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Athabasca University

Effective Practices

Quality Assurance

Quality assurance for online courses includes interface navigation, communication tools and opportunities, and online learner support as well as careful design of activities and assessments for learning. It is accomplished via a team effort following established guidelines such as the eCampus Alberta Quality eToolkit.


Authentic Learning & Assessment

We have all heard that we are now lifelong learners. Near universal access to the Internet has changed the mandate of educators. Our main concern now is to develop citizens who know how to learn—who are able to find, evaluate, and use information to create useful knowledge.

To this end, learning designers at AU support the design of learning projects that motivate learners because they are relevant to their lives and their goals, and allow them to produce as well as consume knowledge. Assessments can also be designed as important learning experiences, from self-tests to portfolios demonstrating mastery of a subject area. An important side effect of authentic learning design is a great reduction in both the motivation and the opportunity to cheat and plagiarize.

Infrequent, high-stakes assessments such as comprehensive midterm and final exams typically result in short-term learning, stress that is counterproductive to learning, and a strong temptation to find shortcuts to passing grades. Projects that involve learners in designing how they will demonstrate their learning and provide opportunities for them to apply it in their lives and communities promote deep and long-term learning that can be readily transferred to novel situations.



Athabasca University is committed to the removal of barriers in student and staff communities. We are bound by the Alberta Human Rights Commission to accommodate learners with stated disabilities, but our goal is to provide a learning environment consistent with Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles. Having course content accessible and in multiple formats, offering learners multiple ways to demonstrate their learning, and motivating learners through relevant, engaging activities is the direction we are taking. The industry standards that influence our work are the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines of the W3C.


Formative Feedback

A basic principle of instructional design involves the difference between formative and summative feedback. While summative feedback takes the form of an assignment or test that sets the final grade for a course, formative feedback lets learners know how they are doing throughout the course without penalty.

The aim is to correct and guide learning as it progresses. Examples of formative feedback include well-designed learning activities with evaluation (including games) and self-test quizzes at frequent intervals. Online games, self-tests, and other formative activities should include rich feedback that helps to direct, motivate, and even entertain learners.


Universal Design for Learning

At Athabasca University our goal is to provide a learning environment consistent with Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles. UDL is a framework that can be used to improve and optimize teaching and learning for all people based on scientific insights on how people learn. A committment to applying UDL principles can benefit all members of the University community. Following UDL principles helps us to design proactively for learner variability by giving learners options in terms of how they express themselves, by presenting information in multiple formats, and by supporting multiple means of engagement. The guiding principles that influence our work were developed by CAST. A set of OER modules on the topic of UDL were developed with the support of eCampus Alberta and the work of volunteer committee members from a variety of member institutions, including Athabasca University and the technical and content expertise of Lethbridge College staff who actually developed the modules. The modules should provide practical help to instructors, course authors and designers as they create instructional content, learning activities and assessments for online or blended courses.


Updated September 01 2016 by Student & Academic Services

AU, CANADA'S OPEN UNIVERSITY, is an internationally recognized leader in online and distance learning.