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What makes a good online course?

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Here are 3 ways Oregon State University stands out as a national leader in online course design

By Tyler Hansen

Pop quiz: How many weeks does Oregon State University dedicate to developing a single online course?

If you answered 26 weeks, that’s correct (and oddly impressive).

For the better part of six months, faculty and staff at Oregon State will take an idea for a new online class and turn it into a learning experience that is built top-to-bottom on quality and meaningful engagement.

This in-depth development process is true of all courses delivered online by Oregon State Ecampus. Each one is designed specifically for the online classroom in a partnership between Oregon State faculty and expert Ecampus instructional designers.

“Our rigorous, collaborative approach to course development enhances student learning because it ensures that students are receiving high-quality learning experiences online,” said Karen Watté, the OSU Ecampus senior director of course development and training.

“A carefully developed course helps students understand how each part of the course fits into overall learning goals. Students have well-designed opportunities to engage with the content, the instructor and each other, which helps ensure their success in the course.”

That’s the benefit of spending 26 weeks meticulously developing a course in order to meet the highest standards in online teaching and course design. But what does that entail? Allow us to explain the basics.

Research shapes everything

When we say OSU Ecampus courses are “high-quality learning experiences online,” it’s not based on an arbitrary definition we’ve created for ourselves. It’s backed by extensive research and industry best practices. We don’t want to get too technical, but here’s the gist:

  • Every Oregon State online class is informed by the research-based, 44-standard rubric developed by the Quality Matters organization. If you’re wondering how well-respected Quality Matters is in the world of online course design, think of it this way: If QM were a rock band, it would be the Beatles.
  • At a minimum, each Ecampus course meets the standards outlined in the Ecampus Essentials, which are based on the QM rubric. We then apply the rubric to further strengthen the course design. “Our instructional designers work closely with faculty to ensure that the course developments adhere to our long-standing, research-based design standards,” Watté said.
  • And all faculty members who teach online are introduced to OSU’s Online Teaching Principles. These principles are — you guessed it — also derived from research-based best practices. They offer instructors guidance on how to communicate clearly and quickly, be present, support students, foster community and more.

It’s a lofty standard to create high-quality learning experiences online. At Oregon State, we commit to clearing the bar with every course.

Faculty expertise + course design and multimedia excellence

To build a class specifically for the online environment, the instructor and Ecampus staff begin by carefully examining the course learning outcomes. The result is a design in which every element of the course aligns with those outcomes.

That’s the beginning and end of the process. In the middle, Ecampus supports faculty in creating engaging content and activities, ensuring that each component included in the course supports student learning.

“Faculty have the opportunity to work with the award-winning Ecampus multimedia team to create content that is highly engaging, and that helps students understand the most complex topics being covered,” Watté said. Oregon State has twice won national awards for developing innovative multimedia experiences that make learning more accessible for students around the world.

Not every online course includes ground-breaking technology, but all course content is designed for the online classroom. This a key reason why learning online with Oregon State is significantly different — and more enriching — than the remote learning many students experienced on Zoom during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Students say quality and support go hand in hand

Ask Oregon State Ecampus students about the quality of their online courses, and you’ll likely notice a theme: They often mention challenging coursework in the same breath as the support system around them — from instructors to classmates to student services professionals like the Ecampus success coaches.

“I was very impressed by the level of difficulty but also the support,” said Rachel Handy, who earned a Professional Science Master’s in Fisheries and Wildlife Administration online. “I was always challenged, but if I did have any issues, there was plenty of support from the professors and my fellow students.”

It’s an ideal environment: You challenge yourself to learn more, and when you need someone to help push you toward your goals, a team lends its support and keeps you moving forward.

“I felt like the quality of education I received online was equal to the quality I would have received if I were in person,” said MacKenzie Sharp, a political science graduate from Toronto, Canada. “Having professors who would be willing to answer any questions you might have or walk you through something — it was fantastic.”

Start your journey today

At Oregon State University, we maximize our resources — time, energy and expertise — to develop the best online courses so learners like you can advance your career. To learn more, you can have a one-on-one conversation with a member of our enrollment services team by phone, email or chat.

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