What is Quality Matters?
The Quality Matters program provides professional development, a set of rubrics, and a course peer review process that work together to support faculty in improving the quality of online and blended courses. QM has received national recognition for its faculty-centered approach to continuous improvement in online education and student learning.
The QM rubrics are research-based tools. The Quality Matters Higher Education Rubric (5th Edtn) consists of 8 general standards and 43 specific criteria that describe best practices in online and blended course design. The QM process is designed to be continuous, collegial, and collaborative. The rubric and associated annotations are based on best practices that promote student learning and instructional design principles that are part of good design. The rubric is supported by a thorough review of the literature and is updated every three years to reflect new techniques and technologies that have become available.
The course review process involves a review of a course by a team of three trained, certified peer reviewers who are all experienced online faculty. This faculty driven process is intended to be diagnostic with the overall goal of course improvement. It does not involve pass/fail judgments but instead relies on the team members providing specific guidance for the course developer on what might be done to modify the course in order that it will eventually meet standards. There is a clear recognition throughout the process that there are many ways to meet each standard and that no course is perfect. For QM reviewed courses, the goal is to meet an 85% threshold in order to be certified as a quality course.
The Quality Matters process is designed to ensure that courses undergoing review will eventually meet expectations. These principles as described by QM can be viewed here: http://www.qmprogram.org/research-grants/fipse/principles
Focus on Course Design
Quality Matters focuses on course design. There are many factors that play a part in a quality learning experience for students, but QM focuses most on course design. For example, an instructor may have included, as part of the design process, a series of discussion forums for interaction in the course. The course review process will take into account how those discussion forums align with the overall course objectives and assessment processes, will review the instructions for how students are expected to participate or how they will be graded, and will look at how the choice of this particular communication tool fits into the overall use and alignment of tools and media. The process does not take into account what actually occurs in the discussion forum in terms of student exchanges with the instructor, how often the instructor participates or what the instructor writes. Course design is the planning that goes into the course (ie. these discussion forums); course delivery is what happens with them once the course starts.
The Quality Matters Process
The Quality Matters process is illustrated with the Quality Matters “Quality Circle”. The circle represents the ongoing nature of a quality improvement process.
The Quality Matters Circle
The QM process is designed to review “mature” courses. Mature courses are defined as courses that have been taught for more than two semesters. The instructor/ course developer is encouraged to participate in QM training prior to submitting a course for a full review and to use the rubric for self-review of the course or as part of the course design process.
Peer Course Review
In a formal QM review, the course is reviewed by three veteran online faculty who have been trained and certified in the use of the QM process. There are criteria for how the peer review team is chosen: One of the team members must be a Master Reviewer. A Master Reviewer is an experienced course reviewer who has received additional training and certification for that through QM. One of the team members must be a SME (subject matter expert). One member must be from an institution other than the one the course developer is from. While the members may hold dual roles, each of these criteria must be met. Prior to the review, the instructor will complete an Course Worksheet that provides essential information that will be needed during the review process. During the review, the team members will independently access and explore the course online. They will make decisions about whether or not the course has met each of the standards on the rubric and enter their findings and recommendations into an online Course Review Management system found on the QM site.
The determination about whether or not the course meets standards is shared with the course developer as part of the feedback process. One of the unique aspects of the QM Review process is that the recommendations from all team members is provided to the course developer. Feedback and specific recommendations for improvement must be provided for any standard that has not been met as part of the review. Feedback is provided as part of many of the other standards as well if reviewers have ideas for how the course might be improved.
The course developer has the opportunity to revise the course based on the findings and recommendations of the team and will communicate with the Master Reviewer when this has been completed. Quality Matters does not use the terms “pass” or “fail” as part of their materials or discussion about courses. This is intentional. All courses can eventually meet standards as part of this process so courses are described as having met standards or as being “in process”. A course that has not yet met standards can be revised until it does meet standards. To say a course failed implies that the process is completed with no opportunity for improvement.
Course Meets Quality Expectations
Once the course meets standards, as determined by the review team, the course developer will be given access by QM to use a seal that displays the year the course went through review and met standards. The “seal” is good for 3-5 years. If the course undergoes major revision, the shorter time frame is used.