“As Quality Matters reviewers provide such rich, descriptive feedback and suggestions for growth, this is a great model for our instructors and our institution moving forward.”Katalin Wargo, Ph.D., Director of Online Programs & Academic Partnerships
One of the first questions posed to Katalin Wargo, Ph.D., as she assumed the position of Director of Online Programs & Academic Partnerships at HPU in September of 2021 was about QM membership.
Senior Vice President and Provost, Jennifer Walsh, wanted to know if Katalin would recommend re-engaging with QM membership as a way to achieve institutional strategic goals for online learning quality.
This question was particularly relevant since HPU had received federal grant funds that could be applied towards Official Course Reviews, and had already identified quality course design and support for faculty professional development as institutional priorities.
The answer was yes. Yes to course reviews. Yes to continuous improvement. Yes to consistency in course design. Yes to robust support for distance learning instructors. With Katalin’s prior experience with QM as Instructional Design Manager at William & Mary, she knew QM membership would be beneficial to HPU.
The investment comes at a time when HPU is ramping up its online and hybrid offerings with a new Online Master of Science in Nursing and Doctorate in Nursing Practice Programs launched this year, a Doctorate in Physical Therapy program launching in July, and Occupational Therapy and Physician Assistant programs coming soon. All these new programs use Quality Matters standards as a benchmark for quality course design.
Supporting Individual Growth
For their existing cadre of 24 programs, HPU sees an opportunity to better understand the kinds of support its instructors need as they move forward with continuous improvement and reviewing courses with QM Standards. They’re beginning with the College of Professional Studies (CPS) courses where most of the online offerings reside.
And, with a diverse array of instructors — ranging from those who have been teaching online since the 1990s to those that are novice instructors — Katalin recognized that “it is important to support folks where they are.” As she explained, “we chose 50 instructors in CPS to go through the QM-managed review process. So through the process of review and revision, we could support their individual growth.” The effort has culminated in four courses meeting QM Standards to achieve certification and around 30 more going through the review process. Katalin and her “small, but mighty team” hope that the QM-certified courses can serve as models for effective course design throughout the institution.
Building Institutional Capacity
Katalin, along with the part-time instructional designer who assists her and the instructors who learn from the course review process, are building a culture of quality at HPU.
“We are leveraging this review process to grow our instructional capacity,” she shared. “Those who have gone through this rigorous process can teach what they have learned forward to their colleagues. Some of the most meaningful professional development can come from our colleagues who have been in the ‘trenches’, so to speak. As Quality Matters reviewers provide such rich, descriptive feedback and suggestions for growth, this is a great model for our instructors and our institution moving forward.”
Katalin and HPU realize this journey is a marathon, not a sprint.
“For some instructors, [their courses] will earn the QM certification without additional support. That’s wonderful,” she noted. “For others, they may need to make a few adjustments that come from the suggestions of reviewers as well as use resources we can provide here at HPU. That’s also wonderful. For others, it may take considerably more learning and individual support to work through all the feedback and to implement the best practices moving forward. That is ALSO wonderful.”
Understanding the iterative process of course design and teaching underscores the growth mindset that is vital to HPU’s efforts with quality assurance.
The logistics needed to support this effort are not lost on Katalin. “Coordinating 50 courses through this review process is a heavy lift including the many folks from IT who provide the institutional logins and course access to the reviewers, program leaders who are rallying instructors and providing resources as we go, the assistant dean who has been leading the effort in CPS, and our instructors who have so much already on their plates.”
In the end, HPU knows the effort is worth it. Katalin highlighted that “the ability to gather data regarding course design strengths and opportunities for growth while also providing highly descriptive feedback to individual instructors so they can revise courses as appropriate” is a unique need that QM helps them meet.
The process of improvement and the achievement of QM certification for course design have specific meanings for HPU — that their instructors “have been through a process that requires them to reflect upon and engage with best course design practices.”
And for students, Katalin noted, “The certification mark can communicate to our prospective, admitted and enrolled students that we care about quality course design and that we are striving towards the best online experiences for them as learners.”