Advances in technology and increasing development

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The advances in technology and the increasing development of the internet and the World Wide Web have created enormous opportunities in online education (Chi-Sung Li 2008). This technology has also made teaching outside the normal traditional classroom environment possible for teachers and has allowed learners easier access to course materials (Virtural 2007). A recent survey of higher education in the United States reported that more than 2.35 million students enrolled in online courses in fall 2004 ( Oblinger 2006). This report also noted that online education is becoming an important long-term strategy for many postsecondary institutions. Given the rapid growth of online education and its consequence for higher education, it is crucial that institutions of higher education present quality online programs (Oblinger 2006).

Online courses have made it achievable for people to start or return to education who, only a few years ago, could not have done so. Online programs, according to (Karber 2003) have become a possible solution for contemporary education. This author claimed that the flexibility of online education has helped many self-motivated and mature students who want to earn a degree while working full-time supporting themselves and their families (Chi-Sung Li 2008). It can also be a convenient and possibly a more cost effective way for students who want to continue their education from second level. Today, teachers and students no longer need to be separated by distance and time (Haggerty 2007).

Along with these unique opportunities of distance education there are some challenges such as isolation, impersonal communication, technological burden, motivation, self-discipline and the online environment may not match the students learning styles. Therefore it is essential for virtual students to comprehend these challenges as well as opportunities provided by online courses (Educase, Center for applied research 2003). The challenges may not necessarily surpass the prospects of distance learning, but students should contemplate how these challenges could impact their learning experience. These challenges are making educators/academics think strongly about and study how such programs can be best delivered. (Chi-Sung Li 2008).

1.1 Course Description

The primary focus of the program is aimed at the processes involved in instructional design, media production, training and development, distance education, and using instructional technologies.

Educational Technology (ETEC) 5243: Instructional Design Theories and Models, is one of six core modules on the Master of Education Degree in Educational Technology

at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, USA. Is a graduate level program and entails a broad study of the procedures and principles carried out when designing instructional materials. Especially, the course looks at learning theories, how they can be applied to instructional design theories, and how these have influenced the development of instructional design models. On completion of the course students will have to develop an instructional model of their own, and apply that model to an instructional program that they themselves have to develop. The course is part of a non-thesis online master's program to prepare students as educational technologists of education, business, government and the health professions.

The following paper will discuss how the author of the course attempts to address the challenges mentioned above and harness the power and opportunities that the world wide web and information technology has to offer in order to make this online course an Exemplary Course Program.

2.0 Course Design

The course syllabus describes the course as a study of the instructional development process as it relates to the designed production of instructional materials that use modern technologies. Goal analysis, objectives, instructional strategy development, production of an educational product, evaluation, and revision of the instructional materials are considered.

According to the course designer Dr Cheryl Murphy (2009) there are several misconceptions about online courses, from the viewpoint of both faculty and students. From a student's point, they are under the impression that online courses are much easier. Every semester, students drop a class just for that reason. Many of the students think much is expected of them. The course follows a tight schedule with an assignment to be submitted every week. Students are expected to interact and, with the instructor, their interactions must be visible. Dr Murphy tells us that they can't just vanish for two weeks without consequence. They have to be present and it's an online presence. When the Instructional design program was converted to an all-online degree, it was taken from the face-to-face ETEC courses and put online. It is still a rigorous course with large papers required and deadlines to meet. The quality of the course has not compromised.

The principal goal in education as assumed by (Jonassen et al. 1999) from a constructivist perspective, is for students to participate in meaningful learning, which occurs when students are creating meaning. Jonassen believes students should be thought how to learn. He suggests five interdependent attributes of meaningful learning, if educators accept that their goal is to support meaningful learning, they should be using technologies to employ students in constructive, active, authentic, intentional and cooperative learning. The instructional design course incorporates all these attributes in its activities. Some of the teaching and learning activities include:

Lesson Assignments (Reading and Discussions)

Case Studies

Live Video conferencing

ID Model Paper, Mid term paper

Peer Reviews

Project Presentation:

Final Instructional Project:

Final Integration Paper:

Constructivist learning models and paradigms are the extensively recommended guideline for the design and delivery of online courses. This course incorporates many characteristics of a constructive learning environment. The constructivist view of learning believes that people construct their own knowledge and understanding of the world around them, through experiences and reflection. (McLoughlin & Maor 2007)

When we come across something new we compare this new information with previous knowledge, and construct new knowledge or discard the new information if not relevant. If we are to be the creators of our own knowledge, we should ask questions, explore and assess what we know (McLoughlin & Maor 2007).

