Samples of Online Course Policies
Policies and Procedures:
There are many policies that you should consider implementing via a link to something like "Course Policies" or "Course Overview". The policies may also be embedded in your syllabus, but having them broken out into another document is also a good idea.
Student Readiness: Are your students ready to take an online course? You can ask them to consider the needed skills and abilities to be successful online learners. Very often students don't know what they are getting into when it's the first time they enroll in an online course. To help them, make sure you have some readiness activity that is available to them either before the class starts or in the very first connection inside your course.
About Readiness: The Online Education Initiative for the California Community Colleges have developed a really good set of readiness tutorials that not only let students know if they are prepared for online learning, but help them get ready, too. The modules are Creative Commons licensed and are freely available in a variety of situations including a page that can be linked for students in any online course. OEI Online Readiness Modules
Consider encouraging your college to incorporate the modules or at least some online learner orientation, into their general orientation processes.
How will you orient your students to your course?
Your college may have an orientation program for online students, however, it is not likely that it would cover the specifics for how your class works. It's a good idea to spend a little time the first few days of your class, orienting students to your course. You can do that by creating a video or directions that show how to navigate your course and by giving some directions regarding timelines and due dates. You can do a whole orientation up front, or embed instructional pieces in the activities and assignments as they come up. Whatever you decide to do, at the very least make sure students know how to start the course.
Syllabus: An online syllabus has to be very prescribed. Things that you might say in class that would not necessarily be printed in the syllabus, need to be spelled out clearly. You can put all of the following policies and procedures in your syllabus, and should, but you also need to create an additional overview type of document that goes into more detail. Sample Syllabus 1 - Sample Syllabus 2
Participation Guidelines/Attendance: Make sure that your students know that participating in the activities of your course (i.e. discussions, blogs, etc.) constitutes attendance in the course. Have a clear drop policy (check with your college for further information about what the college drop policy is). An example might be "If you do not participate in the discussion forums for three weeks, with meaningful postings that meet the acceptable criteria for posting, you may be dropped from the course."
Integrity/Cheating/Plagiarism: Make sure you have defined cheating and plagiarism in your course documentation and/or syllabus. You should have a link to your technology acceptable use policy and your student conduct policy. Very often community college students don't understand what plagiarism means. One idea might be to hold a discussion forum asking students to write about what they think it means to plagiarize or about what integrity means to them. Participate in the discussion that should be specific to your course content, and make it clear what it means in your class. Rutgers -- Interactive Plagiarism Video, Real Life Examples and Quiz
Technical Difficulties and Disaster Plan: If you have special technical specifications for your course, be sure to let students know how to meet them in the very beginning of the class. There are two main types of technical difficulties: Student based tech problems and college based tech problems. Have a policy for each. You may want to set up a "Mulligan" system where students are allowed two test resets during the semester, after using them, they have to find a more stable environment to take a test! College based issues can happen so have a policy that says what you will do if the college service is interrupted (like be reasonable about adjusting due dates appropriately). You may want to designate an external site, like Facebook or Google sites, to meet students during a outage.
Proctored Test Information: If you require proctored tests in your course, make sure students know up front. Also let them know exactly how to meet your requirements. Example of MSJC Proctoring Considerations (pdf)
Schedule of Assignments with Due Dates: Make sure you have this in several different places. It is very important to online students who may not be able to fit school into their daily schedule, to have this information for their planning. Don't skimp on this one! Put the information front and center and reiterate the specific information it at the beginning of each unit. Also let students know when you will open a new unit and how long a unit is (i.e. Wednesday to Wednesday --which, btw, is better than Monday to Sunday because there's usually no student tech support available at midnight on Sunday!) Always use 11:59 p.m. if midnight is a deadline for your assignments. This eliminates confusion. Also, have a timeline for discussion board posting and replies that is consistent across the length of your course. (i.e. initial posts are due on Friday with replies due by the following Tuesday).
Late Work: Establishing clear guidelines about how late work will be managed will make your life much easier and will reduce the amount of negotiations that may otherwise surface during a course's term.
Consider these issues:
- Are you willing to accept late work at all? Perhaps you'll institute a "no late exams" policy but allow a "24-hour late period" for homework to be submitted at a reduced point value (half credit, for example).
- What if students approach you well in advance of a due date with a legitimate circumstance? Are you then willing to negotiate an extension? If so, perhaps that is an important alternative you should stress to students when you enforce your "no late work policy." And how will you validate a "legitimate circumstance?"
- It's important to be clear and firm and remember that policies about late work really do protect students who work hard to meet your scheduled deadlines. Many instructors have witnessed students (or have experienced themselves as students) take advantage of weakly structured courses and earn similar points for assignments that hard working, efficient students earned. You may want to consider explaining to your students that your policies are established in an effort to create a fair, equitable learning context for all students. This may help them understand that their interests really are being represented in a "no late work" policy.
Samples from Carnegie Mellon
Grading Policies, Rubrics and Samples of Exemplary Work: Have a clearly defined grading policy linked to assignment rubrics and provide samples of good work for assignments when it makes sense to do so. Sample grading policy and rubrics
Email, Q&A, and Grade Turn Around Times: Let students know when they can expect you to answer an email (i.e. 48 hours), discussion Q&A (i.e. every week day), Grades (i.e. weekly). If you give them this information, their expectations will be reasonable. You can take a day or two off each week (i.e. Saturday and Sunday), just let students know.
Discussion Board Rubric and Etiquette: You will need to have your rules for how to participate in discussions available at the course outset and linked again when you assign your first discussion. Sample Rubric & Sample Etiquette
Student Responsibility for Work Submitted: Make sure that students are told that they are responsible to keep copies of all work submitted in the course, including discussion question responses.
Sample Policies are below!
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