Effective Student-Centered Online Education Using the CVC-OEI Online Course Design Rubric and Local POCR

ASCCC 2020-2021 Online Education Committee & California Virtual Campus

Course design and teaching are two sides of the same coin of effective student-centered online education. Research regarding online community college students shows that a caring, engaged instructor is the biggest predictor of student engagement and performance (Jaggars & Xu, 2016), and it also shows that course design is a key driver of quality (Joosten & Cusatis, 2019). The CVC-OEI Online Course Design Rubric [1] is an important and helpful resource to guide faculty toward the goal of effective student-centered online education.

When one is building a house, local and state building codes provide the standard to which structures must adhere; these requirements are not only effective practices but also practical and safe ones that optimize the livability of a house. Similarly, the CVC-OEI Online Course Design Rubric serves as a local building code of sorts, defining effective practices that improve the learner experience and maximize student engagement with the course materials and, ultimately, student success.

Like building codes that outline the industry-standard effective practices for wiring an appliance, the CVC-OEI Online Course Design Rubric outlines the effective practices for designing an online course. Course design includes the organization of a course and other categories including content presentation, interaction, assessment, and accessibility. As homeowners can choose any variety of appliances to put in a home, instructors can choose a variety of methods to support students in their courses.

Poor course design is a barrier that can prevent students from achieving their academic goals. When courses are not aligned with effective practices, students can easily become disengaged because they are likely to spend more time locating materials and assessments than engaging with them. To that end, effective course design guides the system towards its goal of achieving educational equity. The design and organization of an online course have been shown to significantly predict student learning, satisfaction, and academic performance (Joosten & Custatis, 2019). Courses that are designed with a clear navigation and structure, have aligned objectives and assessments, are accessible, and include varied content support greater learner variability, which is key to supporting the academic goals of diverse students. All faculty want students to maximize their time spent engaging with subject matter, and aligning an online course with the CVC-OEI Online Course Design Rubric can help to accomplish that end.

The rubric is a guide for both seasoned online instructors and those just beginning to learn how to build online courses. Academic Senate for California Community Colleges Resolution 09.03 Fall 2018 [2] recommends that local academic senates, in conjunction with their curriculum and distance education committees, adopt the rubric as an aspirational standard for all online courses. The rubric was created in collaboration with faculty and is not intended as a tool to measure faculty performance. Instead, it was designed to provide a solid set of standards around which to build online courses that are accessible, navigable, clear, and logical. Many California community colleges and faculty across the state depend on the rubric to serve as their north star of online course quality, with several colleges compensating faculty for achieving and maintaining rubric alignment.

Just as one does not quickly construct a house to industry standards, one does not quickly create a CVC-OEI Rubric-aligned course; the high-quality structure and accessibility compliance require a significant time investment and often also require support from course design or accessibility specialists. Academic senates are encouraged to develop faculty peer review teams dedicated to peer online course review (POCR). These carefully chosen teams should consist of adjuncts, tenure-track, and tenured faculty, minimizing any inappropriate power imbalances that would dampen positive effects of candid peer engagement. With local senate approval, instructional designers should also be included on POCR teams. Teams should also include faculty who have significant online teaching experience to help instructors apply the rubric standards to the courses at hand. Through these mentoring experiences, faculty learn and develop effective online pedagogical practices that are student-centered in their design and practical in their approach. Done well, the POCR process informs and improves pedagogy whether it involves working with students online or face-to-face.

Local distance education committees will need to establish the mechanics of POCR support and a professional development mechanism, and local districts will need to provide proper resources such as stipends, Flex credit, or reassigned time for instructors, POCR teams, and trainers.

The POCR process can seem daunting, but the work it requires varies greatly based upon the course being developed. The end result is a course that applies research-based strategies derived from student data. Improving the design and organization of an online course positively influences outcomes for students who are disproportionately impacted.


Jaggars, S. S. & Xu, D. (2016). How do online course design features influence student performance? Computers & Education, (95), 270-284. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0360131516300203.

Joosten, T. & Cusatis, R. (2019). A cross-institutional study of instructional characteristics and student outcomes: Are quality indicators of online courses able to predict student success? Online Learning, 23(4), 354-378. doi:10.24059/olj.v23i4.1432.

1. The rubric is available at https://onlinenetworkofeducators.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/CVC_OEI….
2 Full text of the resolution is available at https://www.asccc.org/resolutions/local-adoption-california-virtual-cam….