As more and more schools are moving towards blended and online learning, the big question becomes: “How do we evaluate our online courses to ensure quality?” School districts are realizing the value of offering quality online content to students to increase access and equity, but what determines “quality content and pedagogy?”
The Virtual School Leadership Alliance (VSLA) has made this one of our priorities for 2015. Each of our member organizations offers high quality courses, but how could we use a research based tool to support and measure it? We looked at various rubrics and tools and decided to become an Institutional Member of Quality Matters (QM), a not-for-profit subscription service initiated in 2003 by MarylandOnline with funding from FIPSE (U.S. Department of Education Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education.) Less than a decade after the development of QM, research is emerging on its impact in education. Quality Matters consists of a set of course design rubrics, a peer review process and professional development opportunities to help implement the Quality Matters course evaluation approach.
Our first step in implementation was for each VSLA member to evaluate their own courses using the Quality Matters rubric. As Principal of Indiana Online Academy, I knew we couldn’t evaluate all of our 80 courses at once, so we made reviewing our new courses in development our first priority. Two staff members went through the online “K-12 Applying the Quality Matters Secondary Rubric (K12)” training. They worked with our subject matter experts using the eight standards as a guide for course development. We then chose to evaluate the rest of our courses starting with the first three QM standards; Course Introduction, Learning Objectives, and Assessments. The next phase will be the evaluation of the remaining five standards; Instructional Materials, Learner Interaction and Engagement, Course Technology, Learner and Teacher Support, and Accessibility.
One of the most important elements of the review process has been creating a “community of practice” where course designers and teachers are having conversations about quality, online course design. In the past, they worked independently. Now they are collaborating and helping each other integrate research based, best practices into their courses.
After we have completed our own review process, we will partner with other VSLA members and do informal peer reviews of each of our selected courses. From these, each program will receive feedback and recommendations from the peer reviewers.
As part of its program and services, Quality Matters conducts formal reviews online courses for schools and organizations for a nominal fee. Formal Quality Matters K-12 Secondary course reviews are conducted by three-member review teams. Both experienced teachers and instructional designers will be eligible to serve as reviewers for middle and high school courses. There are two Subject Matter Experts and one Master Reviewer on each team. Scoring is based on “majority rule” to determine if a standard is considered as “met” or “not met.” Courses that successfully meet the QM rubric standards in an official course review are eligible for QM recognition and may carry the QM certification mark. Several of the VSLA members have chosen to have QM conduct these independent course reviews and receive QM certification.
Using a research based evaluation tool such as Quality Matters and having an outside entity evaluate our courses, ensures that we are creating dynamic, engaging courses that are accessible to all students. It has also sparked high level, focused conversations between course designers and teachers focusing on course quality and design.