Standard 4. Content, activities and interaction


4.0: Each module includes an overview or review page, including a checklist or summary of activities that students will need to complete, indicating those that are practice-only, graded, submitted, not submitted, etc.

Providing a rough outline, road map, activities list, and/or overview is a best practice in online course design because this helps students navigate both the course site and instructor expectations. Courses without regular assessment, direction, skill-checks, and or measurement can reduce student competency, engagement, and motivation.

Students benefit from knowing what they are about to learn, as well as the scope of work and time commitment expected from them. Therefore, each module should include information that enables students to become self-directed, provides them helpful information regarding what to expect in the module, and assuages any anxiety of starting a new module.

Module overview pages should provide advance information on what content, interaction, and assessment will take place within specific time periods, as well as an estimate of how much time students will spend on course work each week. In essence, this overview introduces the module’s content and sets your students up with an idea of what will be covered, what tasks they should complete, and which learning outcomes the module helps meet. The module overview may include any of the following:

  • Brief Overview / Introduction to Module Content
  • Module-level Learning Outcomes
  • Activities List / Summary of Tasks
  • Due Date Reminders / Heads Up on Assignments
  • Time on Task Estimates

Module road maps / activities lists / reading and viewing assignments could be their own page in the module, or within the module overview. Importantly, any graded material or time-sensitive / out of the norm for due dates/times should be communicated in this section of the module so students can plan appropriately.


4.1: Course materials comply with copyright laws or fall within the guidelines for fair use.

Instructors need to be aware of copyright and licensing status on all materials used in their courses. Copyright law must be considered before copying, retaining, or disseminating materials outside of the course. Copyright and fair use can be complicated, and faculty should check with campus librarians for guidance on where to locate the licensing status of all materials, and how to cite and state copyright permissions appropriately. It is a good idea to provide a copyright statement in your course, such as the following sample:

The materials used in connection with this course may be subject to copyright protection and are only for the use of students officially enrolled in the course for the educational purposes associated with the course.

All resources and materials in the course should be properly cited. In doing so, instructors and programs model good academic citizenship. This can guide students to respect the intellectual property of others and explore effective practices on publishing new materials.

Additionally, open-source materials (e.g., OERs/OSTs) are leveraged whenever possible. As defined by UNESCO, “Open Educational Resources (OERs) are any type of educational materials that are in the public domain or introduced with an open license. The nature of these open materials means that anyone can legally and freely copy, use, adapt, and re-share them. OERs range from textbooks to curricula, syllabi, lecture notes, assignments, tests, projects, audio, video, and animation.” OERs are available to support a wide range of disciplines and can take the form of complete textbooks, lectures, assignments, labs, simulations, interactive modules, projects, exams, animations, videos, games, and other course support materials.


4.2: Materials, activities, and assessments promote the achievement and alignment of course-wide objectives/SLOs.

Course objectives are specific, observable, and measurable as well as reflective of student learning across cognitive levels and express some level of mastery that students will be able to demonstrate as a result of participating fully in the course. Unless otherwise stated by their academic department, all University of Nevada, Reno syllabi should incorporate the UCCC-approved course objectives as provided in the UNR Catalog. All course content, learning activities, interactions, and assessments should be in alignment with these objectives/outcomes.

According to Quality Matters, “critical course components—learning objectives, assessments, instructional materials, learning activities, and course technology—reinforce one another to ensure that students achieve the desired learning outcomes. When aligned, assessments, instructional materials, learning activities, and course technology are directly tied to and support the learning objectives.” Materials, activities, and assessments meet the diverse needs of students, including the use of information from diverse sources and a variety of methods for students to demonstrate achievement of outcomes.

Overall, course objectives should be clearly communicated via the syllabus and course information documents, and measurable module-level objectives should also be introduced at the beginning of every module.


4.3: Adequate time is provided for students to complete and submit activities, and time requirements are clearly communicated.

Course activities and assessments are scaffolded and spaced throughout the course term to allow students time to properly digest information and build knowledge. Student workload and assessment submissions adhere to what is considered appropriate based upon department standards, course level, and UNR Definition of Student Credit Hour.

Understanding online instructional activity equivalencies is the first step to ensuring that you’ve provided adequate time for students to complete and submit activities. The Office of Digital Learning’s Online Course Contact Hours webpage provides a table that lists common instructional activities in the online teaching modality with a conversion into instructional contact time. Leveraging a teaching or learning taxonomy, such as Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy may also help ensure that course activities and assessments are scaffolded, spaced appropriately, and meet different levels of human cognition.


4.4: Frequent instructor communication is present throughout the course, enabling ample opportunities for students to engage with instructors.

Ample opportunities for interaction with the instructor should be built into course design (i.e., engaging in discussion-based activities, answering emails/messages quickly, Zoom, etc.) to mitigate distance and demonstrate social presence. When students understand the background/have a basic biography of their instructor, the “distance” between instructor and student is mitigated. Instructors who share personal narratives make a lasting impression on online students. Social presence is the ability of students to project their personal characteristics into the community of inquiry, thereby presenting themselves as 'real people' (Garrison, Anderson & Archer, 2000). It relies on establishing a welcoming online learning space, as well as acknowledging students as valued members of the learning community.


4.5: Expectations for student interaction are clearly stated, including netiquette, grade weighting, models/examples, and timing and frequency of student contributions or participation.

Expectations for assignments, class participation, proctoring, due dates, group work, collaboration, and attendance requirements should be clearly articulated and easy to find and understand. Students expect and benefit from understanding the parameters and rationale of the learning activities in a course up front.

Outlining clear expectations for timing and frequency of interactions, activities, and assignments, as well as what type of standards should be upheld when working on particular activities, helps students to be successful and reduces frustration caused by ambiguity.


4.6: Course offers opportunities for student-to-student interaction and constructive collaboration.

Collaboration in a digital course fosters constructive learning by enabling students to be active participants, take initiative, think critically, and engage each other in dialogue. According to Lee and Choi (2011), the more instructors promoted interaction through collaboration, feedback, group activities, and peer scaffolding, the more likely that students persisted and successfully completed their online studies.

When students engage with one another, it requires them to assume more responsibility for their own learning, which often leads to a deeper level of engagement. The instructor’s role is as a facilitator, who moderates and evaluates the quality and quantity of interaction between students. Additionally, group and peer-review assignments can support social, teaching, and cognitive presences in the online learning environment.

Student-to-student interaction and constructive collaboration is supported by the Online Collaborative Learning (OCL) Theory, created by Dr. Linda Harasim of the University of Toronto in 1983. In this model of learning, students are encouraged and supported to work together to create knowledge, and the instructor plays a key role as a fellow learner and a link to a knowledge community. Learning is viewed as a social process and knowledge is viewed as socially constructed.