Course Design Review Standards with Annotations: Content

Instructional Technology has developed Course Design Review Standards (CDRS) to be used in the development of online and blended courses at St. Edward’s University. These standards are based on best practices in course design and rubrics developed by the Online Learning Consortium and the Open SUNY Course Quality Review. The standard is listed with annotations below.  View the complete Course Design Review Standards.

This page covers standards 17 through 24 which deal with course content.



Standard 17: The purpose and use of instructional materials for learning activities are clearly explained.

Content should include an explanation of how the instructional materials, resources, technologies, and learning activities are used in the course, and how each will help them achieve the stated learning objectives.

  1. Links to external websites indicate the purpose of the links or are self-evident.
  2. The purpose of all instructional materials (books and other publications, videos, multimedia, software or interactive elements, etc.) used in the course is clearly explained.
  3. In Blended/Hybrid Courses: Instructions make clear which materials are to be used in the face-to-face classroom.

Standard 18: Citations for instructional materials model the practices learners are expected to follow for documenting references.

Sources for materials used in the course are clearly identified and cited. This applies to instructor-created materials, publisher materials, textbooks, images, graphic materials, tables, videos, audios, websites, and other forms of multimedia. Citations for instructional materials model the practices learners are expected to follow for documenting references. At minimum, a citation includes the author or owner name; date of publication; resource title, if supplied; and URL or source.

Standard 19: A variety of instructional materials and methods is used in the course.

The course presents a variety of relevant instructional materials that may include textbooks and other publications, instructor-created resources, websites, and multimedia.
Typically, a course includes multiple sources rather than material from a single author. In some disciplines, it may be appropriate to have all materials from a single author.
In reviewing instructional materials, look for evidence that learners have options for how they consume content, e.g., reading, viewing a video, listening to a podcast. If the only instructional material provided is a textbook, the standard may not be met.

Standard 20: The distinction between required and optional materials is clearly explained.

It is clearly stated which materials and resources are required and which are optional. Optional resources are identified as such.

Standard 21: Course materials and resources include copyright and licensing status, clearly stating permission to share where applicable.

Resources and materials in the course should all be properly cited, with any permissions to share content clearly stated.

Standard 22: Course content is accessible and meets WCAG 2.0 AA guidelines.

This standard is based on the Open Suny Course Quality Review Rubric Standard 15. While Canvas itself is mostly accessible, content added to the course must be checked for accessibility.  Specific content checks should be performed to check Pages, Assignment instructions and Discussion instructions.  These include:

  • Alt attributes must be present for every image, unless decorative.  Alt attributes should not be the image title, but should include any text on an image.  See the WebAIM article on Alternative Text for more information.
  • Headings need to be present and nested correctly.  The title of every page in Canvas is set as Heading 1 <H1>.  Headings in the page/assignment should start with Heading 2 <H2> and be nested in order. See the WebAIM article on Semantic Structure for more information.
  • HTML lists – <ul>, <ol>, and <dl> – should be used properly as they also convey a hierarchical content structure. Each of these has rules regarding their use as well. Unordered lists should be used when there is no order of sequence or importance. Ordered lists suggest a progression or sequence. See the WebAIM article on the use of lists in Semantic Structure for more information.
  • All videos should be captioned.  See the WebAIM article on captioning.
  • Acronyms should be spelled out the first time they are used on a page.  For example, Office of Information Technology (OIT). See the WebAIM article on clear writing and use of acronyms for more information.
  • Data tables should be made accessible.  This includes using Table Headers <th> and row and column scope attributes <th scope=”row”> or <th scope=”col”>. A description of the table should be included in the text in the page and a shorter version of the description should be associated with the table using the Caption element <caption>. See the WebAIM article on creating accessible tables for more information.
  • Word, PowerPoint, and PDF articles should be accessible.  For more information on making these accessible see the WebAIM articles on creating accessible Word documents, accessible PowerPoint documents and accessible PDF documents.

Standard 23: Course is free of grammatical and spelling errors.

This standard is based on the Open Suny Course Quality Review Rubric Standard 20.

Standard 24: Course is free of broken links.

All links to internal and external contents work and reference correct content.

The complete list of CDRS with annotations may be found on these pages:


Open SUNY Course Quality Rubric, Open SUNY Center for Online Teaching Excellence and the Online Learning Consortium, Inc.

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0, World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)