Colorado Mesa University has always been focused on providing all of its students with a quality learning experience. As more learning opportunities are available, and more students choose to access all or part of their education through online formats, the university's focus on quality remains. The following is an outline of Colorado Mesa University's strategy to address quality in online learning environments.
In the 2009-10 academic year, Colorado Mesa University (CMU) submitted a request to the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) to extend its regional accreditation to the offering of online degree programs. In the fall semester of 2010, CMU received notice from the HLC of the approval of its change request. As part of the process, HLC site review team recommended that CMU create a set of standards for its online courses.
In response, CMU Academic Affairs convened the Distance Education Quality Working Group (DEQWG), composed of faculty and staff, to discuss the topic. In the Spring of 2011, the working group presented a series of factors related to "quality" in online learning, and related recommended practices. The quality factors included:
- Quality Course Design
- Faculty Readiness
- Student Readiness
- Student Services
Each of the quality factors, and their related practices have been acted upon. As quality is a continuously shifting target, the actual practices to address each of the factors are consistently under various stages of review and deployment.
Quality Course Design
"Quality Matters" in CMU online courses. The goal for this quality factor is for all CMU online courses to meet nationally recognized, research-based design standards in course design. The DEQWG recommended the university consider the Quality Matters program as the basis for implementing standards in online course design. After reviewing the QM program, CMU has selected to focus initially on the integration of the "essential standards" in course design as identified by the QM program. The additional, non-essential, standards identified by QM will serve as a roadmap for future design integrations, and faculty professional development. The implementation plan for the integration of the QM essential standards is as follows:
- Identify faculty from academic departments to serve as Peer Reviewers - Spring, 2011
- Faculty Peer Reviewers, Department Heads, and Distance Education staff participate in QM's Applying the QM Rubric training - August, 2011
- Provide online faculty professional development seminars/courses in the understanding and application of the QM essential standards. All online faculty will be required to complete the QM training - Fall, 2011
- Instructional design staff conduct an initial review of all Spring 2012 online courses prior to the beginning of Spring term - November, 2011 - January, 2012
- Peer Reviews - by the end of Fall 2012, each mature online course will receive two peer reviews by qualified faculty or staff. One of the reviewers will be within the academic department, one will be outside of the academic department. The focus of the peer reviews are the integration of the QM essential standards. November 2011 - December 2012
In addition, Colorado Mesa University invested in the deployment of a new learning management system. After a in-depth search process, CMU selected to license the Desire2Learn platform as its learning management system for distance learning. This new platform will provide faculty multiple options to enhance the learning experience in their online courses. CMU Online courses will be available in the new Desire2Learn platform in the Spring 2012 semester.
The goal of this quality factor is that all online faculty are well-prepared to teach an online course. To accomplish this goal, Distance Education is developing a curriculum to address faculty preparedness at all levels of experience. Faculty that have been teaching online courses for the university will receive professional development training in the use of the learning management system (Desire2Learn), and the integration of the Quality Matters standards. In addition, Distance Education provides regular professional development opportunities for online faculty through monthly, Online Faculty Users Group meetings, and conferences.
The goal of this quality factor is all online students have the information, skills, and technology necessary for success in an online course environment. To accomplish this goal, Distance Education requires all first-time online students to pass an orientation to online learning, before they are given access to their online course(s). This orientation addresses each of the elements identified in the goal statement.
The goal of this quality factor is to achieve a retention rate that is above the national average. To improve the retention rate of students in online classes, Distance Education has deployed an orientation to online learning course that all first-time online students must pass. Online faculty are encouraged to participate in the Early Alert system. Students in online courses have the opportunity to evaluate their experience at the end of the semester. This information is reviewed by Distance Education staff, and department heads.
Distance Education staff, and staff from Institutional Research, will attend a conference specific to the topic of retention in online education (September, 2011), with the intent of identifying of strengthening the university’s strategies in this area.
The goal of this quality factor is to provide online students with technical assistance, and support in accessing relevant student services. Providing quality student services is a process of continuous improvement. To address this goal, Distance Education staff meet regularly with the Information Technology HelpDesk staff to assess the technical assistance requests as a means to identify potential service issues. Distance Education staff also meets with other related student service areas such as Tutoring, to discuss the use and potential improvement of services.
The goal of this quality factor is to integrate the assessment of online courses into the institutional assessment plan. This has been accomplished through the Director of Distance Education, participation on the institutional Assessment Committee. Academic department heads now integrate the assessment of the teaching of online classes into a faculty members overall evaluation.