“The certification effort also provides faculty with the opportunity to get assistance in refreshing their courses.”Kevin Hulen, Assistant Director of Quality and Assessment
“In the mentoring model, faculty work with designers to redesign two to three courses. With each course, faculty take on more of the responsibility, growing their design and development skills.”Lynn Frank, Instructional Designer
If you need to make dozens of cookies for a bake sale, you might sacrifice a little quality to get the quantity you need. On the other hand, if you are crafting handmade pottery to sell in an upscale boutique, you’re more likely to go with quality over quantity. But does it always have to be one or the other? Or can you have both?
The University of North Florida (UNF) and Athens State University are just two of several institutions who believe that quality and quantity can co-exist — and they are bringing their beliefs to fruition as they go all in on course design reviews.
In the past year, 26 of UNF’s courses achieved QM Certification. As Kevin Hulen, Assistant Director, Quality and Assessment for UNF Online, explained, the certifications are part of a “strategic effort by UNF’s Brooks College of Health to meet accreditation standards that align with teaching and learning for online programs.” The certifications are also part of the University’s efforts to increase the overall quality of online programs through the use of QM reviews. As part of the process, UNF puts courses through its internal course review process using QM’s My Custom Reviews (MyCR) tool before sending them on to be officially reviewed for QM certification. The internal review process is instrumental for improving the course for successful delivery and preparing for QM official review. The reviews complement one of the goals outlined in Florida’s 2025 Strategic Plan — to increase the number of online courses in the State University System that have a quality designation. “The certification effort also provides faculty with the opportunity to get assistance in refreshing their courses,” added Kevin — resulting in the University meeting a quartet of objectives.
Athens State is also at the intersection of quality and quantity — a journey that started three years ago and one that has changed the culture at the University. “Three years ago, seeing the merits of quality enhancement through Quality Matters, we selected particular faculty members from each of our colleges on campus to pilot a course design process specifically using the QM Rubric,” shared Mark Gale, Director, Academic Technology Services. Impressed with the benefits of redesigning their courses, the selected faculty quickly spread the word to their colleagues and aided in changing the University’s culture. “As word spread, our college deans and provost explored the benefits of QM and worked with us to develop a formal system of developing courses based on the QM Rubric and having them officially reviewed,” elaborated Instructional Designer Lynn Frank. “The program was developed around a voluntary submission process with travel funds and small stipends attached to a successful certification for a course. Although the process was open to all, only so many courses could be reviewed in a specified time due to the number of instructional designers on staff. This created a sense of competitiveness among those that were interested.” In fact, the University had over 30 redesign requests in the first month, and, so far, has 32 QM-Certified courses with many more in the pipeline.
Having a substantial number of courses certified in a relatively short time frame requires a plan. “I had a list of courses, a proposed timeline, pre-written emails, and a tracking sheet,” Kevin reported. “But most importantly, I had lots of experience working with these faculty. Having been very involved with the initial transition of these programs to online, I was able to leverage existing relationships as well as implementation and communication strategies to get organized quickly.” Mark also emphasized the important part that relationships play in implementing wide-scale course reviews. “Before we even focused on a QM initiative, a relationship of trust had to be built with the faculty in order for them to feel comfortable with the review process. This was probably the most important aspect of our success.”
Another key component of planning that both institutions shared is preparing the courses for review. Kevin led the process for UNF. “I copied the course in a new development shell, applied some strategic upgrades (e.g., accessibility and UDL) and conducted a preliminary review,” Kevin said of his process. “Then, I worked with the individual faculty members on any necessary changes. This step followed the typical iterative instructional design process until the course was deemed ready by me to be submitted for QM Certification.”
Athens State has two paths to QM Certification. The first path allows the instructor to design and develop the course on his or her own. The course is then reviewed by two staff members who have completed the Higher Ed Peer Reviewer Course. If changes are recommended, they are made and then the course is submitted for an official QM-Managed Review. If certified, the instructor receives a stipend. “The second option is where the faculty member works one-on-one with one of our instructional designers who are certified as QM Peer Reviewers,” explained Lynn. “The faculty member and designer specifically design the course to meet QM Standards. Then, after being offered for one semester, the course is submitted for review. In this scenario, the faculty member does not receive a stipend since a large part of the workload of developing the course is put on the designer.” Regardless of which path is taken, all faculty and instructional designers follow a template — based on QM Standards — which allows everyone to work on the same page, communicate more effectively and better prepare courses for review.
Both UNF and Athens State have extensive quality assurance processes in place — processes that include QM course reviews — because both universities recognize the benefits certified courses provide to students and faculty. “Comments we have received back from students suggest that even though the courses appear to be more rigorous, the students enjoy the increased interactivity, structure, clear sense of purpose, and consistency of the courses,” shared Mark. For UNF faculty, Kevin explained how the review process enhances faculty knowledge of “best practices related to online course design and development.”
Given the benefits, both institutions plan to continue their certification efforts. Athens State has developed a mentoring model to help. “In the mentoring model, faculty work with designers to redesign two to three courses. With each course, faculty take on more of the responsibility, growing their design and development skills. Then, they take those skills back to their departments and work with their colleagues on adjusting their courses to meet QM Standards with the designers serving an advisory role.” Lynn further explained how this model frees up instructional designer time to focus on trends and changes in online learning, creating a proactive environment that allows them to more easily react to Rubric changes. “For example, in the Quality Matters Higher Education Rubric, Sixth Edition, a stronger emphasis was placed on ADA requirements in Standard 8,” said Lynn. “Looking at the trends prior to the release of the Rubric, we had a reasonable guess that would come into play and were already able to start making adjustments to our templates and models in anticipation of that change.”
As for UNF, they are considering taking their efforts to the next level with Program Certification. Joked Kevin, “Once these courses have all successfully completed the QM Certification process, I’m going on a long vacation.” After, though, Kevin plans to dive back in. “Then, I’ll come back and start working with at least one of the online programs to determine the feasibility of a QM Program Certification. Beyond these programs, there are other degree programs at UNF that have recently transitioned to fully online and might be good candidates to follow a similar path.”
As Athens State’s and UNF’s efforts demonstrate, quality and quantity are not mutually exclusive. They can — and should — go together to create a culture of continuous improvement and ensure quality for learners. Find out how you can get started with course design reviews or program reviews.