2.5 Web-based and Online Courses

(last updated 08/23/19)

NOTE: Effective Fall 2020 the parameters for online courses will change substantially. Immediately below are the guidelines through Summer 2020 and further down are the guidelines effective Fall 2020. Please consider these changes in relation to the timing of a course proposal you may be creating.

Guidelines through Summer 2020

Background

COCI working groups, in 2002 and 2004, considered the issue of online instruction, the broader issues involved, and how to reflect online instruction in instructional formats. The groups focused on “hybrid” courses, in which “technologically mediated activities” subsume online instruction and participation in computer-based activities in a lab setting—as opposed to face-to-face interaction between instructors and students. In spring 2006, COCI further considered the issues and took action to implement the recommendations of the working groups.

Criteria for Review

Face-to-face time vs. Web time

COCI established a threshold at which departments must justify substitutions of face-to-face contact with the instructor with web-based or technologically mediated work. Any course in which face-to-face contact with an instructor represents less than one-third of the total hours of required work per week must justify the substitution by answering a set of questions (see below), the course should be designated as having a web-based instructional format (see below), and will normally carry a W prefix (see below). This standard is based on Senate Regulation 760, which states that the value of a course in units shall be reckoned at the rate of one unit for three hours’ work per week per term. This means that, essentially, for a three-unit course in which students and instructor do not meet in person for three hours per week (one-third of the total work hours required), and technologically mediated (web-based) activities substitute for this meeting time, special justification would be required.

Final Exams

If the instructor does not wish to conduct a final exam in accordance with SR 772, the instructor must follow procedures for final exams as outlined in section 2.1.3. Instructors will need to coordinate with the Office of Scheduling to offer a final exam if a regular classroom has not been assigned for the semester.

Supplemental Questions

Instructors proposing courses in which face-to-face contact is proposed for less than one-third of the total work hours must answer supplementary questions to assess whether the course will preserve student-instructor interaction and not decrease student accountability or otherwise negatively affect learning. In addition to replying to these questions, instructors should carefully consider how much time they expect a typical student will need to work each week to complete requirements for the course, taking into account changed formats, in setting the required estimate of student work. SR 760 applies for web-based courses.

While union contracts govern workload for GSIs, COCI has a responsibility to monitor contact hours for proposed courses. Consequently, COCI needs to be sure that in cases in which GSIs are to be used to deliver instruction and advice asynchronously, the department involved has taken care to structure work assignments in ways that can meet the required number of contact hours with the proposed FTE devoted to GSIs for the course.

When submitting a proposal for a new web-based course or a web-based version of an existing course, the instructor must submit answers to the following questions for COCI’s review. The list of questions is also provided on the Course Management System (CMS) and on COCI’s website (http://academic-senate.berkeley.edu/sites/default/files/onlinecoursequestions_11-12-10_1.doc).

Overview questions:

1. What modes of instruction will be used, particularly those specific to technologically-mediated instruction (e.g., webcast lectures, moderated discussion lists, synchronous or asynchronous web-based discussion sections, email, chat rooms)?

2. What specific pedagogical advantages and disadvantages will the technologically-mediated format offer?

3. How will this way of delivering the course change modes of learning (e.g., auditory or tactile) and affect learning experiences? If this course has a corresponding face-to-face version, please compare the two and explain the differences.

4. Is specific technical or pedagogical expertise (on the part of the student or instructor) necessary for this course? If so, what? If using GSIs, are there needs or plans for specialized training to enable them to work successfully in an online environment to elicit/follow/stimulate discussion?

5. What specific technical support does the department have available for instructors and students? What plans are there for malfunction, disruption, or unavailability of technical support?

6. How many students are expected to take this course? If there is a face-to-face equivalent on campus, please indicate the semester(s) taught and typical enrollment(s) and whether the face-to-face version will continue to be taught after development of an online version.

7. Is there a specific problem or set of problems that online delivery is intended to address (e.g., increasing access, relieving impacted courses, reducing costs)? If so, please explain.

8. Will this course satisfy major/degree requirements? If so, are there face-to-face courses that meet the same requirements? Will both the face-to-face and online options be treated the same when determining if students have met these requirements? For instance, does your department intend to limit the number of online courses that students may take to meet requirements? Please explain.

