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ACC Management Department
Riverside Campus
1020 Grove Blvd 78741
Building G Room 9143
Austin, Texas
(512) 223-6710
Division Distance Learning Standards


Established Fall 2009


The number of Business Studies courses offered in a distance learning format has increased substantially over the past few years  and continues to grow.  Several degrees and certificates can now be completed solely through distance learning.  Technological and pedagogical advances in distance learning are evolving rapidly which has greatly improved the quality of distance education from the days of self-paced correspondence courses that students completed in isolation from the instructor and other students.     

The growth of distance learning offerings at colleges nationwide has led to the development of broad standards by SACS and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB). 

ACC has established an administrative rule on distance learning best practices that is based on the SACS policy statement.  The rule is a formal adoption of the SACS policy that maintains the primacy of faculty in determining course content.

This document is a division-wide set of standards that meet the intent of the administrative rule.  Since business students take courses from multiple business departments they can be assured that any distance learning business course taken will meet     the standards set forth in this document. 

The objectives of these standards are to:

  • Ensure that the quality of distance learning courses is acceptable to both students, transfer universities, and local employers, and that they match the quality of traditional classroom courses as closely as possible
  • Provide students with important information about distance learning courses before registration
  • Ensure a similar level of interaction between students and between students and instructor that is achieved in traditional classroom courses
  • Provide students with a consistent way to access distance learning course materials through Blackboard
  • Ensure the privacy and security of student grades
  • Minimize academic dishonesty by verifying students’ identities prior to taking exams and by encouraging faculty to adopt instructional practices that minimize the possibility of academic dishonesty
  • Ensure timely communication between instructor and student
  • Encourage faculty to keep up with advances in distance education through ongoing professional development

These standards were developed by a committee of Business Studies faculty from various disciplines and revised in a forum   open to all Business Studies faculty.  Care has been taken not to usurp the primacy of faculty in determining course content.  The standards will be updated periodically to reflect advances in distance learning instruction. 

Standards Statement

All Business Studies distance learning courses will be of the same quality and academic rigor as traditional classroom courses.  This document establishes minimum standards for distance learning courses based on input from distance learning faculty, guidelines from accrediting agencies and THECB, and distance learning best practices.  These standards apply to all distance learning formats, and to the distance learning component of hybrid courses.  Individual departments and instructors are encouraged to adopt additional standards. 

Learner Support & Resources
The SACS requirement states:
Students have adequate access to the range of services appropriate to support the programs, including admissions, financial aid, academic advising, delivery of course materials, and placement and counseling. (CR 2.10)

Students have convenient access to ACC distance learning (DL) resources at  The following information is included in this web site:  Is DL Right for You?; DL Student FAQs; Registering for a DL Course; Beginning a DL Course; and Succeeding in a DL Course.  Distance learning instructors will make this information available to students before enrolling in a course.  This allows students to determine if the distance learning format is right for them and provides help for success.

The SACS requirement states:
There is currency of materials, programs, and courses.  (CS 3.5.3 and CS 3.6.4)

All documents and links in distance learning courses should be easily accessible for students and must be kept current.     Distance learning courses must include learning materials that are appropriate for electronic delivery.  These materials must    have substantial learning value and be, at a minimum, equivalent to materials used in traditional courses.  

Innovative Teaching with Technology
The SAC requirement states:
The technology used is appropriate to the nature and objectives of the programs and courses.  Expectations concerning the use      of such technology are clearly communicated to students. (CS

Students enrolled in distance education course are able to use the technology employed, have the equipment necessary to succeed, and are provided assistance in using the technology employed. (CS 3.4.14)

Distance learning instructors will utilize technologies that enhance the learning experience, are appropriate for the course content, and create a learning environment that actively engages students.  Instructional Development Services can assist with identifying and implementing appropriate course technology.

The technology components of the course must be communicated to students before registration via instructor and/or department web sites.   Students should be advised that they can use open computer labs at any ACC campus to access online course content. 

