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Online Program & Course Development

UT faculty and instructors are at the center of online innovation and program development. If you are interested in teaching a new online course, developing a new online program, or redesigning a traditional course for online or hybrid delivery, the information in this section will assist as you move forward.

Curricular decisions, including those pertaining to online and hybrid program and course offerings, reside with individual academic departments. Online courses and programs are housed within their respective colleges and academic units and are the responsibility of the assigned faculty and administrators.

Faculty and instructors teaching online and hybrid classes are expected to design and deliver courses that are equal in academic quality and rigor to those taught in traditional, on campus settings. Online and hybrid programs and courses should promote student engagement and interaction throughout the semester, should be driven by student learning outcomes, and should make appropriate and effective use of available technologies for teaching, learning and assessment.

The development of new or redesigned online programs and courses should support the mission of UT, and be tied directly to students’ instructional needs, departmental needs, and the ability of the academic department to develop quality programs that are accessible and sustainable.

The following policies apply to all online and hybrid programs and courses at UT.

UT’s primary mission is to move forward the frontiers of human knowledge and enrich and elevate the citizens of the state of Tennessee, the nation, and the world. Central to this mission is the creation of innovative teaching and learning environments that increase flexibility and enhance access for motivated and qualified students. The university offers selected online programs that provide high-quality graduate and professional education to students whose primary learning environment is not on campus. UT is committed to offering online and hybrid programs and courses that meet the same academic standards and rigor which exist in traditional, on-campus offerings.

  • The development and delivery of online/distance education programs and courses is consistent with the mission of UT.
  • The online program or course will be approved and evaluated through the regular curriculum approval and program assessment procedures.
  • Unless otherwise stated, all policies, procedures, standards, and expectations for on campus instruction and assessment apply to online and hybrid programs and courses.
  • Selection of programs to be offered online comes at the direction of a college or academic department, which is responsible for providing sufficient oversight of the program.
  • Academic standards for all programs or courses offered online are the same as those for other programs or courses delivered at UT.
  • Once implemented, UT and the college offering the program commit to ongoing support for the continuation of the program for a period of time sufficient to allow admitted students to complete the program.
  • Each program or course of study results in learning appropriate to the rigor and breadth of the degree or award level.
  • Student learning outcomes in programs or courses delivered online are comparable to student learning outcomes in courses or programs offered in face-to-face instruction.
  • Instructional materials, resources, and program information remain current.

  • UT ensures that online/distance education students have access to sufficient library resources to support the courses in which they are enrolled. Access to library support services approximates services available to on campus students.
  • UT ensures that online/distance education students have access to the range of academic and student support services necessary to facilitate their successful completion of a distance education course or program.
  • UT provides faculty development opportunities and support related to the design and development of online and hybrid courses.

Our regional accreditation agency, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), defines distance education as, “a formal educational process in which the majority of the instruction (interaction between students and instructors, and among students) in a course occurs when students and instructors are not in the same place. Instruction may be synchronous or asynchronous. A distance education course may use the internet; one-way and two-way transmissions through open broadcast, closed circuit, cable, microwave, broadband lines, fiber optics, satellite, or wireless communications devices; audio conferencing; or video cassettes, DVDs, and CD-ROMs if used as part of the distance learning course or program” (Distance Education and Correspondence Education Policy Statement, January 2012).

Distance education courses and programs include those offered at off campus instructional sites; courses and programs offered online (relying primarily on the internet for the delivery of course materials); and courses and programs relying on video conference capacity, allowing synchronous interaction between students and instructors who are physically separated.

UT uses the definition of distance education put forth by SACS, and further defines it to include specifics related to online and hybrid delivery modes.

An online program is defined as any program in which at least 80–100 percent of the required program content is delivered through electronic means, either synchronously or asynchronously and the program’s faculty and students are physically separated during the semester. The program may require minimal campus attendance or a face-to -face orientation, however, online programs are designed primarily for off-campus students.

An online course is defined as any course in which at least 80–100 percent of the instruction is delivered through electronic means, either synchronously or asynchronously, and the instructor and student are physically separated during the semester. The course may require minimal campus attendance, face-to-face orientation or in-person/proctored examinations. Individual online courses that are not part of a program, especially those at the undergraduate level, are generally designed to serve on campus students.

A hybrid course is defined as any course in which 33–79 percent of the instruction is delivered through electronic means, either synchronously or asynchronously and the instructor and student are physically separated during the semester. In a hybrid course, in-class seat time is reduced by at least 33% and replaced with online or multimedia based activities and assignments. Hybrid courses are designed to serve on campus students.

Proposals for new academic programs require review at all campus levels prior to submission to THEC, beginning with consultation with the college dean and appropriate vice provost. New online and hybrid programs and courses are subject to the same departmental, university and state approval processes as those taught on campus. This includes, but is not limited to, approval by the Graduate Council or the Undergraduate Council as appropriate. For additional information please visit the Office of the Provost’s New Academic Program Proposals page.

This comprehensive set of standards was developed by faculty, staff, and students at UT, including members of the UT Learning Consortium, the Office of Information Technology / Instructional Support, and the Tennessee Teaching and Learning Center. It is based on best practices in the field of online teaching, learning, and assessment. It should be used as a guideline for course development, and as a checklist to ensure your online course meets quality and accessibility standards.

UT complies with federal and SACS directives regarding distance education, including those related to online student authentication.

Colleges and departments offering online programs and courses are responsible for verifying student identity to ensure that each student who registers for an online course is the same student who completes the coursework and receives credit for taking the class.