Constructivist education is enthused by the research and theory of Jean Piaget, Bruner, Vygotsky and Dewey. A constructivist view of learning can be directed towards a number of different teaching practices; one of the main goals in constructivism is helping students learn how to learn. (Dwyer 2001). In a constructivist environment, teachers provides tools such as problem-solving and inquiry-based learning activities so that students can create and test their ideas, draw their own conclusions and then share their knowledge in a collaborative learning environment. Students should have the opportunity to question and reflect on their own learning processes, either in private or through group discussions. Teachers can provide opportunities for the students to reflect on their previous knowledge and experiences (McLoughlin & Maor 2007).

Instructional Design or Instructional Systems Design (ISD)) focuses on maximizing the efficiency, effectiveness and appeal of instruction and other learning experiences. The process is aimed at finding out the needs of the learner, to decide on the end goal of instruction, and then find a way that will assist in the transition, Piskurich (2006). Participation in the Blackboard Exemplary Course Program has allowed the designer to precisely assess the potential for the course and provide meaningful and satisfying learning experiences for the students.

There are a number of instructional design models but many are based on the ADDIE model that includes the phases of analysis, design, development, implementation, and evaluation. As a field, instructional design is traditionally and historically based on cognitive and behavioral psyshology. Piskurich (2006). Principles of Instructional Design (Gagne & Briggs, 1974) have dominated the processes of teaching and learning for quite a number of years. (Heinecke, 2001)

The course takes on a range of different theories and methods. It begins with the introduction of theories and models individually, then works its way into group collaboration as students develop a deeper knowledge, and finishes up with students constructing their own instructional design models, based on these theories, and applying their own models to instructional development. A reflection paper accompanies the final project.

Bloom's taxonomy of objectives that addresses the cognitive domain of learning is very significant in the classification of educational objectives or learning outcomes. (Gannon & Collay 2006). The hierarchy of the cognitive domain has six diverse levels: knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. The outcomes of the cognitive domain relate to the acquirement and application of knowledge and understanding, and most lightly would include the predominance of leaning outcomes in higher education (Clarke 2009). Bloom later classified objectives in the psychomotor domain and affective domain along with the cognitive domain.

Learning objectives, instructional assessment activities are closely aligned. (Gannon & Collay 2006).

The objectives of the course are stated clearly in the syllabus and an audio recording explains the course goals in greater detail. In recent years a growing number of educators have urged that if objectives are to function effectively within instruction and evaluation situations they need to be stated in terms of measurable learner behaviour Flinders and Thornton (2009). In other words, the fact that educational systems are designed to improve the learner in one way or another, the educational objectives should describe the particular kind of behaviour changes that will reflect this improvement. This will make it easier to determine whether or not he objectives are accomplished.

The designer choose the teaching and learning activities that would facilitate and encourage students reach these objectives. The assessments are intended to reinforce the learning and the students receive feedback from the instructor in order to improve their learning.

Cognitivists believe that knowledge could be seen as schema or a representation of a mental construction. Learning is defined as change in a learner's schemata. Learners rationalise actions and they need to actively participate during learning. Changes in behaviour are observed, as a signal of what is going on within the learner's mind. Cognitivism suggests that the mind resembles a computer, in which information enters, is processed, and this leads to particular outcomes (Wilson 1998). Congnitivists also view learning as acquiring or the reorganising of the cognitive structures through which human's process and store information (Mergel 1998).

