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Quality Matters course certification improves student engagement, performance

A nationally recognized quality-assurance process for online and hybrid courses has been gaining in popularity with Indiana University faculty because of its focus on student learning and outcomes.

Stephanie Whitehead, a professor of criminal justice at IU East, teaches a course on criminal justice data, methods and research. She said that when she started teaching it in 2016, students found it difficult to focus on the content because of the way the course was constructed. After she put the course through the Quality Matters certification process in 2018, she noticed a significant improvement with student engagement and performance.

The Quality Matters logo In the year after Quality Matters certification, she saw average scores increase. For example, average scores:

  • Increased 12 percentage points, from 71 to 83, for the fourth paper.
  • Increased 9 percentage points, from 74 to 83, for the fifth paper.
  • Increased 4 percentage points, from 75 to 79, on the final project.

“I bought into it, and I am really glad I did because it’s had an impact on students’ success,” Whitehead said.

Students told Whitehead they liked how the course was organized and structured after it received certification, she said. Whitehead added that deans on her campus have encouraged faculty to incorporate Quality Matters principles into their courses. Faculty realize that the courses are more detailed and that students appreciate the structure, she said, so faculty are buying into following the model even if they don’t pursue certification.

At least 20 courses annually have achieved Quality Matters certification over the past four years. IU topped 100 certified courses in 2022 and now has 139 total across its two core and five regional campuses, said Kristoffer Rees, senior assessment manager in the Office of Collaborative Academic Programs. IU Southeast leads with 75 Quality Matters-certified courses. IU East, with 33 total, and IU Northwest, with 13, lead recent growth.

The Office of Online Education provides financial and technical support in helping the Office of Collaborative Academic Programs deliver Quality Matters services to faculty. It pays for:

  • The license.
  • Training.
  • Fees associated with an official course review.
  • A stipend to internal faculty reviewers.
  • Technical support from eLearning Design and Services, which works with faculty in the development and design of all Quality Matters courses.

“Quality Matters is all about student success,” Rees said. “It improves opportunities for student success through high-quality course design.”

Additionally, Quality Matters focuses on diversity, equity and inclusion in course design, and the growth of courses with this certification has helped create a community where faculty can turn to each other for ideas and advice.

The seventh edition of Quality Matters has more inclusion and accessibility woven into it, said Anna Michelle Martinez-Montavon, online education and technology consultant at IU South Bend. It helps faculty design their courses in a learner-centered way to help students with diverse linguistic backgrounds easily grasp the expected outcomes, the purpose and objectives of the course, and the included activities.

Chae Young Chang, an associate professor in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at IU Northwest, teaches a Quality Matters-certified course in health care administration and strategic planning. He said the course typically has a diverse group of 30 to 35 students from five IU campuses: older, younger, working professionals, full-time students. Chang said the program helped him design the course and develop the learning outcomes, activities and assessments to meet the students at their starting points.

“Quality Matters emphasizes accessibility first,” Chang said. “When a student comes to my class, they know where, how and when to start.”

Chang said he also uses a diverse set of activities — Quizlet, discussions, self-assessments and leadership training — to make the students active rather than passive learners.

Because of Quality Matters, Chang said he seen student engagement, test scores and grades improve in the course.

Adam Maksl, professor of journalism and media at IU Southeast and manager of eLearning Innovation with IU’s eLearning Design and Services unit, teaches three courses that have earned Quality Matters certification: Introduction to Mass Communications; Reporting, Writing and Editing; and Social Media Strategies.

One of the benefits of the certification process is that the reviewer only has the same access as a student, and thus views the course construction through the lens of a student. Maksl said the certification process provides constructive feedback about navigation and accessibility, and it ensures that course content is current and relevant.

Before using the program to design a course, Maksl said his approach was more “watch this, read this, do this.” Now he thinks about interactivity.

“Quality Matters has helped me be a better online teacher,” he said.

Maksl said he also appreciates that his campus’s teaching center, the Institute for Learning and Teaching Excellence, heavily supports the program and has conducted many workshops for faculty over the years. That’s created a helpful Quality Matters community, he added.

“On our campus a lot of people know what you are talking about,” Maksl said. “There is a strong community of faculty interested in and dedicated to effective learning experiences.”

Julia Mattingly, dean at the School of Nursing at IU Southeast, said the course certification is invaluable for faculty, students and IU because it ensures that courses are aligned with best practices.

When Mattingly obtained Quality Matters certification for a nursing course in 2018, she said the process forced her to look at all aspects of the course with an eye for the students’ perspective, and it made her think more deeply about how learning is facilitated in the online and blended environment. Additionally, keeping “old” teaching practices or course content just because it is familiar or preferred is not possible with a Quality Matters certification, she added, because the faculty member must analyze and critique the course from the ground up to meet quality standards.

“The QM certification really helped me to think through how to keep students engaged and part of the course community,” Mattingly said. “For students, the QM certification helps to ensure that faculty are utilizing best practices for online and hybrid learning. A student enrolled in a QM-certified course should have an optimal learning experience with content that is accessible and organized, and encourages engagement.”