Guiding Principles for Quality Online Teaching

  1. Effective online teachers are present within their course. (See section 4 below for suggestions)
  2. Effective online teachers apply equitable methods to promote student access and success while acknowledging institutional obstacles. (See sections 2.1, 4.4 and all of section 5 below)
  3. Effective online teachers respond to student needs and use data for continuous course improvement (See section 3.3, 4.3 and 6.3 below).
  4. Effective online teachers teach and model ethical online interaction, while helping students develop digital literacy that will poise them for success.(See sections 2.5, 6.1 and 6.2 below)
  5. Effective online teachers recognize ongoing professional development is a central component of their success. (See this link for ongoing CTL professional development opportunities)

Download the PDF Version of the Best Practices Guidelines here


Best Practices Guidelines for Pratt Institute Faculty Teaching Online

As part of a continuous effort to ensure quality in online course design, the best practices below have been identified to support faculty teaching college courses. For more Canvas resources, please see this continuously growing document. For more information about online pedagogy, please contact the CTL at to sign up for upcoming learning opportunities.


1.1 Starting Point

Is there a clear starting point for the students in your online course, such as “Start Here” which introduces the subject, details first steps, defines general course structure and timeline, and links to the syllabus?  

  • Examples: Make your course’s front page lists the instructions for getting started, or schedule an ‘announcement’ to go out on the first day of class with instructions for getting started.

1.2 Syllabus

Does the online course have an updated course syllabus that follows the recommendations in the official Pratt Syllabus Template, including the Accessibility and Equity and Inclusion statement?

  • All course shells should utilize the Pratt Institute Syllabus Module.

1.3 Introductions

Is there an instructor introduction with full name and contact information? Are your students asked to introduce themselves to each other as one of the first activities in the course (discussion board, other linked tool, on Zoom, etc)? 

1.4 Expectations

Does the syllabus detail (or link to) the required course materials, communication expectations and response time, institutional policies, support resources, office hours and the grading policy?


2.1 Resources

Are links to institutional resources on technology, the library and campus student support services and resources available in the online course and are they easy to find? 

  • All course shells should utilize the Pratt Institute Syllabus Module which has links to most of these resources. 

2.2 Grading

Does the grade center accurately reflect calculated totals, as mentioned in the syllabus, so that students can continually track their progress?

2.3 Clear Navigation

Is course navigation clear and easily understood? Would students know where to click next and where to find learning materials and assignments? Have the less utilized links and tools been hidden from view to minimize confusion? 

  • Is the content “chunked” into manageable pieces by leveraging modules (e.g. organized by units, chapters, topic, or weeks)? 
  • Do the modules and items within modules have a thoughtful naming convention (e.g. name the module “Week 1: Pandas in the News,” not just “Week 1”)

2.4 Clear Formatting

Is the text on the pages clearly separated into sections (using headers, paragraphs, lists, etc.), rather than  just being one long document?

2.5 Professionalism

Are the materials in the course clearly written without grammatical errors? Have the materials posted been proofread?

2.6 Multimedia

Are there a variety of  instructional materials (for example graphics, videos, articles, links, collaborative tools, simulations) utilized throughout the course? 


3.1 Learning Objectives

Are the course-level student learning outcomes listed and available on the syllabus?  Are there module- or unit-level learning objectives listed in each Module in some way?

3.2 Learning Materials

Are explanations for engaging with the learning materials and assignments detailed? Do they include clear instructions, submission requirements, due dates and grading criteria? 

3.3 Assessments

Do assessments and grading rubrics measure the stated learning objectives? Do students know what they need to do for high achievement? Are grading criteria clear and easy to understand?

  • Are there frequent lowstakes (formative) assessments throughout the course to informally measure knowledge, skills and attitudes? 
  • Are high-stakes (summative) assessments clearly aligned with stated goals, learning objectives and/or standards for the module or course?


4.1 Faculty Presence

Is the instructor present in the online course through the use of announcements, feedback, discussions, comments, reactions or other tools on a weekly basis? 

4.2 Student Participation

Are students asked to share their work with and respond to other students? 

  • Do learning activities include student-to-student interaction to foster a sense of community (e.g. discussions, constructive collaboration and peer reviews)?
  • Do learning activities include student-to-teacher interaction (e.g. teacher is actively engaged in authentic conversations and provides quality feedback)?
  • Do learning activities include student-content interaction (e.g. students interact with engaging content and resources) and provide opportunities for self-assessment?

4.3 Feedback

Does the instructor provide actionable feedback on projects and assignments? 

4.4 Inclusivity

Does the course provide an inclusive environment by acknowledging and addressing equity and access issues throughout? Are there opportunities for all perspectives to be included and all voices represented – through the curriculum, assignments and engagements?


5.1 Accessible Documents

Are course documents provided in PDF format so that students can access them on any device?

5.2 Text Formatting

Is the text formatting throughout the course consistent and readable (similar font, color, size)?

5.3 Alternative Formats

Are alternative formats accessible for rich-media content (such as videos with closed captioning)? 

  • Has the instructor utilized the Accessibility Checker to identify and correct any issues for web tools and/or software utilized in the course? Resource is here.
  • Do the Images used to support course content (e.g., banners, headings and icons) and accompanied by text descriptions (Alt text) or captions for more complex descriptions?
  • Do the audio materials (mp3, wav, etc.) have an accompanying transcript and do videos / screencasts have closed-captioned?

5.4 Working Links

All links, files, videos and external URLs are active and working (resource is here)

5.5 UDL

Are Universal Design for Learning considerations addressed in the course by providing multiple means of Engagement, Representation and Action/Expression? 


6.1 Fair Use and Copyright

Are uploaded course documents follow the Fair Use and Copyright Guidelines?  (for example this)


Is the instructor committed to protecting student privacy by never emailing out grades, keeping student records confidential, and using the LMS to post student grades?

6.3 Course Data

Is the instructor committed to continuously improving the course to support students learning by monitoring student progress (in the gradebook) and using the course analytics (for student engagement?

This Pratt Guide is adapted from the Best Practices for Teaching Online developed via an eLearning Work Group at Mountain View College, part of the Dallas County Community College District (DCCCD), in partnership with the National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development (NISOD), the California Virtual Campus – Online Education Initiative, and the Canvas Course Evaluation Checklist v2.0.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. 

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