CET Asynchronous Online Classroom Teaching Observation Checklist

Use of this specific tool is not required by USC administration; it is intended as an example of best practices. Schools and departments may choose to create their own tool, edit this tool in any way that makes it a better fit, or use this tool as it is.

Download editable print version

The CET Asynchronous Online Teaching Observation Checklist provides performance descriptions for four tiers of online instructional practices. The first, second, and third tiers include a progression of recommended teaching practices. The substandard tier includes items that are contrary to best practices and/or USC policies. The checklist can be used for two purposes. It can be used as a developmental tool to provide faculty formative feedback to enhance their teaching, showing progression over multiple observations. It can also be used as an evaluative tool to document evidence of teaching performance for promotion, tenure, or continuing appointment.

This checklist was developed to include recommended practices that can be implemented within a wide variety of teaching models, both traditional and innovative; it is editable so that schools may add or delete items to customize it to their needs. Checklist items are observable actions and behaviors of the instructor (observable during a single visited class session), not the behaviors of students.

Schools could determine how many criteria in each tier should be met in order to qualify for the various levels of advancement in the school. For example, a school could decide that for promotion from assistant to associate professor a faculty member should have none of the items checked in the Substandard Tier and all of the items checked in Tier 1.

Not Included in the Asynchronous Online Classroom Teaching Observation Checklist

Best practices that are specific to certain fields, class types or instructional styles.

Recommended Observer Characteristics

  • Requests access to the course to be observed.
  • Observes a minimum of one completed online module/unit (one that students have completed and for which the instructor has provided feedback). Observation of two separate completed online module/units is recommended.
  • Is familiar with the course learning objectives listed in the syllabus.
  • Understands the content of the course well enough to evaluate effectiveness of instruction in that topic.
  • Has been trained by CET or by a CET Faculty Fellow to use the checklist.

Instructions for Use

  • Mark as present all checklist items observed during the class.

Each dimension in the checklist measures one or more criteria in USC’s Definition of Excellence in Teaching, and those criteria are noted next to the dimension name. The practices in Tiers 1, 2, and 3 are supported through training provided by CET’s faculty institutes.


Substandard Tier

Tier 1

Tier 2

Tier 3

*USC Definition of Excellence in Teaching criteria measured by each dimension are noted. Performing Below Minimum USC Teaching Policy Standard Performing at Minimum USC Teaching Policy Standard Performing at Proficient Level of Teaching Standard at USC Performing at Excellence Level of Teaching Standard at USC
Class organization
Instructional plan 5a, 5b*
  • Instructor changes the established module/unit instructional plan without prior notification to students.
  • The module/unit instructional plan demonstrates clear signs of planning and organization, and follows a logical flow.
  • Module/unit instructional plan includes due dates and assignment descriptions
  • The class session includes student interaction with peers, content, and instructor.
  • The module/unit instructional plan includes instruction, formative assessment, and reflection components.
  • Each assignment description has an accompanying rubric.
Communication of clear learning goals for the module/unit 6a*
  • Instructor communicates no learning goals for the module/unit.
  • Instructor communicates inappropriate or unrealistic learning goals for the module/unit
  • Instructor clearly identifies realistic learning goals for the module/unit.
  • Instructor clearly connects the learning goals for the module/unit  to the course learning objectives.
  • Instructor clearly identifies the learning goals for the module/unit, and connects them to the course learning objectives.
Course Environment and Technology