9. Have you considered how this course will relate to other courses, both online and face-to-face, that your department may offer, or that may be offered by other departments? For example, will this course serve as a prerequisite for other courses? Please explain.

Course Mechanics and Logistics Questions:

10. What is the nature of instructor involvement in the proposed alternative mode of instruction? What are the means by which the instructor will foster learning, and how will the instructor be available for consultation?

11. In the case of distance learning courses offered collaboratively between campuses, what are the specific responsibilities of instructors on this campus? How will coordination be maintained between campuses, and who will be responsible on this campus for consultation with students?

12. How will student progress be monitored? Describe graded activities mediated through technology and how materials will be handled to verify student identities and to ensure that students only receive credit for their own work.

13. What are the plans for evaluating student learning outcomes, both at the end of the term and as students move through subsequent courses in a sequence of courses or curricula?

14. How will course material that is archival in nature (e.g., recorded webcasts, voiceover slides) be updated for future offerings? Can it be easily moved to other platforms or adopted by other instructors?

15. COCI will be reviewing approved online courses after four years, consistent with the recommendations in the Berkeley Division's Final Report of the Online Graduate Degree Working Group (which can be found at https://academic-senate.berkeley.edu/sites/default/files/final_report_online_graduate_degrees_working_group.pdf) and COCI's current practice of seeking input from the instructors of new online courses on their teaching experiences--a practice which has been in place since COCI's first provisional approval of online courses in 2003. If you believe your proposed course would benefit from review before the four-year mark, what is the alternative time-scale for review that you would prefer and the reasoning behind it?

Four-Year Re-Review

To fulfill the requirement to review approved online courses after four years, as specified in question #15 of the Supplemental Questions, COCI will collect the following information from three sources.

1. From the instructor(s) of the course:

  • A written assessment of how the course has developed over the four years that it has been approved, with particular attention paid to the effectiveness of various aspects of the online design.

2. From the chair of the department in which the course is offered:

  • The chair’s views on how well the course has fit into the department’s offerings.
  • A brief summary of student evaluations of instructors and GSIs for the course over the four-year span.
  • An account of any difficulties that may have arisen related to GSI working hours. 

3. From the Registrar:

  • Which semesters the course has been taught since it has been approved.
  • How many students have enrolled in the course each semester.

Letters will be sent out four years after the effective term of the original approval, and responses will be requested within a few months (at the discretion of the COCI chair). Instructors and chairs will be informed that if the course has changed substantially from its original form, COCI may require submission of a new course proposal for review.

Instructional Formats

In spring 2006 COCI endorsed two new instructional formats, which have been available for scheduling beginning fall 2006. The formats are defined as follows:

WBL: Web-Based Lecture. Courses in which web-based or technologically mediated activities replace standard lectures. This includes courses ranging from fully-integrated online courses with interactive text, graphics, and/or executable programs, online student access to the instructors, and measures to assure compliance with copyright laws; to hybrids in which lectures are technologically mediated (by broadcast or webcast, for example) while other activities and access to instructors may not be mediated by technology. Grades may be based in part on electronically submitted materials such as homework, research papers, and participation. Required final examinations must be administered in a classroom setting unless an exception is granted, in accordance with COCI procedures.

WBD: Web-Based Discussion: Courses in which web-based or technologically mediated activities replace standard discussion sections. Web-Based Discussions may use such modes of instruction as online discussion groups, chat rooms, blogs, and the like. Students may have online access to instructors through these and other means such as email office hours. Measures must be taken to ensure student privacy and civility in these activities. Grades will normally be based on material submitted electronically, such as homework, research papers, and participation.

W Prefix

As of spring 2011, a prefix of W will be used for fully and predominantly online courses, as determined by COCI on a course-by-course basis. The Berkeley Academic Guide listings for online courses will also include the explanatory phrase “This course is web-based” at the end of the course description.

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Guidelines effective Fall 2020

Background

COCI working groups began a review of policies in relation to online instruction in 2002 and 2004, focused on questions of how to assess instructional quality when components of courses that would traditionally have involved face-to-face interaction between instructors and students were replaced by “technologically mediated” formats. In spring 2006, COCI further considered the issues, and implemented policies and guidelines for online courses, including additional review parameters and required post-implementation review, based on the recommendations of the working groups.

