Initial Course Design Quality Review

Courses developed for electronic delivery (i.e., online courses) at UNT undergo a course design review prior to approval. The purpose of this initial review is to ensure that:

  • courses are complete and ready to be delivered by the time the semester begins
  • that federal and state requirements are met
  • that these courses demonstrate best practices for online course design

This page provides an overview of the initial course design quality review process and answers frequently asked questions:

Why are online courses reviewed?
What is the focus of the review?
What online course design standards are we using?
Who performs the review?
What does the initial course review process entail?
What happens after the review?
What resources are provided to help faculty prepare for the review or implement specific standards?

Why are online courses reviewed?

Meeting standards and following best practices are vital for continued delivery of online courses and programs as stated in the 19 TEX. ADMIN. CODE Chapter 4 Subchapter P: Approval of Distance Education Courses and Programs for Public Institutions and for accreditation as outlined by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) in its Distance Education and the Principles of Accreditation.

What is the focus of the review?

The review focuses on online course design. Course design is the forethought and planning that goes into teaching a course. It is separate from curriculum and content and also separate from the evaluation of teaching. The online course environment is very different from the traditional, face-to-face classroom. Standards for online course design address organization, navigation, and the alignment of the course author's content, activities, and objectives. They assist the faculty developer in thinking through and presenting to the student general expectations and strategies for success. Equally important, a deliberate and thoughtful organization of course content and activities along with a solid plan for communication and interaction can improve students' ability to focus on learning and reduce the course management burden of faculty.

What online course design standards are we using?

UNT selected the Quality Matters Rubric as a basis for the rubric it uses in reviewing courses prior to delivery. The Quality Matters Program continues to be a national benchmark for online course design with 800 subscribing institutions in 47 U.S. states and six countries. The rubric was originally developed in 2002 by faculty representing 19 different institutions. Every two years, a committee of 12 individuals (faculty, instructional designers, and QM staff) reviews and updates the rubric based on new research and practices.

The rubric used for UNT’s initial course design review defines standards in these broad areas:

  • Course Entry and Introductory Information
  • Design and Organization
  • Alignment
  • Interaction and Engagement
  • Accessibility
  • Copyright

The initial course design review provides faculty with a starting point in a continuous improvement process. CLEAR has defined criteria for four distinct levels of continuous improvement:

  • Provisional (All online courses should meet these criteria prior to first delivery)
  • Effective (All online courses should meet these criteria within six months of first delivery)
  • Exemplary (Optional - Course developers who aspire to have courses Quality Matters certified will be ready to move forward when they meet this level of the standards)
  • Outstanding (Optional - Course developers who aspire to apply for the Online Course and Teacher Award should be able to meet this level of the standards)

For more detailed information about the standards and to see the rubric, please login to UNT's Online Course Design Rubric in Blackboard. The link provided will take you to the Blackboard Login screen. Login with your EUID and password. If you receive an error indicating you are not enrolled in the course, click the link to self-enroll. If you have questions or problems logging in, contact the CLEAR Faculty Helpdesk at or 940-369-7394.

Who performs the review?

CLEAR instructional design consultants perform the reviews. These individuals often work in close collaboration with faculty who are developing new online courses and are available to conduct reviews of existing courses as requested. Currently CLEAR has five instructional consultants who have decades of combined experience designing instruction for the online learning environment, several of whom also have teaching experience and have published articles and books on instructional design. In addition, all of the instructional consultants who conduct reviews have completed professional development in applying the Quality Matters rubric to online course design. Four members of the team are certified as QM Peer or Master Reviewers and have served on a number of official Quality Matters reviews.

What does the initial course review process entail?

It is important to stress that the review process is intended as diagnostic and collegial, not evaluative and judgmental.

  1. At a point when the course is at least 85% complete the faculty developer will have a pre-review meeting with the reviewer.
  2. During the pre-review meeting the reviewer and faculty developer will discuss the rubric and look at the course together. The reviewer may provide a self-assessment version of the rubric for the faculty member to take away and complete.
  3. When the faculty developer is ready, the reviewer will schedule time to look at the course more closely with respect to the course design standards. The review may take up to three weeks depending upon the reviewer's workload.
  4. Detailed written feedback will be provided to the faculty member following the review.
  5. Optionally, a post-review meeting will take place in order to most clearly communicate feedback or suggestions.

What happens after the review?

  • In many cases the course design meets standards and is given final approval.
  • In the event that standards at the basic level are not yet met, the faculty member will work with the reviewer/consultant to determine how to address the standards in question. Note that:
    • Templates and standard language are available whenever applicable so that revisions are easy to make.
    • In other cases, it may take a longer period of time to make revisions.
    • In such cases the course will be approved conditionally for delivery in the upcoming semester with the understanding that the revisions should be made before a subsequent offering.
  • Only when a course is incomplete or a significant number of standards are unmet will a course not be approved for delivery.

What resources does CLEAR provide to help faculty prepare for the review or implement specific standards?

A variety of training resources are available for faculty to prepare for the internal review, implement specific standards, or move toward the effective and exemplary course design levels. CLEAR instructional consultants provide both one-on-one and group training that covers preparing for the online course design review. Custom training for departments can be arranged by request. Please contact the instructional consultant assigned to work with your department for more information.

Because UNT is a full subscriber to Quality Matters (QM), Inc., faculty are eligible to take professional development workshops that prepare them to apply the QM rubric as well as specific standards at a reduced fee. See the Workshops and Descriptions page on the Quality Matters website. For additional information contact Lynette O'Keefe at Lynette.O'

The Teaching Resources for Engaged Educators (TREE) initiative leverages online training modules focused on ten important teaching proficiencies and is available to anyone with teaching responsibilities at UNT. Currently, TREE includes self-paced modules to prepare faculty for teaching online, and during 2015 CLEAR will make available self-paced modules for online course design. To enroll in TREE, log in to Blackboard Learn at and look for the TREE Enrollment module on the My Institution tab.