Strategies include having students use a secure login when accessing course materials, submitting assignments, and taking exams. New students receive a secure login in the form of their NetID (network identifier) when they are admitted to the university. The NetID is required to access those course delivery services associated with online instruction and assessment, including including UT e-mail, MyUTK Portal, Online@UT (Canvas), LiveOnline@UT, and other UT maintained portals. NetID passwords are required to be changed every 180 days and it is a violation of university policy to share one’s NetID. Instructors teaching online courses should consult resources from OIT Instructional Support and TennTLC on testing and assessment to learn more about using Canvas to develop and deplore online exams.

Instructors may decide to require proctoring for a particular test or exam. For more information, see the section on Proctored Testing. 

Faculty members and instructors determine if an online exam or test should be proctored. The faculty member can then identify and contact an appropriate proctor, or have students set up their own proctors, subject to the faculty member’s approval and completion of the UT Proctor Form.

All proctors agree to comply with UT policies and procedures including the following: requiring the student to present a picture ID; preventing the student from making copies or having loose papers, study guides or cell phones nearby; and carefully observing the student during paper-based and online exams. Proctors must provide information to the course faculty member regarding his or her credentials, place of employment, proctoring experience and details regarding access to the appropriate technologies. Proctors may not be relatives, friends, spouses, or coworkers of the examinee. Completed tests are returned to the faculty member who then grades the exams.

Instructors are responsible for communicating the requirements to students and for providing adequate time for students to arrange an acceptable proctor. If any additional student fees will be incurred as a result of a required proctored (online or face to face) test, or other type of identity verification, students must be notified during registration as to the additional costs.

All students enrolled at UT are protected by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

The administrators of Online@UT (Canvas) make every effort to minimize the amount of personal information about students, faculty, and staff that resides on the system. Only the user’s name, NetID, and UT e-mail address will be displayed. Online@UT runs under SSL encryption to protect all user information passing to and from the system. For additional information, please see the Online@UT and University-wide Student Privacy Policy page.

Class attendance and eligibility polices apply to students enrolled in online and hybrid courses. The individual instructor sets attendance and participation requirements, including, but not limited to the first class meeting. For courses that meet asynchronously, fulfilling this requirement may involve submitting an assignment, participating in an online discussion, or completing a quiz or some other type of assessment. Information about meeting attendance requirements should be provided to students in the course syllabus and the Canvas course site. Fully online classes should include first day attendance information in the course comments section in the class schedule on MyUTK.

OIT has developed the Online Instructor Toolkit to assist instructors in preparing and teaching their online courses. Topics covered include course design, instructional materials development, and evaluation of teaching and learning. This is a must resource for anyone new to online course development.

This self-paced training from OIT presents information about different types of online lectures, including when to use, the impact on student learning, the most appropriate tools for creation, and examples from UT instructors.

Individual faculty members determine how testing and assessment of student learning outcomes occur in online and hybrid courses. Blackboard offers numerous options for developing and delivering assessments, and a number of ways to enhance the security of online exams.

Instructors interested in learning more about test integrity; best practices in online assessment; and the use of multiple assessment techniques, including essays, project-based assignments, quizzes, threaded discussions and collaborative work; should submit a HelpDesk ticket to OIT Instructional Support or contact TennTLC for a consultation.

Academic integrity is an important component of every course at UT, regardless of the delivery method. On campus and online students are expected to adhere to the following Honor Statement. “As a student of the university, I pledge that I will neither knowingly give nor receive any inappropriate assistance in academic work, thus affirming my own personal commitment to honor and integrity.”

The Honor Statement and its attendant pledge appear in the Hilltopics Student Handbook, on applications for admission (undergraduate and graduate); in the catalogs (undergraduate and graduate), and in a brochure specifically addressing its importance.

UT complies with the UT System policy regarding patents, copyrights, and other intellectual property. Information pertaining to online course creation and substantial use of appears section II. F (Copyrightable Materials – Mediated Course Materials). If you have additional questions about copyright and intellectual property in relation to online and digital course materials development, please contact Frank Lancaster in the General Council’s Office (flancaster@tennessee.edu) or Jennifer Gramling, director of Online Programs (jgramlin@utk.edu)

OIT provides on-going faculty development opportunities related to the effective integration of technology into online and hybrid instructional settings.

On September 26, 2011, the US Department of Education Office of Inspector General (IG) issued a report about “fraud rings operating on distance education programs offered by institutions participating in the Federal student aid programs (http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/oig/invtreports/l42l0001.pdf).

The IG’s report identified an increasing number of cases involving large, loosely affiliated groups of individuals (fraud rings) who conspire to defraud title IV programs through distance education programs. These fraud rings generally target institutions with low tuition in the context of distance education programs and involve a ringleader who:

  • Obtains identifying information from straw students – individuals who willingly provide the information – including some who were incarcerated, by promising financial gain.
  • Completes multiple financial aid applications using the information collected (name, Social Security number, date of birth, etc.).
  • Applies for admission under the institution’s open admissions program, where little or no third-party documentation is required.
  • Participates in the amount of on-line interaction necessary to establish participation in the academic program and secure disbursements under an institution’s procedures.

Once the ringleader has submitted the federal student financial aid application and completed enrollment at the institution, the institution draws down federal student aid funds, deducts the institutional charges assessed the straw student, and disburses the credit balances to the straw student by check or debit card. Straw students then give a portion of the proceeds to the ringleaders while keeping the remaining portion. If needed to secure disbursements under an institution’s procedures, a ringleader may also participate as the straw student in sufficient academic work to appear to be an eligible student.”

If you suspect that a student enrolled in a distance education program is committing fraud, please contact the Office of Inspector General at http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/oig/hotline.html

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