Review Process for Approval of Programs in the Distance Education Format

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Colleges and universities located in or operating in New York State that offers degree or certificate programs in which a major portion (i.e., 50% or more) of the requirements can be completed through study delivered by distance education must have those programs registered in the distance education format. 

To add Distance Education format to a registered program, submit the Add the Distance Education Format application. 

To submit a proposal for a new degree or certificate program to be offered in Distance Education format, submit the Add the Distance Education Format application with the Register a New Degree Program (non-doctoral) application.

  1. Distance Education Programs: Principles of Good Practice
  2. Determining Time on Task in Online Education

Distance Education Programs: Principles of Good Practice

Organizational Commitment

Principle:  Distance learning must be backed by an organizational commitment to quality and effectiveness in all aspects of the learning environment. Discussion:  To be effective distance learning programs must be backed by a commitment on the part of the institution or organization to include distance learning in its planning and goal-setting, to treat distance education and on-campus education equitably in its policies and procedures, and to provide the necessary resources – human, fiscal, programmatic and technical --- to support those programs. Operational Criteria:

  • The institution's distance learning activity is consistent with the institutional mission.
  • The institution shows evidence - through its priorities, goals, strategic plans, policies, procedures, faculty recognition, and infrastructure - that it values distance learning.
  • The institution's distance learning programs show evidence of careful planning, including identification of the need, the nature and size of the intended audiences, provisions for serving those audiences, and a plan for adding resources (financial and human, including instructional staffing and support functions) to accommodate future program growth ("scalability").
  • The institution has committed sufficient resources to its distance learning programs and services to ensure their effectiveness.
  • The institution has clearly identified a single office or officer with responsibility for assuring the quality of all distance education across the institution.
  • The institution ensures that the administration of its distance learning programs by knowledgeable personnel with adequate time and resources to accomplish this task.
  • The institution has developed and implemented a process for sustaining faculty professional development in distance learning.  This process recognizes that teaching in the distance learning environment requires different pedagogical and communication strategies to function effectively and that the faculty member and the institution share responsibility for assuring effectiveness.
  • If the institution uses courses, programs, or academic support services from another provider, it has an adequate process in place (with faculty participation) for evaluating their quality, academic rigor, and suitability for the award of college credit and a degree or certificate.
  • The institution has in place a comprehensive, viable technology plan for distance learning.
  • The institution has a clear policy on ownership of course materials developed for its distance education courses; this policy is shared with all faculty and staff involved in distance education at the institution.

Learning Design

Principle:  The institution's distance learning programs are designed to fit the specific context for learning. Discussion:  All programs the institution offers in a distance learning format must have quality, integrity, and consistency, and must fit the specific context for learning. That context includes the nature of the subject matter, the intended learning outcomes, the needs and goals of the learner, the learner’s environment, and the instructional technologies and methods. Operational Criteria:

  • The same academic standards and requirements are applied to programs offered on campus and through distance learning.
  • Distance learning programs are coherent, complete, and offered in a sequence or configuration that allows timely completion of requirements.
  • The same faculty qualifications are applied to distance education programs as all other academic programs.
  • Faculty are responsible for the initial and ongoing development and delivery of instruction in distance programs.
  • Distance learning programs provide clear statements of learner responsibilities and expectations of student participation and learning.
  • Distance learning programs provide for appropriate and flexible interaction between faculty and students and among students.
  • The technologies selected for a specific distance learning opportunity are appropriate for the intended learning outcomes, content, relevant characteristics of the learning and the learner, and student cost.
  • Distance learning programs include adequate verification of learners' work.
  • Faculty and program administrators determine the appropriate enrollment that can be supported in the distance learning program and in individual courses based upon the content and learning activities, the nature of the learners, the technologies used, and the support available to faculty.