All distance learning instructors will use the Blackboard course management system.   Course content may be maintained on a separate web site, but Blackboard must be used as the portal for the course.  Blackboard is supported by ACC and is used by instructors college-wide.  This ensures student familiarity, thereby minimizing the need for students to learn different online systems for each course.   It also places course content and student information on a secure internal server.

Minimum Blackboard integration includes:

  • Grade Center – The Blackboard grade center is convenient and secure for students and faculty.  It allows faculty to communicate grades to students in compliance with federal privacy laws (FERPA).  The grade center is archived on the Blackboard server and instructors can easily download grades to Excel.  Grades cannot be posted on a non-ACC server.
  • Announcements – Faculty should post announcements throughout the semester.  The Blackboard announcement feature is an efficient way to communicate information to all students.
  • Discussion Board – Frequent communication with distance learning students is critical to student success. The  Blackboard discussion board allows students to interact with the instructor and each other.  A private listserv may be used in addition to, or in place of the Blackboard discussion board.  If a listserv is used students must be notified that the email address they use may be visible to other students.  Instructions should be provided for students who wish to establish a separate email address for the listserv. 
  • Assignments – The Assignment feature and Digital Dropbox allow students to submit assignments that are easily  collected and graded by the instructor.  Instructors can efficiently provide feedback and post the grade in the Blackboard grade center.  The assignment is archived and can be viewed by students and the instructor.
  • Course Documents – Documents can be loaded from any internet connection.  They are secure because they are not   easily indexed by online search engines such as Google.  Course documents and links must be kept current.
  • Faculty Information – This is easy to post and convenient for students.   Name, contact information (including ACC mailing address and fax number, if available), office location, office hours, and a link to the instructor’s web site must be included along with additional information at the discretion of the instructor or department.

Instructor Web Sites
Instructors must maintain a web site to provide course information and instructor contact information to potential students.    Students cannot access content in Blackboard until they register for a course.  A web site allows potential students to review a distance learning course before registration to determine if it is appropriate for them.   A web site can also answer questions that distance learning students frequently have before the semester begins.  Beginning in fall 2010, the State of Texas via the THECB will require all instructors at Texas colleges and universities to have instructional web sites.  These guidelines meet the THECB criteria for faculty web sites.

Minimum information for web site:

  • Faculty information as defined in the section above (Vita and a personal photo are optional)
  • Syllabus or detailed synopsis for each course
  • A list of textbooks (including ISBN) and course materials for each course
  • Course orientation information
  • Links to department web pages, ACC homepage, Blackboard, and distance learning information for students

Course notes in the schedule (printed and on-line) must include the instructors email address and/or phone number.  Instructors must respond to student inquiries about upcoming courses before the beginning of the semester.

ACC office hour information must be kept up-to-date.  A link to the online office hour system should be incorporated into the instructor’s web site and Blackboard courses.  This ensures that all information is consistent and readily available to students and ACC personnel.

Course Orientation
Course notes in the schedule (printed and on-line) must clearly communicate the method and deadline for the course orientation.  This includes penalties for not completing the orientation or completing the orientation after the deadline.  All course materials can either be given to students during a required face-to-face orientation or made available on Blackboard. 

Distance learning instructors may use the Early Intervention Request Form to track students who do not complete the orientation and to assist students who require additional support.

Responding to Student Communications
Instructors must respond to student e-mails, discussion board postings, text messages, and phone messages within two business days of their receipt.  If this time frame cannot be met, the instructor must notify the students.  If the instructor does not respond to inquiries on weekends or holidays, it should be stated in the syllabus so students know when to expect replies from    an instructor. 

Student Complaints

The SACS requirement states:
Students have an adequate procedure for resolving their complaints. (CS 4.5)

Course Syllabi must include information about how to resolve student complaints, grievances, and grade disputes.  This can be accomplished most easily by including a link to the student handbook. 

Distance learning instructor evaluation procedures must be adequately communicated to students.

