How does the quality of your online courses measure up? Are you designing them in a way that will help students succeed? Here we break down what Quality Matters is all about and how it’s measuring success.
At D2L’s annual conference Fusion this year, there was a great emphasis placed on improving the overall quality of the content offered, as well as shedding light on how schools can use Quality Matters (QM) for improving the value of online education and student learning at their own institutions.
To give you some background – Quality Matters is a non-profit organization that was initiated by MarylandOnline, a consortium of community colleges and post-secondary institutions. In 2014, it became a separate organization dedicated to quality assurance in online education, with more than 1,000 institutional subscribers from 48 US states and across seven countries. The organization has also provided professional development for more than 45,000 faculty and staff, and has certified more than 5,000 online courses.
Trying to learn everything about QM – from its primary mandate, to how the rubric and peer course reviews work, to all the different standards and what they mean – can make your head spin. Fortunately, the Director of Professional Development at Quality Matters, Brenda Boyd, delivered a highly informative session at Fusion that summarized the key takeaways.
Boyd has worked at QM for five years, but has been involved with the company since 2004. The reason Boyd is so passionate about QM is because her personal online learning experience had fallen short of her expectations. After arduously reading through long chapters, the only thing to test her knowledge was a quiz offered at the end of the course. She remembers thinking to herself, “there’s got to be a better way [to design online courses] to improve the student learning experience.”
So what is Quality Matters all about? Boyd describes it as “quality assurance as a whole, through professional development and course reviews. We are faculty helping faculty.”
The 3 Major Components of Quality Matters
The first thing to know about Quality Matters is that it is centered around three major parts:
- The Quality Matters Rubric – This is the instrument used to do course reviews. There are several rubrics available, ranging from higher education, K-12, continuing and professional education, as well as for educational publishers.
- Peer Course Reviews – The peers who use the rubric to do the reviewing must have online teaching experience, must be a current subscriber of QM, and must also complete a professional development sequence with QM.
- Professional Development – QM offers programs such as workshops, certification courses, and web-conference workshops that promote interactive learning, which are essential to becoming a peer course reviewer.
The 4 C’s of Quality Matters
The second thing to know about Quality Matters is the four principles (or better known as the 4 C’s) that guide what it does:
- Collaborative – This goes beyond the mandate of its educational department. Boyd explains, “we want faculty involved,” in partnership with instructional designers and other faculty members.
- Collegial – In the same vein as the point above, the collaboration among peers should promote collegial discussions because “we are colleagues working together to improve online learning.”
- Continuous – This learning and improvement is a continuous process. “The goal is not only to get the certification,” explains Boyd, but to continually find ways to improve the design of your course and learning materials.
- Centered – QM is also centered in academic foundations. “We have a research department that’s responsible for finding out what works in online and blended learning, and we use this to inform the QM rubric,” says Boyd. It’s also centered around student learning, because “really, this is all about the students.”
What Quality Matters is Not
Now that you have a general understanding of what QM is all about, let’s talk about what it is not. According to Boyd, the faculty member is incredibly crucial to both the design and delivery of the course. However, QM course reviews apply to course design only. It’s not about faculty delivery or their performance. Knowing these points can be extremely helpful when approaching faculty about QM.
Here’s Boyd’s breakdown of what QM is not:
- Not about the individual instructor: QM assesses the quality of the course, not the instructor’s individual performance or delivery of the content.
- Not about faculty evaluation: Although it can be hard to separate the two, Boyd stresses that it’s important for faculty to realize “it’s not about them, it’s about their work.”
- Not about judgement: QM does not rank courses as which ones are the best or the worst. Boyd says, “It’s more about providing the right guidance. We diagnose and make recommendation for improvement.”
- Not about winning or failing: A course does not “pass” QM. A course either meets standards or it doesn’t yet meet standards. The connotation of pass is that it could fail. “But that’s not what QM is all about,” explains Boyd. “Even if your course doesn’t initially meet standards, we believe it can eventually.”
At the end of the day, Quality Matters is really about improving the quality of online courses, so that the value of online education and the learning experience of the student benefits. “We try to stress the importance of continuous improvement in a supportive environment,” say Boyd. With this mindset, there is no right or wrong way of doing things, “there’s only ways to improve and we’re going to help you get there.”
There you have it – a general overview of what Quality Matters means and the fundamental principles behind its work.
Make sure to check back for our next post that will dive in a little deeper on QM and some best practices on how you can use it to improve and design your courses.