Online teaching comes with its own set of challenges for faculty. Even instructors with years of experience teaching online sometimes struggle in specific areas of online instruction, like facilitating high quality online discussions, developing assignments, or assessing how well students met the course learning objectives. The University of Minnesota offers Quality Matters training in part to assist faculty in meeting these challenges.
Digital Campus spoke with Tani Bialek, an online instructor of 6 years, about the overall benefits she experienced from participating in the Quality Matters (QM) training and being a peer reviewer.
Why did you choose Quality Matters?
"I wanted to learn more about what to do and what not to do in an online teaching environment," Bialek responded. Though Bialek has been an online instructor for 6 years, she was still drawn to the Quality Matters training. "I knew there were gaps in my understanding of what a high quality online course was." Overall, Bialek felt the structure and content of the training were very well done. "The course was very application-based. I truly felt prepared to design and develop a high-quality online or hybrid course, in addition to being a peer reviewer for other courses."
Bialek highly recommends participating as a peer reviewer to anyone who is considering teaching online. "The Quality Matters training provides wonderful and practical course design examples that I have already incorporated into my online and hybrid courses," she said. As a result, being a peer reviewer has provided her with valuable insights for improvements in instructional design--insights she would not have gained if not for her involvement as a peer reviewer.
Insights gained from reviewing an online course
- Mapping learning objectives to specific assessments
A big takeaway for Bialek was the importance of aligning assignments, assessments, and course activities with the overall course-level learning objectives.
"A big takeaway for me was linking the course and module-level learning objectives to assessments, activities, and assignments... it sounds like a no-brainer, but I felt I often relied too heavily on traditional ways of assessing learning such as papers and exams. Prior to QM training I didn't necessarily consider whether writing a paper was the best way to assess learning for a particular objective," Bialek explained. Participating in Quality Matters, Bialek said, showed her the importance of thinking about how her class activities and assignments relate to the specific learning objectives.
Bialek had the opportunity to review another instructor's course and was impressed with the way the course effectively mapped the learning objectives to course assessments. "The course learning objectives linked to specific weeks, assignments, and activities throughout the course--everything was in alignment!" A map explaining linkages between learning objectives and assignments was also provided to students, which Bialek found very beneficial. "So not only do you have a roadmap for yourself but you are also providing a guide for students--and ultimately helping them be successful in the course," Bialek said.
- Netiquette & online discussion rubric
Another good idea that Bialek discovered from the review was to provide students with examples of what high quality online discussion postings look like.
From her experience teaching online courses, creating an environment that leads students to post high-quality, thoughtful posts in online discussions can be a struggle. The reason, she explained, is "discussion postings and collaborative work that happen online is often subjective... how can we provide examples of what high-quality work looks like instead of relying so heavily on quantitative data?" Instead of only grading students on the quantitative aspect of posts such as the number and length of discussion posts, having a comprehensive discussion rubric and provide examples of high-quality discussion postings would lead to better learning outcomes for students.
"I see discussion rubrics, and providing examples of high-quality discussion postings, as beneficial to instructors and students alike. Rubrics provide me with guidelines to make grading easier and more equitable. In using a grading rubric, and knowing I've provided examples of what I'm looking for in a discussion posting, I no longer read a post and sit there thinking hmmmm, this feels like a B. Rubrics and examples also provide students with information on how they can succeed in the course and create alignment with the performance/grading feedback process."
Having gone through the QM training and peer review, Bialek can attest to the benefits of the program. Bialek believes that attending the first portion of the QM training would be beneficial to any instructor who is considering teaching an online or hybrid course.
"For me, teaching online is often more time-consuming than a face-to-face course, however it also offers many benefits such as greater flexibility. The students I have taught, both undergraduate and graduate students alike, ask for more online and hybrid course options. The Quality Matters training provided me with information regarding how to design a solid, high-quality course in an academic setting. I also feel more confident in my ability to make good decisions regarding what technology(s) to incorporate into a course. As using technology in the higher education has become a permanent "trend", high-quality courses and instruction will keep our students coming back versus trying to win them back after a negative experience."
About the author
Tani Bialek has taught face-to-face, hybrid, and 100% online courses within the OLPD department for 6 years, and is currently pursuing a PhD in adult education She has more than 15 years of experience within workplace and academic education settings, and has held several roles including trainer, instructional designer, and training/learning manager. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org