Distance Learning Faculty Handbook
Distance Learning Faculty Handbook

DL Standards and Practices

The mission of Distance Learning is to develop and operate the College's distance education programs, working with faculty and staff members to ensure delivery of quality courses and provide necessary support. The course approval process is designed to ensure that all Distance Learning courses, certificates, and degree programs adhere to Best Practices, as established by the accrediting agencies and educational organizations that govern ACC.

Additional standards may be addressed and approved by the ACAC in order to implement and maintain best practices. These standards may be approved as long as they do not conflict with Administrative Rules, Board Policy, and standards set by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB), Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), or other regulatory bodies. These standards should be incorporated into the Distance Learning Course Approval Form to implement "good distance education standards and practices."

For more on planning high quality distance education classes, visit Distance Learning Course Development.

Updated Spring 2010

  • SACS Distance Education Policy Statement (on which ACC's DL Best Practices Administrative Rule is based) was revised in July 2009 and is now the Distance & Correspondence Education Policy Statement. The Administrative Rule will be up before ACAC for updating. (Apr 2010)
    • SACS now makes the distinction between Distance Education courses and Correspondence Courses.
    • Three policy statements have been added under the definitions of Distance Education and Correspondence Education:
      1. Verification of students enrolled in DE or CE courses.
      2. Appropriate headcount on enrollment is provided to the Commission.
      3. Programs must comply with the Principles of Accreditation.
    • SACS added two additional statements under Curriculum and Instruction.
    • The updated Policy reflects the Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA) from the US Department of Education.
  • SACS Distance Education & the Principles of Accreditation: Documenting Compliance (Jan 2010) is referenced in the revised Policy Statement as a way to document the institution's compliance with SACS requirements.
  • Business Studies Division Distance Learning Standards was developed by ACC's Business Studies division after the DL Best Practices Administrative Rule was implemented at ACC. This document was developed by the division's department chairs and faculty.
  • House Bill 2504 states that all college courses will have online syllabi and vitas.

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DL Course Approval & Scheduling

Administrative Rule 4.03.004 | Section 5: Distance Education

Distance education classes must be offered through Distance Learning. Proposed new DL classes not already in the college course inventory must go through the new course approval process. All new courses must be approved by the appropriate Department Chair or Department Advisory Committee, Instructional Dean, and the Director of Distance Learning. Additionally, the Vice President of Instruction must approve entire degree or certificate programs offered via Distance Learning.

Instructors interested in creating or adapting new DL classes initiate the process by submitting a DL Course Approval Form, to explain the course's intended objectives and activities, the instructional mode and technologies to be used, and the rationale for offering the course. The form also details the support services and materials to be developed by the instructor, the resources to be made available, and the office(s) designated to provide them. This form must be completed before offering a DL course for the first time, or to update basic requirements of an existing DL course.

The Director of Distance Learning coordinates the scheduling of new and existing DL classes in collaboration with department chairs and division deans during the schedule development process. The DL Administrative Assistant works with instructors to confirm course orientations and provide section-specific pre-registration information for students in the Section Notes.

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Instructional Development

Instructors are strongly encouraged to work with Instructional Development Services to develop Distance Learning courses. The Distance Learning Instruction Series helps faculty adapt courses for DL delivery. ID Specialists also work with departments interested in delivering entire degree or certificate programs through DL.

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Delivering DL Courses

The primary responsibility of all ACC faculty members is to provide quality instruction to their students. For DL instructors, providing access to quality instruction often presents unique challenges beyond those faced by traditional classroom instructors. Communication with Distance Learning students is very critical and relies on meaningful educational activities assigned by responsive instructors. Consequently, DL instructors take on additional responsibilities that become essential to providing a creative, supportive learning environment.

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DL Course Orientations

Faculty-student communication is typically initiated by the course orientation. The orientation process is critical to student success in a DL course as it is essentially a student's first day of class. A good orientation should be purposeful and interactive. It should offer students an overview of course objectives, describe the instructional materials and technologies to be used, state the expectations of the instructor, and provide information about ACC and DL support resources. Whether online or on site, a well-structured orientation establishes the foundation and sets the tone for student-instructor communication for the entire semester.

Make every effort to ensure all students receive orientation information; submit an Early Intervention Request Form to the DL Office for assistance in contacting any students who haven't completed the orientation after the session has begun.

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Communicating With DL Students

The course orientation is only the first point of contact; DL faculty must ensure that quality interaction—between the faculty member and students, and among students—occurs regularly throughout the semester. Good communication is a key factor in student retention and success; students who feel engaged are more likely to complete the course and enjoy their distance education experience. Therefore it is important to consider the methods of interaction that will be used. Visit the designing for interaction and communication page for suggestions on adding interactivity to DL courses.