Across 2018 and 2019, COCI revisited these issues to develop a set of internal assessment guidelines as well as proposal requirements to more accurately reflect current instructional practices. The main changes implemented under the new guidelines are a move away from a simple classroom/online binary in categorizing courses, and implementation of a more differentiated set of instructional format choices in different dimensions of each course (e.g., lecture, discussion, lab). This is required in course proposals and to be reflected in a transparent and accessible manner in the online course catalog. 

Effective Fall 2020 COCI no longer requires departments to include the following when proposing courses with online instructional components:

  • A “W” prefix in the course number.
  • A completed “Supplemental Questions for Online Course Approval Requests” questionnaire.


Further, COCI no longer holds the following rules regarding courses with online instructional components:

  • There is a threshold at which departments must justify substituting synchronous instructor contact with asynchronous online work.

Courses approved under the previous policy will be maintained as approved. It will be incumbent on departments to modify their online courses, as they see fit, to adapt to these revisions. COCI encourages departments to update courses to remove the “W” prefix whenever possible to reduce redundancy of courses, decrease confusion for students, and promote consistency across courses. There will be attributes within the formats and in the course catalog to make it transparent when a course is scheduled in an online setting. 


Best Practices

During the initial implementation of its online course policy, COCI generated a set of best practices based on its analysis of annual assessments as well as from reviewer feedback. The following is a set of recommended guidelines for an instructor and department to consider when devising a course involving significant online instruction:

  • Plan for the substantial amount of initial development time an online course can require. Many instructors have reported needing hundreds of hours of course development time and upwards of thirty hours of ongoing work per week during the semester. Many instructors also report that they often revised upwards of fifty percent of an online course after the first offering.

  • Consider what role third-party providers can play in developing and implementing an online course. Few departments have the unique resources needed for creating and maintaining online courses. There are both on- and off-campus vendors that have the expertise and tools to provide support. On campus, the Digital Learning Services (DLS) and Educational Technology Services (ETS) are two units that can provide support. With any such option, be sure to verify in detail what technical support will be available to instructors and students.

  • Think carefully about the pedagogical advantages and disadvantages of web-based and online courses vis-à-vis traditional formats, and how these different modes of instruction will affect the learning experience as well as instructor and GSI workload. Alternative modes of engagement (e.g., moderated discussion lists, synchronous web-based discussion sections, email, chat rooms) often become more important with online instruction and require more instructor attention. Address in your syllabus your expectations for engagement and how student progress will be monitored.

  • As part of a commitment to “truth in advertising”, be sure that the course syllabus and related information provide a clear account of the requirements and expectations for student engagement in online and classroom instruction. For example, consider including a grid in the syllabus that documents how much time per week is spent in online discussions, viewing online lectures, and similar activities versus traditional classroom-based lectures, discussions, or off-line work. As part of this, the syllabus should make clear any non-UC online platforms or third-party applications that a student will need to access in order to participate in the course. Note that a similar breakdown of instructional formats will be required for the course proposal itself.

  • Think carefully through the specific methods to be used for monitoring student progress, evaluating performance, and assigning grades. This could involve a series of assignments for online submission, synchronous online assessments to be completed at a fixed time and date, or the incorporation of an in-person final examination in an online course, etc. Give some thought for the particular issues regarding academic honesty that may be an issue with a course in a largely or exclusively online format. As part of the syllabus, be explicit about how participation is assessed in web-based instructional environments.

  • Be prepared to fully support the proposed online course in relation to GSI and additional instructional resources. Since GSIs frequently conduct office hours and discussion sections remotely, they become the “voice” of the class to students. Having a knowledgeable and accessible GSI is often paramount to student engagement and success. It is also important that the expectations of GSIs be reasonable and be carefully thought through in advance (and, of course, that both designed and actual GSI workloads abide by relevant labor policies).

  • Consider the role of the proposed online course in relation to the department’s broader catalog of courses and program requirements. Is this a “one-off” course that supplements the catalog of department offerings, or will it become a critical component of the major/degree/program? Will this online course satisfy major/degree requirements? Will the online course serve as a prerequisite for other courses? In all of these respects, what relation is the online offering envisioned as bearing to existing courses in conventional formats?

