UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State World Campus is expanding its efforts to design its courses according to best practices in online higher education, its latest commitment to improving the learning experience for its students.

This year, World Campus will offer training for faculty members and instructional designers on the standards set by Quality Matters, a nationally recognized and peer-reviewed process used to ensure the quality of online and blended-learning course design. The training will enable them to participate in reviews of online courses offered through World Campus.

World Campus will seek online instructors who want to have their courses evaluated according to the Quality Matters standards. Faculty and instructional designers who have completed a previous Quality Matters training can volunteer to serve on the review teams.

The Quality Matters rubric is composed of eight parts of course development and design, from learning objectives to technology and accessibility and usability. These efforts expand on the pilot World Campus began three years ago.

A list of upcoming training sessions and other opportunities to get involved is available on the new Quality Matters at Penn State website.

“Quality is part of our institutional identity,” said Chris Millet, the director of Penn State World Campus Learning Design, the unit that oversees Quality Matters at the University. “Quality Matters is one way to ensure that every learning experience a student engages in at Penn State meets our very high standards.”

At Penn State, online instructors in subjects such as nursing, mathematics, and engineering have already participated in a Quality Matters review.

Kelly Wolgast, the assistant dean for online education and outreach at the College of Nursing, said her college is fully adopting this approach. So far, the college redesigned two courses: the undergraduate writing-intensive Nursing 200W, principles of nursing research and evidence-based practice, and Nursing 833, the second of two leadership courses in the Doctor of Nursing Practice degree program.

“Quality Matters is an innovation which we are ready to receive here at the College of Nursing,” Wolgast said. “The college is taking steps toward full adoption of Quality Matters by ensuring that we have the training and faculty engagement. We want to be innovative. We want to be leading the way in nursing education.”

Wolgast said her college’s focus is on aligning course learning objectives to the course content and students’ work. In other words, if there is a quiz or an assignment, it will be clear how it ties in with the learning objectives of the course.

“The student experience is so important that we continue to build courses with the student in mind,” Wolgast said. “We want it to be so engaging that they’re never going to forget that experience.”

The mathematics department in Penn State’s Eberly College of Science is also looking at its offerings.

The online version of Math 34, a popular general education course about the math of money, has gone through an internal Quality Matters review. The instructor of Math 140, calculus for engineers, is completing the Quality Matters training to be able to review courses, as well.

Stan Smith, the online programs director for the Eberly College’s mathematics department, said the adoption of Quality Matters standards is a multi-step process in which the instructors are trained to evaluate their courses from the learner perspective and to make improvements. Then, they go through the review themselves.

“The icing on the cake is getting that Quality Matters stamp,” Smith said. “I see Quality Matters as not only helping the learner but putting us in a position to show what we’re doing is good.”

Carol Gaertner, an instructor for the online version of Math 34, completed the Quality Matters reviewer training to better evaluate her own course. She said it helped her see an educator’s perspective behind better aligning the lessons and course homework, exams, and other assessments with the learning objectives.

“Now I have all my objectives mapped out in my course online,” she said. “The students like seeing, ‘This is what I’m learning this week, and this is how the assignments and videos link to the course objectives.’”

Gaertner said she made a major change in the way she uses videos and hand-writes all the solutions to the math exercises.

“My goal is that when the students watch them, they’re writing with me,” she said. “When students take notes by hand and actually do the math problems themselves, they comprehend and remember the material better.”

Since the pilot started, almost 30 courses have been reviewed and more than 70 Penn State faculty and instructional designers have participated in the Quality Matters review process.

Visit the Quality Matters at Penn State website for more information about having a course reviewed and how to be involved as a reviewer.

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