Peer Review of Online Courses

UAS Sitka RubricAs most of you know, UAS Sitka’s active Peer Review Committee has recently finished the first official course review of an online course. We think the experience for the faculty member undergoing a course review as well as the three course reviewers was very positive and productive. It was a learning experience for all those involved.

The Peer Review Committee is now looking for a UAS faculty member who would be interested in having his or her course reviewed this Spring. You must have taught your course for at least one semester before bringing it to our committee for review (we already have a candidate for Summer semester).  Please contact Mary Purvis if you would like to begin the Peer Review process for Spring 2014.

Our committee, in partnership with the UAS Sitka Title III grant, is sponsoring UAS faculty to participate in the 2-week long online professional development workshop on Applying the QM Rubric offered by Quality Matters. All of our course reviewers must take this course to qualify for our Peer Review Committee Reviewer status. Title III will cover the cost of this online workshop. Contact Mary Purvis is you are interested in taking this online workshop for more details.

The Peer Review Rubric and Checklist are available to all faculty who want to improve their course design and development process. We’d love to hear from you:

  • How does using the Peer Review Rubric/Checklist help your design process?
  • How has the Peer Review Rubric/Checklist improved your course creation or re-design?
  • How has access to the Peer Review Rubric/Checklist improved your knowledge of teaching online?
  • What do you think of the Peer Review Process in general?


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    • jeffuas on October 12, 2013 at 2:52 pm

    Great work –glad to see the participation and progress being made! Jeff

  1. Excellent work! Efforts in this area become all the more important as we see a move towards “competency based degrees” where the “design process” will take on even greater importance. Jeff

    The Commission recently approved four institutions to offer degrees via direct assessment. These institutions will be offering competency-based degrees and an equivalency between competencies and credit hours is not present. Student completion will be documented through a list of competencies that have been met instead of courses taken and passed. The interaction between students, faculty, advisors, and peer reviewers will evolve. Much of the ongoing communication and evaluation will take place through technological environments and institutions needed to demonstrate that the infrastructure is up-to-date and sufficient to handle the changing environment.

    1. What is the verification process to certify the student receiving the competency-based degree is the one who took the direct assessments?

    • Charla Brown on October 14, 2013 at 9:02 pm

    I particularly like the elements of the UAS Sitka peer review rubric that clearly define what success looks like at the exemplary level. I think peer review has an important place in the entire faculty development process. I plan to contact Mary to volunteer for peer review as a member of the Juneau faculty in Spring 2014. I think it would be a wonderful opportunity to get feedback by those trained in online course design. My only suggestion would be that, while the rubric provides an excellent set of expectations, that ultimately there is freedom to design and deliver a course that may not fit strictly within known parameters of online instruction. I think there is opportunity for continued evolution and I do not wish to necessarily replicate a traditional classroom experience via technology over the web.

    I also enjoyed reading Jeffrey Johnson’s comments about competency-based degrees. I just came out of a faculty position at a competency-based degree program at Westminster College, a private liberal arts institution in Salt Lake City, where MBA and BBA degrees were offered to students with a minimum of 5-6 years of working experience. This was an amazing opportunity for non-traditional learners to return to an academic setting and learn new concepts applicable to business while easily applying what they already knew based on oftentimes robust professional experience. The program was recognized earlier this year at the Bill & Gates Foundation as a leader in innovative education practices and it involved low residency with complex projects to demonstrate competency mastery and iterative faculty feedback.

      • Kathi on October 15, 2013 at 7:26 am

      No worries about creativity and continued evolution. The rubric is meant as a guideline. Even if a course didn’t follow the rubric, comments would be provided that an instructor could ignore or accept. Also, the rubric never specifies that something must be done a certain way. It merely says, a reviewer “might look” for this or that. In other words, there are many ways to accomplish a similar task.

      It sounds like your experience at Westminster College provided an amazing experience for students. I think anytime you attach real-world work experiences to academic learning, it’s a win-win-win.

    • Linda Worman on October 14, 2013 at 9:23 pm

    I concur, peer review for online courses does strengthen the course. Using specific guidelines to create a consistent course in both layout and content connectivity from beginning to end supports a learning environment for students. It takes quite a bit of work on the Instructor’s side to meet the quality management and peer review measurements.

    • Megan Gahl on October 15, 2013 at 9:49 pm

    One of the most useful pieces about the peer review is having the rubric in hand as I think about my online course- just having the list helps remind me of what is possible and of the myriad approaches to organization and engaging students. And the flexibility of the rubric is integral to inspiring creativity within the framework of the rubric, but not making all courses fit a static cookie cutter. Thanks for passing it along- megan

    • Peter Anderegg on October 15, 2013 at 10:19 pm

    And let’s not forget the effect on the reviewer. It’s easy enough to say “they aren’t doing XYZ” as part of a peer review, but doesn’t it also make the reviewer step back and ask if your their course is up to the rubric. In essence a peer review really creates a review for all involved, both the reviewer and the “reviewee.”

    • Mary Purvis on October 16, 2013 at 10:30 am

    Peter, you raise a really important benefit of peer review, the impact on the reviewer can not be ignored. After immersing themselves in the rubric and spending hours examining a colleague’s course, they are learning as much or more about their own courses and how they want to organize them. It’s a win win!

