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Overcoming Electronic Course Delivery's Greatest Obstacle:

Specific Policy Recommendations for Institutions of Higher Learning


David Wiley, Marshall University

Office of Information Technology




Advances in technology continue to increase our capacity to communicate greater quantities of information to our students in a manner which both increases their chances of learning and makes more efficient use of their time. Recent advances have even removed physical barriers of time and space, allowing students to acquire skills and knowledge even while temporally separated from their instructors. The purpose of this paper is not to review research into the effectiveness of distance learning technologies. However, this paper does assume that distance education technologies are effective methods of instruction.

In an educational marketplace which is becoming increasingly competitive, a university's ability to eliminate students' barriers-to-entry will predict its long-term fiscal viability. So-called "distance education" technology has overcome several of the physical barriers already. Higher education itself has been relatively successful in overcoming financial barriers by securing funding for the acquisition of "distance education" enabling technology. Faculty around the world are mastering distance education techniques and strategies, and producing online course content. So why isn't electronic course delivery taking off? Policy. Even with hardware, software, bandwidth, experienced teachers and completed courses ready for the offering, nothing can happen until higher education establishes policies that can govern this new medium.

Few people want to make mistakes. And even fewer want to make them in public. Because this is true, the vast majority of institutions of higher learning are "standing around," waiting for other institutions to implement electronic course delivery policies and work the bugs out. They're waiting to see what mistakes are made so that they don't make them themselves. Accordingly, the result is a lethargic motion in the direction of implementing "distance education" technology. Colleges and universities are, as it were, gingerly dipping their toes in the pool waiting for someone else to jump in and tell them "the water's fine."

Perhaps the best example of this hesitance is the issues of intellectual property and faculty compensation. Perhaps more than any other policy issues, these stand firmly between the new technology and the students. Because they seem so complex, and no one wants to make a mistake in implementation, efforts to create policy simply die in committee, and because ownership and funding issues don't get worked out very few online courses are offered. Almost all of the online offerings at institutions of higher learning around the world exist for one of two reasons: either the responsible faculty member received a grant or is highly self-motivated and forward-thinking. The universities themselves are doing very little to promote online delivery of course materials (with the exception of asking faculty to do extra work for free, or at best provide grant writing support) because they refuse to deal with issues of policy. Eventually universities must realize that as the number of methods by which a potential student can obtain knowledge and skills increases, and as the number of students in each freshman class decreases, the university must proactively compete, with both enthusiasm and creativity, if it will stand a chance of survival.

There are several steps to the creation of a successful electronic course policy. The first key is developing a long-term vision for electronic courses at your university and a flexible strategy of how to bring it about, or in other words, the much quoted "begin with the end in mind." Without a clear vision of where you are going, intermediate negotiations and decisions will be at best disjunct and at worst random and haphazard.

The second step is securing the involvement in the policy creation process of decision makers from each administrative department, and instilling the vision in them. These key administrators are either your greatest assets or worst enemies. The single greatest barrier to the creation of policy continues to be administrative inertia, the property of higher education described by the statement "we�ve always done it this way." If you gain the support of administrators with the ability to make decisions and commitments and follow through on them, the policy creation process will be significantly easier.

The third and perhaps most important step is outlining the current processes at work, and modeling their electronic equivalents to be as similar as is both possible and efficient over the long term. For example, trace the paper trail a student must traverse in order to register for classes. Then reproduce the process for electronic course students, carefully balancing administrative structure already in place against opportunity for increased efficiency presented by the new technology. Most universities will be unable to invent policies or procedures which are completely new and independent of existing ones for legal reasons if not for any others. Making as much use as possible of existing policy and administrative structure is the main key to success.

The fourth step is obtaining faculty feedback and getting faculty participation in creating the policies which affect them. This is a matter of basic democratic process and simple courtesy. Of course, faculty will abide more happily by policy guidelines which they help establish and feel some degree of ownership over. For issues such as intellectual property and compensation, getting faculty to participate should not be difficult .

The final step is determining guidelines by which the new policies will be reviewed, and the timeline for the review.

