By Cynthia Levernois, MBA
Adjunct Faculty, School of Health Sciences
On March 18, 2016, I attended and presented at the Quality Matters Regional Conference on Quality Assurance in Online Learning in New York City. The keynote speaker for the conference, Dr. MJ Bishop, Director of the William E. Kirwan Center for Academic Innovation for the University System of Maryland, opened the conference by challenging participants to rethink technology in terms of higher education. Dr. Bishop focused on the underlying issue of quality in education and focusing on outcomes. To do this she suggested we must understand the problems, know how to use the tools in terms of the possibilities available, and then remember that design matters in how we implement the tools. All of this needs to center on the premise of shifting our thinking from what is taught to what is learned.
Attending the QM Conferencere were, left to right: Susan Woerner, instructional designer, COELAS; Anna Zendell, senior faculty program director in the School of Health Sciences; and Cindy Levernois, instructional faculty, School of Health Sciences.
In the five other sessions I attended, there was a strong focus on how Quality Matters (QM) can be successfully integrated within a program. Presenters offered suggestions for working with faculty to design the courses to meet the QM standards. In some cases this was challenging, but with a process in place and a cooperative system between the designers and faculty, there was success. There was also discussion about the data being captured between those classes that were QM certified and those that were not. There was not necessarily a student perception of improvement; however, in some cases the withdrawal rates were actually lower and grades were higher.
At the conference, Anna Zendell, PhD, MSW, senior faculty program director in the School of Health Sciences, and I presented on Excelsior’s strategic use of discussions that leverage both learning materials and student experiences in a highly effective way to create a dynamic online community for learners. Our emphasis was on how we apply QM General Standard 5 in our discussion course development and teaching. Standard 5 requires that “course activities facilitate and support learner interaction and engagement.” Zendell focused on the design component of the discussions – how they are developed with an opinion or experience-based question first to get the students engaged in the topic and onto the discussion board early, and setting the expectations for students. I offered the faculty perspective on teaching to this standard. Though we as faculty are given a pre-developed course, we are responsible for creating our own “spin” and sharing our experiences and expertise while encouraging students to do the same. We, as faculty, are ultimately in the best position to foster the active learning of Excelsior’s students.
The conference was beneficial in offering me an overall perspective on the importance of the QM standards. Integrating the standards into the courses not only enhances the overall design of a course but also offers an improved learning experience for the students. This ultimately is the goal for all faculty and for Excelsior overall.