From Institution to Individual — How Illinois Virtual School is Using QM to Make a Difference

Illinois Virtual School
“The QM way is just a part of doing business now and our students are clearly benefiting as our success rates continue to be high and our teachers spend less time housekeeping or troubleshooting their courses and more time teaching them.”Jennifer Kolar-Burden, Coordinator of Curriculum

Illinois Virtual School (IVS) is on a mission to provide its students with the best available online learning experience. In the process, it is also positively impacting itself and individuals at the school. 

IVS began its quality assurance journey before it even heard of Quality Matters and worked with a limited staff to create an equitable experience for all students. According to IVS Coordinator of Curriculum Jennifer Kolar-Burden, that included standardizing parts of its courses. Once QM came into focus, IVS was able to move their quality efforts to the next level. “IVS relies heavily on teacher expertise and QM provided opportunities for our staff and teachers to become QM alignment experts and really spearhead our efforts,” Jennifer shared. “The QM way is just a part of doing business now and our students are clearly benefiting as our success rates continue to be high and our teachers spend less time housekeeping or troubleshooting their courses and more time teaching them.”

Pam Shaw is one of those teachers embracing QM and uncovering many perks along the way. “When IVS began to focus on Quality Matters in 2014, they offered teachers the opportunity to take the Applying the Quality Matters K-12 Rubric (K-12 APP) workshop,” Pam explained. “Since we were starting to focus on making changes to all of our courses to align with the QM K-12 Rubric, I felt that would be valuable information to have.” But Pam didn’t stop there. Excited by what she learned in the K-12 APP, Pam took her skills to the next level with the  K-12 Reviewer Course. After participating in several reviews, Pam knew she wanted to do more and became a Master Reviewer

Pam’s role as a Master Reviewer — and the knowledge that comes with it — provides a significant advantage to IVS. “I help IVS administration with general course quality. In fact, I spent quite a bit of time going through course-level and unit-level objectives of most of our courses to ensure that they were measurable,” detailed Pam. Additionally, Pam examines courses for errors, conducts course accessibility audits and performs Internal Reviews to prepare courses for QM-Managed Reviews

There is also a personal benefit to Pam’s work with QM. “Taking QM professional development and applying that training to course reviews helped me grow professionally by increasing my knowledge of and confidence in my own online teaching,” said Pam. “One of the surprising things that I learned is that writing a helpful recommendation on a review improved my approach to giving students feedback. The ingredients (constructive, specific, measurable, sensitive, and balanced) are the same for encouraging student success.” 

Accessibility is also currently top of mind for Pam. While she does use a vendor course, Pam ensures that the content under her control is accessible for all students. For example, she provides a transcript for her welcome video. She also chooses colors and fonts for items, including her homepage, student emails and classroom posts, with accessibility in mind. But the personal benefit goes beyond her own classroom. “As a Master Reviewer, I feel like I am making an important contribution to ensuring that students everywhere have a positive experience in their online courses,” Pam noted. “It is gratifying to work with Course Representatives who are focused on the QM ideal of continuous improvement and truly appreciate the suggestions we make in our reviews. Being a Master Reviewer has also given me an opportunity to learn and practice my leadership skills.”

Pam encourages others to follow in her footsteps to experience the professional rewards and opportunities of serving in the reviewer role. “One thing an online teacher rarely gets to do is observe other teachers’ classrooms,” Pam said. “One of my favorite things about participating on a review team is getting to take a peek inside a wide variety of virtual classrooms. I now know that there are many ways to meet each QM Standard and plenty of room for personalization of courses under the QM K-12 Rubric.” 

Get ready to peek at other courses and reap all of the benefits of being a reviewer. Check out the steps to get started today!