Podcast with Dr. Bethanie L. Hansen, Department Chair, School of Arts, Humanities and Education
Creating a quality online course is a different process than developing a live, face-to-face class. In this episode, Dr. Bethanie Hansen shares her experience using Quality Matters, a non-profit quality assurance website that provides assessment, standards and rubrics to help online educators design quality online courses that engage students and promote student success.
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This podcast is for educators, academics and parents who know that online teaching can be challenging, but it can also be rewarding, engaging, and fun. Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge. I’m your host, Dr. Bethanie Hansen. And I’ll be your guide for online teaching tips, topics and strategies. Walk with me into the Online Teaching Lounge.
Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge. I’m your host Dr. Bethanie Hansen, and I’m here today to talk with you about my experience with Quality Matters. I recently went through the peer-reviewer certification course and became a certified peer reviewer, and it occurred to me that many of my listeners would benefit from learning some of those things that I recently learned. So, I’m going to talk a little bit about my experience with Quality Matters, how it can benefit you, how it might serve as a resource in your online teaching, and especially in the way you plan and design your online classes.
If you’ve ever asked yourself this question, “How do I make sure that my online course is well-developed?” this is your podcast episode. You’re going to learn a little bit about what helps you design and develop a quality course, and if you’re interested in learning more about the Quality Matters process, where you can go.
First, I’ll just start off with a reference to the website. It’s qualitymatters.org, if you’d like to learn more about Quality Matters.
Taking a course that you might have taught live and just transferring it into the online modality seems like a simple idea. It can be a little more complex than we think, and one of those reasons is that we have to also design the course in a way that helps guide the learner through the experience.
As you are teaching online, some of the things you might use to guide your learners are things like course announcements, maybe you have a syllabus that gives week-by-week what’s going to happen, you have different kinds of lessons and modules, you also have discussion spaces and assignment spaces. Maybe you have a chat place and a blog, or some other kind of space where students are going to interact and engage.
When all of these things come together into your online course, in contrast to that live class, you need some kind of roadmap to help guide people through all the different steps of taking the class and completing it positively or successfully.
So when you have a standard or a rubric of some kind that you can use to check your course once you’ve developed it for quality, then you can take a look and see what’s missing and what’s looking great. If you are able to find a rubric that will help you weigh the quality of your course or determine which aspects are strong and where some changes are needed, it’s a really helpful tool to save you lots and lots of time. This will help you target any deficiencies and also learn what you need to know to make your course even better. Now Quality Matters is not just for course designers or course developers, it’s for you, the faculty member.
When I first took the rubric course, that’s usually the entry point from what I hear into this system. The rubric course teaches you what makes a quality online class. And that is, all by itself, that is a really informative tool. The QM rubric tells you things about how to align your course to the course goals, so when you teach you set up some goals about what your students should be able to do at the end of the class: the learning they should be able to demonstrate, the knowledge, the skills, and the abilities they should have when they’re walking out of that class. Once they complete your online class, ask yourself: What should your students be able to do? Well, whatever that is, every piece of your course needs to directly tie back to those goals.
When you’re setting up your learning materials like your readings or your videos that they might watch, different resources that they’re going to use as the instructional materials, those need to always align with the course goals. Nothing should be outside of those course goals where it’s a little bit off-topic.
Likewise your methods for achieving those goals that you have, to assess your students in the end. Those need to align with the goals as well. And then, of course, the assessments. They need to very clearly measure what is being taught in that class and what students are expected to do when they’re finished with it.
When you use a rubric like the Quality Matters rubric, you can get some suggestions that are extremely helpful, and these suggestions can help your students learn how to navigate the course even better, when you make the changes. One of those suggestions that stood out to me was adding the weekly objectives.
The weekly objectives are intended to help students know for this week, what should they be able to do? And what are they going to learn? And those always tie back to your bigger course objectives.
Once you’ve learned about the Quality Matters rubric, and, again, you can take a professional development course from Quality Matters to learn about that rubric and learn how to apply it in your design of the class and in your teaching of the class. Then you can learn more about certifying the course itself.
If a course goes through a peer-review process and becomes Quality Matters certified, or it passes that review satisfactorily, then it has this stamp of approval for its quality and we know that it meets the Quality Matters standards at an 85% level or better and that every part of that class aligns to your learning objectives for the course. It’s extremely beneficial to review a course for Quality Matters standards, and it’s a process that costs a little bit and takes some time.
Why would you want to learn about Quality Matters and review your courses? On their website, I’m just going to refer back to the Quality Matters site and talk about this a little bit in their own words. One of the things that Quality Matters tells us, is that learners know that they’re going to get a course that has clear expectations and guidance. Content that is purposeful and activities that are engaging. And again, I’m quoting this straight from the QualityMatters.org website. For parents, this is going to tell them that their children will have a better chance of success because grading standards and learning assessments will be consistent with the content, and the course activities. We know the course is well prepared.