  • Consider course structure, goals, and outcomes in relation to the anticipated student clientele. The clientele for online courses often includes a mix of UC Berkeley students and visiting students. Think about potential adjustments to be made to account for such a mixed clientele as opposed to the predominantly UC Berkeley student population of conventional course offerings on campus.

 

Criteria for Review

Regardless of whether an instructor of department opts to address the best practices listed above, what follows below will be mandatory for course proposals incorporating online instructional formats:

Face-to-face Instruction vs. Online Instruction


To serve the purposes of consistency and transparency (for students, staff, and other departments alike), COCI requires that the course proposal include a clear accounting of the amount of synchronous instructor contact that a course includes. The CMS course proposal form includes a section to indicate the instructional formats being used (e.g., lecture, discussion, final examinations). As with any course proposal, this breakdown in format choices must be accompanied by a detailed narrative account of assignments, class schedule, and the interrelation among various course components in relation to the course’s overall academic goals, along with the rationale for the choices of instructional format. In particular, this narrative must give a clear account, where relevant, of a) which course components are conducted synchronously and which asynchronously, and b) which course components are conducted online and away from campus versus those that require presence on campus (or the physical location of the course in case of study abroad and similar courses). For example, a course may be predominantly instructed online, but require that students come to campus during Final Exam Week to complete the final assessment. Any such requirements must be transparent in the syllabus.

On the question of synchronous versus asynchronous, it must be made clear which days and times, if any, students must be present in an online forum (e.g., discussions or group meetings). If there is no structure of synchronous course components, there must be a description of specific checkpoints or deadlines to support students completing the course within the term. In this regard, the proposal must take into consideration the workload and availability of the primary instructor and supporting instructional staff to meet the course demands.

Midterm Exams, Final Exams, and Related Alternative Final Assessments

Since online examinations pose some particular concerns relating to academic integrity, the following must be included, where relevant, in the course proposal. For assessments conducted distantly and/or asynchronously, there must be an accounting of what measures are to be put in place to ensure the academic integrity of the examination process. This would include a clear description of any requirement for students to engage proctoring services or other third-party services (and thereby potentially incur fees beyond those collected by the University) in order to complete the assessment. For assessments in largely or primarily online courses requiring students to be present on the Berkeley campus at a particular time and date, this information must be made clear in both the course proposal as well as in any syllabi, or other supporting documents, as noted above.

If the instructor does not wish to conduct a final exam in accordance with SR 772, the instructor must follow procedures for final exams as outlined in section 2.1.3. Instructors will need to coordinate with Classroom Scheduling and Management in the Office of the Registrar to offer a final exam if a regular classroom has not been assigned for the semester.

Instructional Formats

With the clarification approved effective Fall 2020, COCI affirms that a single course may be approved with multiple configurations. These may include purely classroom instruction, purely online instruction, or some combination. As with any substantial changes to a course, a change to the instructional format requires COCI approval. Once approved, it will be the responsibility of the department to schedule the course in accordance with the approved version. The Office of the Registrar will continue to monitor and enforce scheduling configurations according to approved course components.

In spring 2006 COCI endorsed two new instructional formats, which have been available for scheduling beginning fall 2006. The committee continues to encourage departments to utilize these instructional formats where applicable. The formats are defined as follows:

WBL: Web-Based Lecture: Courses in which web-based or technologically mediated activities replace standard lectures. This includes courses ranging from fully-integrated online courses with interactive text, graphics, and/or executable programs, online student access to the instructors, and measures to assure compliance with copyright laws; to hybrids in which lectures are technologically mediated (by broadcast or webcast, for example) while other activities and access to instructors may not be mediated by technology. Grades may be based in part on electronically submitted materials such as homework, research papers, and participation. Required final examinations must be administered in a classroom setting unless an exception is granted, in accordance with COCI procedures.

WBD: Web-Based Discussion: Courses in which web-based or technologically mediated activities replace standard discussion sections. Web-Based Discussions may use such modes of instruction as online discussion groups, chat rooms, blogs, and the like. Students may have online access to instructors through these and other means such as email office hours. Measures must be taken to ensure student privacy and civility in these activities. Grades will normally be based on material submitted electronically, such as homework, research papers, and participation.

See section 2.2.4 for further information on all approved instructional formats.