Online Course Quality Improves with Independent Review

More than half of online courses now pass an educator-led review process in California.

by / January 15, 2014 0

The percentage of quality online courses has more than doubled in California over the last two years, thanks to help from independent reviews.

Two years ago, the California Learning Resource Network (CLRN) only certified a quarter of the K-12 online classes that it reviewed, said Brian Bridges, director of the network. Now, 63 percent of classes are certified because class providers improve their courses based on reviews from CLRN, a statewide project that evaluates whether online courses match up to Common Core, California and iNACOL standards.

For example, one company submitted 15 courses that did not have captions for their videos, Bridges explained during a Council of Chief State School Officers webinar on Wednesday, Jan. 15. Federal law requires digital resources to be accessible, and after receiving that feedback from CLRN, they added captions of the videos by the following spring. Because CLRN doesn't want the review process to be punative, the organization gives course providers a chance to make changes and ask for another review every year.

Another company included links after every assignment in 15 courses that allowed students to pay a fee in order to redo their assignment after it had been graded. This violated the California education code, which does not allow schools to establish a two-tiered educational system through the payment of a fee. Within two weeks, the company removed all of the links.

This review process happens in five county offices of education throughout the state. Each office has a content expert that manages the reviews and hires 20 to 25 active teachers in that subject. The teachers meet once a month, and it takes anywhere from two weeks to two months for a review to be completed.

California is one of a number of states that independently reviews online courses. Texas and Washington launched their reviews, followed by California and a number of other states. Bridges credits collaboration with the Texas Education Agency as a key component to designing California's review process. While he has reached out to other states that started reviewing online courses, he hasn't seen much interest from the states when it comes to collaborating.

The Golden State is looking for opportunities to collaborate across state lines and even share review databases because it makes sense to work together as a team, Bridges said.

"Right now, most states want to own the process themselves," Bridges said. "The danger, though, is that this process is expensive and time-consuming, so I really don't see how a variety of smaller states can pull it off."

Tanya Roscorla Former Managing Editor

Tanya Roscorla covered ed tech from 2009-2017.