We have in this winter issue of AEQ an impressive array of articles 
dealing mainly with distance education and many focusing on online 
instruction.  How to assess the quality of instruction delivered 
through other means than face-to-face classroom activity is a
growing question.  This issue contains articles which suggest 

Among the questions are how online courses may be evaluated, how 
student outcomes may be measured, how to establish qualification 
criteria for students enrolling in online courses, how to determine 
qualification criteria for faculty who wish to teach such courses, 
and how to draw comparisons between online courses and traditional 

The three main types of evaluation tools-quantitative, summative, 
and formative-may be used, but it has been my experience that the 
latter is more productive for distance and online instruction.

Formative evaluations allow for mid-course corrections if needed.  
Because of the flexibility of the online format, the instructor may 
receive comments from students, and the course may be altered 

But how does the instructor encourage forthright responses from the 
students without their fear of instructor reprisal?  How will the 
students be assured that whatever criticisms they offer will not be 
punished by a lower grade?  (We are generally confident about our
colleagues' professionalism, but many of our students aren't.)

One method would be asking students to send their feedback to a 
distinterested third party, who would then summarize the comments and 
forward the information to the instructor.  Another method would 
involve encouraging the students to set up anonymous web-based e-mail 
addresses from Hotmail or Yahoo.  Anonymity would be a key
feature, just as it is so in our face-to-face course evaluations.

Periodically, the instructor would ask the students how the course 
is going for them, how the material can be related to other information 
in the course, how significant the course material is to them, and how 
the course may be improved so far.  Meaningful criticism from the 
students could lead to a course adjustment.

Finally, at the end of the course, a more summative evaluation would 
be in order. This would be an assessment tool which would ask the 
students specific questions about the course, about the technology, 
and about their own outcomes.  This too would be anonymous and would 
be sent to a disinterested third party until all final grades had been 

But there are many different opinions regarding methods of assessment 
of online and distance instruction, and this issue will present us 
with a number of them. The authors are experienced teachers who offer 
us their suggestions, and that  activity is what Academic Exchange 
Quarterly is all about.

Ben Varner, Ph.D.
University of Northern Colorado
Issue Editor