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The big secret amongst many of us who work in online learning is that we are not all that wild about online courses. Sure, we think online courses can be great, and can fill an important need, but what really gets us excited is learning. 

Online courses are a mechanism in which institutions, departments, and faculty can re-examine teaching methods and experiment with new ideas. Online courses are also a marvelous method to funnel resources into faculty and teaching, as successful distance learning requires significant inputs in faculty development and support both prior to and during the running of a course.

I know no better example of the potential for online courses to open up a wider conversation about teaching and learning than the work currently being done by the University of Mary Washington in their Online Learning Initiative.

This past month I got some visibility into what UMW is up to with course design and development while serving as an external reviewer for a proposed UMW course. (How many of us use an external peer review method for teaching as well as research?).

The UMW initiative is designed to explore what the liberal arts & sciences experience can be in a fully online environment. These values are not simply evaluation criteria, but core principles around which the courses are designed.

UMW’s 5 Foundational Principles for Course Design:  

1.  Intellectual Community
2.  A high degree of interactivity between instructor and student, as well as between students.
3.  Active Learning
4.  Reflection
5.  Self-directed Learning

Both faculty submitting a course proposal and reviewers are given a detailed set of guidelines around these core values. These guidelines include in-depth information on learning theory, as well as practical examples of how these values can be operationalized in a course. Faculty submitting course proposals get detailed feedback on their submissions, from both the internal and external reviewers, feedback that can then be utilized to improve the course objectives in design (in conjunction with learning designers, librarians, and other education professionals.

To my knowledge, this sort of detailed course proposal and course delivery review and support methodology is not standard in most of our on-ground classes. Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could somehow diffuse these resources and methods throughout our curriculum?

What do you think of UMW's 5 foundational principles for course design? Would you add any others?

Has online learning at your institution been a catalyst to re-think course development across all modes of delivery?  

Have you been able to leverage competencies, resources, and lessons learned in your developing and delivering online courses to your face-to-face and blended classes?

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