By Steven Krolak
(NEW ALBANY, Ind.)—Kudos are in order for Robin K. Morgan, professor of psychology and director of the Institute for Learning and Teaching Excellence (ILTE), and for online education at IU Southeast.
Morgan has been recognized by Quality Matters for having met the organization’s criteria during a recent review of her online course, Sleeping and Dreams (PSY P-340).
Hers is the first course in the IU system to earn this distinction.
To achieve certification, a course is reviewed by three faculty members with online teaching experience, one of whom is a subject-matter expert. The course must garner 85% of total possible points for 43 different criteria.
Morgan’s course knocked the ball out of the park, meeting or exceeding this number on all criteria.
Quality Matters is a global nonprofit organization of 60,000 members that provides the “gold standard” for certifying the quality of online courses and programs.
The organization came together in 2003 as online education expanded, and began to reveal some critical weaknesses. While online platforms massively increased the number of options available to students, allowing them essentially to earn credits from institutions anywhere without leaving home, there was little or no consistency across programs.
Quality Matters developed a scalable process of standards to ensure that online education could be consistent, and that students would in fact get what they pay for, both in time and money.
The standards from the Quality Matters higher education rubric are now in their fifth edition, having been continually refined over the past decade and a half. They cover every aspect of course design and practice.
A certified course is one in which students are informed of expectations from the very outset, learning objectives are measurable outcomes, technologies are appropriate and current, and tools are provided that promote active learning. Materials, learner support and assessment are all measured components. “Netiquette” and other policies are stated and agreed to. Efforts are made to accommodate learning differences and accessibility to all technologies and media are assured. Students are given multiple opportunities to track their own learning progress.
A blueprint for blended environments
David Becker is an instructional designer and technology specialist within ILTE, as well as the Quality Matters course review manager for the IU system. He believes the standards not only measure course quality, but can themselves serve as a guideline for any instructor seeking to improve teaching skills.
“Faculty members may be excellent researchers and experts in their fields, but haven’t necessarily been trained in the art and science of teaching,” Becker said. “These standards are a tremendous resource not just for online instruction.”
In Becker’s view, classrooms are becoming more blended learning environments, incorporating varying levels of technology and novel teaching modalities, from hybrid to flipped to fully online. In this evolving landscape, he finds that the Quality Matters standards are useful across all teaching platforms.
Quality Matters places a strong emphasis on communication between instructor and student. This transparency holds both parties accountable—instructors test on what they have pledged to teach, students accept responsibility for assignments that have been clearly articulated.
The process helps professors improve outcomes, and helps students assume control of their own learning journey. It is backed up by what amounts to crowd-sourced research on methods and outcomes that feeds constant improvement of the system.
Over the years, the standards have become more exacting, as the research has allowed the reviewers to break the teaching of online courses down into smaller and smaller discrete teaching moments, such as units and chapters in a course syllabus. This level of granularity now helps teachers make sure that even the smallest components of their courses align with the larger purpose, and facilitate positive outcomes for students.
“For me, it’s all about student learning,” Morgan said. “One of the great things about Quality Matters is that it is based on research evidence about what works–what techniques, pedagogical approaches and organizational styles lead to greater student success.”
A common sense approach
Morgan and Becker agree that the Quality Matters certification standards represent a common-sense approach to teaching and learning.
“Good teaching is good teaching,” Morgan said. “It’s all about figuring out what we want the students to learn, what experiences and materials the students need to learn it, and then what is the best way for us to go about assessing in an authentic, honest and practical way whether the students have actually learned it.”
Morgan acknowledges that, “It’s nice for IU Southeast to be the first in the system” to receive the certification. But her satisfaction goes beyond the horse-race with other schools in the derby of online education.
She hopes that the long and challenging process she has navigated will serve as a demonstration and inspiration to other instructors at IU Southeast. The certification is also meaningful because of IU Southeast’s longstanding commitment to excellence in teaching, and the university’s rapid ascent to second-place among regional campuses offering online instruction, in terms of the number of courses offered.
“The primary mission of this campus has always been teaching,” Morgan said. “We take students who may have struggled in the past, and help them to find their love of learning and to develop into individuals who will go on to learn their whole lifetime.”
While it may never be possible to offer more courses than other schools, it is Morgan’s goal that IU Southeast lead the way in offering courses that match traditional classroom courses in quality. In this, she is of one mind with campus leadership.
“The administration has demonstrated an extraordinary commitment to supporting ILTE and faculty, not just in developing online courses, but in developing courses that meet the highest standards for quality,” Morgan said.