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APUS Shares Best Practices for Creating an Online Learning Environment

Charles Town, W.Va., August 31, 2010 – Excellence in online education is fostered through an ongoing cycle of data collection and analysis of learning outcomes, according to Dr. Frank McCluskey, PhD, executive vice president and provost of American Public University System (APUS). McCluskey shared his vision for ensuring academic quality and integrity as a featured speaker in a recent Campus Technology Magazine webinar.

To promote accountability among both faculty and administrators, APUS begins with the assumption that its faculty are the experts, and undergoes a data collection process to better assist them in translating their expertise into student learning. “We want to help them free our students from fixed ideas, cloudy thinking and imprecise analysis,” said McCluskey. “We want to liberate the learning already taking place.”

The data collection process encompasses library and learning resources, curriculum assessment of academic rigor and external feedback from expert reviewers and the Industry Advisory Council. It also includes an analysis of faculty credentials and expertise to ensure breadth and diversity, curricular mapping and program benchmarking with similar programs and institutions.

An additional core APUS best practice is to reciprocally inform both internal and external stakeholders on the achievement of student learning outcomes, added McCluskey. “One means of ensuring free and open communications is the Transparency by Design initiative, of which we are one of fourteen charter member institutions,” he said.  “Another is our Learning Outcomes Assessment website, which continuously documents the results of our data collection efforts.” The site can be found at

It’s not enough to simply incorporate assessment data into decision-making processes, according to Jennifer Stephens Helm, Ph.D. associate vice-president and dean of assessment for APUS. “We use a number of nationally benchmarked tests and validated instruments to measure learner engagement, learner success, and learning outcomes,” said Helm. “One such measure is the National Survey of Student Engagement, in which APUS is one of few fully online, for-profit institutions of higher education participating.”

APUS also uses the Educational Testing Service’s (ETS) Proficiency Profile to measure skills of college program graduates, and ETS performs a major field test for seven of its undergraduate majors upon graduation, noted Dave Becher, director of academic information analysis for APUS.  “In addition, we  participate in the Community of Inquiry end of course survey, which has been proven to be a reliable instrument for helping measure learning outcomes with more than half-a-million students to date.”

To access an archived playback of the APUS webinar on best practices for creating a quality online learning environment, visit the Campus Technology Web site.