January 31, 2020

Quality Matters: WCU Achieves Certification in Online Teaching Support

West Chester Top Online EducationWest Chester University has become one of only five institutions nationwide to obtain Quality Matters (QM) Program Certification for “Online Teaching Support.” Rui Li, executive director of WCU’s Office of Distance Education, says, “QM designates quality. It provides nationally recognized benchmarks for online course and program design standards.”

This institution-level QM Online Teaching Support certification requires all online faculty to undergo training in best practices for online course delivery; provide faculty with ongoing pedagogical support; encourage faculty professional development to increase their knowledge and skill in online teaching; emphasize instructor availability and feedback to learners; and collect and use feedback from learners to improve online teaching. Certification is based on these five criteria and three years of data.

Additionally, 19 WCU courses have obtained QM course certification. This certification requires the course itself to meet eight general standards and 42 specific review standards. “The QM course certification informs our students that the course has clear expectations, meaningful content, and engaging activities,” says Li.

Of WCU’s 19 total QM-certified courses, 14 are graduate level.

Li points out that some content areas are more suitable than others for online delivery and “successful online/blended teaching requires a significant course transformation.” Facilitating that transformation is Li’s Instructional Technology team: four instructional designers, a learning technology specialist, and two online support specialists.

Li says her team is expert in digital education as well as distance education as they assist faculty in creating rich, interactive, and supportive online classrooms and communities. “We support faculty and students in face-to-face, blended, and fully online classes through various pedagogical approaches to technology, effective learning activities, and assessment. We also help faculty create online course materials and provide training on appropriate e-learning technology tools.”

The instructional designers support faculty in every step of the course design process beginning with an online faculty development program (OFD) that introduces best practices for online and blended teaching. To date, more than 500 faculty have participated in OFD.

Faculty and the instructional design team form a partnership to start the course design process including course content creation, audio/video lecture creation and transcription, course testing and maintenance, assessment, and continuous improvement. Additionally, Li’s office provides a plethora of tutorials and support materials, lends certain equipment, and offers after-hours technical support.

In the report that granted WCU’s certification, QM peer reviewers lauded this support, noting that faculty professional development “choices were very diverse and interesting to those who seek to take additional professional development activities.”

Kristen Crossney, director of the 100% online Doctor of Public Administration (DPA) program and one of the faculty to offer certified distance ed courses notes, “Quality Matters helped me to think about my class from a student perspective, and to critically reflect on how my course design affects student learning and experiences. After successfully receiving the QM course certification, I am confident that my class is designed in a student focused manner, and is exceptionally organized, logical, and clear. I enjoyed thinking about the way that I interact and communicate with my students, and I believe the QM process has helped me to strengthen and deepen those connections.”

This spring, there are 130 classes offered 100% online, more than 60 classes offered in blended mode (between 30 and 79% online), and four that offer 80% or more online instruction. Most are upper-level, but there are also introductory/first-year-level courses in many subjects such as art history, communication studies/disorders, meteorology, music history, political science, statistics, and writing, among others.

The next goal, Li says, is QM certification in Online Learner Support, which recognizes programs that provide the critical student and academic services needed for learner success and use learner feedback to continuously improve those services.

An accomplished scholar in the field of distance education and instructional technology, Li co-authored Ensuring Quality and Integrity in Online Learning Programs (published spring 2019) with Esther Smidt, associate professor and program director of Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) in WCU’s Department of Languages and Cultures.

Learn more about WCU's Distance Ed programs


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