Quality Matters Certification bolsters online learning at Iowa State

CATEGORIES: News, Notable, Students
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AMES, Iowa—As many colleges transition more courses to online instruction, a team of Iowa State educators and administrators is ensuring that its virtual courses are well designed, meet high-quality standards and fuel student engagement.

Their hard work has paid off.

English 302, an advanced business communication course, earned a prestigious Quality Matters (QM) Certification. This is the first course to be certified in the Department of English and the fourth course at Iowa State.

“This is kind of the ‘Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval’ for online courses,” said Mark Woolley, director of Engineering-LAS Online Learning (ELO). “It’s a serious and rigorous certification process and the courses go through an extensive, very detailed review.”

How QM Certification works
Using a faculty-centered, peer-reviewed audit, QM Certification evaluates online and hybrid courses with a research-based rubric. A review committee analyzes and scores eight standards: course overview and introduction; learning objectives; assessment and measurement; instructional materials; learner activities and interaction; learner support and accessibility; and technology.

QM Certification is earned after each assessed standard receives a minimum score of 85 out of 100. Iowa State’s English 302 course garnered a 97 cumulative score across all standards.

“This is a clear indicator to students, parents and any external parties that this course is consistent and meets high standards across more than 40 sections with nearly 1,000 students each semester, during fall 2020 and spring 2021,” Woolley said. “Instructors may have different quizzes, tests or assignments, but there is a consistency in quality, and a very well-developed course structure.”

Iowa State continues its partnership with Quality Matters, as it readies three additional advanced English courses to earn QM Certifications: English 309 (Report and Proposal Writing); English 314 (Technical Communication); and English 312 (Biological Communication).

In high demand
Demand is high for these advanced English courses, in part, because every Iowa State student working toward a bachelor’s degree must satisfy the Advanced Communications Proficiency. Earning a passing grade in one of these English courses fulfills this requirement.

These dynamics created the initial push to offer online courses at Iowa State.

“Four or five years ago, we had a huge backlog of students trying to get into these required courses,” said Jeanine Aune, teaching professor and director of advanced communications courses in the Department of English. “It was important that we helped students enroll in these classes, which are often the last chance for students to get high-quality feedback on their writing and speaking skills before they graduate.”

Demand for online instruction intensified last spring as a global pandemic ushered in a new age of online learning. During the 2019-20 academic year, 968 students enrolled in online English 302; a sharp increase from the 136 online learners during 2014-15.

Continued upward trends
Woolley believes that online instruction at Iowa State will increase, even after the pandemic subsides, due to its convenience and flexibility.

“Distance learners are those who are saying, ‘I’m not coming to class or campus, because I’m doing an internship in London, or maybe I live in Des Moines and I have family obligations, but I want to earn my degree,’” Woolley said. “On the other hand, a distance student could also live in the dorms. Online classes allow these individuals to customize how they earn their degrees.”

Woolley’s collaborators—including professionals from CELT (Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching), technical support and his team of experts who specialize in instructional development, graphic design and web development—are gearing up for more activity.

“We’ve really taken English 302 to the next level and the class is a great example of how online learning has evolved at Iowa State,” he said.