teach. 

Course learning outcomes should be SMART:

  • Specific: The learning outcome should be well defined and clear. It states exactly what will be accomplished.
  • Measurable: The learning outcome should provide a benchmark or target so that the institution can determine when the target has been reached, by how much it has been exceeded or by how much it has fallen short.
  • Agreed Upon: Important stakeholders must be in general agreement with the institution’s mission, goals and learning outcomes. Stakeholders may include university, school administration, faculty, students, alumni and/or community members.
  • Realistic: Learning outcomes should be reasonable given the available resources. Learning outcomes should neither be easy nor impossible to attain, but somewhere in between.
  • Time-Framed: A learning outcome should include a specific date by which it will be completed. It is important to allow enough time to successfully implement the steps needed to achieve the objective, but not so much as to elicit procrastination.

Carolina Core courses are required to have uniformed learning outcomes. You should not modify Carolina Core learning outcomes – even if they are not measurable or clear. If the learning outcomes for your Carolina Core course are not measurable, be sure to create measurable and clear module learning objectives.

Additional Resources

Similar to course learning outcomes, module learning objectives describe the measurable skills, abilities, knowledge, or values that students should be able to do or demonstrate as a result of completing a module. The objectives should align with course learning outcomes. Module learning objectives describe specific skills students should learn within the module. 

Additional Resources

Instructional materials, assessments, activities, and activities should align with and be consistent with the course learning outcomes and the module learning objectives. Instructional materials include content within a course. Instructional materials may include, but are not limited to, textbook readings, articles, videos, podcasts, Open Educational Resources (OERs), publisher resources, and lecture notes.

Assessments determine how well students are learning course content and meeting the goals of the course. It should be clear that assessments measure the achievement of learning outcomes/objectives. Assessments may include, but are not limited to, annotated bibliographies, blogs, critical reviews, digital storytelling, ePortfolios, essays, exams, field work, journals, online labs, literature reviews, peer reviews, presentations, projects, quizzes, reports, role play, self-assessments, and wikis. Consider including a variety of formative assessments to gauge student progress throughout the course.

Learning activities facilitate students’ achievement of course learning outcomes and module learning objectives. Course activities should be suited to the level of the course. Learning activities may include, but are not limited to, case studies, class discussions, concept maps, simulations, student presentations, creating outlines, debates, free writing, interviewing, journaling, musical composition, service learning, practicing a speech, simulations, solving a problem, virtual field trips, virtual labs, and writing reflections.

Additional Resources

Include detailed instructions and how students will be assessed for each assignment in the syllabus and/or Blackboard. Provide the grading criteria that will be used to evaluate student work. The criteria should provide students with your expectations and how work will be evaluated. Grading criteria can be in the form of a detailed checklist, rubric, or other instrument. 

Additional Resources

Provide students with guidance on how to navigate through modules.  Include module learning objectives within modules. Consider including an overview to introduce modules. Include a to-do list, task list, or assignment list for students to follow.  

Active learning is a student-centered approach in which you use instructional strategies that engage students as active participants throughout the learning process. Consider including a variety of active learning techniques within your course.

Your role is very important in an active learning environment. You have a more passive role, which includes:

  • Guiding students in the learning process
  • Creating a welcoming and supportive learning environment
  • Designing meaningful course activities
  • Facilitating reflections
  • Providing constructive feedback
  • Using assessment data to create new learning experiences

Active learning can:

  • Provide insight into students’ prior knowledge
  • Help students gauge their own understanding of course concepts
  • Increase student motivation and engagement
  • Promote the application of problem-solving skills
  • Improve critical thinking skills
  • Re-energize and refocus a lesson
  • Assist students with creating personal connections
  • Create a sense of community in the learning environment
  • Promote student-student and student-instructor interactions

Additional Resource

Select appropriate technology tools to facilitate learning. Select tools that allow students to actively engage in your course. Example tools include simulations, blogs, wikis, discussion boards, virtual reality headsets, Zoom, self-check quizzes, podcasts, and games.

Additional Resource

Instructional Materials

Include references for all posted resources and materials. Resources include, but are not limited to, images, journal articles, textbook publisher materials, websites, PowerPoint presentations, audio, and videos.

Copyright infringement should be avoided. Resources and materials should be either Open Educational Resources (OERs), paid for, offered through University Libraries, or appropriately linked. Staff in University Libraries can help you find materials that you can embed directly into Blackboard. These materials can also save your students money. Visit the University Libraries website for details on how they can help you.

Additional Resources

Create high quality videos in an appropriate setting. Be sure that audio can easily be heard. Consider breaking down videos into smaller, more manageable pieces to ensure student success. Provide short lecture segments (no more than 20 minutes), separated by other activities to allow students to master course material. Include captions for your videos.

Additional Resources

Include a variety of relevant instructional materials. Review and update your course content periodically to ensure it is up-to-date and current. 

Accessibility and Usability

Students should be able to easily navigate through your course. It should be easy for students to locate all course materials. Use a similar sequence for all modules for consistency.

Documents scanned and saved as PDFs are impossible for those using screen readers to access without taking a few extra steps to make them accessible. As a minimal level of PDF accessibility, Optical Character Recognition (OCR) should be performed on all scanned PDF files. 

Once OCR has been performed, documents can be read by text-to-speech programs and text can be copied and pasted. The text will also be searchable. 

Additional Resources

Many documents are not accessible, which makes it difficult or impossible for screen readers to read the content to users. Below are tips for creating accessible course content outlined by the Office of Digital Accessibility.

  • Only share content as a document when absolutely necessary.
  • Provide a content hierarchy with headings and subheadings.
  • Use the list option provided by your software toolbar.
  • Consider alternative text for all images.
  • Identify the document’s language.
  • Use tables correctly.
  • Make text easy to read.
  • Check your accessibility before uploading.

Check out the Digital Accessibility Toolbox on making files accessible on the Digital Accessibility website.

Additional Resources

As noted in Captioning & Transcripts on the Digital Accessibility website, creating captions and transcripts for your videos is an important step to ensure everyone has the opportunity to engage with your content and that you're complying with legally required digital accessibility guidelines. Every time you create a video to be shared with others, you will need to ensure the video is properly captioned. This will make your content more usable for all viewers, including people who:

  • Are trying to listen in a noisy environment.
  • Have hearing loss or impairments.
  • Prefer to read captions due to the way they learn and absorb content.
  • Are non-native speakers.
  • Are having trouble understanding the speaker for any reason.

Staff in the Office of Distributed Learning (ODL) will caption videos for you. Contact ODL for more information or submit a request.

Additional Resources

As noted in Captioning & Transcripts on the Digital Accessibility website, creating transcripts for your audio files is an important step to ensure everyone has the opportunity to engage with your content and that you're complying with legally required digital accessibility guidelines. Every time you create an audio file to be shared with others, you will need to provide a transcript. The link to your transcript should be readily available from the screen where you are sharing the audio file. This will make your content more usable for all viewers, including people who:

  • Are trying to listen in a noisy environment.
  • Have hearing loss or impairments.
  • Prefer to read captions due to the way they learn and absorb content.
  • Are non-native speakers.
  • Are having trouble understanding the speaker for any reason.

Additional Resources


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