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Testing Procedures

Faculty are responsible for designing the standards to measure student success in their courses, which may include exams and assessments. All relevant testing procedures and deadlines must be delineated in the course syllabus. Instructors are expected to place copies of their exams in all ACC Testing Centers. Refer to Testing Services: Information for Faculty. DL faculty should include a link to the Testing Center website in the course syllabus so students can easily access the Student Guide for Use of ACC Testing Centers and hours of operation.

Distance Testing

Distance Learning facilitates testing services for DL students located outside the ACC service area. Students are encouraged to discuss testing options with the instructor prior to registering. The student is responsible for locating an official testing facility to proctor the exams, and providing DL with documentation to confirm the testing arrangements. Proctoring institutions are asked to review the ACC Academic Testing Centers student testing policies to maintain the integrity of the testing process.

If you approve a student's request for Distance Testing, please forward your course exams with the student's completed Distance Testing Request & Transmittal Form to the Distance Learning Office as early in the semester as possible to allow distant students maximum time to complete the exams. DL will send all examination materials (test booklets, Scantrons, etc.) to the testing proctor via express mail delivery. The testing proctor will return completed exams directly to you for grading, at the student's expense.


Respondus ("Advanced Blackboard Testing Options") is used by instructors who want to develop secure, computer-based exams within Blackboard. Test results can be generated automatically for common types of questions (e.g.; True/False, Multiple Choice, Multiple Answer, etc.), and sent directly to the instructor's Blackboard Gradebook.

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DL Administrative Policies

Instructors teaching Distance Learning courses follow the same College policies, procedures, and administrative rules as faculty members teaching on-campus courses. The following overview of general guidelines should help familiarize new instructors and serve as a refresher for experienced DL faculty members. Instructors should review the appropriate administrative rule if they have specific questions.

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Student Limit Per Section

Administrative Rule 4.03.004 | Section 5: Distance Education | A. Student Limit Per Section

Student limit (maximum) per Distance Learning section is determined by the "Course Cap" identified for each course in the Approved Active Course Inventory. The minimum will be governed by the current standard.

Approval for a different limit may be granted in unusual cases. The approval process to obtain an exception to this rule is the same as that for offering a course via Distance Learning with the additional required approval of the Academic and Campus Affairs Council.

Students taught by ACC faculty who receive course credit from another institution (e.g., Virtual College of Texas) will be counted for loading purposes according to this policy.

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Office and Contact Hours

Administrative Rule 4.03.004 | Section 5: Distance Education | B. Standards | 1. Office and Contact Hours

Each distance learning course must provide for appropriate interaction between faculty and students. This interaction may occur during faculty office hours, or it may take place via telephone, email, electronic chats, on-site meetings, video teleconference or other methods. Appropriate interaction for a course depends upon the course delivery mode and the technology used by faculty.

The number of on-campus posted office hours held per week equals the number of hours stated in this ACC Administrative Rule #4.03.004, Section 7. In addition, faculty teaching a DL section shall make themselves available to students for the equivalent contact hours of the course. For example, a Distance Learning class which would have met on campus for 2 hours per week requires the instructor to be available to students 2 additional hours per week.

DL courses with extensive student contact via email, electronic chats, or additional activities, may have the required on-site office hours reduce by submitting a Conversion of Posted On-Campus Office Hours to Electronic Office Hours Form.

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Computing LEH and Compensation

Administrative Rule 4.03.004 | Section 5: Distance Education | C. Computing LEH and Compensation

All sections of a Distance Learning course taught by a full-time or adjunct faculty member in a semester earn the same number of LEH as the on-campus equivalent and are compensated in the same manner. Class limit overload guidelines for on-campus sections will also be followed for Distance Learning sections. Enrollments from endangered sections may be combined in order to generate sufficient enrollment to warrant offering the course section.

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Faculty Evaluations

Administrative Rule 6.07.001

The Faculty & Staff Evaluation Office coordinates all faculty evaluation activities for Austin Community College, following Board policy, Administrative Rules, and SACS guidelines. The feedback received from the students' evaluation of Distance Learning faculty is vital to the success of the program.

Faculty evaluations for DL courses are conducted online each semester, following the same schedule as evaluations for on-campus classes. At the appropriate point in the semester, DL faculty will be notified to explain to their students how to access the DL Faculty Evaluation in Online Services. At this site, students select "Distance Learning Faculty Evaluation" from the menu, and a listing of the student's current DL courses will be displayed. The student selects a course, completes the evaluation, and submits it. Once an evaluation has been submitted, the student is no longer able to evaluate that course/instructor. Students are not able to access faculty evaluations after they have received their final grade for the course.

For specific information about evaluation dates, deadlines, and procedures, refer to the Faculty & Staff Evaluation website.

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