While researchers like Jean Piaget (1896 - 1980) and Jerome Bruner (1915) recognised how our environment affects the way we learn and how we perceive things, they also looked at the changes in internal cognitive structure. Pigaet identified four stages of mental growth (sensorimotor, preoperational, concrete operational and formal operational) (Kearsley 1994). Bruner explored how mental processes could be linked to teaching. Robert M. Gagné developed a model that suggested eight different forms of learning. Some principles suggested by these theorists imply: Instruction should be clearly structured, well-organized materials are easier to learn and to retain; Prior knowledge is important, things must fit in with what is already known in order for it to be learnt; How problems are displayed will effect how the learner will understand them; Differences between individuals will affect learning, learning is influenced by differences in 'cognitive style' or methods of approach; Students learn about their success or failure of a task through cognitive feedback, reinforcement can be achieved by giving information rather than a reward (Smith 1999).

All lessons for each week are presented in individual folders, which are dated appropriately, and these are found in the course material section of the course. Everything needed for the weeks lesson is available on a single page. Students are provided with guiding quotes or analogies at the start of each lesson and a brief overview of previously lessons to guide and catch the student's interest. This will encourage students to reflect on previous lessons and prepare them for new information. Advanced organizers were used in each lesson to guide thinking and the reading process. Each lesson has its own objectives so students understand what is expected of them. Through different activities students are presented with the concepts of the lesson through a number of different mediums to meet the needs of varied learners. Alternative resources such as video recordings, websites, and readings are provided for all lessons to facilitate students who might want or need further instruction. Students are then required to apply the concepts of their lessons through various assignments and activities, which are explained to them in each lesson. Rubrics or explicit directions and scoring were supplied for every assignment, which provided structure and guidance for the students.

Navigational links pertaining to the course in general are on the left side and blackboard support tabs on across the top. All links within the individual lessons are across the top and these are consistent throughout. Visually the course presentation is very professional. The course uses a custom syllabus template, a graphical map to present the course activities and the layout of links and navigation.

One of the strong points of the course was the effective use of technology. Its use had a clear purpose for each tool to enhance learning. Research based best practices were used through the development and design process of the Instructional design course. This can be seen in the layout, structure and the elements that are included in the course, from the introduction to the lesson planning and assignments.

3.0 Interaction and Collaboration

There is a strong link between social interactions, critical thinking and deep learning (Resnick et al, 1991) and group work is an excellent way of allowing social interaction and thus developing cognitive skills. Social learning as well as problem-based and case-based learning was also incorporated into the teaching and learning process.

Social learning theory was integrated into activities associated with group creation of knowledge (such as the group wiki development). Bandura (1977) Social learning theory is based on people learning through others behaviour, attitudes, and the outcomes of those behaviours (Karabulut. 2008), it does not necessarily mean that all learning constitutes a change in the behaviour of the learner. When people observe others, they form an idea of how new behaviours are performed, and at a later stage this coded information serves as a guide for action. Banduras social learning theory examines human behaviour in terms of continuous shared interaction between cognitive, behavioural, and environmental influences. (Karabulut. 2008) This social learning theory is similar to Vygotsky's (1896-1934) social development theory (Shen et al. 2005). Vygotsky believed that social interaction plays a major role in the process of cognitive development, social learning happens prior to development. In Vygotsly`s theory every function in the child's cultural development will appear twice: The first on a social level, and then on an individual level (Vygotsky, 1978). Vygotsky believed that students, adults included, are guided by The More Knowledgeable Other (MKO). Anyone with a better understanding or is more knowledgeable than the learner, in relation to a particular subject, task, or concept. In the case of the instructional design program the MKO would be the instructor or possible peers.

Collaborative learning takes advantage of learning as a social progression (Andres, 2002). Vygotsky (1962) stressed that collaborative learning is important for helping students to advance through their zone of proximal development (ZPD) (Shen et a. 2005). In other words students learn through the distance between what they can accomplish by themselves and what is accomplish with guidance or collaborating with others (Andres, 2002). Research shows that social interaction plays a key part in the learning process and it can have a substantial impact on learning outcomes. Social interaction is one of the important attributes that represent effective learning (Shen et al. 2005).