  2. I had the pleasure of serving on the peer review committee last summer. I was an excellent experience that I highly recommend to all UAS faculty. By using the rubric to review a colleague’s course I was able to better understand how my course measured up in the five standards. Although the focus was on the course being reviewed, I was able to understand my course weaknesses and ways to improve them. Even though the rubric is a guideline, working with it while looking at other courses gives faculty an opportunity to see how other faculty approach things. I now have a few examples to perhaps use in my courses in the future. Peer Review: fun for everyone!!

    • robin gilcrist on October 17, 2013 at 1:23 pm

    As Megan mentioned in her comment, I am grateful to have this material as a guide whlie I develop my first online course.

    The course review documents have also helped me to understand why some of the courses I have taken online I found so frustrating. I now suspect the instructors never had the benefit of peer review or guidelines to work from and were just working from their classroom teaching experience.

    Thank you Sitka for leading the way.

    • Reid Brewer on October 18, 2013 at 8:14 am

    As someone coming in to distance teaching and learning for the 1st time I think this is a great approach to think about designing a class. First of all it does allow us as a community of learners/instructors to have a little bit of consistency in what course design will look appear to students. Second, I think some of the lessons learned from previous instruction have been captured in the rubric and will therefor be passed on to new instructors. Its like someone has done all my work for me! Thanks!

  3. Peer review of online courses is a welcome metric, especially to someone like myself who is teaching a qualitative course, ASTR225, for the first time. I have always taught quantatative courses, Math, in the past. Also, I have always taught as an adjunct and have no background in teaching pedagogy. The rubric is helpful in supplying the structual stability and core essentials that my poor knowledge of teaching methods lacks. The drawback I see is that it may inhibit the flexibility, creativity, adaptability and freshness that a new perspective on teaching, from someone with no background in educational theory, might generate. But, this is a minor point since I see from the other comments that new approaches are accepted and embraced. Online courses are not new. In the 80’s I took a course in Digital Signal Processing from SDSU that had real time video and audio, and email but, only a text browser, lynx, since the first graphical browser, mosaic, had not emerged from CERN. There, I showed my age. Where are the studies on cognitive comparisons of face-to-face vs online courses?

  4. I think that the Peer Review is a valuable tool for designing online classes. I think that it helps to focus and organize the information students need to be successful in the course. I know that it makes me reexamine my instructional delivery and pushes me to learn more about the different online resources that are available. At Ilisagvik College, we use Moodle and are asked to use a prescribed format by our administration, so the content and placement of information is a little different than what is suggested by the Peer Review. However, that said, I am excited to be developing this class based on the guidelines in the Peer Review, and I am certain that there is enough “wiggle room” for me to create a shelf that helps students to navigate effectively through the course. It has also made me aware of how students need a process to move them through the class that is clear and concise. By learning more about the tools available in Moodle, I have developed items that I hope will bring ease of use, interesting assignments, and well organized content presentation. I see the Peer Review rubric as a flashlight I can use to shine on what was a dim path.

      • Kathi on October 21, 2013 at 7:02 am

      Denise, I want to assure you (and others) that the Peer Review process is not based on Blackboard or Moodle or any CMS structure. It really highlights generic principles. By using this rubric I don’t think it means a course will look a certain way– it rather means that regardless of your structure, it will be consistent and easily understood by your students. It can be justified and you can find things like your objectives, syllabus, etc. The rubric doesn’t say it has to be a left hand menu or modules– it merely says ‘reviewers might look for’ but if they find something else that works, that’s fine too.

    • Jaime on October 22, 2013 at 5:14 am

    The review process does provide benefit to all. The component that I really like is the clear guidelines or standards so there is a communicated expectation of what elements belong in a course, and what “grading rubric” is used to determine the effectiveness of the course for instructor evaluation purposes. As I look at this, I see already where I can move things or implement things in my own coursework to be more effective, which ultimately benefits the students. The purpose is to make online learning less intimidating for students, and the peer-review process helps hold us as educators accountable as we seek to guide and mentor students through our courses and into their professional paths.

    • Valerie barber on October 24, 2013 at 6:33 pm

    This is a great checklist to help when designing your course to make sure you have all the relevant information organized in a way to facilitate ease of use by the student. It’s so easy to overlook information that you think is common knowledge but there are so many students new to online learning. I know that certainly I don’t have all the answers so it’s important to have the links so students can go to get the help they need if they are experiencing technical difficulties and it’s especially important to make it clear enough so a student with English as a second language can easily read and understand the instructions. We are starting to see more students taking classes from the lower 48 and even other countries so clear, concise instructions and layout are very important.

    • Bec Austin on October 28, 2013 at 9:37 am

    The quality improvement/control/assurance is a necessary process in almost all professional related activities, and the peer review process is a form of that.This peer review program is appreciated as it not only offers guidance as to the expected standards for teaching or implementing a course, it also serves as an educational piece as faculty can learn from reviewing other courses. An additional bonus is that it evaluates the course from a student perspective as well, therefore making transition through the course more available for students and enhancing student success.

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