Western Carolina University faculty can now access the rubric developed by Quality Matters, a nationally recognized research-based resource for online educators, for applying quality standards to course design and soon will be able to take part in related professional development opportunities and peer reviews.
WCU recently subscribed to Quality Matters, a faculty-centered, peer-based approach to improving online and hybrid or blended courses, and work began this fall to prepare WCU to be able to administer the program.
“Quality Matters will give our faculty, who are already outstanding teachers, the opportunity to have the quality of their courses validated externally,” said Susan Fouts, interim director of educational outreach. “The Quality Matters seal of approval is similar to a SACS (Southern Association of Colleges and Schools) seal of approval. The other benefit and one that is probably more important to our faculty members is receiving feedback enabling them to improve their courses even further.”
Originally developed by Maryland Online, a consortium of community colleges and universities in Maryland, Quality Matters features a rubric rooted in research with eight standards and 41 specific standards to help guide online course design. In addition, Quality Matters offers a structure for institutional- or Quality Matters-managed course reviews.
Faculty members who teach any of the online courses that serve about 20 percent of WCU’s students will be able to participate on a voluntary and nonpunitive basis in Quality Matters professional development workshops and peer reviews through which they can earn the Quality Matters seal for their courses.
Laura Cruz, director of Coulter Faculty Commons, was a member of a committee of stakeholders that researched online course assessment tools and supported making Quality Matters resources available at WCU in addition to the recently updated, WCU-developed Online Readiness Course Assessment tool.
“There is a perception that persists in higher education that online courses are somehow not as good, as challenging or as time-consuming to teach as face-to-face courses, and this is a false assumption,” said Cruz. “We believe that Quality Matters, a highly recognized tool vetted by hundreds of schools and institutions, could offer some extra credibility and recognition.”
A Quality Matters institutional-managed peer review involves two reviewers from within the institution and one external reviewer. The process allows faculty members to exchange ideas and share experiences with colleagues on how they handle aspects of courses from technical assistance to disability services.
“It is similar to getting two or three colleagues to sit down, look at your course, and say ‘Oh, here’s what I do,’” said Fouts. “The peer reviews are designed to be a very collaborative, positive experience that is not punitive in any way. The goal is to help us get better.”
Tony Miller, associate director of distance and online programs, also noted that the structure allows for flexibility.
“The peer reviews preserve the faculty member’s ability to maintain academic freedom and run the course the way he or she believes works best while still receiving some guidance that could help students be able to navigate the course better,” said Miller.
Completion of successful Quality Mattters reviews will enable an instructor to apply the Quality Matters seal to the course.
Cruz said becoming a Quality Matters institution could ultimately help with recruitment and retention of online faculty who perceive participation as a commitment to quality online education.
WCU Coulter Faculty Commons is currently seeking programs which are interested in adopting Quality Matters.
“Becoming a reviewer enables you to be part of reviews at our institutions and other institutions and learn about what other schools are doing,” said Miller.
Joseph Lakatos, the Wesley R. Elingburg Distinguished Professor of Business Innovation and director of WCU’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, has taught online courses since 2005 and has used Quality Matters resources.
“I am always looking to improve my course designs and tools, and I found the Quality Matters program supports faculty that seek to continuously improve,” said Lakatos. “The approach opens the minds of faculty to innovative ways that accomplish more in a course while keeping students enthusiastic about learning the course material. It is a well-devised program that can reinvigorate faculty and stir some to rethink their view about online education. I think it will be a good fit at Western Carolina University”
By Teresa Killian Tate