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What You Need To Know About Quality Matters

What is it?

"Quality Matters (QM) is a national benchmark for online course design."

Quality Matters is a not-for-profit subscription service that provides a rubric and a process that academic institutions use for quality assurance and continuous improvement of online courses. The QM review process is a collegial, faculty-driven, research-based peer review process based on a rubric consisting of 8 general standards and 42 specific standards nationally recognized as reflecting a shared understanding of quality in online and hybrid course design.

Who's doing it?

Higher education institutions throughout the United States and internationally have subscribed to the Quality Matters rubric and services to assure quality and continuous improvement in their online education offerings. There are over 30 institutions and over 400 subscribers participating in Florida.

How does it work?

An institution or a statewide consortium subscribes to QM for an annual fee depending on the institution's individual needs. This gives the subscribing institution's faculty and staff access to an automated, web-based QM rubric for reviewing online courses, the ability to conduct official course reviews and QM recognition (a seal) for those courses that meet standards, discounts on (or free seats in) QM training, and access to private web resources.

Why is it significant?

The Quality Matters approach to quality assurance in online courses is unique. It emphasizes a collegial, peer-based review process in which the faculty course designer is a part of the review team. A course is never described as having "failed" a review; it is always "in the process of meeting standards" and is described as such until it meets the QM rubric standards at a rate of 85% or better. The QM rubric and process is also unique in that it is diagnostic (not evaluative or judgmental) and focuses solely on online course design and not on course delivery. According to the most current research literature, the QM standards are centered on the best practices in instructional design and online learning.

What are the downsides?

The cost to the institution of the privilege of using a rubric that may seem to be based on common sense and "what everyone already knows about best practices in instructional design and online learning" may seem excessive to some. However, the use of the rubric is a demonstration to stakeholders of the investment in and concern for quality in online education. Another possible problem that may occur with a prescribed set of standards is a potential for a sense of infringement on academic freedom, particularly in course design creativity.

Where is it going?

The number of subscribers to Quality Matters continues to grow, and it appears that the QM seal will become more broadly recognized on online courses that have met this gold standard in distance education. Several new developments are emerging from the Quality Matters organization, which include the following:

  • A project to implement QM certification of textbook publisher materials for online education
  • A QM partnership with Sloan-C
  • A growing interest in viewing the Quality Matters standards from a student perspective and making the standards speak directly to students regarding what is of value to them in online education

What are the implications for teaching?

The principles and standards embodied in the Quality Matters rubric and process are based on research that indicates that certain elements of course design if implemented correctly, will have the following effect on teaching and learning:

  • Improvement in student learning outcomes and student retention in online courses
  • Integration of new technologies using sound online instructional design principles and research-based best practices
  • Efficiency in the use of instructional resources
  • Continuous improvement in online and hybrid courses and ongoing faculty development

How will UNF benefit from QM?

Quality Matters processes benefit both individual faculty members and their institutions in the following ways:

  • Improved student engagement and learning outcomes
  • Adoption of a systematic and comprehensive continuous quality assurance process that includes faculty training, course development, and course improvement processes that are aligned with accreditation standards
  • Incorporation of new technologies and research findings
  • Opportunity to engage in benchmarking activities with peer institutions
  • Ongoing faculty professional development
  • Opportunity for peer-to-peer collaboration and sharing across institutions
  • Online courses that meet a consistent and widely-respected quality threshold