For faculty and staff, Quality Matters helps you know that you’ll be supported by peer feedback and an open and collegial process in your quest to improve and provide the best learning experience possible. And organizations can demonstrate that you offer a quality assured course and a program supported by best practices, rigorous review and research.
Reviewing a course through Quality Matters can be an educational and developmental process. It can give you an opportunity to stop and fix some things and go back and make some changes and keep improving. It doesn’t have to be perfect the first time that you have a course reviewed through the Quality Matters process, but it is a good idea to have it in the best condition possible, and you have to have taught the course a couple of times at least to work out any of the bugs associated with the new class.
They offer Quality Matters course design rubrics for higher education, so if you’re teaching college or university courses they do have Quality Matters focused just at that level. But, they also have the K-12 focus; they have a secondary rubric and they have publisher rubric. So if you bought a course from a vendor. There’s also a continuing and professional education rubric for those kind of courses. That covers just about everything, and there are a lot of benefits to using the Quality Matters process.
Just a little bit about who Quality Matters is. It began with a group of colleagues in the Maryland Online Inc. Consortium (MOL) who were trying to solve that problem that we all have: How do you measure and guarantee the quality of the class? This is a really important question for all of us, especially as more and more of us are teaching online. Will we be able to guarantee that the course is quality and attracts students to complete it and to refer others to complete it and continue boosting our courses and our programs? The quality of our courses is paramount.
The Quality Matters folks determined that they wanted to be able to ensure quality by using a standard method and in 2003, MOL outlined how the Quality Matters program could create a scalable process for quality assurance in our courses and they applied for a fund for the improvement of postsecondary education grant from the U.S. Department of Education. Over time, they have turned this into a bigger organization and a huge set of standards that is really great at helping us develop quality and make things clear for our students.
Now, I’ll tell you, after going through these courses that they are rigorous. And if you decide as an instructor or faculty member you would like to take one of the Quality Matters courses, you need to set aside an amount of time every day to work in the course. You cannot be late in this professional development and it does take a significant time investment during the two or three weeks of the class. It’s well worth it in the professional skills that you walk away with. I found that my own awareness of what was going on in a course or what I could add to make it more clear, really shot up, it skyrocketed as I learned things in the QM course.
They have quality assurance tools and other types of professional development for you as well, and you can learn from them through their different workshops and webinars, which are not the two- or three-week courses. They have the shorter-term things. I’m not a proponent, I mean I don’t work for Quality Matters, I’m not trying to sell Quality Matters to anyone. But as you are thinking about the coming year or the coming session that you may be teaching, I’d like to recommend checking out a system like Quality Matters to give you some standards and some guidelines to help ensure quality in your online teaching experience.
Whether you designed the course or someone else developed it, it’s helpful to know what the best practices
are and how to ensure that your students know what to expect. For one thing, when they see those standards in each lesson and each assignment, they are seeing that there is a meaning behind what they’re doing. Your students can find that these things are connected to the outcomes they’re supposed to be demonstrating in that class, and you can of course draw more attention to this as an instructor. You can talk about it in your course announcements. If you make videos, you can mention how the smaller pieces fit the bigger picture of the course goals.
Overall, I have found that using the Quality Matters rubrics and standards are a wonderful benchmark for a class to evaluate the design of the course and to set goals for designing the next course with even more clarity and greater focus on the student experience and student success.
Overall, coming away from the Quality Matters workshop, I would highly recommend it to anyone. I think it’s a wonderful learning experience, and you’re going to get some great professional development learning with some best practices. You’re also going to have the standards as an idea in your mind when you’re teaching your next class, when you’re developing or writing your next class. It can be very helpful.
To wrap it all up for you today, I want to encourage you to think about finding a kind of rubric or standardized system to help you ensure quality in the courses that you teach online, whether you are a K-12 educator or in higher education: They have rubrics for both of these areas.
There’s an entire community around Quality Matters, so it’s got a really large group of people backing it and with whom you can connect, you can learn from, you can share with. There is a peer-review process as I mentioned that involves certified reviewers and helps check your course and give you a lot of good feedback to improve it. And there’s a lot of research around Quality Matters to help you learn more about how to apply it, where it can be effective, where it can be useful to you, and, of course, professional development to take it further.
We have a lot of listeners here at the Online Teaching Lounge in many different countries, and on the website for Quality Matters I see that there are 30 different countries using Quality Matters. So if you’re not in the United States, I encourage you to check it out anyway. It does look like there are many membership organizations throughout the world and you might be able to connect with one to find a resource to help you.
Thanks for being here today to discuss Quality Matters with me and to explore the idea of professional development through Quality Matters and also the concept of using some kind of standard and rubric to check your courses and ensure their quality and build your courses in this manner. I hope that it helps you in your work, and I wish you all the best this coming week in your online teaching.
This is Dr. Bethanie Hansen, your host for the Online Teaching Lounge podcast to share comments and requests for future episodes, please visit BethanieHansen.com/request. Best wishes this coming week in your online teaching journey.