Certification Policy: One School's Transition to a Centralized Model for Online Education

Concurrent Session 8

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Like many universities whose online programs have evolved organically within individual schools, departments, and programs of the institution, the University of Missouri-Kansas City has faced challenges in centralizing its online education infrastructure. Hear how UMKC is working to change institutional culture through a policy requiring all online faculty and courses to be certified. This policy serves as the foundation for enacting university-wide faculty development, course management, and quality assurance processes of UMKC's online programs.


Melissa Messina is an instructional designer at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, where she serves as the UMKC Online accessibility lead. Melissa is also a national faculty member for Emporia State University’s School of Library and Information Management, where she has developed and taught online courses in web design, information organization, advanced metadata, and digital library design since 2011. Before joining UMKC Online, Melissa worked as a research associate for UMKC’s Institute for Human Development, where she managed digital initiatives for federally funded grants. Melissa holds a BA from Cornell College, an MLS from Emporia State, multimedia certification from Portland State University, and is Quality Matters and OLC certified.
Lara Mabry is an Instructional Designer at UMKC Online. Lara has a devoted interest in bringing education to an unlimited audience in accessible, innovative, and most importantly, meaningful ways. Prior to coming to UMKC, she taught face to face, online, and blended courses for five years in clinical laboratory sciences at Virginia Commonwealth University. She incorporated and assessed several eLearning tools including mobile devices, active learning platforms, and virtual collaboration techniques in the health sciences environment. Lara has disseminated her research in mobile learning at regional and national conferences and is currently pursuing a PhD in Health Related Sciences with a focus in education from Virginia Commonwealth University. Her dissertation research involves the development and assessment of a mobile app evaluating critical thinking skills in a health professional program. Lara holds a BS and MS in Clinical Laboratory Sciences from Virginia Commonwealth University in addition to certifications as a Medical Laboratory Scientist (MLS) and Specialist in Hematology (SH) from the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP). She is also certified by Quality Matters in online teaching and learning.

Extended Abstract

Like many universities, the University of Missouri in Kansas City (UMKC) has grown over the years through the merger of a number of independent colleges, including the Kansas City School of Law and Kansas City-Western Dental College. Although these schools were consolidated under one institutional title, each retained its own culture and faculty practices. This tradition of de-centralization continued as individual UMKC schools, departments and programs each began offering online course options developed by individual faculty.  The decentralized nature of resulted in a number of conflicting approaches to the development and delivery of online course with minimal standardization between academic units.

By the mid-2000s, online courses were growing in number at UMKC with no centralized oversight or support system.  Faculty charged with development of online courses were in need of training on pedagogy and technology.  Students taking online courses needed consistent learning experiences and equivalent support services such as tutoring and advising.  University administrators required to track and monitor online courses were in need of better mechanisms for institutional reporting. In an attempt to address these problems, a university policy requiring all online faculty and courses to be certified was passed in 2014. This policy was the first step in centralizing online education at UMKC and satisfying accreditation and SARA requirements.  

Through the policy, online courses are certified internally using a modified Quality Matters Higher Education rubric. Faculty are certified through completion of a training course offered in three flexible formats: face-to-face, online, and self-paced online. The policy specifies the goals of certifying 100% of online courses by fall 2018, and 90% of active online instructors by 2019.

Institutional documentation of course and faculty certification is maintained in an eLearning Tracker database, which is integrated with the Student Information System for transparency and display of online courses in the course catalog.  Blackboard Analytics for Learn has been customized to pull data from the eLearning Tracker to assess student engagement and performance in relation to certification and training initiatives.  Integrating this information in a learning analytics tool provides quality assurance that policy strategies are in fact improving online course design and delivery.  JIRA and Confluence are used to monitor and track online course development and an approval process has been implemented within CourseLeaf for moving courses online.

As part of a broader institutional goal to raise faculty awareness of accessible course design, UMKC Online has integrated accessibility training and criteria into both faculty and course certification.  Accessibility resources have been developed for faculty that provide a recommended time frame for compliance that aligns with the 2019 policy goals.

Future initiatives that build on this policy include a fellowship program to train faculty as peer mentors and course reviewers, a credentialing system for faculty achievements, and an online policy manual.

This presentation will tell the story of one school's endeavor to shift its online course development culture from a traditionally decentralized, distributed legacy environment to a more centralized collaborative team model. Participants will learn how this policy was the start of a massive undertaking to continuously improve quality online courses, incorporate collaboration with instructional designers, build the student support structure, and pave the way for increased faculty involvement in quality online course design to better serve the students and faculty of UMKC.  


At the end of this session, participants will be able to:

  •     Describe how the policy is the first stage in building a student support infrastructure.
  •     Explain how the policy is the foundation for SARA and accreditation compliance.
  •     Summarize how the policy and its initiatives ensure quality online courses.
  •     Discuss how accessibility initiatives were incorporated into the certification process.