Since the time that the first fully online course was taught in the California Community Colleges more than twenty years ago, the educational landscape has changed dramatically. What was once considered distance education—one-on-one correspondence that utilized pen, paper, and the post office as the sole channel of communication between pupil and teacher, limited in content, desultory, and educationally disparaged—has evolved to enable students to engage their instructors and their fellow students through interactive online environments in which content is delivered to the student through varied means. The development of this technology, combined with the andragogy that has advanced alongside it, has led to the creation of courses that can rival, and in some cases perhaps even surpass, an in-person classroom in terms of positive student experience, rigor, and efficacy. In short, distance education has evolved from correspondence courses to a legitimate instructional modality in the form of online education.
The purpose of this paper is to address the need for guidance on professional standards for educational practices in online education. Since 1995, the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges (ASCCC) has provided leadership in the introduction and successful implementation of distance education. During this time, the ASCCC has played a leading role in shaping policies and procedures for distance and online education in order to ensure that students are receiving the most effective educational experience possible. At the Spring 2016 Plenary Session, the delegates adopted Resolution 11.01 (S16) calling for an update of the ASCCC paper on best practices for online education
- Colleges should have established regular and effective contact policies for courses that are taught online, and those policies should be widely available and included on the distance education addendum.
- Colleges should have a distance or online education committee under the purview of the local academic senate to deal with academic and professional matters related to courses taught online. Responsibilities of this committee would include the development of recommendations and securing approval from appropriate faculty groups regarding instructional design standards for online courses and participation in the development of recommendations on policies regarding the distance education program, including policies for the ongoing professional development of distance education instructors, policies regarding training in the use of the course management system, and policies for ensuring that all courses and materials are accessible to all people with disabilities.
- Colleges and districts should seek to ensure the continued health and appropriate growth of distance education programs by developing and regularly revising a college or district master plan for distance education.
- Professional development around online education should be available to all faculty interested in teaching courses online, regardless of status as full – or part – time faculty. Ideally, faculty involved in online education should be given the opportunity to attend workshops, institutes, or conferences in order to discuss and debate the latest issues in the field and be informed about changes to regulations or other areas regarding course construction.
- Local senates, working with their local collective bargaining units, should review evaluation tools to ensure that online courses are properly evaluated and that student evaluations in courses offered online can be conducted anonymously. The local bargaining unit should also be involved in discussions of policies for online courses to ensure compliance with the local collective bargaining agreement.
- Online course offerings should be reviewed regularly to ensure accessibility for all students, and colleges should provide the tools and resources to accomplish this purpose.
- Faculty should work with their student support service areas, instructional designers, online administrators, and others to ensure familiarity with information regarding ways to bridge all equity gaps in courses offered online.
- The needs of all students should be taken into account when a faculty member is designing and teaching an online course.
- Faculty teaching courses online should be cognizant of the digital divide and provide alternatives, when pedagogically sound, for software programs and other resources, including the use of open educational resources (OER).