Specific Recommendations

At Marshall University, the issue of intellectual property / ownership of the new courses was the portion of the electronic course policy which caused the greatest stress. The E-course policy committee which had been established by the President created a draft document and presented it to the faculty of the university as a "request for comment." This provided a starting point for what would turn out to be negotiations so intense and heated they would have served as good practice for diplomats on missions to the Middle East. The discussion quickly drew most involved to one of two sides, those "representing the institution" and those "representing the faculty." A few committee members who "wear both hats" attempted to mediate, and the end result drew from policies already in place, research into current practice at other institutions, and appropriate tweaking. The main sticking point was whether faculty should be paid to develop electronic courses and maintain full ownership of the material. Faculty maintained that "works of art" such as photographs or works of music are commissioned and yet remain the property of the creator, and that course material should be treated the same way. The institution maintained that a faculty member who was paid $20,000 to develop several online courses who retained ownership of the material could leave the institution the next semester and take the courses with them, leaving the university out $20,000 with no courses to show for the students� money. The policy as finally approved by the President states that faculty maintain ownership of the material and the right to market the courses privately for profit, but the university has the right to use, free of charge, all courses whose development was supported by the university. In this way, both sides were able to get what they were really after: faculty "own" their courses and can take them with them if they move to another school, and the university retains the right to use free of charge the last version of a course whose development it supported. There are more details which are stated specifically in the policy, but this general arrangement is certainly a model which other institutions of higher learning will be able to use as the basis for successful policy creation.


Effective August 1, 1997

Marshall University E-Course* Policy

Alphabetical Listing of All Policy Recommendations

*An E-Course, or electronic course, is one which is delivered entirely via electronic means and is designated and "E-Course" by the appropriate administrative officer.



Students taking E-Course will be admitted to the University. Information, advice, and the opportunity to ask questions and receive answers regarding admissions requirements and procedures will be available to students applying for electronic courses, synchronously via telephone and asynchronously via the world wide web and e-mail. A space for the potential student�s e-mail address will be added to online admission forms for electronic courses.


Comparable advising services, as determined by the college and/or department, will be available to students both on and off campus. This will be accomplished synchronously by telephone at specified, published times, and asynchronously by e-mail and fax. Students will be responsible for long distance telephone or internet access costs incurred. Frequently requested advising information will be made available via the world wide web.


Students may choose to audit the course and not receive a letter grade. These students will be covered by the same university regulations governing audit enrollment that pertain to traditional university courses.


Students registering for electronic courses may be required to designate a proctor who will administer their examinations. The following will be the process when a proctor is selected. The student will also be responsible for paying any fees required by the proctor. Before taking the first exam, the student will be responsible for having the proctor forward a statement to the institution stating that the proctor is NOT related to student whose exams he or she will proctor. Exams will be sent directly from instructors to proctors, and individual instructors and proctors will determine the method of delivery of the exams (e-mail, fax, standard mail). When an exam is proctored, proctors will be required to sign a statement stating that 1 ) they were presented with a photo I.D. by the student taking the exam at the time of the exam, 2) the student finished the exam in the allotted amount of time (equal to the amount of time a student would have in a traditional class period), and 3) the proctor was physically present during the entire time the student had the exam in his or her possession, and that to the best of the proctor�s knowledge the student finished the exam.

Computer Accounts

Students taking electronic courses will be entitled to standard Marshall University student computer accounts on systems such as Hobbit. All students taking E-Courses must have access to a computer with Internet access, a web browser (variety, version, and configuration as required by course), an e-mail account, and other software necessary to complete course requirements.

Computer Literacy Requirements

Courses will be made available to provide the skills students need to utilize electronic courses (such as computing fundamentals, internet fundamentals, and distance learning techniques). Students registering for electronic courses must possess basic computer literacy skills. Students will be made aware that faculty teaching courses electronically will not provide support or help time with topics covered in the fundamental courses (such as using Netscape).

Course Completion Timetable

Students will have one year from the end of the semester during which they enroll to complete a Year-long Electronic Course. For enrollment purposes any student who has not completed the E-course by the end of the semester in which he or she first registered may receive a "PR" grade (for progress), pending the addition of the grade by Faculty Senate; in the interim a grade of "I" will be used. At the end of the one-year period, the student will be assigned a grade of "F" (Failure) or "I" (Incomplete) depending on the individual circumstance. Courses offered under the traditional semester calendar will have the same drop, completion, and other dates as those in the traditional calendar. E-course grades will be issued at the end of each traditional grading period.

Course Content

The only difference in the curriculum of an electronic course as compared to the equivalent on-campus course will be the delivery mode. The electronic course content will meet the same standards as courses offered on-campus. Courses will go through the same review and approval process as traditional, on-campus courses.

