“If the mountain won’t come...” The Transformation of Online Course Development Practices Using the OLC/SUNY OSCQR Rubrics

Concurrent Session 4
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Brief Abstract

This session presents a case example of using the OSCQR rubric in reorganization of online course and program development. Participants will reflect on one of four emergent issues from this process and contribute to a discussion on pathways to transformative learning, course quality implementation, and impact on faculty teaching.


Dr. David S. McCurry has worked in the United States and internationally for more than 35 years in the fields of information and communications technology in education, distance learning, media in education, extension communications, curriculum and materials development, teacher education, and faculty development. He worked for 18 years in African educational development as a Peace Corps volunteer leader, U.S. Information Agency/Fulbright lecturer, and senior consultant and interim chief of party for USAID and the Institute for International Research (now AIR). He spent eight years as a professor of education in the United States, achieving tenure and associate professor rank while directing Master of Education programs and electronic portfolio assessment in addition to regular teaching, research and advising duties. Dr. McCurry worked for Converse College as the director of distance education and is now the director of distance education at the University of South Carolina Upstate.
Michael Lampe is an Instructional Design Specialist and Adjunct Faculty member at the University of South Carolina Upstate. His teaching and research interests have focused around online teaching, active learning, gaming in the classroom, and augmented reality. He is finishing his dissertation regarding active learning experiences and needs when implementing active learning initiatives in higher education at the University of South Carolina College of Education's Educational Technology Program.

Extended Abstract

Presentation: Using the proverb “if the mountain won’t come to Muhammad, Muhammad will go to the mountain,” as an organizing metaphor, this session will present a case example where the Online Learning Consortium (OLC) supported Open SUNY Course Quality Review (OSCQR) rubric and course review process are being implemented in several academic degree programs at a regional public 4-year institution. The rubrics themselves, and the process by which they are utilized, have already impacted course and faculty development activities and have brought changes on campus. Participants in the session will be asked to consider four emergent “problematic” areas of this landscape; learning outcomes and course design foundations and associated assessment practices, communicative practices and student engagement in virtual environments, administrative enrollment needs and institutional support, and the competing interests of active and experiential learning preferences in hybrid and online or virtual learning spaces.

Driven by accreditation expectations and needs for internal external accountability, external quality standards are becoming the norm for online programs in higher education. Traditional course development follows fairly standard and established practices of faculty governance, curriculum development and institutional policy guidelines. Online education has disrupted these practices as requirements to implement “best practice” methods place new demands on faculty, administration, and departmental processes in course development, teaching, and assessment methodologies (Paulson, 2016; Piña, Lowell & Harris, 2018). The nature of online teaching and learning subjects the educational process to reconsideration in light of the opportunities and challenges of digital pedagogy. It has long been proposed that new technologies can and do impact teaching practices in a variety of ways (Chickering & Ehrmann, 1996; Barone, 2005; Bates, Bates, & Sangra, 2011; Kirkwood & Price, 2014).

The OLC OSCQR course review rubric is one of a number of quality standard frameworks for online teaching in higher education (Shelton & Pederson, 2015). The rubrics were selected as a result of the Director of Distance Education’s attendance at sessions presented at the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) annual conferences and summer institutes for quality improvement. The OLC programs were selected over Quality Matters as they were determined to be more flexible, open source, adaptable to specific needs, and cost effective. In 2016, the Office of Distance Education initiated the Upstate Online Course Consultation program, a concierge model faculty and course development program for supporting the expansion of online teaching. In the concierge model, instructional designers “go to the mountain” and meet the faculty in their offices, and begin the process of course adaptation to online by careful assessments of pedagogical practice, content requirements, and individualized faculty preferences (McCurry & Mullinix, 2017).  Faculty qualified through an online teaching certification process or receiving a waiver for the requirement apply for a Level 1 New Online Course Development grant, or a Level 2 Online Course Redesign grant. The concierge model calls for an instructional designer to meet with the faculty member to review the overall course goals and existing course design, engage in self-review of the course, negotiate modifications and improvements, and complete an action plan for final approval.

When it comes to institutional implementation of the OSCQR course rubric and working particularly with faculty members, the goal is to lower the difficulty of faculty members to utilize the rubric. The University of South Carolina Upstate Office of Distance Education and Information Technology & Data Services collaborated to provide a user-friendly form, based on the open source OSCQR rubric documents, that the faculty members can use to review their courses and receive a neatly laid out action plan. Along with the action plan and consultation opportunities with the instructional designers on campus, we also implemented Blackboard mini-modules that will help the faculty members build courses according to the tasks required in the mini-modules that tie directly into the OSCQR rubric. The design of the mini modules (short hybrid modules that are self-guided, with an option to engage an instructional designer concierge in completion of specific tasks) is paired with specific outcomes in the OSCQR self-review, peer-review and action plan.

Reflection: Participants will be provided guiding questions (GQs) and asked to consider one of the four emergent issue/themes resulting from our description of the case example;

1. Learning outcomes and course design foundations and associated assessment practices, in which we consider the need to move mountains related to basic student learning outcomes and foundations of course design, (GQ – how best to engage faculty in reconsidering or critically examining their own student learning outcomes for a particular course?),

2. Communicative practices and student engagement in virtual environments, where faculty tackle the issue of “calling the mountain” of student engagement to them, (GQ - how to replace traditional in-class communication, discussion and dialogue with equivalent or proximal processes in virtual learning environments?),

3. Administrative enrollment needs and institutional support, in which the immovable mountain of institutional enrollment requirements and demand put pressure on faculty departments to expand or innovate (GQ – how do we scale up online learning while maintaining quality in teaching and student experience?),

4. Competing interests of active and experiential learning preferences in hybrid and online or virtual learning spaces, where faculty need to consider how to “go to the mountain” and integrate active learning and experiential learning into fully online or hybrid course design, (GQ – how do we design online courses to accommodate experiential, service, and active learning components effectively?).

Discussion and Questions: After considering the four proposed themes, participants will be asked to form dyads or triads to discuss (briefly) their own observations and suggest implementation strategies for their own context. Commonalities, or discrepencies, in observations or reflections will be noted as the group discusses each of the four topic/themes. Concluding remarks will synthesize responses


Barone, C. (2005). The new academy. Educating the net generation, 14-1.

Bates, A. W., Bates, T., & Sangra, A. (2011). Managing technology in higher education: Strategies for transforming teaching and learning. John Wiley & Sons.

Chickering, A. W., & Ehrmann, S. C. (1996). Implementing the seven principles: technology as lever. Retrieved September 10, 2018, from http://www.tltgroup.org/programs/seven

Kirkwood, A., & Price, L. (2014). Technology-enhanced learning and teaching in higher education: what is ‘enhanced’ and how do we know? A critical literature review. Learning, media and technology, 39(1), 6-36.

McCurry, D. S., & Mullinix, B. B. (2017). A Concierge Model for Supporting Faculty in Online Course Design. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 20(2), n2.

Piña, A. A., Lowell, V. and Harris, B. (Eds.). (2018). Leading and Managing E-Learning. Bloomington, IN: Association for Educational Communications and Technology/Springer.

Paulsen, M. B. (2016). Higher education: Handbook of theory and research (Vol. 31). J. C. Smart (Ed.). Springer.

Shelton, K., & Pedersen, K. (2015). Benchmarking quality in online learning programs in higher education. In Global Learn (pp. 280-295). Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE).