Quality Matters in Online Learning

a computer screen is reflected in a child's eye

The first course I taught online was in a TEFL Certificate program in 2003 or 2004.  The learning curve for me was steep.  But, the more I taught online, the more I learned: discussions have to be required or they just won’t happen, scheduling needs to be clear because interaction might occur asynchronously and literally 24 hours per day, students might (incorrectly) expect their instructor to be available around the clock, and technical problems have the potential to be extremely disruptive.

Now, years later, as online and distance education classes have become so much more common and as management systems (CMSs) and personal learning environments (PLEs) have become integrated into most college classes that meet face-to-face, I have been searching for a collection of best practices for online and hybrid classes.

I started by asking folks at the Digital Union at Ohio State for some guidance.  Rob and Joni suggested I look into Quality Matters (QM), an organization dedicated to promoting and improving the quality of online education.  (In fact, Joni discusses QM in much more detail in a post on the Digital Union blog.)

One of the most beneficial things that Quality Matters has done is to develop a rubric for evaluating online courses.  Our ESL program does not have any classes that are completely online, however as we offer more and more content online, the rubric can serve as a good guide for implementing our CMS components effectively.

I should also add that, in addition to the publishing the rubric and references to the research it is based on, Quality Matters also uses the rubric as the basis for a peer-review process for online courses as well as professional development and training in effective online course design.  To pass a QM review, an online course must include all of the essential 3-point standards and achieve an overall score of 72 points or more.  In fact, the rubric contains several points that I would argue are important in traditional classroom based courses as well (i.e. 1.5 – Students are asked to introduce themselves to the class.)

I’m not sure what other guidelines are out there (if you do, please leave a comment) but Quality Matters seems to be a good foundation for evaluating online courses and course components.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Quality Matters in Online Learning

  1. Chris, you’ve pointed out something that comes up in discussions of Quality Matters from time to time in your statement, “In fact, the rubric contains several points that I would argue are important in traditional classroom based courses as well.”

    Seeing how the QM rubric results in improvement in an online course naturally leads to the question of how a similar rubric might affect a traditional course. In fact, I’ve heard instructors say that going through the QM peer review process not only led to improvement in their online course but also helped them create a better face-to-face course. This is probably because the fundamental best practices in teaching and learning hold true no matter what instructional delivery mode is used. As technology evolves and becomes an integral part of almost every course to some degree, the line between online learning and traditional learning becomes more blurry. I hope that a tool will eventually be developed that can be used to evaluate the course design of any course regardless of instructional delivery mode and, even more importantly, will gain wide acceptance among instructors.

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