5c, 5d*

  • Instructor does not select suitable technologies for activities, communication and/or assessment.
  • Instructor does not conduct learning activities which promote the achievement of the stated learning objectives.
  • Course tools are used that allow the student to complete the required activity.
  • Course tools promote learner engagement.
  • Instructor selects appropriate and varied course tools for activities, communication and assessments.
Learning environment
Course climate 1b, 1c, 2e, 2f, 3a, 4e*
  • Instructor displays a negative attitude in tone and/or content.
  • Instructor minimizes students’ struggle with material.
  • Instructor discourages student input.
  • Instructor violates confidentiality by publicly revealing students with accommodations.
  • Instructor ignores disruptive student behaviors.
  • Instructor consistently uses written language that is responsive to students’ stress or anxiety.
  • Instructor encourages student participation.
  • Instructor treats all students equitably.
  • Instructor is responsive to students’ different educational backgrounds and learning needs.
  • Instructor has established course norms that foster a positive and inclusive environment.
  • Instructor encourages interaction between students.
  • Instructor uses practices that increase students’ motivation and foster a growth mindset.
Communication 1a, 1b*
  • Instructor uses inappropriate, offensive, or unprofessional communication.
  • Instructor provides clear and complete instructions for all assignments and activities.
  • Instructor participates in and manages communication.
  • Instructor frequently provides communication that promotes the stated learning objectives.
Content 3e, 4a, 4d*
  • Instructor does not use, or uses inappropriate, visual and written support for content and/or examples/illustrations.
  • Instructor provides a variety of multimedia content.
  • Instructor uses concrete examples/illustrations to clarify content.
  • Instructor cites sources for content.
  • Instructor provides transcripts and/or captions for all auditory media, including both audio and video resources.
Instructional content
Knowledge of subject 4a*
  • Instructor makes factual errors with respect to course content.
  • Instructor’s factual statements are consistent with current knowledge in the field.
  • Instructor correctly answers questions about course-level content.
  • Instructor answers questions confidently, clearly, and simply.
  • Instructor ties current content to topics or knowledge from the profession and/or more advanced courses.
Discipline-specific language 1e*
  • Instructor does not use, or incorrectly uses, discipline-specific and/or academic language.
  • Instructor uses discipline-specific and academic language.
  • Instructor explains use of discipline-specific terms.
  • Instructor facilitates the use of discipline-specific language by students.
Contextual relevance and transferability 3c, 4c*
  • Instructor teaches content devoid of real-world scenarios and/or examples.
  • Instructor assumes unrealistic skill level of students in the class.
  • Instructor provides real-world applications of module/unit content.
  • Instructor explicitly builds on prior student knowledge.
  • Instructor has students provide real-world examples of class content or apply content to real-world scenarios.
  • Where appropriate, instructor uses examples where their discipline converges with other disciplines in addressing challenges.
  • Where appropriate, instructor addresses “wicked problems” identified by USC on a local, national, or global level.
Student engagement
Appropriate content or level 1c, 2a, 2b, 3a*
  • Module/unit content is too easy or difficult for student knowledge level.
  • Instructor does not encourage higher-order thinking.
  • Module/unit content appropriately challenges students.
  • Module/unit content promotes mastery of course learning objectives.
  • Instructor engages students in higher-order thinking skills during in the module/unit.
  • A majority of the module/unit’s activities engage higher-order thinking.
Active learning 2a, 2b, 2c, 2d, 2e, 3d, 4b*
  • Instructor uses no active-learning exercises.
  • Instructor has unrealistic expectations for active-learning exercises.
  • Instructor uses inappropriate or offensive active-learning exercises.
  • Instructor uses active-learning exercises that are not accessible to everyone in the class.
  • Module/unit contains at least one active-learning exercise to apply course content, resulting in a graded student work product.
  • Instructor facilitates student-led explanations and/or discussions.
  • Where appropriate, instructor leverages student use of electronic technology to facilitate active learning.
Formative assessment/feedback 1b, 2f, 6a, 6b, 6c, 6d*
  • Instructor violates FERPA by publicly sharing student grades.
  • Instructor provides non-constructive and/or discouraging feedback.
  • Instructor compares student work to an ambiguous or unrealistic standard.
  • Instructor provides students constructive and encouraging feedback on how to improve their comprehension or performance.
  • Instructor provides information to students about their performance on module/unit activities compared to a pre-established standard.
  • Instructor leads students in structured reflection on learning activities.
Record pertinent characteristics of the course, student population, and physical environment. Examples: enrollment, student demographics, course LMS, and general education status.