Distance learning program receives national recognition

News Reporter

The success of Texas State’s online learning department may be the school’s best-kept secret.

Some campus administrators were not aware of an award the department won in November 2014. The university was given the nationally recognized 2014 Effective Practices Award by the Online Learning Consortium, or OLC, for the second year in a row.

The OLC awards colleges and universities with “innovative” procedures that maintain the quality of online learning and provide an exceptional student experience, said Joshua Book, assistant director of correspondence studies and course production.

Extensive work was needed to change the way online courses are taught and how standards are upheld at the university. 

Most people probably do not realize how many online courses Texas State offers or how many students take them, Book said.

“It’s understandable why a lot of people weren’t aware that we’d won the award,” said Debbie Thorne, associate vice president for academic affairs. “The whole concept is a lot to wrap your head around.”

The classroom’s best practices are integrated and improved as online learning expands, Thorne said.

Texas State utilizes a faculty self-certification process to ensure quality distance coursework that meets or exceeds regulatory, accreditation, policy and best practice guidelines, according to the university’s criteria for online courses.

The system in place during the 2012-2013 academic year was replaced by a “checklist” certifying the faculty teaching online classes, Book said.

“The checklist replaced an earlier, much lengthier form that online and hybrid faculty were required to complete,” Book said. “The new checklist is actually based on and assesses more quality measures than the previously used form.”

The Best Practices Checklist is a form for faculty who teach distance education courses to complete that demonstrates qualification to teach online or hybrid courses. The form demonstrates the high quality of the online or hybrid course, Book said. 

Applying best practices in the classroom to online learning is a goal for the university. 

Thorne said using good practices in online courses ensures all students, no matter where they take the class, receive the same high-quality education for which the university is recognized.

“We have a heritage of good teaching, and we’ve applied what’s been working on the classroom to online learning,” said Matthew Eichler, assistant professor of occupational workforce and leadership studies.

Eichler teaches courses including offerings in an exclusively online graduate program. He said the checklist ensures any contacts, links, resources and materials an online student needs are available on the course’s TRACS page. 

“OLC chose to award Texas State University with a 2014 Effective Practice Award for the implementation of the Best Practices Checklist because the checklist increases faculty satisfaction and is a cost-effective and efficient way of improving processes that have to do with online learning at Texas State,” Book said. 

The checklist is cleaner and less tedious, he said. Students have an effective experience when faculty is not overloaded with procedures.  

The team hopes students will continue to provide feedback as they use online courses and TRACS because constantly improving distance learning will reflect the high standard of teaching provided on campus.