The SAC requirement states:
Programs and courses provide for timely and appropriate interaction between students and faculty and among students.  (CS 3.4.4)

Interaction between students and between students and the instructor is essential for quality education.    Distance learning courses must be designed to ensure that the level of interaction is at least equivalent to that in a traditional course.  Technology  can be used to automate much of the one way instructor-to-student communication that occurs in a traditional classroom course (e.g., lectures).  Distance learning and interactive technologies make it possible to greatly exceed the amount of interaction in a traditional classroom course.   Time constraints of students should be considered when designing the interactive and communication requirements of a course.  Grades for interaction must be appropriate and clearly communicated to students.  Instructors are encouraged to use grading rubrics to help students communicate effectively and allow for consistent grading.

Quality of the Distance Learning Course:
The SAC requirement states:
Comparability of distance education programs to campus-based programs and course is ensured by the evaluation of    educational effectiveness, including assessments of student learning outcomes, students retention, and student satisfaction.        (CS 3.3.1)

The faculty assumes responsibility for and exercises oversight of distance education, ensuring both the rigor of programs and the quality of instruction. (CA 3.4.1 and CS 3.4.12)

The department or discipline Task Force will determine the content and effectiveness measures for each course.  Distance learning faculty will be evaluated using the procedures established by the college, the standards in this document, and additional procedures or standards that may be developed by the department.  A Department Chair, or other faculty member appointed by the Department Chair to assist with faculty evaluations, may review an instructor’s courses in Blackboard (or other platform if Blackboard is used only as a portal).  This is equivalent to conducting a classroom observation in a traditional classroom course.  New distance learning courses and distance learning courses taught by instructors for the first time should be carefully reviewed   to ensure that they meet the standards established by the department and this document.

Students must be required to master the same course objectives, at the same level, as students in the on-campus course.  While the teaching/learning activities need not be the same, effective and appropriate resources must be used.  These resources must provide students with the same expertise and support they would receive from an on-campus class experience.  At a minimum, distance learning students must complete an equivalent amount of quizzes, papers, exams, and other learning activities as on-campus students.

If department-wide student assessments are conducted for a course (e.g., student assessments required by ACBSP or SACS [ULEAD]) the same assessment must be administered to students in distance learning and classroom sections of the course.  Assessment data should be segregated by course delivery method for more effective analysis.

Course Integrity
The SACS requirement states:
The integrity of student work and the credibility of degrees and credits are ensured.  (Pl 1.1, CS 3.4.6, CS 3.5.3 and CS 3.6.4)

Instructors should be aware of the possibility of students getting help from others on work completed outside of monitored exams.  While some online quizzes may be used as learning tools and papers/projects may be prepared outside of a monitored environment, a substantial proportion of the course grade should be earned on monitored activities such as exams administered by ACC testing centers.  Projects and papers should have different focuses to ensure that students are not engaging in unauthorized collaboration or other academic dishonesty.  Students may be asked to submit progress reports and/or follow-up reports to help ensure that the student actually prepared the assignment.  Instructors must incorporate a variety of tools to ensure that students are doing their own work.

Students must take exams at ACC testing centers or approved off-site testing areas so that the identity of the student can be verified.  Instructors are encouraged to use Respondus to assist with secure testing.

Training and Professional Development
The SACS requirement states:
Faculty who teach in distance education programs and courses receive appropriate training. (CS 3.7.3)

Faculty support services are appropriate and specifically related to distance education.  (CS 3.4.9)

Distance learning teaching methodologies and technology evolve rapidly.  Instructors must keep their distance learning teaching skills current in order to ensure the highest quality education. 

Department Chairs will assign new distance learning instructors a mentor and provide them with a copy of these standards.

Distance learning instructors must attend at least one distance learning workshop each academic year.

Blackboard training and support:

Distance learning training and support:

Department and Business Studies training opportunities are also available.  Instructors are encouraged to contact their  Department Chair or the office of the Business Studies Dean with training requests. 

The Business Studies Division also maintains a Blackboard site for distance learning faculty to communicate and collaborate on distance learning teaching strategies.

Updated January 2010

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