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What is Quality Matters?

Quality Matters is a peer review process that assesses online learning courses for quality assurance. The process provides educators with constructive feedback, of the strengths of the course and suggestions for weak areas. Everything is aligned to a set of 8 general standards, and sub-standards, that provide a framework for what a quality course may, or should, contain. The Quality Matters Rubric contains the standards, sub-standards, scoring system and annotations that are to be used when providing feedback. The process of having a course reviewed by Quality Matters is not to determine an instructors competency, but rather how the course has been designed from a students perspective. Once a course has been reviewed by a QM Peer Review Team, it is on its way to becoming QM certified. A review team consists of 3 reviewers: a subject matter expert, a reviewer from a differing institution, and a third reviewer from any area. The process can be costly and time consuming for all parties involved. The cost for a subscriber is $1,000 and a non-subscriber is $1,400. Once a course has been accepted for review the team members each review the online material closely to see how it aligns to the standards and substandards. Each area is given a score of 1 to 3 points, and is awarded on an all or nothing scale. The standards worth 3 points that must be met are considered essential for supporting successful student learning. The breakdown of standards to point values ranges are: 3 being essential, 2 being very important and 1 being important. A total of 95 points is possible, but only 81 points must be earned to be certified. As long as the course meets all of the 21 essential standards, and receives 81/95 points (an overall total of 85%) it can be certified. The reviewers do not all have to agree unanimously, but rather a majority rule must meet the two thresholds. The timeline for the entire process can take up to 14 weeks, with many revisions throughout. The end goal is to provide quality assurance to students that the courses being offered are of high standard and meet their learning needs. The standards and review process have not been put in place to determine whether a course should be offered. Rather, it is a process of assisting instructors and institutions in designing online courses that reflect best practice, instructional design principles, and current research findings (MarylandOnline, 2011). All this while, promoting student learning, and continuous quality improvement that is inter-institutional, driven by faculty, and reviewed by peers (MarylandOnline, 2011).

Eight Quality Matter General Standards Standard 1 Course Overview and Introduction The standard states that the overall design of the course has been organized in a way that provides the students with clearly stated expectations. This information should be easy to navigate and displayed in an organized fashion that is friendly to all learning needs. This standard is made up of 8 sub-standards

1.1 (3 points) Course instructions and how to successfully navigate have been clearly stated. 1.2 (3) Students have been provided with overview of the purpose and organization of the course. 1.3 (2) Expectations of Cyber-Ethics have been put in place and are clearly stated for the students. Examples of what is deemed inappropriate cyber behavior have been provided. 1.4 (2) Current course and/or institutional policies that students need to comply with have been clearly stated. Links to where more information about the policies has been provided. 1.5 (1) Any prerequisites or prior knowledge that is needed to successfully complete the course has been stated in a visible area. 1.6 (1) Any technical skills needed to complete the course have been defined with the minimum requirements listed. 1.7 (1) The instructor has provided a self-introduction that states educational, professional and personal experiences that would help students feel a sense of connection. 1.8 (1) Students have been provided with an opportunity to introduce themselves and become acquainted with fellow classmates. *Standard 1 & Sub-standards 1.1-1.8 (MarylandOnline, 2011) Over the years I have taken many, many courses that have been completely online or blended. Some have been interactive and held in real-time sessions, while in others we never had contact with the professor or each other. I have found that in either setting having clearly stated expectations has not always been evident. Being able to review detailed policies and procedures for how the course will run makes the learning process clear and less stressful on all partys. I have also enjoyed the classes where we share about ourselves and our learning prospects for the course. Knowing that the professor is willing to share about themselves also helps make a connection, especially in the courses where there is never any real contact.

Standard 2 Learning Objectives (Competencies) The standard states that objectives have been clearly stated and are measurable. The objectives range in learning levels and contain descriptive verbs depicting how the students will demonstrate they have met the objective. The learning and module objectives have been written in a way to demonstrate they are aligned. 2.1 (3 points) The learning objectives include how the students understanding will be measured. 2.2 (3) - The learning and module objectives align, are measurable, and correlate with the course-level objectives.

2.3 (3) All of the learning objectives have been clearly written and from the perspective of the student. 2.4 (3) Students have been provided with explicit instructions on how to successfully meet the learning objectives. 2.5 (3) The learning objectives have been designed so that they support the level of the course. *Standard 2 & Sub-standards 2.1-2.5 (MarylandOnline, 2011) In the past I have written learning objectives that align with course objectives. The task can be time consuming to learn, and as the course level increases so does the complexity to which they are written. Making sure that every learning outcome you expect students to meet clearly aligns to the goals of the course creates a solid foundation for learning to take place. This assures learning opportunities are authentic and meaningful for students. The goal is to not be teaching one topic, but then assessing a completely different topic or skill. When I student taught many years ago, this was an area I reflected on a lot. I wanted to make sure that I was provided my students with opportunities to demonstrate they have developed the skill they were taught. Standard 3 Assessment and Measurement The standard states that how a students progress will be assessed has been clearly defined and is measurable. The assessments have been designed within the course to illustrate a picture of the students level of mastery on the concept being assessed. The students have also been given opportunity to measure their own progress throughout the course as well. 3.1 (3 points) Assessments have been designed so that they measure the course learning objectives. A range of activities and resources have been created that assess students on varying levels of their understanding. 3.2 (3) The grading policy for the course have been clearly defined, and is easily accessible to students for review. 3.3 (3) The criteria for assessing each assignment has been provided to the students and has been clearly defined and is straightforward. The ways the students will be evaluated align with the course grading policy. 3.4 (2) A variety of assessment tools have been utilized and have been appropriately sequenced with the work being measured. 3.5 (2) Multiple opportunities for students to measure their own progress has been provided. *Standard 3 & Sub-standards 3.1-3.5 (MarylandOnline, 2011) Throughout my years of being a student and educator this standard seems to be the most difficult, yet the most creative. Designing an assessment that aligns to all of the components of a course and/or unit

that assesses students at various level of learning can be time consuming. I have found this even more difficult in online learning. Having a solid understanding of the concepts I am teaching, having clear, defined goals, and knowing how to align them to the standards I must meet has helped make this a much smoother process.