Research and practice have shown that computer technologies support collaborative learning. Collaborative activities can promote effective conversational interaction between students, and instructors (Romiszowski & Mason, 2004). According to (Heinecke et al. 2001) in collaborative learning, teachers direct student questions back to the class, this encourages them to create their own hypotheses and direct their own learning. It allows students to plan their study through dialogue with each other and a facilitator. Students have the opportunity to present what they have learned to the class and apply this knowledge in valid contexts.

According to the literature, closely related terms include self-efficacy, autonomous learning and self education (Chou 2008). Self-directed learning is regarded as one of the required skills needed for work in the 21st century (Murane, & Levy, 1996), so an important task for teachers is to improve students' ability for self-directed learning. Self-directed learning has three dimensions: motivation, metacognition, and self-regulation (Chou 2008), learners who have a high self-directed learning ability are active learners with a strong desire to learn, and they use these learning skills for problem solving, they also have an aptitude to engage in autonomous learning activities (Chou 2008).

Several communication tools are used on this course; students have access to the class wiki, the course e-mail, tegrity recordings, file transfer, discussion and Elluminate conferencing. The first assignment acts as an introduction for the class to interact and get to know each other. According to the author this discussion helps to create relaxed atmosphere between students and the instructor. By setting the first post the instructor is involved and sets the expectation for the activity, this activity encouraged out of class interaction between the students. The technologies on the course used to facilitate asynchronous and synchronous discussion promote group interaction and student engagement.

Asynchronous communication allows the students to participate in the discussions when and where they wish; this may allow more time for reflection. Asynchronous communication can assist learners to develop students critical thinking and an a deeper understanding of course content, synchronous communication can also be useful for encouraging students to brainstorm (Maushak & Ou 2005).

In a study by (Davison-Shivers 2001) comparing the involvement of graduate students in both asynchronous and synchronous discussions, it was found that students involved in synchronous discussions, showed greater numbers of responding and reacting than those in threaded discussions. Research found that the students actually enjoyed either forms of discussion for different reasons, and it is then suggested that both forms of discussion should be used for varied purposes in distance learning.

In the instructional design course, case studies are used to bring static concepts to life and discussed through Elluminate conferencing; the instructor is present at all live discussions. Social learning as well as problem-based and case-based learning is incorporated through these online discussions. Students use live forums to interact and identify the main issues for each of the case studies. This requires students to critically analyse within the group as they endeavor to resolve each case. The use of case studies has a great impact on teaching and learning. (White et al. 2009).

Case studies help to develop problem solving and analytic skills; they encourage students to explore complex issues and look for solutions and allow them to apply their new knowledge and skills (White et, al 2009).

Student's engage in group projects using the class wiki, these projects require understanding of certain concepts and cooperation between the students. According to the University of (Centre for the study of higher education (CSHE) 2002) when the process of group work is managed effectively, clear guidelines for assessment are developed and communicated to the students, and a fair and valid grading process is used, there is a strong probability of positive learning outcomes and students will be satisfied within group activities and show improved performance.

There are solid educational reasons for students to contribute to group activities. Group work can facilitate student comprehension, students learn from each other and can benefit from certain activities that require them to articulate and assess their knowledge (Devlin 2002). Through group work students have the chance to clarify and improve their understanding of concepts through discussion and practice with their peers. (McInnis 2002). Students can also be motivated, by working with or, for the benefit of a group. Group work can also facilitate the development of other skills, such as: teamwork skills, analyzing task requirements, questioning, critically interpreting material and evaluating others work. Students can learn to accept intellectual criticism be flexible and to negotiate and compromise (CSHE 2002).

4.0 Assessment

In a constructivist teaching environment the process of gaining knowledge is viewed as being just as important as the product, so assessment is based not only on tests, but also on student observation, the student's work, and the student's points of view (Grennan Brooks 1999).

Assessment can play a significant role in the learning process, formative and summative assessments can enlighten progress and guide the learning, and are necessary to the accreditation process.

The results are utilized in many ways to measure the success and outcomes of the student, teacher, course, or the learning institute ( Stiggins 2005). When assessment is embedded within authentic learning tasks, it can be a crucial part of the learning experience (Australian National Training Authority 2002). Formative assessment when integrated into the teaching and learning practice can provide the information needed to make necessary adjustments to the teaching and learning while they are happening, and allows teachers to judge the level of understanding of students so future instruction can be adjusted if necessary (Stiggins 2005).

