Policy ACAF-LEC-001

Responsible University Administrator:Provost
Responsible Officer:Director of the Learning Enhancement Center
Origination Date:1/31/12
Current Revision Date:02/19/13
Next Review Date:02/19/17
End of Policy Date:N/A
Policy Number:ACAF-LEC-001



PDF Version


Policy Statement

Southern Miss began the eLearning Initiative in the spring of 2009.  This initiative is focused on developing additional fully online degree programs to improve student satisfaction, raise retention and graduation rates, and increase enrollment at Southern Miss. The project encompasses many aspects of launching a successful online program including marketing and outreach efforts, faculty training and support, course scheduling and development, upgrading program and business processes, and sustaining growth.


We currently have undergraduate programs, graduate programs, hybrid/executive format programs, certificate programs, and a supplemental endorsement.  In addition to our online degree programs, we offer a wide variety of fully online classes.

Reason for Policy/Purpose

This policy is required for the effective communication of university policies regarding Eagle Online Learning. 

Who Needs to Know This Policy

All members of The University of Southern Mississippi community 

Website Address for this Policy





SACS‐COC Definition of Distance Education For the purposes of the Commission on College’s accreditation review, distance education is a formal educational process in which the majority of the instruction (interaction between students and instructors and among students) in a course occurs when students and instructors are not in the same place. 
IHL Definition of Distance Learning

Distance learning may be defined as “institutionally based formal education where the learning group is separated and where interactive communication systems are used to connect instructors, learners, and resources“ (The Quarterly Review of Distance Education) or “the acquisition of knowledge and skills through mediated information and instruction, encompassing all technologies and other forms of learning at a distance” (United States Distance Learning Association). 

Presently, a course is considered to be a distance learning course when at least fifty (50) percent of the course is available via technology-based instruction while a program is considered to be a distance learning program when at least fifty (50) percent of the program is available via technology based instruction.

Undergraduate Fully Online Program 

All courses listed in the degree plan are available online, either through USM or MSVCC. This includes all GEC categories, major area of study requirements, and any additional requirements. A student would not have to take a

face‐to‐face course to complete this degree. Admission to an undergraduate fully online program may be restricted to a certain cohort. A student who is admitted to a fully online program is given an online campus code in the student program panel in SOAR. 
Undergraduate Hybrid Online Major Area of Study Fifty (50) percent or more of courses listed under Major Area of Study Requirements in the degree plan are available online. Only courses offered by the program’s department/school should be listed under Major Area of Study Requirements. 
Undergraduate Hybrid Online General or College Curriculum Fifty (50) percent or more of courses listed under a Curriculum Requirement in the degree plan are available online. This includes, but is not limited to, General Education Curriculum, BSBA Requirements, BA Requirements, and Teacher Licensure Requirements. 
Graduate Fully Online Program All courses listed in the program’s Plan of Study are available online through USM. A student would not have to take a face‐to‐face course to complete this degree. A student who is admitted to a fully online program is given an online campus code in the student program panel in SOAR. 
Graduate Hybrid Online Plan of Study Fifty (50) percent or more of courses offered by the program’s department/school and listed in the program’s Plan of Study are available online. 
Graduate Hybrid Online General Curriculum Fifty (50) percent or more of courses listed under a Curriculum Requirement in the Plan of Study are available online. This includes, but is not limited to, Research Tools and Dissertation Support. 
Graduate Executive Format ProgramA graduate program developed especially for working executives, managers, and professionals. Executive programs generally require professional work experience for entrance and students may be admitted as a cohort. Courses are delivered through intensive campus meetings (weekends or several full days once a month, for example) and online communications. An Executive Format Program can have fifty (50) percent or more of courses offered online or less than fifty (50) percent of courses offered online. 
Graduate Executive Format Program (Online classification)  Fifty (50) percent or more of courses offered by the program’s department/school and listed in the program’s Plan of Study are available online. 
Graduate Executive Format Program (Alternative Delivery classification) Less than fifty (50) percent of courses offered online 
Undergraduate and Graduate  Fully Online Certificate All courses listed in the certificate’s curriculum are available online through Southern Miss. A student would not be required to take a face‐to­face course to complete this certificate. 
Undergraduate and Graduate  Hybrid Online Certificate Fifty (50) percent or more of the courses listed in the certificate curriculum is available online. 
Web Supplement Course

A course with less than fifty (50) percent online component.

