Teaching Online: QM and Notre Dame of Maryland University

 

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Notre Dame of Maryland University (NMDU) is working to standardize its quality assurance efforts with a broad-based faculty development initiative. QM spoke with Assistant Professor of Business Elizabeth H. Jones, PhD, on NDMU’s experience with scaling up faculty-wide participation and designing their online courses.

QM: How long has NDMU been engaged with Quality Matters?

EJ: NDMU is at the beginning of its involvement with Quality Matters. We joined QM as a basic member in June 2012 and upgraded to full membership in January 2013.

QM: How did you learn about QM?

EJ: I first learned about QM soon after it began, during my doctoral program at Capella University, an active proponent of the QM Rubric and review process. I became the principal investigator for four grants underwritten by the Lumina Foundation through large block grants to the University System of Maryland (USMD) and the Maryland Higher Education Council in fall 2011. The NDMU grants are for development of online alternatives for general education courses in economics, history, philosophy, and religious studies. Scheduling these courses can be particularly challenging for our adult students who transfer from other schools and who are completing their undergraduate degrees in nursing, education, or business in cohort programs. During the grant application process, I became reacquainted with QM in the research I conducted to generate our grant documentation. All USMD schools are active QM participants and part of the grant requirement is to follow recognized quality processes. With my alma mater and peer institutions belonging, the choice was easy.

QM: Why did you begin with the Teaching Online workshop?

EJ: Faculty development is a critical component for any robust online program. It is especially important in our grants. Like other schools, NDMU uses a combination of adjunct and full-time faculty. Very few of our faculty have ever taught online, or have even taken online courses. To be successful with our course redesign initiative, we must ensure that each faculty member has the tools and experiences to successfully teach online.

QM: How did this workshop meet your particular goals?

EJ: I want each of our online teachers to develop a gut feel for what it’s like to be an online learner at the same time they’re learning the pedagogical nuances of online teaching. Our faculty lead full lives, so I need to honor their schedules. I looked at a number of alternatives for faculty preparation. I was particularly impressed with MarylandOnline’s eight-week Adjunct Faculty Training Course. Several colleagues from other schools had taken it, so I was already aware of its strengths. The time commitment and limited, quarterly availability were constraints that made it less than ideal for the needs of our grant-related faculty, however. Shortly after QM announced its new two-week Teaching Online workshop, I spoke with Brenda Boyd, QM’s Director of Professional Development & Consulting, about it. She explained the differences between the two courses, and as a result of our conversation, I concluded that the two-week version retained the best of the original course. Also, it is scheduled frequently enough to meet NDMU’s just-in-time training needs.

QM: With tight budgets across higher education, how were you able to fund the faculty development initiative?

EJ: The grants I administer have money set aside for faculty development, but I still have to be careful with how the money gets spent. The QM course is $200 for members, which is one-third less than the MarylandOnline course; so it lets me stretch my grant funds further—I can train three teachers for the price of two. I’ve reinvested the savings into additional faculty development opportunities.

QM: How did you encourage participation? Did you see faculty embrace the initiative first, or did management mandate involvement?

EJ: Completing the QM course is one of a three-part requirement to teach the grant-designed courses. We offer a small stipend for successfully completing all three parts. While I’ve had to twist a few arms to “encourage” participation in our in-house training on the learning management system and course-specific mentoring, I’ve had nearly universal acceptance of the QM course. We are currently discussing criteria for teaching online at a university level, and will be using the grant-related experiences in our decision process.

QM: How many of your faculty have taken the Teaching Online workshop? What kind of feedback have you received?

EJ: So far we’ve had 19 teachers complete the workshop. QM training provides a recognizable certificate upon completion, so it’s a great way for adjuncts and full-time faculty to enhance their CVs. Many faculty members really are curious about online teaching and this QM course helps people gain confidence to stretch into the digital world. It offers a good balance between time invested and results. The positive buzz from it, in fact, has resulted in faculty members not related to the grant using their own development funds to take this and other QM courses.

QM: Where are you with the faculty development initiative?

