University of Rochester

Online Learning at the University of Rochester

Guidelines and Standard Practices for Online Learning

University of Rochester Guidelines and Standard Practices for Online Learning are centered around the position that the quality of online offerings is equivalent and consistent with any other academic offering of our institution. Describing our approach to planning and support can be represented in the alignment with Indicators of Quality in Distance Education described below.

Describe your institution’s planning process for Distance Education, including how the need for distance access was identified, the nature and size of the intended audiences, and the provisions for serving those audiences.

Planning for any academic activity or offering, including distance education, is the responsibility of the individual school at the University of Rochester. The faculty members in the appropriate academic department, along with the Dean and staff in the school, identify the need, assess the potential student audience, determine the necessary course offerings and program requirements, and allocate resources to serve and support the students. A variety of methods are employed to evaluate the needs of students. Distance education courses have the same learning objectives as the traditional, face-to-face version of the courses and have the same high expectation of academic quality.

Describe your institution’s resources for distance learning programs and its support services to ensure their effectiveness. What course management system does your institution use?

The University of Rochester has made significant investments in our course management system environment. The robust environment is housed in our primary data center and redundant systems are available in our secondary data center. Dedicated professional staff members manage and support this platform. All schools of the University of Rochester share a common Blackboard system which includes (a) a student portal, (b) learning management system, (c) content system, (d) access to mobile Learn, the related smart phone and tablet application,(e) integration of library resources, (f) integration of the Panopto lecture capture system, and (g) other related instructional tools. Training and support for Blackboard is available to all faculty members at the University.

Describe how faculty are trained and supported in developing and teaching online courses, including the pedagogical and communication strategies to function effectively. Describe the qualifications of those who train faculty, or are otherwise in charge of online education.

Each school at the University of Rochester provides support to the faculty. In addition, the University of Rochester launched new online learning initiatives in 2013. A salient component of this investment is the creation of a new senior level position, Associate Vice President for Online Learning. This appointee has been nationally recognized for 20 years of online distance education experience, and academic credentials that include a Master’s degree in Curriculum Development and a Doctorate in Education. This individual holds a faculty appointment in our Graduate School of Education and is guiding an Online Learning Symposium Series. The Symposium Series facilitates a broad faculty dialogue on campus, and offers specific faculty workshops related to the design and development of online courses. Pedagogical strategies, learning theory, and supportive methods of communication are important and effective aspects of these workshops. 

If your institution uses courses or academic support services from another provider, describe the process used (with faculty participation) to evaluate their quality, academic rigor, and suitability for the award of college credit and a degree or certificate.

The University of Rochester does not acquire courses from any external providers. If that option were considered in the future, faculty members would be central to the evaluation process.

Does your institution have a clear policy on ownership of course materials developed for its distance education courses? How is this policy shared with faculty and staff?

In general, the policy on ownership of course materials for distance education courses is consistent with traditional, face-to-face courses. If significant University resources are invested in specific courses, additional agreements and arrangements are made in advance with the faculty member.

Describe how your institution provides distance students with clear information on: program completion requirements; the nature of the learning experience; any specific student background, knowledge, or technical skills needed; expectations of student participation and learning; the nature of interaction in the courses; any technical equipment or software required or recommended.

Individual schools at the University provide clear communication to the students enrolled in the courses and programs. Printed materials, web sites and orientation sessions provide students with information about the learning experience, pre-requisite knowledge, technical requirements and overall expectations. 

Describe how your institution provides distance learners with adequate academic and administrative support, including academic advisement, technical support, library and information services, and other student support services normally available on campus. Do program materials clearly define how students can access these support services?

The University of Rochester school offering the distance education course provides academic and administrative support. Given the academic equivalency of courses, advisement is consistent with traditional, face-to-face offerings. Students taking distance education courses can utilize campus advisors in person, via email, or phone. In addition, library and information services are integrated into the Blackboard learning management system at the University and accessible to students regardless of their location. Program web sites clearly provide this information and direct links to this support.

Describe how administrative processes such as admissions and registration are made available to distance students, and how program materials inform students how to access these services.

