Periodic Review of Online Courses

The review process from initial course development to the four-year periodic review.

MSU’s principal accrediting body, the Higher Learning Commission, recognizes the growing demand for online courses and the need for their inclusion in regular department curricular review. Institutions seeking reaccreditation or new accreditation for online degrees are asked to demonstrate how they ensure quality in their distance programs. Additionally, in order for MSU to offer distance courses in other states, we must be authorized. Our authorization comes from the North Dakota’s membership in NC-SARA (National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements.) MSU is eligible to take part in the SARA agreement because we sign a document stating that we are following C-RAC (Council of Regional Accrediting Commissions) guidelines for evaluating distance education. Included in these guidelines is a reference to regular online course review.

In the 2010-11 academic year, the Online Studies Committee developed the system of department periodic review which was endorsed by the Dean’s Council and the Academic Affairs Council. Over the years the process has been revised in response to department feedback with the current process and review schedule available outlined on the Office of Instructional Technology web site (below).


The review is conducted every five years and involves the Online Coordinator, the Office of Instructional Technology (OIT) staff, department faculty, and the department chair. The following is an overview of the general responsibilities for all participants in the process:

  • Center for Extended Learning (CEL) staff:
    • At the start of the review semester, the Online Coordinator will email the department chair a list of their developed online courses. The department chair is asked to respond to the email indicating which courses are obsolete and can be deleted.
    • Once the department has provided an updated course list, OIT will review the courses for appearance, compliance with best practice standards, and ADA compliance. Changes required to ensure ADA compliance will be made by OIT and a report will be provided to the department chair for action as necessary.
  • Department Periodic Review:
    • It is recommended that the department take this opportunity to review the content of their online courses in addition to the report sent by OIT. Content review areas could include, but are not limited to: adherence to minimum content specifications as per departmental assessment plans, comparison of campus courses and online courses with regard to comparable learning outcomes, evidence of academic rigor, and adherence to specific department requirements. A sample rubric is provided and the department periodic review of online courses should be completed by the end of the review semester.
  • Department Chair:
    • The department chair notifies the Online Coordinator when the department review is completed. At that time, if there are long-term revisions needed a timeline and OIT’s involvement will be discussed.

Four-Year Periodic Review v. 2018-1 [pdf]

Schedule [pdf]

Review rubric [pdf]

Additional Resources

C-RAC Distance Education Guidelines

HLC Reviewing Distance Delivery Guidelines

Best Practice Strategies to Promote the Academic Integrity of Online Course (WCET, 2009)

Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning (U.S. Department of Education, 2009)

US Department of Education: Technology and Distance Education web site

Quality guidelines for online courses: the development of an instrument to audit online units