In SOAR, web supplement courses are coded as follows:

a) CampusHattiesburg or Gulf Coast

b) LocationHattiesburg, Gulf Park, Keesler, Gulf Coast Research Center, Stennis, etc.

c) Instruction Mode ‐C‐5 Web Supplement (Departments do NOT enter the instruction mode for these classes. Instructors complete and submit the Course Supplement Request Form found at: http://eduprod.usm.edu/elo/csrf/. Once the request is received in LEC, a course shell is created and the instruction mode is changed and a course attribute of web supplement is added.) 
Hybrid Online Course 

A course with fifty (50) to ninety‐nine (99) percent online component. Students must either meet on campus or visit the campus at some point during the semester. In SOAR, hybrid courses are coded as follows:

a) Campus ‐Hattiesburg or Gulf Coast

b) Location ‐Online

c) Instruction Mode ‐C‐9 Hybrid

d) Class NoteOnline Hybrid

Fully Online Course 

A course delivered one‐hundred (100) percent online. Students are not required to meet on campus or visit the campus at any point during the semester. In SOAR, hybrid online courses are coded as follows:

a) Campus ‐Online

b) Location ‐Online

c) Instructional Mode ‐CO Fully Online

d) Class NoteOnline web referral 
Fully Online Student  A student enrolled in a fully online program.
Hybrid Online Student A student enrolled in a fully online course or a hybrid online course, but is not enrolled in a Fully Online Program. A Hybrid Online Student may, in a given semester, be enrolled in all online courses.
Executive Format Student A student enrolled in an Executive Format Program. 



Blackboard is the online course management system used to deliver web‐based distance learning courses and as a technology supplement for face‐to‐face taught courses. Through Blackboard, instructors may post course syllabi and other documents; incorporate online engagement tools (ex. discussion boards, chat, announcements, file exchange, etc.); administer quizzes and exams; and post grades.

a.          All online course material is delivered exclusively using the Blackboard learning management system, allowing instructors to take full advantage of a variety of technology tools with a user-friendly interface that meets accessibility standards for interoperability and access for learners with special needs. The Provost Office has compliance responsibility and authority to make sure no other learning management system is used, and monitors learning platforms used.

b.          Compliance with technology standards are demonstrated through institutional indicators shown below:

i    Course Architecture Indicators – Blackboard architecture permits the online teacher to add content, activities and assessments to extend learning opportunities and accommodate traditional and non‐traditional schedules.

ii    User Interface Indicators – Courses are easy to navigate and have the capability to utilize resources by alternative means, e.g., video, CDs, and podcasts.

iii   Technology Requirements and Interoperability Indicators for LEC

a)  Hardware, Web browser and software requirements are specified.


b) Prerequisite skills in the use of technology are identified.


c) Appropriate content‐specific tools and software are utilized.


d) Interoperability technical standards allow sharing content from different learning management systems into the Blackboard platform, which is used exclusively as the USM learning management system.


e) Interoperability technical standards ensure sharing of questions, assessments and results with others.


iv.     Accessibility Indicators

a)     The course meets universal design principles, Section 508 standards and W3C guidelines to ensure access for all students.

b)     Online textbooks used in a course meet nationally endorsed standards (NIMAS) for publishers to ensure distribution of accessible, alternative versions of textbooks and other instructional materials.

v.     Technical Support Indicators


a)     LEC offers the instructors assistance with technical support and course management.


b)     Student support is provided by Bb Student Support Services. Contact information for 24/7 support can be found on the Eagle Learning Online (ELO) website at http://eduprod.usm.edu/elo

c)     LEC offers orientation, intermediate and advanced training.




Each department ensures a sufficient number of faculty are qualified to develop, design and teach online courses/programs.

a.  Training/Tutorials Required for Access as Online Instructor. Professional development shall be made available to all online instructors.

i.     The LEC provides an ongoing program of appropriate technical, design and production support for instructors conducting courses online.


ii.     The University of Southern Mississippi strongly encourages all online instructors to complete the LEC Blackboard Training program prior to teaching an online course. Instructors must contact the Learning Enhancement Center (LEC) or register via the LEC webpage to enroll in all required training for access as an online instructor. Instructors must demonstrate proficiency in the following areas prior to conducting online instruction:


a)     System Understanding – Instructors are expected to independently access the online course management system; post course syllabi and other documents; incorporate online engagement tools (ex. discussion boards, chat, announcements, file exchange, etc.); administer quizzes and exams; and post grades.


b)     Features/Capabilities – Instructors are expected to develop and maintain an awareness and understanding of the basic instructional functions, features, and capabilities of the current online learning management system utilized by The University of Southern Mississippi (Blackboard). Examples of useful functions, features and capabilities include Assignment Dropbox, Grade Book, Notes and Assessment Manager.


