By Steven Krolak
(NEW ALBANY, Ind.)—Dr. Doug Barney, professor of accounting in the School of Business, has been recognized by Quality Matters for having met the organization’s criteria during a review of his online course, Intermediate Accounting I (A311).
Barney’s course is only the second in the IU system to earn certification for outstanding online course design, following the achievement of Dr. Robin Morgan, in the department of psychology, earlier this year.
To earn certification, a course is reviewed by three faculty members with online teaching experience, one of whom is a subject-matter expert. The course must meet all 21 essential standards and garner 85% of total possible points for 43 different specific review standards in the QM Rubric for Higher Education. Barney’s course exceeded these requirements.
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.
Beginning in 2003, the organization developed standards to ensure that online education is consistent across disciplines and institutions, and that students are getting what they pay for, both in time and money.
The standards from the Quality Matters higher education rubric are now in their fifth edition. They cover every aspect of course design and practice.
In QM-certified courses, students are informed of expectations from the very outset, learning outcomes are measurable, 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.
At IU Southeast, instructors receive guidance and support for QM certification through the Institute for Learning and Teaching Excellence (ILTE).
According to David Becker, instructional designer and technology specialist who serves as QM course review manager for the IU system, ILTE worked with Barney for several months in one-on-one consultations to prepare him for the course review. Barney had already participated in ILTE’s online cohort, an introductory QM workshop and the Peer Review Course. He was a peer reviewer on four course reviews.
A natural fit
Barney has been teaching A311 for 24 years, but last year moved the course online in response to the demographic realities of the student body.
“Most of our students work during the day and take classes at night,” Barney said. “Online courses are a natural fit for our working students.”
A natural fit for working students translates into a challenging journey for instructors, even for someone like Barney who had “jumped into online education headfirst.”
“There is some myth that teaching online is easier than teaching face-to-face,” Barney said. “Going online requires considerable work, and maintaining the online course requires continuing effort.”
It’s not a matter of posting the usual course materials online and kicking back in a hammock for the rest of term. According to Barney, crafting and executing online courses involves a thorough rethink of the classroom environment, including course design, and a significant uptick in commitment.
The issues range from the mechanical to the global.
In his case, there were very concrete questions about technology—which microphone and video capture system to use, for example, based on performance, appearance and ease of interface with the Canvas Learning Management System.
There is a different rhythm to preparation (more) and grading (faster). Activities and assessments are different. Instructors are expected to “be there,” to offer not only course-related responses but also tech support. For legal reasons, every online course must also contain a high degree of student-instructor interaction, and finding ways to build this into the course is more challenging than in a traditional classroom setting. In addition, there is the question about whether to use prefab publisher material provided for your curriculum or to create your own.
“Developing your own videos will take considerable time, but will be well worth it as you can emphasize what you want your students to know and put your personal touch on learning activities,” Barney said.
The same can be said for assessment. Instructors need to decide how to use or not use publisher-provided test banks and other assessment tools, a decision that has ripple effects for the course design, and for the integration of course administration with IU systems like Canvas.
For Barney, the QM certification standards presented challenges of their own, over and above those inherent in transitioning to online.
For example, developing sets of measurable course and module objectives, and connecting them to activities and assessments, required Barney to rethink his course from top to bottom. Once this and other wrinkles had been ironed out, Barney’s course was ready to be introduced to students. It debuted in fall 2016 and repeated in spring 2017. The certification process could begin at that point.
“The primary benefit of QM certification is the satisfaction of knowing that my online course meets the premier standard for online course design,” Barney said. It provides recognition that my course is designed for quality student learning.”
The move to online has produced positive knock-on effects for Barney and his students. He sees that there can be beneficial synergies among courses if they are conceived holistically, and structured to inter-relate. He flipped other courses (including 300-level finance) to better align with A311, and introduced the videos and Powerpoints made to satisfy the QM requirements for his online course into those other courses. This enables students in all his accounting courses to be part of the same conversation.
Becker of ILTE considers Barney’s achievement characteristic of the university’s ability to set itself apart from the competition through teaching excellence on all platforms.
“I think this distinction says a great deal about IU Southeast’s commitment to quality online education,” Becker said. “Not only do our faculty offer online courses in order to better accommodate changing student needs, but they want the courses to be of high quality. Seeking out this distinction demonstrates our faculty’s commitment to providing a top-notch educational experience for our students, no matter the modality.”