Standard 4 Instructional Materials This standard focuses on making sure that the course materials are comprehensive and will provide students with the resources they will need to achieve the goals set by the course objective and learning outcomes. 4.1 (3points) The instructional materials listed contribute to the successful meeting of the course and unit learning objectives. 4.2 (3) The reasons the materials will be used and how to effectively use them has been clearly defined. 4.3 (2) Resources being used in all areas of the course have been correctly cited. 4.4 (2) All of the materials used for instruction are current. 4.5 (1) Materials for instruction represent a variety of perspectives on the course content. 4.6 (1) There has been a clearly defined distinction between required and suggested materials for the course. *Standard 4 & Sub-standards 4.1-4.6 (MarylandOnline, 2011) Finding the right resources that will assist the student in the learning process is essential in any course, but even more so when teaching online. I have had experiences when classes have more resources than you actually end up using and others that hardly provide resources. As a student, taking online classes, I want materials that are relevant to what I am to be learning throughout the course. For me not having a lot of regular contact with instructors, and peers, can be counter-acted by providing me with materials that are related to the goals of the course.

Standard 5 Learner Interaction & Engagement This standard focuses on how students interact within the realms of the course and what has been put in place to keep them motivated in an online environment. Students have been given activities that are meaningful and allow for active learning to take place. 5.1 (3 points) The activities the students complete are used to promote successful completion of the course learning objectives.

5.2 (3) Activities provide opportunities for students with opportunities to interact in a way that is supportive of their learning process. 5.3 (3) How the instructor will respond to questions, concerns, and offer feedback related to assignments has been clearly defined. 5.4 (3) How students are to interact with the instructor and/or peers has been clearly defined in a way that students can understand. *Standard 5 & Sub-standards 5.1-5.4 (MarylandOnline, 2011) In the past I have had negative experiences within this area in some of the online courses I have taken. I have had courses where how to effectively interact with the instructor was lacking in detail, and feedback was not done in a timely manner. This causes much stress for students, especially in courses where a performance on one task affects the next task.

Standard 6 Course Technology This standard focuses on the technology that students will be using to support all areas of the course. The tools selected must meet the learning objectives of the course and not hinder the students overall performance in learning the material. 6.1 (3 points) The tools and media selected can be effectively used to meet learning objectives. 6.2 (3) All the tools and media being used will aid with student engagement and create active learning experiences. 6.3 (3) How the students are to navigate through the course is consistent and has been clearly defined in a logical way so students can be successful. 6.4 (2) Any technology needed to successfully complete the course has been made readily available and easily accessible. 6.5 (1) Technologies being used in the course is current. *Standard 6 & Sub-standards 6.1-6.5 (MarylandOnline, 2011) I have always had good experiences in this area of my online courses. What was needed to for me to successfully complete the course was provided on or before the start of the class. This gave me time to be prepared at the start of the class, and not feel left behind. I was able to update any programs I would be using or download them and practice using them.

Standard 7 Learner Support The course has been designed in such a way that it supports the learning process. Students have been made aware of the various support systems offered at the university, departmental and course levels. How to access these services has been clearly defined and displayed where students can easily access them. 7.1 (3 points) The instructions for the course state, or provide a link to, clear descriptions of what technical support is available and where they can find it. 7.2 (3) The instructions provide pertinent information, or a link, to the universities policies and support services they offer. 7.3 (2) - The instructions provide students with clearly stated explanations, or links, that describe how the universitys academic support services can be utilized to aid in their success of the course. 7.4 (1) The instructions provide students with clearly stated explanations, or links, that describe how the universitys students support services can help the students be successful. *Standard 7 & Sub-standards 7.1-7.4 (MarylandOnline, 2011) Any course I have ever taken online has provided detailed information about the various supports that can be received at the university and course level to ensure I can successfully complete the course. The policies that have directly related to the course have always been listed as well. Some of my courses required that I complete a brief academic integrity quiz to ensure I had reviewed the information. Any links that were available for obtaining further information had been provided as well.

Standard 8 Accessibility This standard focuses on ensuring all students can access the material and complete the course successfully, no matter what their learning needs. Everything has been designed to be accessible in a variety of formats and adheres to the Universal Design for Learning Principles and the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. 8.1 (3 points) The technologies being utilized in the course are accessible by all students and assistance for obtaining the accommodations has been provided. 8.2 (2) Comparable alternatives have been provided for auditory and visual content so student can successfully obtain the information. 8.3 (2) The design of the course has been designed so that it is readable and not visually distracting to students. 8.4 (2) The course has been designed in a way that it accommodates the use of various assistive technologies.

*Standard 8 & Sub-standards 8.1-8.4 (MarylandOnline, 2011) I have had online courses in the past where some of the information was difficult to read do to color contrasts. This makes it very difficult to stay focused on the material and can create an unsuccessful learning situation.