Down a rabbit hole without a paddle

Last year I was approached by the lovely Kate Judith from USQ’s Tertiary Preparation Program to be on the reference group for their ‘Active Success at Uni’ open textbook project. Of course I agreed and now the time has come for me to provide feedback on their finished initiative.

In the first instance I took a quick squiz around the site (it’s clean, sharp and smooth) then quickly realised that I would end up down a rabbit hole if I didn’t follow some kind of map.

My first step was to contact my institution’s Centre for Teaching and Learning to see if we had an existing framework for evaluating online courses. The answer was ‘No. Have you Googled it?’

As it turns out ‘Googling it’ was good advice. My search for ‘framework for evaluation online courses’ lead me quickly to Debbie Morrison’s blog, ‘Online Learning Insights’ and her post ‘How ‘Good’ is Your Online Course? Five Steps to Assess Course Quality‘ (see it in the blogs/articles section of this website). It’s a great place to start.

But of course, there is more than one way to peel a carrot, and just as each of our enabling programs look and work differently because they’ve responded to their environments, so too, the evaluation frameworks we use to assess them (and initiatives within them) should be sympathetic to the context. ‘Effectively evaluating online learning programs‘ by John Sener (2006) offers some wise advice about the purpose of evaluations (evaluators are ‘meaning makers’ not judges) and about using tried and tested frameworks designed originally for face-to-face course evaluations.

I hope to be putting together a framework that will work for the USQ project and for our own projects in-house by cobbling together what I’ve learned from my Googling and reading and fashioning it into something that will make meaning and provide a launch pad for possible improvements. (I promise, Kate, it’s coming!)

P.S. The USQ team evaluated one of our online courses last year (Academic Survival Skills Online) using a comprehensive Criteria Standards Checklist (thank you very much!). If any of you have used successfully a particular framework to evaluate an online (or face-to-face) course that you’d like to share, please let us know in the comments section.

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