Assessment serves a double purpose, it can check the quality of the learning and for the students, and it will identify what is to be learned (Biggs 2003). According to (Ramsden 1992) as far as students are concerned the assessment is the curriculum. Students will attempt to learn what they think they are going to be assessed on, not necessarily what is in the curriculum or what was covered in class, so it is important to ensure that the assessments reflect the desired learning outcomes. As (Jonassen et al. 1999) puts it, meaningful learning should be authentic and therefore complex. Learning activities as well as the assessments should engage the learner in meaningful experiences. Assessment systems should be designed to enable an ever-improving performance. For assessments to be in keeping with or in alignment with the learning activities, authentic assessment practices should be adopted.

In the instructional design course there are no written tests, but students were asked every week to apply and broaden the knowledge gained from the readings or activities by completing an appropriate activities and assignment.

Grades for the course consist of a combination of weekly assignments, presentations, case studies, and larger projects. The weekly assignments and case studies individually are not worth as much as the projects, they do account for over half of the course grade. So it is necessary to complete all weekly assignments and case studies in addition to the larger projects to make up the grade. Details of these activities and the grading process are explained very well in the syllabus section. Expectations for each assignment are clearly communicated through e-mail and posting.

Written weekly assignments are tied directly to the objectives of the lesson. These assignments along with analysis of case studies which require students to reflect critically both as individuals and in groups are used for ongoing formative assessment throughout the module. Case studies can help to develop analytic and problem solving skills, they allow learners to explore solutions to complex issues, and apply their new knowledge and skills (White 2009).

Peer review requires the students to review another students draft paper using a grading rubric; this is used for the paper itself. It allows the students to become more familiar with the requirements of the assignment and it can help them to self assess and improve their own paper. Instructive feedback to their peers can demonstrate a strong level of understanding of the concepts (Stiggins 2005). Peer and self-assessment can assist in creating a learning community. Students, who can reflect while engaged in meta cognitive thinking, are involved in their own learning. When students get involved in criteria and goal setting, self-evaluation becomes a rational step in the learning process. (Garrison 2003). Self-assessment encourages student independence and helps students develop the necessary skills for autonomous (and lifelong) learning (Trudy Hartford 2005). During peer review, students might see each other as resources for understanding and checking for quality work against recognised criteria. (Garrison 2003). It is crucial for the students to have a whole understanding of the assessment criteria, and to feel at ease about assessing, also they it is important that students be self-assured that peers are assessing fairly (Hartford 2005).

One of the main tools used in performance assessments is the rubric (Jonassen et al. 1999). Using a rubric allows teachers assess the product and process of student learning, and its main purpose is to improve performance. Rubrics express the difficulty of a task and can focus intentional learning. Feedback provided by a rubric can act as valuable foundation for consideration by both educators and students, so it is important that it communicates clearly with those who use it (Jonassen et al. 1999). The use of a rubric can engage student in active learning and provide ways for student self-assessment and reflection (Larson 2007).

In addition to the weekly assignments and activities on the course, students are assigned two large projects, which makes it necessary for them to reflect, analyse, synthesize, and apply their knowledge, these projects require intense reflection and analyses. This assignment, also include grading rubrics and audio instructions provided by the course facilitator to make clear the assignment expectations. Students cannot successfully complete these assignments without an in depth understanding of the course concepts.

Students can access their course grades via a link in blackboard. They can locate submitted assignment to receive feedback from the instructor. This link gives a full list of assignments, the assignment details and the time and due dates.

5.0 Learner Support

An Introduction announcement welcomes the students and guides them on where to start the course. The introduction section provides the students with an overview of the course, a visual map of course activities and information relating to technical support. This introduction also discusses student assignments, how to submit assignments and receive feedback. It goes through minimum technical and software skills required, and hardware and software requirements that students will need in order to participate in the course. Formats for saving files and submitting assignments are also explained.

