North­west on­line pro­gram im­ple­ments qual­ity as­sess­ment

The Commercial Appeal - - Community - LAJUAN TALLO

North­west Mississippi Com­mu­nity Col­lege has re­cently be­gun a jour­ney to make its on­line eLearn­ing pro­gram the best it can be. Ac­cord­ing to Phyl­lis John­son, dean of eLearn­ing, the col­lege now has a mem­ber­ship in “Qual­ity Mat­ters (QM),” a non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion whose mis­sion is to de­fine and main­tain qual­ity as­sur- ance in on­line learn­ing.

Ac­cord­ing to the QM web­site, the or­ga­ni­za­tion be­gan with a small group of col­leagues in the Mary­landOn­line, Inc. (MOL) con­sor­tium who were try­ing to solve a com­mon prob­lem among in­sti­tu­tions: how do we mea­sure and guar­an­tee the qual­ity of a course? In 2003 MOL out­lined how the Qual­ity Mat­ters pro­gram could cre­ate a scal­able process for course qual­ity as­sur­ance, and ap­plied for a Fund for the Im­prove­ment of Post­sec­ondary Ed­u­ca­tion (FIPSE) grant from the U.S. Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion. The grant en­abled QM to de­velop a rubric of course de­sign stan­dards and cre­ate a repli­ca­ble peer-re­view process that would train and em­power fac­ulty to eval­u­ate cour­ses against these stan­dards, pro­vide guid­ance for im­prov­ing the qual­ity of cour­ses, and cer­tify the qual­ity of on­line and blended col­lege cour­ses across in­sti­tu­tions.

“It is ba­si­cally an eval­u­a­tion sys­tem, set up with a rubric that aligns the course from the course ob­jec­tives down to the as­sess­ments. So you know ex­actly what the stu­dents are go­ing to be learn­ing and the stu­dents un­der­stand what they are go­ing to be learn­ing,” said John­son.

John­son first learned about QM when it came out, when the on­line pro­gram at North­west was in its be­gin­ning stages. “I was in­ter­ested, but we were try­ing to get ev­ery­thing started in our pro­gram. Last year at a con­fer­ence, there was a ses­sion on QM, and how they used it to im­prove their on­line classes,” John­son said.

Af­ter re­search­ing QM on­line, John­son in­quired about the other com­mu­nity col­leges in the state and found that North­east Mississippi Com­mu­nity Col­lege was look­ing into it and Hinds Com­mu­nity Col­lege was also in­ter­ested. The three col­leges came to­gether to form a con­sor­tium agree­ment and were able to get a cost break on their mem­ber­ship.

John­son be­gan the train­ing to be­come a QM re­viewer, as did sev­eral other North­west in­struc­tors and em­ploy­ees. Re­view­ers must take two cour­ses in or­der to be qual­i­fied to put an on­line or hy­brid course through the QM rubric, and master re­view­ers need three cour­ses. John­son has be­come the only QM master re­viewer in the state of Mississippi thus far.

John­son com­pares the rubrics used to de­ter­mine QM cer­ti­fi­ca­tion for a course to a build­ing struc­ture. “The base of the struc­ture is the course ob­jec­tives, or what we call ‘Stu­dent Learn­ing Out­comes’ (SLOs), and the walls are ac­tiv­i­ties and lec­tures or any class­room tool used. The roof would be the as­sess­ments of those ob­jec­tives. You can’t have a good class with any of those things miss­ing, and how they teach the class is up to them. In­struc­tors still have a lot of aca­demic free­dom as to how they present the sub­ject to the stu­dents,” John­son said. She stated that what QM does is en­sure that the tools in­struc­tors use point back to at least one of the course ob­jec­tives.

North­west has in­struc­tors who serve as eLearn­ing co­or­di­na­tors for cour­ses in their di­vi­sion. John­son asked the co­or­di­na­tors if they would like to be­come re­view­ers, and all of them agreed to be trained. In ad­di­tion to John­son, cur­rent re­view­ers at North­west are Beth Dick­er­son (busi­ness and of­fice tech­nol­ogy), Kristin Wat­son (hu­man growth and devel­op­ment), Beth Adams (English), An­gel Nick­ens (bi­ol­ogy), Mar­cus Perkins (math­e­mat­ics), Trent Booker (his­tory), John Ran­dall (eLearn­ing spe­cial­ist, DeSoto Cen­ter), Stacey Smith (in­struc­tional tech­nol­ogy spe­cial­ist) and Carla Townsend (eLearn­ing proc­tor.)

Most of the re­view­ers who are in­struc­tors have be­gun to pre­pare for QM re­view­ing by un­of­fi­cially re­view­ing their own cour­ses. Wat­son, who teaches both on­line and in the class­room feels like it is a great tool for in­struc­tors. “It helps not only with on­line cour­ses, but also in my class­room. It re­ally made me eval­u­ate how ev­ery­thing worked to­gether. So the as­sign­ments I do re­late to the over­all ob­jec­tives in my course. It just makes you take a re­ally good eval­u­a­tion of what you do in class,” Wat­son said.

John­son’s plan is to roll out QM over the next three years. She hopes to have at least 10 cour­ses QM cer­ti­fied by the sum­mer. She will start with the co­or­di­na­tors and will ask other in­struc­tors to vol­un­teer to have their cour­ses re­viewed and cer­ti­fied. The re­view team for each course should be made up of three re­view­ers: John­son as the master re­viewer, an­other re­viewer who is a sub­ject mat­ter ex­pert and a third re­viewer. John­son hopes that some oth­ers will be­come master re­view­ers as well.

Wat­son thinks that she will be able to com­mu­ni­cate to in­struc­tors bet­ter about their own cour­ses since she has al­ready re­viewed her own course. “I know that hav­ing re­viewed my own course will be ben­e­fi­cial to me when I start to re­view oth­ers. It is much bet­ter when you get to ex­pe­ri­ence it your­self be­fore you try to ex­plain to some­one else how to do some­thing,” Wat­son said.

John­son feels that North­west has taken a lead in the state in us­ing QM as a tool. “The state is look­ing into it for all of the on­line classes. Qual­ity is one thing we are look­ing at as a state, and this Qual­ity Mat­ters pro­gram that Mary­land has put to­gether is a re­ally good rubric and has a lot of re­search be­hind it. They are con­stantly do­ing re­search and re­vis­ing it as needed. We want to be the best in the state. That is a goal of mine. We have great classes, but the qual­ity of our classes is some­thing we needed to look at to make them even bet­ter,” John­son said.

For more in­for­ma­tion on North­west’s eLearn­ing pro­gram, visit the col­lege’s web­site at north­, and to learn more about Qual­ity Mat­ters, visit their web­site at qual­ity mat­


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