UNA Pressroom

Quality Matters (qm) Assures University Of North Alabama Students Are Getting The Most Out Of Online Courses

Feb. 03, 2017

Michelle Eubanks, UNA, at media@una.edu, 256.765.4392 or 256.606.2033

Bryan Rachal, University Communications FLORENCE, Ala. - The world of higher education has evolved through the years. There was a time when online courses were brand new with limited options. Now, online courses seem to be the norm and students can choose from multiple options. But with so many choices, how do you make sure that the course you're taking is of a high caliber or quality? That's where UNA's Educational Technology Services come in. Assistant Professor and Instructional Designer in UNA's Educational Technology Services Dr. Natasha Lindsey serves as UNA's Coordinator for the Quality Matters program. "While many inside UNA know about our efforts, it's not necessarily known to the public, "Lindsey said. "But several of the deans and I work together to try to improve the quality of online and hybrid courses that their faculty offer at UNA and that program is called Quality Matters," she said. Quality Matters (QM) is an internationally recognized program in quality assurance for online education. The program is faculty-centered and utilizes a peer-based approach to continuous improvement in student learning within the online and hybrid learning environments. QM currently serves eight countries and Lindsey said most major institutions in the state of Alabama are currently members. There are three primary components of the QM initiative, the QM rubric, the peer review process and QM professional development. UNA's program in QM is currently voluntary, but Lindsey said they've recently seen an uptick in interest in what the program has to offer. "We're seeing more deans and faculty members interested in taking advantage of some of the opportunities offered," she said. Those opportunities include input on the accreditation process, improvement of learner outcomes, consistency in course design and information on how to maximize organizational resources. "The main thing about this program is that it organizes content in such a way that students don't question how to get started, where to get started or what to do," Lindsey said. "This way their primary focus in on learning the content matter." According to Lindsey, QM does not control the professor's content or subject matter, but rather looks at the course from a student's perspective. Do they understand what they're learning, why they're learning it and how these assignments help teach them? Or as Lindsey puts it, are they learning the "basic key components of a course." While that may sound odd that a professor needs help "teaching" a student, Lindsey said that just because someone is an expert in their field, it doesn't mean they're an expert at relaying that information to a student. Similarly, she said, just because a professor can speak eloquently about a subject matter doesn't mean it's not over the head of the student. "That's the concept of QM; that it's a bridge of the two," Lindsey said. "So in essence, these QM standards and guidelines help the professor become better at teaching as well." Lindsey said that one of the things they really focus on is the concept of alignment; that's the concept of the learning objective or goal for the course and how it translates to the materials, the assignments and how it's actually measured. QM professional development is available to both faculty and staff, but to serve as a peer reviewer for Quality Matters you must be a faculty member who has taught in the last 18 months within the online or hybrid environment. In order for a course to be QM certified, it must have been taught for a minimum of two semesters. Currently, UNA has seven QM certified courses, with the first being certified in February of 2016. Three of UNA's four colleges currently have QM certified online or hybrid courses. A full list can be found at: https://www.una.edu/ets/quality-matters/quality-matters-certified-courses.html Lindsey said her goal is to increase the number of QM certified courses offered by UNA and to increase the amount of interest in the process. Library and Educational Technology Services will offer a series of workshops on Quality Matters starting Feb. 24. For more information or to register for a workshop: https://www.una.edu/ets/quality-matters/index.html or 256-765-4208