Distributed Education

Standards for Online Course Development and Instruction

Purpose and Overview

This document is designed as a guideline to aid instructors and thus aid students in online courses. While this document does give direction to faculty and follows best online teaching practices, this document is not designed to take away academic freedom from instructors or disallow the delivery method that best suits the course and instructor. The standards presented in this document are supported by the Quality Matters Higher Education Rubric, Fifth Edition, 2014 (link opens in new window), the most widely used set of research based, peer-reviewed standards for the design and instruction of online and blended courses at the college level.

Volunteer State Community College is committed to implement the Quality Matters standards for the design of online and blended courses, and we are systematically building and evaluating our courses based on these rigorous, research-based standards. The Quality Matters standards assure that the online components of these courses promote learner engagement and provide students with all the tools and information they need to be successful learners. More information regarding Quality Matters please visit the Quality Matters website (link opens in new window).

For more information about any of these standards, including examples and the fully annotated QM rubric, faculty may refer to the Online Faculty Training: Course Standards Module within eLearn. 

The Master Course

  1. The course developer designs the course.
  2. The instructor teaches the course as it has been developed. Changes must be approved by the department chair.

B. Course Overview and Introduction

  1. An “About This Course” news item should be created on the course homepage.
  2. A news item should be created informing students how to get started in the course.
  3. Introduce the purpose and structure of the course to students.
  4. Personalize the “Instructor Information” template provided by the developer.
  5. List VSCC policies which students are expected to follow.
  6. State minimum technology requirements and provide instructions for using any special technologies.
  7. Describe any prerequisite knowledge in the subject area or discipline needed and/or any required competencies in order to be successful in the course.
  8. State the minimum technical skills expected of the learners before taking the course.
  9. State etiquette expectations (sometimes called “netiquette”) for online discussions, email, and other forms of communication.
  10. State requirements for student engagement and interaction.
  11. Provide instructions to teach students how to track their learning progress.
  12. State what students can expect from you regarding communication and grading.
  13. Create an introductory activity for the course to allow students to introduce themselves.
  14. Instructors must provide a self-introduction in all online courses.

C. The Syllabus

  1. The syllabus must be created in HTML and posted on the "Syllabus" page and in the Getting Started Module.
  2. The syllabus must include the following:
  • Course Description
  • Goals and Outcomes (Learning Objectives)
  • Course Assessment Techniques
  • Instructor Grading and Attendance Policies (based on college policies, see the VSCC catalog)
  • Behavior Policy for Online Interactions, "Netiquette"
  • Required College Policy Statements (ADA, Equal Opportunity)
  • Topical Outline
  • Instructor Name and Contact Information
  • Course Communication Information/Plan
  • Textbooks and Materials
  • Assignment Descriptions
  • Course Schedule/Calendar

Sample HTML Syllabus Template for Distributed Education courses

D. Instructional Materials


  1. Clearly describe all assignments.
  2. Be consistent with the labeling of all modules, assignments, and assessments as well as the arrangement of content within the module.
  3. Describe technologies outside of D2L, which will be utilized, if any.
  4. Accompany all acronyms introduced with the full spelling.
  5. Clearly describe the purpose of content materials, as well as how to use them.
  6. Use a variety of current, relevant instructional materials, which support the learning objectives of the course including video, readings, open educational resources (OER), and publisher content.
  7. Do not use content from a personal paid account or subscription (i.e. Lynda.com).
  8. Clearly identify the difference between required and optional materials, if optional material is provided.
  9. Follow the copyright guidance set forth by VSCC Policy (link opens in new window).
  10. Create all instructional materials as HTML pages within eLearn.
  11. Manage your files by creating a folder for each module in the course in order to assure easy organization. This can be found under “Manage Files” in eLearn.


  1. A variety of assessments should be used in the course.
  2. Link each graded activity to the corresponding grade item in the grade book so the grade will appear automatically.
  3. Create a link to the submission tool, whenever possible, within the instructions for assignments.
  4. Assign a due date to every assessment and list all due dates in the course schedule.

Grade Book

  1. Check Grades to ensure that all items graded are being accurately recorded.
  2. Keep the grade book updated regularly in order to provide students with feedback on their work.
  3. Dropbox
  4. Include instructions for completing the assignment in each Dropbox folder.
  5. Provide guidance and clarity on assignment expectations, as needed.
  6. Review and assess student submissions promptly.
  7. Provide comments or other qualitative feedback in addition to a grade on each assignment (consider a rubric).


  1. Clearly label each forum and topic title, reflecting the nature of the discussion.
  2. Non-graded topics for discussion should be provided: Introductions, Course Questions, and Water Cooler/Coffee Shop.
  3. Design topic assignments to prompt engagement among students and the instructor.
  4. Include instructions for completing the discussion assignment in the topic description.
  5. Provide guidance and clarity on discussion expectations, as needed.
  6. Consider adding an example of a “good” discussion posting that demonstrates your expectations.
  7. Participate in discussions with students.
  8. Review and assess graded discussion promptly.
  9. Provide comments or other qualitative feedback to individuals when grading in addition to the numeric grade on each discussion assignment.


  1. Provide clear and detailed instructions to students in the quiz settings.
  2. Provide instruction and help contact information if proctoring is required.
  3. Check that automatically graded quizzes are also set to be automatically exported to grades.
  4. Be consistent with all quizzes and with your grading policy as stated in the syllabus.
  5. Promptly grade all essay or other similar type quizzes or exams.

E. Accessibility

  1. Use properly formatted headings to structure the page.
  2. Provide alternative text descriptions for images and shapes.
  3. Write meaningful link text that indicates the link’s destination.
  4. Ensure a proper reading order in tables, lists, and forms.
  5. Don’t use color alone to convey meaning.
  6. Use sufficient color contrast to assure readability.
  7. Eliminate or limit blinking/flashing content to 3 seconds.
  8. Ensure that a keyboard can also complete any action, which uses a mouse.
  9. Provide closed captioning for videos.
  10. Transcribe audio files.
  11. Only direct students to websites that are accessible by every student.

Accessibility Resources:

VSCC Guide to Creating Accessible Electronic Documents (link opens in new window)

Faculty Resources & Handbook (link opens in new window), Office of Disability Resources