Robin Morgan, whose class “Sleep and Dreams” was the first online class in the IU system to achieve Quality Matters certification, talked about her early experience with digital learning. “Some 15 years ago, long before Oncourse, it wasn’t as smooth sailing as it is today. My students and I learned together.” Over the years, the IU Southeast professor of psychology sought to find a way to create in an online class the same sense of “presence” students and instructors experience in a traditional classroom—the face-to-face interaction and natural back-and-forth of discussion—cues that indicate students’ relationship with the class content.
In today’s classroom, instructors can adopt an ever-growing array of technologies and teaching modalities into their courses, all of which can add complexity to delivering the course. This in turn adds complexity to designing the course. Quality Matters (QM) asks instructors to plan from the ground up, in as much detail as possible, to accommodate snags especially related to technical issues, and focus on learning outcomes. “In building a house,” says Morgan, “you start with a firm foundation. QM is based on evidence from ongoing research, so you start with a firm course design. You can then spend your time teaching instead of putting out fires.”
Morgan, who has long designed around the QM rubric, admits it was unsettling to put her advanced course through the QM certification process. It might have been easier to begin with a more structured course like “Introduction to Psychology,” whose learning outcomes are set by the American Psychological Association. But she wanted to “push at the edges” with a course that was broader in coverage and depth, and more flexible. The results were outstanding. And students noticed. “Once today’s tech-savvy students have experienced a QM class, they know what they want.” Now Morgan works with peers who are interested in QM.
Learning the QM rubric can take a minimum of 200 hours. “When you first ride a bike, it seems so hard you think you’ll never be able to take the training wheels off,” says Morgan. “But with QM, once you get it, the experience of teaching is so much smoother. You can focus on content and students’ experience with content. It frees you up for the joy of teaching.”
The lynchpin of QM is learning outcomes. What do you want students to be able to know or do now? What about 20 years from now? Everything from assessments to learning maps to technology should be focused on promoting student learning outcomes.
Colleague David Becker summarizes QM design principles this way. “QM’s instructional design framework breaks the teaching of online courses down into smaller and smaller discrete teaching moments, such as units and chapters in a course syllabus. This level of granularity helps teachers to make sure that even the smallest components of their courses align with the larger purpose. It also helps them facilitate positive student outcomes.”
Becker, who is an instructional designer and tech specialist in the Institute for Learning and Teaching Excellence (ILTE) at IU Southeast, grew interested in QM as a grad student at Southeast Missouri State, where he taught hybrid courses. He soon realized his interest was in helping other faculty achieve success in online teaching. Now, as QM course review manager, he spends nearly half his time consulting with faculty on QM processes. This work is especially rewarding. “I love it when faculty take the initial QM workshop and immediately see that it provides the foundation for a quality learning environment,” he says. “Every single faculty member realizes ‘I can do this in my face-to-face class, as well.’ QM applies across the board.”
Since Morgan’s course was certified, Becker has seen an uptick in faculty interest in achieving QM certification. Many faculty find that “QM reinforces some things they’ve done for years. They see some part of themselves in the standards, and see other things they’ve never thought of before. With a well-designed course, faculty get to dive into their passion, their discipline, and get back to the joy of teaching.”