One of the main concerns with online education continues to be quality. Here at UNT we want to ensure that online offerings meet high standard beginning with online course design. As part of our efforts in this area, we are an institutional subscriber to Quality Matters.
Quality Matters (QM) is a nationally recognized organization that focuses on continuous improvement in online education. The organization originally began through a three-year grant to Maryland Online, Inc. from the governmental Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE). The project gathered faculty members from around the country to review research and best practices in online higher education. They then created a rubric of standards for designing and evaluating quality online courses.
The underlying principles of QM are:
- Continuous – all courses go through a formal review eventually meeting QM standards via a continuous process of improvement
- Centered – the rubric is based on research and instructional design principles that promote student learning in a quality online environment
- Collegial – a peer-driven review process that is intended to be diagnostic and helpful
- Collaborative – reviews are done in teams, based on objective standards, and the rubric is flexible enough to incorporate a variety of interpretations of the standards, different course management systems, variations in course and program priorities, and instructor teaching style (Quality Matters, 2015)
The overall benefits of subscribing to QM are access to a nationally recognized program that provides peer review services from other faculty who are experienced in teaching and designing online courses. Individual courses can be reviewed for recognition through QM, and there is also an option for program level recognition. Subscribers can also use the materials from QM within their own institution, and here at CLEAR we have integrated QM standards with our online course approval process.
The QM rubric looks at a few specific areas of online course design divided into eight standards:
- Course Overview and Introduction
- Learning Objectives (Competencies)
- Assessment and Measurement
- Instructional Materials
- Course Activities and Learner Interaction
- Course Technology
- Learner Support
- Accessibility and Usability (Quality Matters, 2015)
It is important to remember that the focus of these standards (and the focus of QM overall) is only on course design and organization – delivery and content are not covered by this program. To learn more about QM, you can visit their website: https://www.qualitymatters.org/
CLEAR Online Course Quality Review
To ensure quality online courses for incoming and ongoing UNT students, CLEAR has a quality review process. Quality reviews help to ensure that:
- Courses are complete and ready to be delivered by the time the semester begins.
- Federal and state minimums are met.
- UNT courses demonstrate best practices for online course design.
A quality review process also allows UNT to ensure that specific Texas and accreditation standards and best practices are addressed. To do this, the CLEAR quality review process has incorporated the standards from Quality Matters (QM), along with other internationally recognized best practices in accessibility and academic integrity. The focus of the review is on the design of the course, and the CLEAR quality rubric looks at these specific areas of the course:
- Course Entry and Introductory Information
- Design and Organization
- Interaction and Engagement
Reviews are conducted by CLEAR instructional consultants who have experience teaching and designing online courses and who have completed professional development training in applying the Quality Matters rubric. You can find more detailed information about the online course approval and review process here.
In addition to individualized instructional consulting services, CLEAR also provides training and resources to assist with course development:
- Training – CLEAR provides and sponsors a wide variety of training and development opportunities to support teaching at UNT, including working directly with departments.
- Teaching Online – links to a syllabus template, information on providing accommodations for students with disabilities, beginning of the semester tips and tasks, and more
- Teaching Essentials – resources across a broad range of teaching topics, including online course design and online teaching
Center for Learning Experimentation, Application, and Research. (2016). Teaching Resources for Engaged Educators [online training modules]. Denton, TX: University of North Texas.
Quality Matters. (n.d.). Underlying principles of Quality Matters. Retrieved from https://www.qualitymatters.org/qm-membership/faqs/underlying-principles
Quality Matters. (n.d.). Higher ed program: Rubric. Retrieved from https://www.qualitymatters.org/qa-resources/rubric-standards