Learner Support

Principle:  Distance learning activities are effectively supported for learners through fully accessible modes of delivery and resources. Discussion:  Distance learners often must assume greater responsibility for their own learning. They must understand and address their own learning needs; take initiative in asking questions and obtaining help; interact with faculty and other students as appropriate, and be prepared to deal with technical difficulties in the two-way flow of information. At the same time, institutions must develop and provide the necessary information and learner support systems to assist learners in carrying out their learning activities and using the available resources. Learner support must be appropriate to the distance learning modes used. Operational Criteria

  • The institution provides distance students with detailed information on admissions and program graduation requirements.
  • Distance program materials clearly and accurately represent the program, including detailed program completion requirements, the nature of the learning experience, program and faculty responsibilities, and the nature of faculty-student, student-faculty, and student-student interaction opportunities, techniques, and requirements. They define any specific student background, knowledge, or technical skills needed to undertake and successfully complete the distance program, and describe in layman's terms any technical equipment and/or software required or recommended.
  • The institution provides distance learners adequate academic support, including academic advisement, technical support, and other student support services normally available on campus. Program materials clearly describe how students obtain these support services.
  • The institution provides adequate library and information resources, services, and support for academic programs, including training in information literacy. These resources and services are accessible at a distance on a timely basis.
  • Administrative processes such as admissions and registration are readily accessible to distance students, and program materials clearly describe how access is obtained.
  • The institution provides orientation opportunities and resources for distance learners that are appropriate to the technologies used, the content, and the learners.


Outcomes and Assessment

Principle:  Distance education programs organize learning activities around demonstrable outcomes (often expressed in learning objectives), assist the learner to achieve these outcomes, and assess learner progress by reference to these outcomes. Operational Criteria:

  • Distance learning programs are expected to produce the same learning outcomes as comparable classroom-based programs. These learning outcomes are clearly identified -- in terms of knowledge, skills, or credentials -- in the course and program materials.
  • All aspects of the distance learning program are consistent with and shaped to achieve the demonstrable learning outcomes.
  • The means chosen for assessing student learning are appropriate to the content, learning design, technologies, and characteristics of the learners.


Program Evaluation

Principle:  The institution evaluates the effectiveness of its distance learning programs and uses the findings to improve the programs and services. Operational Criteria:

  • The institution has a process in place to monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of all aspects of its distance learning programs on a regular basis.
  • The evaluation results are used for continuous program improvement.
  • Program evaluation procedures include a determination that distance learning programs result in learning outcomes appropriate to the rigor and breadth of the college degree or certificate awarded.

Determining Time on Task in Online Education

Time on task is the total learning time spent by a student in a college course, including instructional time as well as time spent studying and completing course assignments (e.g., reading, research, writing, individual and group projects.) Regardless of the delivery method or the particular learning activities employed, the amount of learning time in any college course should meet the requirements of Commissioner's Regulation Section 50.1 (o), a total of 45 hours for one semester credit (in conventional classroom education this breaks down into 15 hours of instruction plus 30 hours of student work/study out of class.) "Instruction" is provided differently in online courses than in classroom-based courses. Despite the difference in methodology and activities, however, the total "learning time" online can usually be counted. Rather than try to distinguish between "in-class" and "outside-class" time for students, the faculty member developing and/or teaching the online course should calculate how much time a student doing satisfactory work would take to complete the work of the course, including:

  • reading course presentations/ "lectures"
  • reading other materials
  • participation in online discussions
  • doing research
  • writing papers or other assignments
  • completing all other assignments (e.g. projects)

The total time spent on these tasks should be roughly equal to that spent on comparable tasks in a classroom-based course. Time spent downloading or uploading documents, troubleshooting technical problems, or in chat rooms (unless on course assignments such as group projects) should not be counted. In determining the time on task for an online course, useful information includes

  • the course objectives and expected learning outcomes
  • the list of topics in the course outline or syllabus; the textbooks, additional readings, and related education materials (such as software) required
  • statements in course materials informing students of the time and/or effort they are expected to devote to the course or individual parts of it
  • a listing of the pedagogical tools to be used in the online course, how each will be used, and the expectations for participation (e.g., in an online discussion, how many substantive postings will be required of a student for each week or unit?)