iNACOL Standards for Quality Online Courses
The International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL) has established quality standards for online courses, teaching and programs. Specifically within the area of online courses, iNACOL has developed 52 quality standards for content, instructional design, student assessment, technology, and course evaluation and support, known collectively as the National Standards for Quality Online Courses.
UC requires all online courses to be assessed against the iNACOL Standards for Quality Online Courses before the course is submitted to UC for “a-g” review. The California Learning Resource Network (CLRN) conducts this course review against the iNACOL course standards for online course publishers serving public institutions and home-grown online courses from public institutions open to students outside the local district. Private institutions, online course publishers serving only private institutions and home-grown online courses from public institutions open only to students within the local district will conduct their own self-assessment of their online courses against the iNACOL course standards.
Standards highlighted in bold below are the 15 “power standards” that UC faculty have identified as essential parts of online learning. All online courses must satisfy the 15 “power standards” and fulfill at least 27 of the remaining standards. Online courses will be re-reviewed every three years to verify their compliance with these standards.
The course provides online learners with multiple ways of engaging with learning experiences that promote their mastery of content and are aligned with state or national content standards.
- The goals and objectives clearly state what the participants will know or be able to do at the end of the course. The goals and objectives are measurable in multiple ways.
- The course content and assignments are aligned with the state’s content standards, common core curriculum or other accepted content standards set for Advanced Placement courses, technology, computer science or other courses whose content is not included in the state standards.
- The course content and assignments are of sufficient rigor, depth and breadth to teach the standards being addressed.
- Information literacy and communication skills are incorporated and taught as an integral part of the curriculum.
- Multiple learning resources and materials to increase student success are available to students before the course begins.
- A clear, complete course overview and syllabus are included in the course.
- Course requirements are consistent with course goals, are representative of the scope of the course and are clearly stated.
- Information is provided to students, parents and mentors on how to communicate with the online instructor and course provider.
- The course reflects multi-cultural education and the content is accurate, current and free of bias or advertising.
- Expectations for academic integrity, use of copyrighted materials, plagiarism and netiquette (Internet etiquette) regarding lesson activities, discussions and e-mail communications are clearly stated.
- Privacy policies are clearly stated.
- Online instructor resources and notes are included.
- Assessment and assignment answers and explanations are included.
The course uses learning activities that engage students in active learning; provides students with multiple learning paths to master; the content is based on student needs; and provides ample opportunities for interaction and communication — student to student, student to instructor and instructor to student.
- Course design reflects a clear understanding of all students’ needs and incorporates varied ways to learn and master the curriculum.
- The course is organized by units and lessons that fall into a logical sequence. Each unit and lesson includes an overview describing objectives, activities, assignments, assessments and resources to provide multiple learning opportunities for students to master the content.
- The course instruction includes activities that engage students in active learning.
- The course and course instructor provide students with multiple learning paths, based on student needs that engage students in a variety of ways.
- The course provides opportunities for students to engage in higher-order thinking, critical reasoning activities and thinking in increasingly complex ways.
- The course provides options for the instructor to adapt learning activities to accommodate students’ needs.
- Readability levels, written language assignments and mathematical requirements are appropriate for the course content and grade-level expectations.
- The course design provides opportunities for appropriate instructor-student interaction, including opportunities for timely and frequent feedback about student progress.
- The course design includes explicit communication/activities (both before and during the first week of the course) that confirm whether students are engaged and are progressing through the course. The instructor will follow program guidelines to address non-responsive students.
- The course provides opportunities for appropriate instructor-student and student-student interaction to foster mastery and application of the material.
- Students have access to resources that enrich the course content.
The course uses multiple strategies and activities to assess student readiness for and progress in course content and provides students with feedback on their progress.
- Student evaluation strategies are consistent with course goals and objectives, are representative of the scope of the course and are clearly stated.
- The course structure includes adequate and appropriate methods and procedures to assess students’ mastery of content.
- Ongoing, varied, and frequent assessments are conducted throughout the course to inform instruction.
- Assessment strategies and tools make the student continuously aware of his/her progress in class and mastery of the content.
- Assessment materials provide the instructor with the flexibility to assess students in a variety of ways.
- Grading rubrics are provided to the instructor and may be shared with students.
- The grading policy and practices are easy to understand.
The course takes full advantage of a variety of technology tools, has a user-friendly interface and meets accessibility standards for interoperability and access for learners with special needs.
- The course architecture permits the online instructor to add content, activities and assessments to extend learning opportunities.
- The course accommodates multiple school calendars; e.g., block, 4X4 and traditional schedules.
- Clear and consistent navigation is present throughout the course.
- Rich media are provided in multiple formats for ease of use and access in order to address diverse student needs.
- All technology requirements (including hardware, browser, software, etc.) are specified.
- Prerequisite skills in the use of technology are identified.
- The course uses content-specific tools and software appropriately.
- The course is designed to meet internationally recognized interoperability standards.
- Copyright and licensing status, including permission to share where applicable, is clearly stated and easily found.
- Course materials and activities are designed to provide appropriate access to all students. The course, developed with universal design principles in mind, conforms to the U.S. Section 504 and Section 508 provisions for electronic and information technology as well as the W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0).
- Student information remains confidential, as required by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).
Course evaluation and support
The course is evaluated regularly for effectiveness, using a variety of assessment strategies, and the findings are used as a basis for improvement. The course is kept up to date, both in content and in the application of new research on course design and technologies. Online instructors and their students are prepared to teach and learn in an online environment and are provided support during the course.
- The course provider uses multiple ways of assessing course effectiveness.
- The course is evaluated using a continuous improvement cycle for effectiveness and the findings used as a basis for improvement.
- The course is updated periodically and re-reviewed every three years to ensure that the content is current.
- Course instructors, whether face-to- face or virtual, are certificated and “highly qualified.” The online course teacher possesses a teaching credential from a state-licensing agency and is “highly qualified” as defined under ESEA.
- Professional development about the online course delivery system is offered by the provider to assure effective use of the courseware and various instructional media available.
- The course provider offers technical support and course management assistance to students, the course instructor and the school coordinator.
- Course instructors, whether face-to- face or virtual, have been provided professional development in the behavioral, social, and when necessary, emotional aspects of the learning environment.
- Course instructors, whether face-to- face or virtual, receive instructor professional development, which includes the support and use of a variety of communication modes to stimulate student engagement online.
- The provider assures that course instructors, whether face-to-face or virtual, are provided support, as needed, to ensure their effectiveness and success in meeting the needs of online students.
- Students are offered an orientation for taking an online course before starting the coursework.