Michigan Virtual University: A Promising Practice in Developing Standards for Online Courses

Date Updated

Michigan Virtual University (MVU) was established in 1998 by Michigan Governor John Engler and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. It is a private, not-for-profit organization. MVU is a central access point through which academic and commercial organizations can offer online education and training.

The course catalog includes 1300 corporate training courses in a wide range of topics, including computer-related skills, medical content, information technology, and manufacturing. MVU offers high school, advanced placement, and community college courses, as well as specialized courses such as those for medical office staff. Successful completion of some courses results in high school credit, continuing education credits, or college credit. A wide selection of noncredit courses are also offered through MVU.

In order to ensure that instructors design high-quality online courses, MVU developed a set of Standards for Quality Online Courses, which are designed to assist course developers in creating content, developing delivery strategies, and evaluating their final products. The MVU standards encompass four categories: technology, usability, accessibility, and instructional design.

Technology standards address the functionality and appropriateness of the technology used in an online course. The technology category considers whether or not the technology works, if it is appropriate for the audience, and so forth. Substandards in this category include identification of technology requirements, identification of audience capability, and technical functionality.

Usability standards address the function of technology as it serves to promote an optimal learning environment. The substandards in this category include interface consistency, learner support, navigational effectiveness and efficiency, functionality of graphics and multimedia, and integration of communication.

Instructional design standards address the pedagogical soundness of the course by ensuring that explanation, demonstration, practice, feedback, and assessment (all components believed to be necessary for successful instruction) are present in every course.

The accessibility standards, composed of specific checkpoints that are measurable on a pass/fail basis, are designed to evaluate whether a course meets Priority 1 accessibility as defined by the World Wide Web Consortium in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0. All courses at MVU are rated either "E" for Everyone or "L" for Limited, according to their compliance with these standards.

These standards constitute a promising practice not solely because accessibility was included in the mix but also because accessibility is a characteristic that is used here to define quality of instruction. Accessibility is an up-front consideration in developing a quality online course, rather than a separate issue to be addressed later by someone other than the course designer. Also, a growing number of web accessibility policies are being implemented in higher education, but few if any provide an enforcement mechanism. Though MVU doesn't enforce accessibility, its practice of flagging inaccessible courses with an "L" offers a creative approach to encouraging compliance.