Course Enrollment

The maximum number of students that may enroll in a section of an electronic course will be determined by the faculty member�s college / department in the appropriate academic unit. There will be no minimum number of registered students required for a class to "make." Faculty members administering electronic courses designated "writing intensive" will be limited to 24 students. The next 24 students registering for a writing intensive course will be assigned to another faculty member, and so on.

Courses Offered

Only courses approved by the appropriate dean as E-Courses will be offered electronically.

Course Schedule

A new Electronic Classes section will be created in the main course listing which will list all electronic classes offered. Electronic classes will also appear in the discipline appropriate section of the listing, as well as the School for Extended Education.

Credit Hours

Courses offered electronically will carry the same number of credit hours as sections of the same course / equivalent courses delivered traditionally.

Distribution of Tuition and Fees

The university will establish for budgeting purposes an account for the development and delivery of E-courses. Compensation of faculty teaching Year-long Electronic Classes as overloads will be paid in two halves, the first upon registration of a student for the course, and the second half upon student completion of the course. If students are carried over from one instructor (see Expiration of Year-long Electronic Course Agreements) to another, the instructor picking up the carry over students will be compensated when the carry-over 5 student completes the course.


Student evaluation of instructors should include "use of technology" as an area of evaluation, and be consistent with University policies.


E-Course exams, if used, will have content and coverage comparable to similar courses taught on campus. For those exams monitored by a proctor, a proctor will be designated by the student at the beginning of the course. Once a student has begun an exam, he or she must finish it within the allotted time period. (See Authentication).

Expiration of Year-long Electronic Course Agreements

If a faculty members Year-long Electronic Course agreement expires while there are still students who have not completed the course and he/she decides not to teach the course again, and another faculty member does not volunteer to pick up the course, the course will be removed. Faculty Compensation for Teaching an E-Course.

Faculty Compensation for E-Course Development

In order to encourage the development of quality electronic courses, faculty will be paid separately for the development of electronic courses. Development will be compensated at a rate negotiated between the developer and the appropriate administrative official. The faculty member who develops the class does not have to be the faculty member who teaches the class. (See Distribution of Tuition and Fees and Tuition and Fees.)

Faculty Compensation for Teaching an E-Course

In order to encourage the teaching of quality electronic courses, faculty will be paid separately for the teaching and administration of electronic courses. Teaching of E-Courses will be compensated on a per student basis if taught on an overload basis. The final decision regarding compensation of the faculty member for the overload or part-time pay remains the decision of the appropriate administrative officer. (See Distribution of Tuition and Fees, Tuition and Fees and Year-long Electronic Course Agreement.)

Faculty Load Time

Electronic courses will be offered either as part of inload, overload or by adjunct faculty.

Faculty Support

A faculty support staff will provide support and training to faculty developing electronic course content. This group will be headed by full-time Instructional Technologists. Full-time Instructional Technologists will provide formal training and just-in-time support to faculty who develop electronic course content. The Center for Instructional Technology and innovations will provide support and training to faculty developing E-Courses

Financial Aid

Students registering for E-Courses will be eligible to apply for financial aid just as traditional, on-campus students are. Information, advice, and the opportunity to ask questions and receive answers regarding financial aid opportunities will be made available to students registering for electronic courses. Frequently requested financial aid information will be made available via the world wide web.


Students signing up for electronic courses must have sufficient access to equipment and software necessary to complete the course for which they are registering.

Hiring Policies

Possession of skills in the delivery of course content using distance technologies will be considered a criteria in the hiring of faculty, both full-time or adjunct.

Intellectual Property/Ownership of Course Content

When any employees of the University, whether faculty or support staff, or any outside contractor, have been given a specific commission from the University (i.e. reassigned time, faculty development grants, special project monies, and other time or money granted specifically for development purposes) to create or enhance specific electronic instructional content, the latter shall routinely require that all participants in the project waive in writing ownership of and any financial interest in the product that might otherwise accrue, except as specified in Executive Policy Bulletin Number 9. The University maintains the right to make backup copies of this specific electronic instructional content in order to protect against accidental or other deletion / corruption.

If the work leading to creation of a specific piece of electronic instructional content is sponsored by a contract between the University and a government agency, business firm, foundation, or other external institution, the provisions of the contract under which the work is performed take precedence over this policy.

In recognition of the special relationship among the University and its employees (including faculty) and students and the practical difficulty of defining the equities in the various circumstances under which electronic instructional content may emerge, the University shall have the absolute, unrestricted content created by or through the efforts of its personnel.

