Face-2-face and online classrooms have many differences. Because of these differences, it is important to judge the quality of your instruction/site under different standards than your teaching in physical environments. Here a few differences:
1. In most situations, you don’t have to worry about your students finding their way around a physical classroom. Online classes need to be designed for easy user navigation.
2. In a physical classroom, students can raise their hand to ask you a question or ask questions to the neighbors before class begins. How will your online students ask you a question? Can they contact one another? Who do they contact for technology help?
3. During a face-2-face class you can follow a discussion about an assignment sheet with a discussion about important concepts related to said assignment sheet. Through juxtaposition, students learn what is important. Online students have no such juxtaposition and might not connect important class concepts with assignments.
4. If students need to collaborate in a face-2-face class, students can slide their desks next to one another and exchange contact information if they need to continue the conversation later. In an online class, instructors have to set up an area for collaboration. I will also note, since collaboration seems to proceed at a slow pace in online environments, students benefit from suggestions about schedules.
This list could go on and on, but the point, here, is to describe how to evaluate your course. Maybe, my point is a little more precise in that the evaluation is better when it is completed by a peer.
Consider these resources for evaluation:
Sloan 5 Pillars: http://sloanconsortium.org/5pillars
The Sloan rubric is especially important from an institutional perspective. It describes online teaching in the big picture, the purpose it serves at the university.
Chico Rubric: http://www.csuchico.edu/roi/the_rubric.shtml
The Chico Rubric examines the course from many perspectives. One such criteria, student feedback, is especially important to the instructor. Student feedback, however, can be complicated. More on that later.
UAA Course Design Checklist: http://www.uaa.alaska.edu/classes/instructors/Tips/upload/checklist_FTC_2012.pdf
UAA has an exceptional checklist that can be used to examine your course. Even better, I would suggest allowing a peer to evaluate your online learning environment.
Why can the peer critique be helpful? When you invest a great deal of time and energy into a learning management system (LMS), it can be easy to overlook some of the basic details. Maybe you created the file for the first assignment, but maybe you forgot to actually upload the assignment. Maybe you need to turn on certain sections for student access. There are so many possibilities.
For my own online classes, the peer evaluation has been most helpful for understanding site navigation. When a colleague describes the LMS as easy to navigate and states that information is easy to find, you can have some assurance that students can navigate your course effectively. Of course there should be doubts, there is always room for improvement, but down the road when students evaluate your course and LMS, you can take comments about difficulties in navigation with a grain of salt. There might be larger issues involved, navigation via tablet compared to computer, navigation using Explorer rather than Firefox. If you have spent a great deal of time preparing your online course, it is likely the evaluation will give you confidence. That’s something we normally overlooked when teaching in all venues.