Each school at the University of Rochester provides admissions and registration support to students. Students taking distance education courses can visit the admissions office and registrar resources in person, via email, or phone to access those services. Program web sites clearly provide this information and direct links to this support.

What orientation opportunities and resources are available for students of distance learning?

Schools at the University of Rochester provide orientation opportunities to the students in the courses and programs. Students in distance education courses can participate in on campus orientations if that is feasible, or an online version that is accessible anywhere if that is more appropriate. Orientation opportunities address school resources for students as well as an introduction to the online learning environment for the courses.  

How does your institution ensure that the same academic standards and requirements are applied to the program on campus and through distance learning? If the curriculum in the Distance Education program differs from that of the on-ground program, please identify the differences.

Schools at the University of Rochester ensure the same academic standards and requirements by following the same academic processes and procedures regardless of method of instructional delivery. The process and procedures for determining the faculty who teach traditional classroom courses is the same for determining the faculty who teach online courses. In addition, the expectations for high quality academic experiences are the same for traditional classroom courses and for online courses. The course goals and learning objectives are the same, regardless of the mode of instruction.

Are the courses that make up the distance learning program offered in a sequence or configuration that allows timely completion of requirements?

Schools at the University of Rochester that offer online programs communicate the sequence of course offerings to students through their web sites. Individual students plan their programs of study with their advisor to enable timely completion of their program.

How do faculty ensure that the technological tools used in the program are appropriate for the content and intended learning outcomes?

Faculty members at the University of Rochester use our common learning management system with standard tools that support class communication and content delivery. New versions of tools are reviewed and piloted. Training and support documentation are provided to faculty.

How does the program provide for appropriate and flexible interaction between faculty and students, and among students?

Faculty members at the University of Rochester use our common learning management system with standard communication capabilities for student-to-faculty and student-to-classmate interaction. Faculty members have flexibility in selecting asynchronous or synchronous tools based on what is most appropriate for their course.

How do faculty teaching online courses verify that students who enroll in online courses are the same persons who participate in the course activities and complete and turn in assignments?

The University of Rochester has systems in place to verify the identity of students in compliance with recommendations from the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools. Our common learning management system is Blackboard and requires all students to sign on with a unique account and secure password. Our student information system only permits access to courses from students officially registered in these courses. Additional efforts that support authentic course work include a University policy on Academic Integrity that students are held to and course design principles that employ multiple and alternative means of assessment as determined by the faculty member. We also have a policy on Student Identity Verification

Distance learning programs are expected to produce the same learning outcomes as comparable classroom-based programs. How are these learning outcomes identified -- in terms of knowledge, skills, or credentials -- in course and program materials?

All programs and courses—whether online, hybrid or traditional face-to-face—are subject to the same processes and procedures for the development and approval of learning outcomes. Outcomes are developed in accordance with accreditor recommendations where appropriate, and faculty and school curriculum committees approve these outcomes.

Describe how the means chosen for assessing student learning in this program are appropriate to the content, learning design, technologies, and characteristics of the learners.

All assessment and evaluation methods are selected by the faculty member to align with the learning objectives for the course. This is consistent with traditional classroom courses at the University. Faculty members use the means most appropriate for their course, and this often includes multiple methods including graded discussion, writing assignments, projects, and quizzes.

What process is in place to monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of the distance learning program on a regular basis?

All online courses and programs are evaluated using the same academic processes as traditional classroom courses and programs. Course evaluations are collected for online courses as well as traditional classroom courses and the faculty members review them annually.

How will the evaluation results will be used for continuous program improvement?

The annual review process yields information that is used to adjust and improve the courses as appropriate.

How will the evaluation process assure that the program results in learning outcomes appropriate to the rigor and breadth of the college degree or certificate awarded?

The University of Rochester maintains the highest academic standards by being consistent and equivalent across all modes of instruction. The learning objectives for an online version of a course are identical to the traditional classroom version of the course. Students are also required to meet consistently high standards and stringent requirements for all degree programs, regardless of the method of instruction. This approach ensures the consistent rigor and breadth of any and all programs at the University of Rochester.