When the revision of electronic instructional content becomes appropriate, the original developer of the content will be granted the first right of refusal to the work of revision. If the original developer refuses, the University may agree with another party to perform the revising, at which point the original developer loses any ownership of or financial interest in the content.

Under ordinary circumstances, and as a general premise, the creator (or creators) of electronic instructional content shall be deemed the owner of the content in the sense that the creator has the right to market the content directly or through arrangements with commercial enterprises or the University. However, the University owns the course number, course title, catalog description and course syllabus. The creator is not obligated to share any part of the revenue from the sale or licensing of the content with the University or, except as provided otherwise in this policy, with any office or organization within the University.

In addition, the University shall have a non-exclusive right to market or license any software created by its faculty and staff (and students when participating in University-sponsored or University-related projects.) If the University invokes its marketing option, whether acting alone or in concert with an external developer, its net revenues shall be allocated in accordance with the Executive Policy Bulleting Number 9 .

The creator of any electronic instructional content may petition the University to waive its non-exclusive marketing rights. The determining official for this action is the president of the university. Such a petition should include a description of the content sufficient to enable the president to make a tentative judgement as to whether commercial potential exists.

When electronic instructional content is developed through the efforts of two or more persons, the potential financial interests of the various parties shall be made clear in advance by a private agreement or understanding. Under such joint undertakings, faculty members have a special obligation to deal fairly with junior faculty and students. If the content is created by a research center or other recognized entity of the University, the entity may adopt a stated and consistently applied policy of vesting all rights to the software in the entity, preempting the more general rights of the University.


Distance learning students will be granted access to all library resources, such as the ability to request interlibrary loan materials, as well as access to online catalogs and materials.


Information regarding prerequisites will be included in course descriptions, and completion of such will be required of students taking E-Courses in the same manner it is required of on-campus students. Students who have not completed prerequisites for an electronic class will not be permitted to register for the E-Course. It will be the responsibility of the institution to provide prerequisites in the same electronic format. Students who enroll in E-Courses as transient students need only meet the requirements of their home university for E-Course enrollment. E-Courses taken by transient students may not apply toward a Marshall degree without permission of the appropriate dean.


A student may register for an electronic course at any time during the calendar year. (See Course Completion Timetable.) For administrative purposes, students registering after July 15 but before October 25 will be counted in the Fall semester. The number of electronic course credit hours for which they register will be counted toward total credit hours for the Fall semester only. Likewise, those electronic course credits will only influence full or part-time student standing during the Fall semester. Students registering after October 25 but before March 25 will be counted in the Spring semester. Students registering after March 25 but before July 15 will be counted in the Summer C session. (Also see Hardware/Software.)


Faculty and administration will establish a system of incentives and rewards to encourage activity, recognize achievement, and foster continuing accomplishment in distance education. This will include (but not be limited to) adding recognition of distance education activities as being co-equal with traditional teaching in faculty evaluations.


Students may use E-courses to meet "D" and "F" repeat requirements even if the course was originally delivered using traditional methods.

Review and Update of E-Course Content

The department or college will be responsible for the annual review of both the academic content and the technical content of Electronic Classes, and will update both academic content and technical content as appropriate.

Student Load Time

Electronic course credits count only for the Fall, Spring, or Summer C term as determined in the timetable listed under Registration. A student cannot sign up for 12 hours of Year-long Electronic Courses and claim full-time status for the full 12 months. University policies regarding overloads for students wishing to take over 18 hours apply to students registering for E-Courses.

Syllabi and Course Documentation

Electronic course syllabi will spell out clearly the following information in addition to meeting the same requirements as syllabi for on-campus courses: necessary hardware, software, technological competencies, and the nature of faculty and student interaction necessary for success in the course.

Tuition and Fees

Students who register for electronic courses will pay tuition as established by the institution. Students registering for electronic courses only will be exempt from the Student Activities fee. Special fees imposed by college (e.g. the College of Business) are applicable to students registering for E-Courses. E-Course students who wish to pay the Student Activities Fee and receive the appropriate benefits have the option of doing so.

Withdrawal Timetable

E-Courses will follow Series Bulletin 22 of the University System of West Virginia Board of Trustees in regard to refund and withdrawal policies.

Year-long Electronic Course Agreement

Instructors who wish to offer a Year-long Electronic Course will be required to sign a Year-long Electronic Course Agreement, which obligates them to perform their duties as instructor of the course throughout the twelve (12) month period.

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