EJ: As you’ve noticed in our conversation, QM faculty development is tightly coupled with our grants, but university-wide efforts are also underway. One important grant stipulation is that we demonstrate the ability to sustain the progress we’ve made. QM is now an integral part of NDMU’s commitment to sustaining that momentum. The Applying the Quality Matters Rubric (APPQMR) workshop provides foundational knowledge for those administering or overseeing online courses. I recently became certified as a face-to-face facilitator for the APPQMR workshop. This is another way to both maximize the value of our training money and reach the wider university, as we are able to accommodate everyone connected with the grant plus others from across the university for much less than it would cost to either have each person take the course individually, or bring in a QM trainer.

QM: What effects do you hope to see from QM’s implementation long-term?

EJ: I’d like the university to embrace QM standards more broadly, and begin in-house peer reviews of our online courses. I’m certified as a QM Peer Reviewer and will be doing informal reviews for the grant-developed courses and for courses designed by others at NDMU who desire review. I hope the next step to be a broader, more formalized process for online course reviews.

QM: Have faculty expressed concerns with the initiative? How many have experience with online instruction? Can you describe the participant pool composition?

EJ: As you might expect, attitudes toward online and hybrid learning run the full spectrum here at NDMU. At one end, you have people, like me, who embrace it; and at the other end, you have others who are openly hostile toward it. Most are somewhere in the middle, having both curiosity and healthy skepticism. Starting the QM initiative within the scope of the grants has been very helpful, because no one outside of the grants must do anything with QM at this point.

For the most part, we’ve been working from the inside out. I’m in the School of Arts and Sciences (SOAS), and the grant involves four departments in SOAS creating general education courses that serve students in the School of Education and the School of Nursing as well our own school. Additionally, both Education and Nursing are beginning to offer online courses, and their deans, like ours, are strong proponents of the QM quality process.

QM: Some of your faculty have taken QM’s “Improving Your Online Course” workshop. Can you describe their responses?

EJ: Faculty in our grant-funded courses took this workshop as part of their quality improvement process. The courses were designed using a reverse-design process while keeping the QM Rubric in mind. Each participant found a different “ah-ha” insight that reflected a unique combination of subject matter and individual personality. The discipline of revising a single course module while working collaboratively with others was helpful to all.

QM: Talk about the most successful part of the quality assurance efforts.

EJ: It’s easy to talk about continuous improvement, but it’s a lot of work to do it. However, NDMU faculty are dedicated to student learning and willing to invest their time in efforts that will pay off. There is growing emphasis on learning objectives and assessments throughout higher education. If learning objectives aren’t clear, appropriate, measurable, and measured, how can we be sure what any student has learned? This has nothing to do with learning platform, and everything to do with student learning outcomes. Regional accrediting bodies have begun to scrutinize these elements and external accrediting bodies (such as those in nursing and education) have become more specific about what these mean in their disciplines. Since foundational elements in QM are Standards 2 (Learning Objectives) and 3 (Assessments and Measurement), employing the annotated rubric is equally applicable to online, hybrid, and face-to-face classes—and that’s why we are getting high faculty interest.

QM: Describe the role QM plays in your organization’s quality assurance and accreditation efforts.

EJ:  At NDMU, we are teachers first and foremost. We don’t want technology for the sake of technology. We see things like QM as a tool to facilitate learning. One strength of QM is that if a course doesn’t meet all five criteria for learning objectives, and the types of assessments do not specifically meet those objectives, the course cannot meet QM standards no matter how beautifully presented or technologically sophisticated the rest of it may be.

QM: Can you discuss faculty reactions to QM and/or its impact on online courses and student outcomes?

EJ: Newly trained adjuncts who are teaching the courses have been greatly impressed with the quality of the courses we’ve designed, and several have commented on how well they follow the QM standards they learned in the Teaching Online workshop. Faculty working within the grant-funded portion of the program also understand the benefits—and costs—of working in the QM process. Reactions of other faculty are quite interesting. Many are eager to improve their courses and willing to invest the time, although I’ve sensed consternation when some learn favorite old habits must be abandoned.

QM: What led to your interest in online learning?

EJ: You might say I’m the quintessential online faculty member because I was an adult online learner myself. While working in the Defense Department about 10 years ago, I had the opportunity to obtain my doctorate under the conditions that I could continue to manage my organization and travel on business two or three times a month. I looked at nearby brick and mortar schools, but most wanted full-time students; and those that were open to part-time students required students to be on campus at least one night per week. There weren’t a lot of good options at the time, so it took me nearly a year to find a quality online program.

