Guide to Quality Assurance for Online and Blended Classes at Fairleigh Dickinson University

Catherine Kelley
Sandra Selick
Paul Younghouse

Fairleigh Dickinson University
Center for Teaching and Learning with Technology

The authors are listed in alphabetical order.

Version 1.0 released on 5/16/2007
Version 1.1 released on 6/11/2007


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Acknowledgements

We would like to acknowledge the work of many people in writing and reviewing content for the first draft of this document. These include Manish Wadhwa in the Center for Teaching and Learning with Technology; Jason Scorza, Vicki Cohen, and Allen Debren in University College; and Vincent Verassi, formerly with the Regional Center for Students with Learning Disabilities, whose insights helped inform the discussion of Universal Design.



How to Use the Guide

This guide is intended as a means to encourage and support the development of effective online and blended courses at Fairleigh Dickinson University. As such, it has been developed with many applications in mind. First, faculty developing a new online or blended course can use it as a reference source for the principles that should be apparent in any quality course. In this sense the Guide is more like a blueprint for a building, rather than like a step-by-step manual outlining construction methods. Second, faculty who are improving their existing online or blended courses may use the Guide as a reference for analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of their courses, and consider the benefits of potential revisions. Third, the Center for Teaching and Learning with Technology would like to work with the faculty to establish a voluntary Quality Assurance certification program here at FDU, in the spirit of the very influential Quality Matters approach developed by the Maryland Online program. The Guide is a starting point for developing such a process. As such, the Guide should be considered a living document, and your input is not just welcome, but enthusiastically requested. This wiki allows you to make edits wherever you like. Through the power of collaborative editing, we hope that this wiki enables the community to provide ideas and feedback. For now, only those with permission can edit the document.

The Guide is separated into five sections: Values, Course Design Principles, Technical Design Standards, Required Course Elements, and QA Course Analysis Rubric. Values are carried forward into the course design principles, which drive the actual course design process and guide the development of a quality course. The Technical Design Standards section reflects our understanding of best practices of web design and legal issues relevant to online or blended courses at FDU. Required Course Elements are resources that should be included in every online or blended class, including the syllabus and course policies. The QA Course Analysis Rubric contains all the elements from the Design Principles and Design Standards in a condensed form in order for the faculty member to review his or her course. Eventually, a version of this rubric will be used to help identify courses for Quality Assurance certification.

As you work with the Guide, it is important to understand that the quality principles outlined here pertain only to the design, and not to the teaching of an online or blended class. While these two aspects of quality in online and blended courses are often tightly intertwined, they are not the same. For example, a course may be designed with high interactivity in mind; but if the instructor fails actually to interact with the students, the course will not work as well as it could. On the other hand, very little interactivity is likely to occur in a course designed without this value in mind.

It is also important to understand that the Guide is neutral to disciplinary content. While some guidelines concerning presentation of content are provided, these are generic. It is assumed that the course content is of the same high quality and intellectual rigor that is expected of all classes taught in your discipline.


Background


The Quality Matters Project

The Guide has its roots in the Quality Matters program sponsored by MarylandOnline, Inc. (http://www.marylandonline.org/ ), a statewide consortium of Maryland’s community colleges, colleges, and universities. In 2003, MarylandOnline received a three year grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE) to develop a “replicable pathway for inter-institutional quality assurance and course improvements in online learning” (http://www.qualitymatters.org/FIPSE.htm )

The method MarylandOnline developed was a faculty-centered, voluntary, non-punitive and peer review based approach to quality assurance and continuous improvement in online education that uses a set of criteria (the Quality Matters Rubric) based on the research literature and national standards for best practices. As a part of the QM project, MarylandOnline also developed a training program and a procedure for putting together review teams and conducting reviews. The result has generated worldwide interest and earned national recognition for QM’s benefits for individual faculty and institutions of higher learning.

The Center for Teaching and Learning with Technology

Several members of the Center for Teaching and Learning with Technology and several faculty members in the School of Education have taken training to become certified Quality Matters reviewers. Based on very positive experiences with this program, we also wanted to develop a faculty-centered, peer review-based approach to encourage improvement and assure the quality of FDU’s online and blended offerings, because that approach promises both academic rigor and integrity.

Adopting the QM Rubric for use at FDU was an attractive option, but we felt it needed some adjustment to fit the specific mission of FDU and our experience working with online and blended courses at FDU. We also felt it needed some expansion, to make the underlying goals or values of the approach more explicit. Finally, we wanted to take into account some specifics of our local technical infrastructure, especially our use of the Blackboard course management system.

For those reasons, we began a year-long series of discussions, which have resulted in this document. We hope you find it useful for evaluating and improving online and blended course offerings.