Brief Introduction to the Quality Matters(TM) Program

 The Quality Matters(TM) Program began as a FIPSE funded project awarded to MarylandOnline, a consortium of 19 Maryland community colleges and four year institutions that collaborate in delivering online education.  The goal was to develop a research-based set of standards (or rubric) for the design of online courses and a peer review, continuous improvement process for evaluating whether courses meet these standards. 

 Over the three-year span of the grant, these goals were achieved and exceeded.  A forty standard rubric was developed, including fourteen essential standards.  These standards cover eight areas:

  1. Course Overview and Introduction
  2. Learning Objectives (Competencies)
  3. Assessment and Measurement
  4. Resources and Materials
  5. Learner Interaction
  6. Course Technology
  7. Learner Support
  8. Accessibility

The standards stress consistency and alignment of the major components of the course, i.e., that the materials, assignments, interactions, assessments, and technology all are clearly linked to the stated learning objectives.  Recently, a second version of the rubric has been developed that addresses the issues of the hybrid course.

 A peer review system has been perfected in which courses are evaluated by teams of three faculty members, at least one of whom is from a different institution.  The review team communicates directly with the course developer(s) and the goal is not to pass or fail individual courses, but to assist instructors to improve their courses to meet these widely accepted standards of good practice. 

 Peer reviewers go through a  training process that not only qualifies them to participate in these course reviews, but increases their appreciation of elements of course design that enhance their own online course design, and delivery skills.  More that 700 faculty, representing 28 states and over 150 institutions, have received Quality Matters peer reviewer training, and hundreds more have been exposed to the QM principles through other workshops.  

 The project received several national awards in 2005, the WCET Outstanding Work (WOW) Award, and the USDLA 21st Century Best Practices Award, and successfully collaborated with the Information Technology Council and the Sloan - Consortium.
With the expiration of the grant in August 2006, MarylandOnline has made a commitment to sustain the Quality Matters movement through a not-for-profit initiative based on institutional subscriptions and fee-for-service training and course review.  The goal is to establish the use of the Quality Matters Rubric as a widely recognized method of assuring the quality of online (and hybrid) courses and an integral part of an overall quality assurance process for online education.  

 Among the early positive responses to this new venture come from statewide and regional consortia (Dallas TeleCollege, Kentucky Virtual University, North Dakota University System Online, Oregon Distance Learning Consortium, South Dakota Board of Regents, Tennessee Board of Regents, University System of Maryland and Wyoming Distance Learning Consortium) and a wide variety of individual institutions, e.g., Penn State World Campus, Texas Tech, and the University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill, the University of Wisconsin - Whitewater, Metropolitan CC - Kansas City, Pierce College, Friends University, Park University and Baker College Online.