QM: How do you personally view online learning and student outcomes?

EJ: Online is a wonderful way to learn and at Capella University I found my academic voice. I have very little patience for things like lecture in any form. Even with TED Talks, I read the transcripts rather than watch the videos, so you can imagine my impatience in the traditional classroom. For my own students, I prefer to offer online courses or flipped-classroom, blended courses with strong online components.

QM: How do you think your quality assurance efforts will impact teacher satisfaction?

EJ: I find the QM structure comforting—I know what is expected and I can tell when I have met expectations. Structure and consistency can enhance learning, and they can make a teacher’s life much easier. That being said, some teachers don’t want to have any constraints, and may actively oppose efforts such as these.

QM: Do you see a divide between traditional classroom interaction and the interaction occurring in online courses?

EJ: I see this as a false dichotomy. Interaction can be deep or trivial online or on-site.  On a recent blended-course evaluation, a student commented that she wished the in-class discussions were as rich as the ones we had online. Online discussions depend heavily on the ways in which the students are prompted—well-crafted questions are more likely to yield well-reasoned responses. Best of all, everyone gets an equal voice online. Face-to-face discussions can be dominated by extroverts in the room, who may sometimes be among the least prepared. It’s much more difficult to moderate the cacophony of simultaneous, in-class conversations.

QM: What recommendations might you offer institutions looking to improve their quality assurance efforts?

EJ: First, start small: Get at least one qualified and sincerely enthusiastic faculty member and a dedicated handful of people willing to consider working within the process. As with most large initiatives, start with a pilot. Second, be practical: not everyone will want to play and there will be bumps in the path. Remember, this is a process not a destination. Third, not everyone can—or should—teach online, so don’t force it.

QM: Elizabeth, describe what makes you passionate as an educator?

EJ: I really like working with students as individuals—helping them move from where they are to where they need to be. Because of the ways in which I engage students online, each chooses how much or how little interaction is desired, and what sort of teacher she or he needs me to be.

QM: What courses do you teach?

EJ: I teach in our Master of Arts in Leadership and Management program. My fully online courses include Managing in Complex Environments, Leadership’s Dark Side, and Non-positional Leadership. I teach Leadership and Organizational Development as a flipped-classroom, blended course. Women in Leadership, an intimate, multi-generational seminar, is the only face-to-face course I teach, but even it has a large online component.

QM: What’s next for Notre Dame of Maryland University?

EJ: We are launching a new, on-demand tutoring system through our online portal. This will give students access to writing tutors 24-hours per day and to subject matter tutors at scheduled times in the evenings. I predict it will be hugely popular with adult and traditional-age learners alike.

Elizabeth Jones received her both master's degree and her doctorate in Organization and Management from Capella University.  She retired from the Department of Defense in 2010 after 31 years of managing technical employees and taught for Loyola University Maryland before coming to Notre Dame of Maryland University. Her research interests include women's leadership, authenticity in leadership, leadership's dark side, and issues in teaching leadership. Dedicated to facilitating deep understanding of the leader within each person, she focuses directly on the interplay between leadership context and leadership expression. At NDMU she coordinates the Principled Leadership concentration for the Master of Arts in Leadership and Management and recently led course redesign for four online courses the Project Management concentration of the program. Dr. Jones manages online course redesign of general education courses in philosophy, history, religious studies, and economics underwritten by four grants from the Lumina Foundation as part of the University System of Maryland course redesign initiative. She is a 2012-2013 Faculty Fellow in the Complete College America grant through the University System of Maryland and the Maryland Higher Education Council and mentors three Maryland community colleges as they redesign developmental mathematics courses. Her emphasis on teaching excellence is demonstrated by her many conference presentations on pedagogy. Her most aggressive hybrid course redesign, “Doppelgänger Professor: High-touch Delivery to Low-density Populations,” was documented as a chapter in Quick Hits for Teaching with Technology: Successful Strategies by Award-winning Teachers, edited by R. K. Morgan & K. T. Olivares (2012).