A separate detailed instructor page is provided to introduce students to the instructor and the instructor background. Contact information such as phone, fax and e-mail is available. The instructor also identifies the expected response time, so students can prepare in advance to communicate.

Based on the knowledge that not all students are alike, teachers use a differentiated instructional approach to teaching and learning to give students a number of different options for ingesting information and making sense of ideas (Hall 2002). Differentiated instruction according to (Hall 2002) is a teaching theory based on the idea that approaches to instruction should be varied and adapted in relation to the individual and diverse students within the classrooms. Differentiating instruction is intended to maximize each student's growth and their own personal success by meeting each student at his or her own level, and assist in the learning process. The different learning modalities such as audio, visual and text based should be considered, in fact all the class should experience all three types of differentiation in order to maximise the teaching and learning (McNamara, 1999).

The best way to address the students' learning needs is to communicate the curriculum in many different ways to ensure the best possible pupil involvement. Teachers can differentiate by helping students to access knowledge and develop concepts and practice skills, self assess, peer assess and assessing at the end of the teaching and practise cycle. (Duckett & Tatarkowski 2005)

Throughout the course learning styles were considered through the inclusion of video recordings and visual representation when and where appropriate. A visual map describing the course activities is provided. A video recording using tegrity explains the course goals in more detail. The course meets the current accessibility standards, where possible above the minimum requirements to accommodate users with disabilities. These techniques are significant to people who are using assistive technologies. All blackboard movie tutorials incorporate audio and captions to facilitate a varied audience.

Within the course syllabus there are links to the curriculum, course description, activities, grading, support, course and college policies. Students are provided with direct links to relevant web resources, a glossary of instructional design terms and recurrently answered questions. Textbook requirements and suggested readings are available within the course materials section. All readings assignments are posted in the weekly lessons and links to online resources are also provided in the weekly lessons. A class schedule provides a quick reference for course activities and their due dates.

6.0 Conclusion

There are various different technologies tools that can be used to sustain online learning. The central issue in delivering effective instruction is the quality and depth of constructivist pedagogy and the quality of support provided by the online facilitator in order to create authentic tasks and learner engagement. (Roblyer & Wiencke 2003) suggest that the more comfortable students become with distance formats; there is a better chance of student participation.

Instruments that are designed to assess the quality of online learning should be based on these significant proportions and be used to gather analytical and summative feedback about student perceptions of how teaching can be effective (McLoughlin 2007). Research points out the importance of training instructors in order for them to be equipped with the skills and professional knowledge to foster interaction in the class, as well as addressing the effectiveness of its chosen pedagogy and technology (Alderman 2005).

Using the blackboard exemplary Course program rubric enables course designers and instructors to evaluate how much their course conforms to best practices for course design, assessment, interaction and collaboration and learner support (Alderman 2005).

The rubric used by Blackboard provided the designer with an incentive to meet the utmost standards for usability and accessibility. It also provided the occasion to work with a faculty member to critically analyse the use of several online best practices within a specific course. The Instructional design course is now used as a model where best practices can be aptly demonstrated to other faculty members during design, development and evaluation of other courses (Cheryl Murphy 2009).

Assignment 1 Part Two: Critique of Blackboard inc., rubric

7.0 Introduction

Evaluation of online courses has been the focus of increased attention in recent times.

Over the past number of years, online instruction has become an accepted delivery preference in many institutions of higher education (Gold 2006). Like any assessment of conventional education, instructors, administrators and stakeholders in online learning want to know the value of their course and what it hast to offer in terms of student satisfaction and student learning. This would incorporate: Student satisfaction with the learning process such as: interactions with course materials, instructor and other students. Does the course provide the appropriate level of instruction along with pace, depth and breadth? Are students achieving the intended learning outcomes? (Essex 2002).

7.1 What is a Rubric and How Can it Help?

Rubrics are assessment tools that are being used more frequently in technology applications, especially in problem-based, constructivist environments (Jonassen, 2003). According to (Jonassen et al. 2003) a rubric has come to be defined in education as a tool to assess complex performances in such a way that gives input and feedback to help advance performance. A rubric usually contains a number of elements that describe the performance and a scale based on levels of performance for each element. (Roblyer and Ekhaml 2001).

