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Course Development Guidelines

Distance Learning Course Parameters

Online courses are those in which 100% of the course’s instruction are conducted online. Another course delivery option is hybrid (blended) courses. Hybrid courses are those that combine classroom and online methods, and deliver at least 15% of the course’s content online. Both online and hybrid courses must go through the university’s approval process. 

Course developers must create their online course materials in accordance with the following requirements and guidelines. These guidelines satisfy or exceed the various accreditation criteria of the New England Commission of Higher Education for Distance Learning Programs. The Director of Digital Learning provides training sessions for online course development. Throughout the development process, course developers have access to training and support in the areas of design and building content within the Blackboard learning management system. Once a course is developed, the designer will maintain intellectual ownership of the course materials. Fitchburg State University will maintain and host the course offering in a Blackboard shell. Please note that all course materials must be delivered using the Blackboard learning management system unless otherwise authorized by the Director of Distance Education at Fitchburg State.

Required Guidelines

  • Prior to the development of an online course, the course developer must complete the approval process. This process includes a form to be signed by the following individuals:
    • The developer
    • The chair of the relevant academic department
    • The appropriate Dean
    • The Director of Digital Learning.
  • The purpose of the course as a whole, as well as the activities required within the course, should be completely understood by the student. Thus, there must be a clear statement of intended learning outcomes and clear expectations of course activities. For more information, please refer to the Fitchburg State syllabus guidelines in the Faculty Handbook (PDF).
  • The course developer must take into consideration all the resources necessary to the student and must provide access to these resources by including relevant information in the course syllabus.
  • Throughout the development process, course developers will have access to training and support in areas of design and content-building within the Blackboard learning management system.
  • The course must be designed to include meaningful interaction among students and between each student and the teacher. This must be done in such a manner as to allow assessment of student work on a regular basis. This not only helps the Instructor to identify when students may need assistance, it also ­allows students to monitor their progress.
  • A developed course must include frequent formally organized communication with the instructor and required participation in class discussion boards when appropriate.
  • Online courses must include a variety of feedback opportunities and assessment options.
  • Any copyrighted material(s) may be copied into the course only if permission from the copyright owner is received specifically for this use. The course developer is responsible for obtaining this permission. Information about obtaining copyright permission may be obtained from Print Services. If permission has not been granted, the course developer may provide a single copy of a work to be included in a reference library for student access. Copyrighted materials must be documented and signed off on by the designer demonstrating approval or necessary research as discussed in the TEACH Act. Please note that an online instructor may place a link on their course to a site where copyrighted material is appropriately displayed.

Suggestions for Developing Online Courses

Online courses should be developed considering student diversity and thus should address different learning styles. Appropriate examples and grading rubrics for course assignments should be demonstrated to students whenever appropriate. This can help students understand what is expected and ensure a greater likelihood that appropriate work will be submitted.

Student assessments may be accomplished through various types of evaluations. It is essential that all student work be evaluated through the use of clear criteria. Professors who want to require a proctored exam should contact the Director of Digital Learning.

The use of the discussion board is strongly encouraged in online courses. When appropriate, the discussion board should be used as the primary intellectual interaction between faculty and individual students/student groups. The discussion board should be monitored frequently by the instructor, who must check the ongoing discussions among students and make comments as necessary to guide the discussion.

Both faculty and students have access to technical support, including support from the Instructional Designer, throughout the duration of the course. This includes the related contact information in course materials. Faculty are encouraged to make students aware of the demo course available to all students as an introduction or review to Blackboard.