c)     Intro to Online Delivery


iii.   Online Instructor Professional Development Program


a)     The University of Southern Mississippi professional development for online instructors may include, but is not limited to, learning communities, which allow instructors to work together in pair or teams with opportunities for follow‐up discussions to share information; online training modules; face‐to‐face training; technology coaching or mentoring.


b)     The online instructor professional development program shall address differences in learning styles and technical abilities. The professional development program shall incorporate collaborative learning activities and model effective teaching in an online environment.


b.    Evaluation


i.     Evaluations may include, but are not limited to, diagnostic, formative (ongoing sharing between participant and instructor) and summative (to summarize participant learning).


ii.     Online instructor professional development training and support programs are evaluated regularly by the Office of the Provost. Program assessment data are routinely compared to national research in five areas: 1) participant reaction to online professional development, 2) participant learning, 3) organizational support, 4) participant implementation, 5) student impact.


iii.     Online instructor professional development program evaluators must comply with The University of Southern Mississippi standards for program evaluation. An online course development guide and rubric is available on the ELO website. Use of this rubric and self‐assessment tool represents a developmental process for online course design and delivery and provides a means for an instructor to self-assess course(s) based on the standards set forth by SACS, SREB and the University of Southern Mississippi. The first portion of this tool is a checklist of items required by SREB for all online syllabi.

c.    Constraints/Compliance. Course developers must create online course materials in accordance with The University of Southern Mississippi’s established requirements and guidelines within this policy.


i.     Online course instruction must satisfy or exceed the various accreditation criteria and policy statements of the Commission on Colleges Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.


ii.     Online courses will also meet the standards established by The Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) for course content, instructional design, student assessment, and course evaluation and management.


iii.     Use of the ELO standard template is required when new courses are developed.




Methods change, but standards of quality endure. The important issues are not technical but curriculum‐driven and pedagogical. Decisions about such matters are made by qualified professionals and focus on learning outcomes for an increasingly diverse student population.

a.    Quality online courses include clearly defined curriculum content, effective and easy‐to‐use ways for students to interact with and learn the content, and are designed to attract student interest.


i.     Communication and Interaction Indicators – The design provides opportunities for appropriate instructor‐student interaction, including timely and frequent feedback about student progress. The course provides opportunities for appropriate student‐student interaction to foster mastery and application of the material and a plan for monitoring that interaction.


ii.     Resources and Materials Indicators – The course provides opportunities for appropriate student interaction with the content to foster mastery and application of the material. Students have access to resources that enrich the course content.


iii.     Instructional Design Services – LEC provides instructional design services and online faculty members are encouraged to use these services to maximize delivery of their online courses.


b.   Consortia Partners & Contractors – Although important elements of a program may be supplied by consortia partners or outsourced to other organizations, including contractors who may not be accredited, the responsibility for performance remains with the institution awarding the degree or certificate. It is the institution in which the student is enrolled, not its suppliers or partners, that has a contract with the student. Therefore, the criteria for selecting consortia partners and contractors, and the means to monitor and evaluate their work, are important aspects of the program plan. In considering consortia agreements, attention is given to issues such as assuring that enhancing service to students is a primary consideration and that incentives do not compromise the integrity of the institution or of the educational program. Consideration is also given to the effect of administrative arrangements and cost‐sharing on an institution’s decision‐making regarding curriculum.


i.     Performance expectations are defined in authorized University memoranda of understanding, contracts and agreements. Conditions for contract termination are defined.


ii.     Adequate quality control and curriculum oversight provisions are included in agreements concerning courseware.


iii.     Appropriate system reliability and emergency backup guarantees exist in agreements concerning technology services.


iv.     Provisions for protection of confidentiality and privacy in services involving personal information included.


v.     Assurances concerning qualifications and training of persons involved in contact with students are defined, ranging from help desk to tutoring or counseling.


vi.     Articulation and transfer arrangements are applicable to courses offered via the consortium, which involve specific curricular decisions by the academic structures of the participating institutions.


c.   Student Accessibility – In designing an electronically offered degree or certificate program, the institution provides a coherent plan for the student to access all courses necessary to complete the program, or clearly notifies students of requirements not included in the electronic offering. Hybrid programs or courses, mixing electronic and on‐campus elements, are designed to assure that all students have access to appropriate services.


i.     Students are notified of program requirements via Eagle Learning Online.


ii.     If the institution relies on other university-approved providers to offer program‐related courses, students are informed of these courses via Eagle Learning Online.