The 2010 Blackboard Exemplary Course Program Rubric is designed to assist instructors and course designers in evaluating how good their own course conforms to best practices for interaction and collaboration, course design, learner support and assessment. The purpose of this paper is to discuss the contents of the rubric as a method of assessing best practices in the design of online learning communities.

8.0 Course Design

According to the literature, one of the most solid beliefs in the field of curriculum is the need for clarity and detail in stating educational objectives. Research argues the necessity for educational objectives to be clearly specified for at least three reasons: (Flinders, et al. 2009) firstly, the objectives provide the goals to which the curriculum is aimed; secondly, when clearly defined they assist in selecting and organising the content, and thirdly when specified in terms of behavioural and content it becomes possible to evaluate the outcomes of the program (Flinders et al. 2009). This is an important feature in the rubric. Under goals and objectives the rubric suggests that the goals and objectives might be stated within the syllabus, this is the only reference to a syllabus throughout.

Content presentation is an important aspect of the design for students in relation to information processing. Content should be broken down into more manageable chunks, present information in an organised fashion; show a logical sequence to the concepts and skills of the subject and reinforce the learning with appropriate activities (Smith 1999).

The finest designed content will be futile without similarly well-designed user interface that will attract the learner's attention, retain their interest, and allow the learner to interact with the course content to allow learning to occur (Simbulan 2007). Navigation through program content is addressed in the rubric but there is no reference to the effectiveness of a user interface in an online application.

9.0 Interactions and Collaboration

As the rubric suggest a course should offer sufficient chances for interaction and communication in relation to, student to student, student to instructor and student to content communication.

Research into distance learning shows that a principal aspect in enhancing course effectiveness and quality is the amount and quality of interaction going on within the course. Developing a social presence as a foundation for valued interaction as defined by (Alderman 2005) can result in establishing and keeping positive social rapport. (Roblyer and Ekhaml 2001) instigate that interactions seem to have an impact on students' satisfaction and achievement. Evidence shows that increased student involvement by instantaneous interaction resulted in increased learning. This was noticeable in the performance of student tests and their grades. But as (Roblyer & Ekhaml 2001) point out here can be a big variation in what faculty and students view as good interactive qualities.

There are a number of significant elements that help to ensure interaction in community, quality instructional design is one of the most essential elements. (Alderman 2005) suggests that in designing effective interactive learning activities the goals and objectives of the learning experience should also be considered in relation to specific audiences and the certain situations encountered within a particular setting. (Alderman 2005) points out that these interactions should assist the learner in attaining their goals. By focusing on the outcomes of interactions as opposed to the agents of interaction, it is probable to determine whether the student interaction has had the desired effect. This emphasises how important of instructional design really is.

The pedagogical and social presence of the instructor is crucial in the development of an online community and to the improvement of learning (Vonderwell, 2003). In this respect, responsiveness, accessibility, and being well organized in relation to communicating with students is very relevant. Research showed also the importance of defining goals and tasks and providing comprehensible instructions to students (Zens et al. 2007).

10.0 Assessment

In accordance with a learner-centered approach, assessment is a principal element in the teaching learning process. It is crucial for instructors know if they are meeting their instructional goals and the students' educational goals. Assessment is a key component in good planning it provides feedback for the planning process. All areas in online courses must be assessed (Gold 2006). In online collaborative environments, students are expected to engage in helping each other develop, review and assess each other's course work. It is therefore probable that peer/self assessment will be a central process in online collaborative learning and will influence the approach of those involved to learning. (Lee 2006).

The blackboard rubric addresses self-assessment which, according to (Lee 2006) is a significant part of the grounding for life and work; but has the rubric has no reference to peer review/assessment. Students depend on feedback from others, namely their instructor to improve their work. During peer review students can learn from viewing and commenting on their co learners work. The purpose of the peer critique is to receive valuable input that can be used to improve peer student work (Liu et al. 2003). Peer assessment during an assignment can allow students to become more familiar with the requirements of the assignment and it can help them to self assess and improve their own assignment (Stiggins 2005).

