The CLEAR Review Rubric series highlights each individual standard of the CLEAR Review Rubric; the rubric used for the evaluation of online and blended courses at UNT. These articles are intended to provide detail, examples, and insight into our rubric in an effort to clarify and enhance the course review process. To view the entire series, see the CLEAR Review Rubric tag.
UNT selected the Quality Matters Rubric as a basis for the rubric it uses in reviewing online and blended courses. 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. While CLEAR retains many of QM’s standards and categories, our rubric has been edited to make sure that faculty have a more accessible, less overwhelming first-time review experience.
Making a Connection
CLEAR Rubric Standard 1.1 recommends that instructors include “contact information, a timeframe explaining when students can expect a response to questions, and a bio/introduction” in their courses. Ultimately, this standard is intended to promote quality instructor presence, connection, and community with online learners in ways that bolster student retention and success. In our increasingly automated service society, chances are you’ve experienced a time when the hunt for quick help resulted in wading through a maze of machine phone operators or algorithmic chat bots that left you cold. The resulting frustration from these interactions is produced by the feeling that no one is really there. Similarly, students in online courses can experience the same sense of isolation and anxiety when they feel like their instructor is unknown, unresponsive, or is only passively participating in the learning process.
Getting to Know You
Instructor introductions are crucial to online courses as they create a warm, engaging environment for students that reduces the perceived distance of being online. A well-written welcome letter or introduction video goes a long way in allowing instructors to inject their personality into the course, display their passion for the subject matter at hand, and create awareness of their expertise in the field. Instructors can also go beyond the basics of their title and academic accomplishments to highlight characteristics such as hobbies, interests, and pedagogical philosophies in an effort to build meaningful rapport with learners. An instructor welcome message should be located in one of the first places that students encounter. A ‘Getting Started’ or ‘Course Overview’ module is an ideal area to house your letter or video alongside other introductory content.
At a foundational level, instructor introductions contribute to the ongoing, balanced interaction between the student, content, and instructor that make a quality online course. Engaging instructor introductions can also serve as an encouraging catalyst and template for students when they introduce themselves to one another. Integrating student introductions in your course will also help fulfill CLEAR Review Rubric Standard 1.8 and enhance interaction overall.
While face-to-face students benefit from frequent, guaranteed times they get to see their instructors, online, asynchronous learners aren’t afforded the same opportunities. Online students have to rely on their instructors to create meeting times and communicate the specific ways they’ll maintain contact with learners. Online instructors need to make a proactive effort to note all the communication mediums through which they’ll be available, along with a specific timeframe for providing answers to student inquiries. Traditional methods of communication (phone and email) are certainly encouraged, but instructors and students may benefit from using synchronous video tools available through Canvas.
Given that student inquiries may be associated with high stakes assignments or assessments that are due within a tight timeframe, instructors can provide a specific and reasonable timeframe in which they’ll get back to students. For example, you might say that you’ll get back to all questions within 24-48 business hours in addition to facilitating synchronous opportunities for communication, such as virtual office hours. Creating specific response timeframes help reduce student anxiety and also lessen unrealistic expectations on student’s behalf that you are available to them around the clock.
The instructor introductions and defined response timeframes detailed above are a good start, but authentic instructor presence comes from ongoing interaction with your students. Remember to make the most of students’ first impressions of you by making a personalized, human connection and make yourself available as a resource at the start of the class. Use these suggestions as a launching point for providing students continual opportunities for communication, robust feedback, and an active learning experience!
Center for Learning Experimentation, Application, and Research. (2018). CLEAR Review Rubric. Denton, TX: University of North Texas.