New Mexico State University Alamogordo: Quality Assurance of Online Classes
An anonymous person stated, "E-learning doesn't just 'happen'! It requires careful planning and implementation." New Mexico State University Alamogordo (NMSU-A) understands this statement and is working diligently to become an institution known for the quality of its online instruction.
Online education began at NMSU-A in the late 1990s. In the early 2000s, interest in online education began to grow among a small but significant percentage of the faculty, primarily as a means of providing greater access to students in NMSU-A's 6,627 square mile service area. The number of courses offered online went from 14 (3.86 percent of course offerings) in spring 2004 to 195 (39.6 percent of course offerings) in spring 2012, and from 4.5 percent to 51.9 percent of total credit hours. With this snowball effect of online offerings, NMSU-A recognized that it was time to restructure its distance education program to ensure effectiveness and quality.
Best practices confirm that substantial professional development activities must be provided to help faculty acquire the level of instructional design skills necessary to develop quality online courses. Faculty must be given tools that will enable them to design, develop, and teach successful online courses. After reviewing best practices and exploring various methods, NMSU-A determined that the principles, standards, mission statement, and rubric of the Quality Matters Program (QM) was the best option to achieve and maintain a high level of quality assurance for online classes. QM is a nationally known and respected program that is directly based on best practices and focuses on course design.
A NMSU-A online quality assurance plan was developed using Quality Matters as one of the foundations of restructure. A full-time faculty member was reassigned to oversee online education and to provide consistency in applying QM standards and NMSU-A online teaching protocols. This position, Director of Online Quality Assurance, remains a faculty position to instill the need for a peer focused review system.
An Online Quality Assurance Team, led by the Director of Online Quality Assurance and made up of QM certified faculty peer reviewers, leads internal course reviews according to QM standards, recommends policy changes pertaining to online education, and works closely to help train faculty who teach online courses. The team designed a template based on several QM standards that is now used by all faculty.
NMSU-A is currently in the process of taking all existing courses through QM standards-based internal peer review process within a three-year period. Courses will be scheduled for review at the rate of at least one-third of existing courses each year. Before a new course can be taught online, the course design must be complete and approval given by the peer review team. Each semester, some of the courses approved by the internal review team are submitted for official QM peer review.
All faculty teaching online or hybrid courses have completed the Applying the Quality Matters Rubric course. New faculty members are trained in QM standards, online pedagogy, and the NMSU-A learning management system before teaching distance education courses.
Professor Kathy Roark-Diehl believes utilizing QM standards is making a difference.
As a faculty member, I have always been proud of my assignment design, but working through QM showed me that my instructions were not always as clear as I believed them to be. Gaining a better understanding of course navigation online has added new depth and clarity to the way I design all elements of a course, be it online or face-to-face. This new clarity is already paying off, making my role that of a facilitator of learning, and not facilitator of instructions.
NMSU-A is excited about the opportunity to truly invest in the overall quality of online education. As the first year of the plan comes to a close, the effects can already be seen. A student in a Quality Matters-approved course stated, "In the last 3 years of college that I have had, I have never had such a well-structured organized course nor have I had such a prompt, efficient, and dedicated instructor."
NMSU-A is demonstrating that quality online education really does matter by working to improve student success with engaging, well-designed courses taught by caring and responsive faculty.
Contact: Sherrell Wheeler, Director of Online Quality Assurance, New Mexico State University Alamogordo, 575.439.3668.