11.0 Learner Support

On-line teaching has the ability to facilitate more learner interactivity and also can offer a lot more resources. On-line courseware can encourage more learner interaction, and facilitate learning styles through the use of video, discussion, audio/Video chat rooms, web links and so on. (Rhea et al. 2005) suggests that although courses do use these dynamic learning materials, there is a long way to go before these materials are utilized to their full potential.

Research has shown that learning is more likely to occur if instruction is matched to the student's learning style. Designers try to exploit the students learning styles in order to provide sound pedagogical instruction (Giouvanakis 2002) asks is it feasible to say that the program/instructor can determine and subsequently accommodate the specific learning characteristics of each learner? Do we know if students learn better when instruction is adapted to their learning style preferences or should students where appropriate, be trained to adopt a particular learning style? According to professor Frank Coffield of the Institute of Learning in London the vast number of tools used to gauge learning styles are invalid and unreliable, and have an inconsequential input into pedagogy. Learning styles, if used subjectively, could undermine teaching and might just do more harm than good by labelling learners inappropriate (Coffield 2004).

The blackboard rubric addresses at many areas that support learners, but it is also very

important for students, to be aware of and understand the challenges of online learning.

Issues such as: motivation, self-discipline, impersonal communication, time management skills and isolation (Educase 2003). The rubric has no reference to information about being an online learner. These issues need to be addressed before the course starts.

Most university evaluation tools do not address transferability of learning at any considerable scale. It is particularly important that E-learning assessment activities address whether the learning is of benefit to the students. (Essex & Hallett 2002) suggest information collected about this process could include whether: the learning content provides a foundation of knowledge that can be built upon during further instruction and can the learning be transferred to be beneficial in real-world settings. These issues are not addressed in the rubric.


The course rubric discusses anonymity to provide students with the opportunity to give direct opinions without harmful social consequences when offering evaluation on a course. According to (Rhea 2005) when colleges ask for student evaluations of teaching, they allow students to be anonymous in order to encourage their honest comments without fear of reprisal from irritated instructors. These comments allow administrators and instructors to make better-informed formative and summative decisions in relation to course quality. Unfortunately (Rhea 2005) explains being anonymous, can allows students to give vent to frustrations in an offensive and aggressive manner, often in the forms of personal attacks toward instructors. Excessive forms of this negative behavior, known as 'flaming' in the field, has appeared in a range of virtual contexts involving computer-mediated communication including online courses.

Evaluation in higher education according to (Sproule 2000), student evaluation instruments are composed of a number of open and closed question items aligned to the course and effectiveness of the teachings. (McLoughlin 2007) suggests that evaluation tools should be aligned with current constructivist principles of teaching and learning.

12.0 Conclusion

In general the blackboard exemplary course program rubric includes many of the elements that constitutes best practices in an online course. The presentation of the rubric is very cluttered and the details for the different levels need to be more clearly defined. The rubric needs to be more specific in certain areas as discussed above such as: learner support, Interface and aesthetic design and peer feedback/assessment. Student feedback through out an online course is very important, but it is even more important to have student input and feedback when deciding on the successful or not so successful an online program.

It is acknowledged that teaching involves many different aspects and is a complex activity that encompasses a number of instructional procedures, interactions, processes and communication patterns, because of this it is difficult to write explicit items to present those factors that lead to successful online instruction (McLoughlin & Maor 2007). A rubric can be an effective tool in assessing a program or process; they have the advantage of being more detailed and also visually specific when identifying the different elements and variables (Gold 2006).

Over the past number of years the effectiveness and successof online programs have become very significant to both students and faculty. Research shows that there is a strong emphasis on pedagogy and didactics. Much of the research is focused on communication and collaboration with learner-centered discussion. A great deal of attention is now paid to the learning process and key-skills like teamwork and self-directed learning.

Overall, a thorough online evaluation method should measure the success of the content, process, and delivery of online teaching in terms of the program and/or institution, and the individual student. It should also be able to address the effectiveness of its chosen pedagogy and technology (Essex & Hallett 2002).