Online Course Design Checklist

As online academic programs become more common in higher education, more instructors must design their courses and student assessments for the online environment.

When designing online assessments common considerations such as aligning assessments with course learning outcomes, providing clear criteria for students, and protecting academic integrity need to be made. Use the following checklist as a guide before your online course is opened to students, as reminders for you throughout the semester, and as a review at the end of the course.

  1. Start Here module

    • Post the course outline and include any specific online information (i.e. software requirements, synchronous sessions).
    • Post an instructor welcome video/message introduction.
    • Create a Support and Resources section that includes any required software or technology and who to contact for help (i.e. will students be required to have a headset for synchronous sessions).
    • Include a calendar of important dates and times with time zone.
    • Provide a list of scheduled synchronous sessions and state dates and times.
    • Create an overview of where to find key information (i.e. such as due dates, assignments).
    • Include an Indigenous Land acknowledgement.
  2. Course Organization

    • Modules are organized by topic or week, with clear start and end times and are intuitive to navigate.
    • Each module lists associated learning outcomes, with clear connection to associated learning activities and assessments.
    • Due dates are clearly communicated and consistent through-out the course (i.e. in discussion boards, assignments, and course outline).
  3. Instructor information

    • List the instructor contact information.
    • State communication expectations for both weekdays and weekends, including email response time.
    • Post online synchronous office hours (using Adobe Connect or Zoom).
    • Communicate any expectations for both students and the instructor (i.e. check-in daily, not all posts will be responded to).
  1. Facilitate introductions

    • Create an Introductions discussion board and post an introduction video or message.
    • Provide an introductory activity at the beginning of the course for all students to introduce themselves and share their learning goals.
    • For large-enrolment courses consider breaking students into smaller groups.
  2. Encourage connections & diversity

    • Provide course materials and learning activities that encourage student interactions and different perspectives.
    • Provide opportunities for culturally inclusive interactions and self-development.
    • Create a Course Café discussion board as a social place for students to interact outside the course requirements. (note that students might use their own preferred method of communicating outside the LMS for social interactions and collaboration).
    • Create an FAQ discussion board to encourage collaborative learning and to post answers to common questions. This strategy can also reduce emails to the instructor.
    • Create a ‘Dig Deeper’ discussion topic for students to share additional resources they find.
  1. Assessing student learning

    • Assessments are connected to associated learning outcomes, and encourage engagement with the content and higher order thinking.
    • Include rubrics or grading criteria for all graded assessments.
    • Provide examples to ensure students understand the task.
    • Use a variety of assessment methods throughout the course to provide student opportunities to demonstrate learning in multiple modalities and weightings.
    • If using online quizzes/test, create a practice test to familiarize students with the technology and testing environment.
    • Provide formative self-tests to promote engagement and to check for student understanding of course material.
  2. Important information

    • Due dates are clearly communicated where appropriate and are consistent throughout the course.
    • Assessment descriptions are clearly communicated and state the learning objectives and assignment parameters.
    • Submission/completion requirements are clearly stated, including required learning technologies, word count, and other criteria.
  1. Activities

    • Select course learning activities that support student learning towards achieving course learning outcomes.
    • Use a variety of activities and assessments to engage students with content, each other, and to encourage meaningful learning (such as narrative, case studies, tutorials, peer feedback).
  2. Feedback

    • Communicate to students the timelines for instructor feedback.
    • Inform students where they will find private communication (such as individual grades and feedback in the D2L dropbox).
    • Use the discussion board to post class-wide feedback.
  3. Content

    • All course materials, either external or created by the instructor, are accessible to all students.
    • Course materials use a variety of methods and media to present and engage with content (i.e. text, images, videos).
    • Connect with the library to have an electronic copy of the course text or other materials accessible online.
    • Use common file formats such as .doc or .pdf.
    • Review copyright policies at
  • UCalgary supported learning technologies are primarily used (i.e. D2L Brightspace, Adobe Connect).
  • Non-supported learning technology required for course completion is justified and vetted for any additional student expenses, account creation, storage of personal information, and accessibility. The instructor is willing to support student use of such technology.
  • Technology choices support the intended learning outcomes and the student learning experience.
  • Students and instructor are aware of the support resources available on campus and how to access them from a distance.
  • Use YuJa ( for creating and hosting video content. YuJa has a closed captioning function, or include a transcript if you record an audio/video.
  • Include captions or alt text on images for screen readers (D2L has these options).
  • Preview the course, content, activities, and assessments as a student to ensure students are seeing what you intend them to see (D2L has a student preview option).
  • Check in frequently. Students can’t see you so be visible regularly, such as posting weekly reminders or frequent discussion board contributions.
  • Ensure students have time to obtain required resources such as readings, software, and other course requirements prior to the course start date.
  • Offer regular opportunities for student feedback and schedule an optional synchronous session if needed.
  • Upfront preparation is key. Have the course ready to go so students can see the structure, timelines, expectations and any other important information at their first login.
  • Send weekly summaries that connect to course learning outcomes, include reflective questions, and reminders to help keep students on track (hint: put reminders into your calendar to keep yourself organized).
  • Post strategically to the discussion board so you are not replying to all posts throughout the course.
  • Be present by reading all posts. Post when appropriate to be visible, direct the conversation, and to provide feedback.
  • Set boundaries on your worktime and communicate them to students (i.e. email reply time).
  • Use the discussion board to provide answers to common questions and class-wide feedback.
  • Use the D2L-Brightspace Announcement tool to post important information to all students. As not all students might check into the course daily, send this information as an email as well (i.e. Grades are posted, reminders of upcoming events).
  • Block off time in your own calendar for online instructional time.

Related content

Learning Module: Designing Online Assessments 


Alternative Online Assessments




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eCampusAlberta (2013). eLearning rubric: A resource for quality online curriculum development. Retrieved from 3_FINAL.pdf

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