Timeline Approved for Southeast Online Courses to be Quality Matters Certified

EVT-iPadAcademyCAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo., Oct. 3, 2014 – A timeline was approved today for Southeast Missouri State University’s online courses to be certified for their design.

The Southeast Missouri State University Board of Regents today affirmed a schedule that calls for all Wintersession 2016 (December 2015) and online Summer 2016 courses to be Quality Matters (QM) certified. Online courses for spring and fall 2016 will receive a waiver. All online courses from Wintersession 2017 (December 2016) forward must be Quality Matters certified.

U.S. News & World Report has ranked Southeast among its best online programs for 2014 and CollegeChoice.net has listed Southeast among the top 50 online colleges and universities. Two separate organizations – OnlineU.org and AffordableCollegesOnline.org, have ranked Southeast’s online programs for their affordability and quality.

The courses must pass a set of standards called Quality Matters, a national benchmark for online and blended course design. Quality Matters is a leader in quality assurance for online education and has received national recognition for its peer-based approach to continuous improvement in online education and student learning. The review provides a rubric for evaluating the structure of online courses – not the content. The process is designed to help faculty facilitate student success online.

Southeast currently has 400 online courses, 20 of which have passed the University’s internal review using the Quality Matters  rubric.  The review began as a voluntary process for Southeast’s online coursework when Southeast first subscribed to Quality Matters in 2012, said Dr. Allen Gathman, associate dean for Online Learning. A decision was made to require Quality Matters review for Wintersession 2016 courses, and that mandate has now been extended to all online courses.

“Our goal is to have only internally Quality Matters-reviewed courses offered during Wintersession 2016, and that all online courses from December 2016 forward will be Quality Matters reviewed,” said Kenneth W. Dobbins, president of Southeast Missouri State University. “We are confident we can achieve this academic program quality goal.”

To meet these goals, the Center for Scholarship in Teaching and Learning is assisting cohorts of faculty to prepare their courses for Quality Matters review. They will meet to discuss course design and receive instructional design assistance. Faculty members are currently being assigned to cohorts offered every eight weeks, during which their courses will be prepared for review, Gathman said. Those planning to teach courses during the Wintersession 2016 must participate in a cohort no later than next summer, he said.

Quality Matters cohort participants meet for one hour, once a week, for five weeks to learn the Quality Matters standards and how to achieve them. Afterward, cohort participants submit a course for review. Upon successful review of the course, faculty participants will receive $250 as a stipend or for professional development.

Faculty members who have already had a course pass review may submit another course for review directly. Stipends will not be offered for additional courses taught by the same faculty member, Gathman said.

“It’s a little daunting because we’ll have several semesters of workshops and reviews, but a whole lot of faculty will get to see the Quality Matters model,” Gathman said.

The review process, Gathman says, helps faculty clarify “what they’re trying to do in a course.” Going through the process helps them think about how and why they are structuring their courses in a particular way.

“By doing it in a cohort model, that really provides a spark of cross-pollination across the disciplines,” allowing faculty to “share ideas and improve the way their course works,” he said. “The people who have been through the process have been very positive, and those who are going to go through the process have been curious.”

Dr. Walt Lilly, professor of biology, took the course BI458/BI658 “Applied Bioinformatics” through the Quality Matters review process over the summer. Joining him in the cohort was Natalie Holley, instructor in the Department of Communication Studies. She took the course, SC107-740 “Online Oral Presentations” through the process as well.

“I made some new friends while in the QM summer cohort,” Holley said. “I love sharing ideas and best practices of online teaching with my colleagues. Without the cohort, I wouldn’t have been able to have these discussions about online teaching.”

Lilly says his “Applied Bioinformatics” course is improved as a result of the Quality Matters review process.

“A major failing of my course before the QM workshops was the design and value of the forum assignments,” Lilly said. “Students uniformly rated them as the least valuable part of the course. I got several really outstanding ideas from other faculty that I was able to adapt into ‘Applied Bioinformatics’ which will greatly improve the relevance of the forum activities.”

Both Lilly and Holley say the Quality Matters review process has been beneficial.

“I think the overall importance of QM is that it provides some level of uniformity in the transmission of online content.  It assures some level of quality control by the institution.  As someone who teaches in the online environment and advises students who take online courses, it is clear that this is a desirable goal,” Lilly said. “It provides some assurance to me, as an advisor, that students can have an expectation of knowing how the course will run, what the objectives will be, and how they will be assessed as soon as they begin the course.”

Holley said, “Preparing my course for the QM review using the QM rubric made me look critically at the design of my course. The QM review process definitely forced me to have a well set up course, which eases student course navigation and clarifies my expectations of students.

“QM is important to me because it shows that I am dedicated to designing a quality online course,” she said. “I am dedicated to student success, and QM has helped me provide students with all of the information that they need to be successful in my course.”

Lilly said the Quality Matters rubric helped him in organizing course administration, policies and student expectations for his “Bioinformatics” course.

“This is really important in an online setting where you don’t have the traditional ‘first day of class’ devoted to these issues,” he said. “It also forces course objectives and topic objectives to be a visible part of the course design, so these are now integrated in a systemic and systematic way in my course.  Ideas from the workshop also helped me make the course design more user-friendly.”

Gathman said Quality Matters standards ensure that course assessment and measurement, instructional materials, course activities and learner interaction, and course technology are all aligned so students achieve desired learning objectives outlined for a course.

Lilly says the Quality Matters rubric more clearly connects course objectives and content objectives to actual student activities and assessment of student progress.

“This should be a benefit to students in highly technical courses like ‘Bioinformatics,’” Lilly said.

Under the Quality Matters rubric, points are assigned for various design standards. Courses must earn 85 percent of the total points scored to be internally certified, Gathman said.

Quality Matters also offers a national external review process, Gathman said. Southeast will submit selected courses – likely those required of a broad cross-section of majors — for external Quality Matters review. SC107 “Online Oral Presentations,” developed by Holley, was externally Quality Matters certified in the national review process during the summer.

“It validates our internal review,” Gathman said.

Southeast has two instructional designers to assist with the Quality Matters initiative, and 20 Southeast faculty members who are Quality Matters peer reviewers. Anyone who has taught an online course in the last 18 months is eligible to become a reviewer. The training consists of two two-week online courses, and the Center for Scholarship in Teaching and Learning/Office of Instructional Technology covers the cost. A reviewer receives $300 for each course reviewed.

“Our online program has flourished and we have become a leader among Missouri universities in delivering quality online programs. Key to our enrollment growth is the number of students taking only online courses,” Dobbins said. “More than 1,000 students are taking only online courses this fall. Altogether, online courses this fall are generating over 21,000 credit hours, almost a 20 percent increase over this time a year ago.”

For Southeast to remain competitive in its online endeavors, the University must continue to have state-of-the-art online academic programs, requiring investment not only in the Information Technology infrastructure, but also in innovative approaches to online teaching and course design, Dobbins said.