Creating Online Courses

Addendum to the Report of the Working Group for Digital Education, 2017:
Process for the Creation of Online Courses
This addendum to the report from the Working Group on Digital Education describes the process through which faculty and departments develop online courses at Rice University.  The attached Working Group report establishes broad principles for online courses and an overall philosophy for online content at Rice University.  This addendum establishes the steps faculty and departments must follow in order to adhere to this philosophy as well as ensure that online courses and programs follow accreditation standards and policies, as specified in the SACSCOC policy statement on distance education.
DEFINITION of ‘ONLINE COURSE’: For the purposes of the present discussion, we adopt the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) language and define an “online course” as one “in which the majority of the class time instruction (interaction between students and instructors and among students) in a course occurs when students and instructors are not in the same place.” Thus, if a three credit hour course at Rice normally involves 42 hours of contact time, an “online course” would involve 21 hours or more of class time when student and instructor are not in the same place.
Criteria for the approval of online courses:  As established in the attached Working Group report, online courses taught at Rice must meet the prevailing Rice standards within their discipline, provide a rigorous course of instruction, and prepare our students for their chosen career path. 
In developing online courses and programs, the departments and schools in which the course will be taught must:

  • demonstrate that the appropriate equipment and technical expertise required for online courses are available.
  • demonstrate that adequate funding for faculty, staff, services, and technological infrastructure to support the methodology are available.
  • ensure that faculty who teach in online courses and programs receive appropriate training.
  • establish clear criteria for the evaluation of faculty teaching online courses and programs.
  • ensure that credit-bearing online courses satisfy Federal, State and accreditation regulations and oversight above and beyond what is required for non-online courses. 
  • develop a procedure for course and program evaluation to demonstrate comparability of online courses to campus-based programs and courses.  This requires the evaluation of educational effectiveness, including assessments of student learning outcomes, student retention, and student satisfaction.


  • The following procedures for the review and approval of online courses and programs includes previously established policies and resolutions, including:  Rice University General Policy No. 804-00; course review processes established by the Faculty Senate in 2015 (School Course Review Committees); and the Faculty Senate resolution announced in December, 2012 that establishes that Faculty Senate must approve the creation of any new graduate or undergraduate degree program.
  • The development of all proposals for new or revised online courses and programs must be coordinated through Rice Online, under the Office of the Vice President for Strategic Initiatives and Digital Education.  This office will ensure that the course or program meets the standards the university has set for its online presence and that the university is in compliance with regulations related to out-of-state and international enrollments. Rice Online is also responsible for ensuring workflow/process completion and retaining appropriate records to demonstrate that the university has met its objectives and obligations.
  • All proposals for new or revised online courses and online programs must also be reviewed and approved by the Deans of Schools in which they are taught.  Each School is responsible for ensuring that the development, creation, and evaluation of online courses meet the criteria listed above. 
  • New individual online courses, or existing courses that are modified to be online courses, must then follow the established course review process and be reviewed by a School Course Review Committee or the Committee on Undergraduate Curriculum for final approval.
  • All new online degree programs must be reviewed by either the Committee on Undergraduate Curriculum (for undergraduate programs) or Graduate Council (for graduate programs) and submitted to the Faculty Senate for approval.  These reviews will follow policies already established by the following policy documents (see: “Creating, Administering, and Eliminating Majors and Minors” (for new undergraduate programs) and “Creating and Changing Graduate-Degree Programs” (for graduate programs).