iii.     The total online program is realistically available to students for whom it is intended. For example, the chosen technology is likely to be accessible by the target student population and target students meet the parameters of program scheduling.


iv.     Students with a disability that qualifies under the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) and requires accommodations should contact The University of Southern Mississippi Office for Disability Accommodations (ODA) for information on appropriate policies and procedures. Disabilities covered by ADA may include learning, psychiatric, physical disabilities or chronic health disorders. Students can contact ODA at http://eduprod.usm.edu/oda if they are not certain whether a medical condition/disability qualifies.


d.   Instructor/Student Interaction – The importance of appropriate interaction (synchronous or asynchronous) between instructor and students and among students is reflected in the design of the program and its courses, and in the technical facilities and services provided.


i.     Provisions for appropriate instructor‐student and student‐student interaction are included in the program/course design and the course syllabus.


ii.     Online students must adhere to the Student Code of Ethics.


iii.     Technologies are used for program interaction (e.g., email, telephone office hours, phone conferences, voicemail, fax, chat rooms, Web‐based discussions, computer conferences and threaded discussions, etc.).




Colleges and universities have learned that the twenty‐first century student is different, both demographically and geographically, from students of previous generations. These differences affect everything from admissions policy to library services.


a.    Library and Learning Resources


i.     Students have access to and can effectively use appropriate library resources.


ii.     Access is provided to laboratories, facilities and equipment appropriate to the courses or programs.


b.     Student Services


i.     Students have adequate access to the range of services appropriate to support the programs offered through Eagle Learning Online.


ii.     Students in Eagle Learning Online programs have an adequate procedure for resolving their complaints, and the institution follows its policies and procedures.


iii.     Advertising, recruiting, and admissions information adequately and accurately represent the programs, requirements, and services available to students.


iv.     Documented procedures assure that security of personal information is protected in the conduct of assessments and evaluations and in the dissemination of results.


v.     Students enrolled in Eagle Learning Online courses are able to use the technology employed, have the equipment necessary to succeed and are provided assistance in using the technology employed.


c.     The institution recognizes that appropriate services must be available for students of electronically offered programs, using the working assumption that these students will not be physically present on campus. With variations for specific situations and programs, these services, which are possibly coordinated, may include:


i.     Accurate and timely information about the institution, its programs, courses, costs and related policies and requirements.


ii.     Pre‐registration advising.


iii.     Application for admission.


iv.     Placement testing.


v.     Enrollment/registration in programs and courses.


vi.     Financial aid, including information about policies and limitations, information about available scholarships, processing of applications, and administration of financial aid and scholarship awards.


d.     A sense of community is important to the success of many students. An ongoing, long‐term relationship with ELO students is beneficial to both student and institution. Strategies and practices to build community are implemented in ELO programs as appropriate, through such actions as encouraging study groups, providing student directories (with the permission of those listed), including off‐campus students in institutional publications and events, including these students in definitions of the academic community through such mechanisms as student government representation, invitations to campus events including graduation ceremonies, and similar strategies of inclusion.




Both the assessment of student achievement and evaluation of the overall program take on added importance as new techniques evolve. For example, in asynchronous programs the element of seat time is essentially removed from the equation. For these reasons, the institution conducts sustained, evidence‐based and participatory inquiry as to whether ELO programs are achieving objectives. The results of such inquiry are used to guide curriculum design and delivery, pedagogy, and educational processes, and may affect future policy and budgets and perhaps have implications for the institution’s roles and mission.


The following Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) Commission on Colleges policy standards apply:


a.      Student Assessment – When examinations are employed (paper, online, demonstrations of competency, etc.), they take place in circumstances that include firm student identification. The institution otherwise seeks to assure the integrity of student work.


i.     Guidelines for examination by proctor are on the ELO website. Policies and procedures define faculty, student and LEC responsibilities for proctored exams, including but not limited to establishing student identity, assuring security of test instruments, administering the examinations, and assuring secure examinations and prompt evaluation.


ii.     If other methods are used to identify those who take the examination, how is identification firmly established? How are the conditions of the examination (security, time limits, etc.) controlled?


iii.     Does the institution have in place effective policies and procedures to assure the integrity of student work?


b.     Institutional Assessment and Reporting


        c.     Accreditation Measures/Self‐Evaluation


The Director of the Learning Enhancement Center is responsible for the review of this policy every four years (or whenever circumstances require immediate review).



Application for Examination by Proctor





Related Information




Amendments: Month, Day, Year – summary of changes

01/31/12: Formatted for Institutional Policies website.

02/19/13: Formatted in template. Minor editing of punctuation and usage throughout.