Helix Education’s Online/Blended Course Quality Rubric

Cherron Hoppes Ed.D., Vice President and Chief Academic Officer at Helix Education, and Emily Wood, Director of Instructional Design at Helix Education, created this webinar to discuss how presidents, provosts, and faculty can use Helix Education’s Online/Blended Course Quality Rubric to prioritize immediate needs in improving their institution’s online learning experience.

The Circumstances Higher Ed Finds Ourselves In

The unthinkable in higher ed has just happened: More than 24 million students have transitioned online. But institutions moved so quickly in such a short period of time, that really what we’re dealing with is emergency remote teaching, not effective online learning. 

Yes, online learning can be excellent, but it takes time, intentionality, and consideration of the design decisions that influence the students’ experience. That doesn’t happen overnight. Or rather, it shouldn’t. This February hit, however, and in a matter of days, all curriculum moved from an on-ground experience to some kind of tech-supported at-a-distance learning environment. 

Now as we go into Phase 2, we’re trying to figure out our priorities for the future. Are we going to be able to come back together on campus? Do we need to be better equipped for online teaching and learning? What do we need to think about in terms of learning technology and design structures to help us prepare?

Someone recently asked Cherron, “What if we’re all together in the fall? What if there aren’t any issues? What if we’re able to come back together and have learning experiences like we always have?” 

To which she replied, “Regardless of what decisions are made about the educational model for fall 2020 and beyond, in a crisis contingency planning environment, we absolutely need to be better prepared.” 

Quality Assurance Strategies for Long-term Online Teaching

What does Helix Education recommend for institutions as they’re looking to move from this emergency remote teaching environment to really quality online experiences?

We created an assessment rubric with seven categories: learning outcomes; assessment; learning design; learning materials and media; policies, presence, and expectations; editorial and visual design; and blended learning. Let’s look at each one in brief.

Learning Outcomes

As we were putting courses online, we might not have had the chance to be as deliberate as we would like to be, and this is an opportunity for us to go back and say, “What are those changes that I’d like to make, and how can I make them now? How can I identify areas where I might need additional support?”


We might already have had strong assessments in our courses when we were on-ground or face-to-face. But as we were moving them online, we might have missed some of the context. So this is an important piece to communicate to our students: what our expectations are for the assignments and the work that they submit? Making sure that students know what is expected will go a long way in reducing stress for them and their instructors. 

Learning Design

How do we explain what we’re learning with this particular topic? Why am I asking you to read this particular chapter? How does this video or this assignment relate to what you’ll be seeing in the real world?

Learning Materials and Media

How do students engage and move through the course in a sequential matter? What does that look like? Do they know how to find that navigation, and is it clear where they’re going to be able to find things?

We’re looking for a design that supports consistency across time, so that creates less confusion, fewer points of frustration for students, and fewer emails or questions from students about where to find things within a course.

Policies, Presence, and Expectations

The key here is not to be tech support but to be able to make connections for the students who may be entering your course and that’s the first course they’re entering online in the fall term.

Editorial and Visual Design

Is that course layout easy to navigate? This is an area where it helps to have somebody else’s eyes on what you’ve laid out, particularly if you are not a course designer or an educational technologist by profession.

Blended Learning

We might not know if we’re going to be meeting students online, or if we’ll be meeting them in the on-campus or it’ll be somewhere in between. The best strategy, and the one that Helix is recommending, is to provide the design as if it was going to be online so students can be successful there. Then if plans change, we still have that support structure and scaffolding. If things move to a blended learning environment, students still have the information they need.

Prioritizing the Rubric

We would love for everybody to take this rubric and to apply it to all their courses, but the most responsible thing we can do right now is to prioritize. So we’re concentrating on the areas where we are going to make the biggest impact. 

Within the Helix Education online/blended course quality rubric, we have set some pieces that have worked particularly well for general education. So looking at current registrations that might already be in place for fall as well as past course sizes gives you a good indication of where to set your priorities as you develop a quality assurance plan.


This post is based on a podcast interview with Cherron Hoppes, Ed.D. and Emily Wood from Helix Education. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to Enrollment Growth University.

If you don’t use iTunes, you can listen to every episode here.