Designing and Implementing a Quality Online Course Rubric: A Collaborative Approach

Concurrent Session 9

Brief Abstract

After the immediate push for online options in 2020, the need for quality assurance in online courses became more relevant across higher education institutions. This presentation reveals how a coordinated effort among a cohort of online faculty and staff reviewed current industry standards, analyzed gaps, and created a custom rubric.



Cris is an Instructional Designer with Online Learning and Academic Programs (OLAP), University of Tennessee, Knoxville. She is passionate about supporting instructors with course design, development, quality assurance, and accessibility. She has long experience in a variety of multi-media including Articulate Storyline 360 to create engaging, accessible activities to enhance online courses. She is a Quality Matters Coordinator and facilitated the development of an internal custom quality assurance program, the Engaged Online Course Initiative (EOCI). Cris has been certified in Quality Matters, Applying the QM Rubric and the OLC Course Quality Review (OSCQR) Trainer. She is also a member of UT Knoxville’s Commission for Disability. Previous to her position with OLAP, she was the eLearning Developer for Family and Consumer Sciences, UTIA. She received her BFA from the Savannah College of Art & Design majoring in video/film and a M.Ed in Educational Technology from The University of Arkansas. Her blended work history consists of marketing, multi-media management, project management, commercial real estate, and teaching. Other passions include her two children, art, and just about anything outdoors in the mountains of East Tennessee.
Dr. Jennifer Gramling is Director of Online Programs in Teaching and Learning Innovation. Prior to returning to her Alma mater in May 2013, she held a Project Manager position in the Office of Distance Learning at FSU and served as the Associate Director of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning at South College. Jennifer has been working in faculty development and online learning administration for over fifteen years. She holds Bachelor's degrees in English and History from the University of North Florida, and a Master's in Secondary Education and a Ph. D. in Education from the University of Tennessee. In her role as Director of Online Programs, Jennifer oversees the development of policies and procedures related to online and hybrid teaching and learning; and collaborates with faculty and academic administrators to identify and facilitate opportunities for online and hybrid educational and faculty support initiatives.

Extended Abstract

After the immediate push for online options in 2020, the need for quality assurance in online courses became even more relevant across higher education institutions. The department of Online Learning and Academic Programs (OLAP) at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville launched an initiative to develop a custom set of standards for online course quality reviews.  This presentation will reveal how a coordinated effort among a cohort of experienced online UTK faculty and staff reviewed current industry standards, analyzed gaps, and created a custom quality review rubric. The participants will learn the steps taken, the challenges the cohort faced, and revelations discovered to finalize a set of 42 standards with annotations and examples. 


OLAP began with re-evaluating what was currently being used in the higher education industry such as Suny OSQR and Quality Matters. The UT System joined Quality Matters and this membership provided a base for processes and tools used to implement a custom review initiative. OLAP reached out to other institutions and talked with these colleagues about their experiences and began asking some essential questions.  How do we best develop our own set of standards that fit the culture of UT Knoxville and still provide research driven quality assurance practices? This resulted in the Engaged Online Course Initiative (EOCI).

By allowing departments to nominate colleagues with experience in online teaching, course reviews, and many other expertise, OLAP developed a 12-member cohort consisting of instructors, staff, and Instructional Designers. Over the Fall 2021 and Spring 2022 semesters, this cohort collaborated to develop a custom set of standards for online course quality. The result was the Engaged Online Course Rubric with Annotations and Examples.  This quality assurance initiative supports faculty and a review process in creating and updating online courses based on a set of standards designed to reinforce research-based engagement strategies, technology use, regular and substantive interaction, and accessibility standards. 

The Interactive Presentation

After a short introduction the audience will be asked to participate in an engagement activity using Mentimeter polling. They will be able to share their experience with quality review programs. The audience will then learn about the Engaged Online Course Initiative and the history of the custom rubric development. The presentation will provide an emphasis on project management and the elements necessary within each milestone to achieve success in this type of initiative. 

The audience will participate in a Jamboard style collaboration to share their own challenges and strategies in facilitating quality assurance within online courses. Some prompts will include:

  • Generating faculty buy-in
  • Meeting participation
  • Decision making
  • Awkward silence

Next, the audience will review the completed rubric and the tools utilized to support faculty with self or peer reviews and a higher level, exemplary designated review. Finally, results from the EOC Review Pilot will be revealed and the procedures developed for this campus-wide exemplary recognition designation. Future goals will also be discussed highlighting quality assurance within course management, delivery, and degree programs with the objective of a complete holistic approach to online course implementation.

Participants will learn:

  • The process of coordinating and managing a team from across multiple departments.
  • Strategies to facilitate discussions among experienced faculty.
  • About overcoming challenges the cohort faced and barriers that had to be addressed.
    • Logistical barriers
    • Cultural barriers
    • Encouraging participation among colleagues 
  • The importance of faculty champions. 
  • The tools used for project management and rubric management.
  • How each level of the new EOC Review is available to faculty. 
  • About the processes that were successful.

Participants will be provided:

  • A digital copy of the Engaged Online Course Rubric (EOCR) 
  • A link to the OLAP Peer Reviewer Interactive Spreadsheet (complete with 42 standards)

The participating audience will have opportunities to ask questions and discuss their own institution’s quality assurance program and the challenges faced in promoting and assuring online course quality. Join us to learn more about implementing a custom online course quality initiative.