The Finishing Touch: A QA Worksheet for Error-Free Online Courses
Concurrent Session 7
The Pitt Online Quality Assurance (QA) Worksheet guides a concise analysis for HTML and CSS consistency, content accuracy, university style adherence, precise cross-references, and accessibility compliance. The worksheet is scalable for any university and designed for the peer review of courses between instructional designers and technologists.
The mission of Pitt Online is to offer graduate professional programs commensurate with those offered to face-to-face students on the Pittsburgh campus in terms of quality, faculty, and level of support services. The same faculty who teach with Pitt Online also teach the on-campus course and provide the same commitment to quality, rigor, and adherence to the highest professional standards. Pitt Online works with faculty to create fully online, asynchronous courses that reflect best practices of instructional design and accuracy. To that end, Pitt Online uses a quality assurance (QA) worksheet as a final analysis to conclude course development and ensure total quality before student enrollment.
Pitt Online uses Blackboard, with customized CSS and HTML templates. Each learning object in the sequence of a course—including the course’s syllabus and schedule, blocks of instructional text, lists of objectives, multimedia lectures, and assessments—follows university style and principles of ease of use.
During development, Pitt Online instructional designers and technologists use the Quality Matters Design Standards for Online and Blended Courses for clarity, organization, and accessibility of the course design. This Quality Matters self-assessment ensures that good design paradigms are met or exceeded. The QA Worksheet occurs after the Quality Matters review process, adding a layer of polishing to courses at the conclusion of development.
The Pitt Online QA Worksheet guides a concise method of analysis for HTML and CSS consistency, university style adherence, content accuracy, and accessibility compliance before enrollment. The worksheet is scalable to any university and designed for the peer review of courses between instructional designers and technologists. The purpose of the QA worksheet is to confirm an error-free course on a micro scale, where the course itself can be a consistent and professional face of the university.
Typically, one instructional designer or technologist will act as lead for new course development or revision and, after the authoring of the course in Blackboard, hand off to a peer within the department for review. For new or substantially revised courses, two peers may be tasked with a team review, as studies show pairs of proofreaders can detect more micro errors as a pair than individually (Nihei, 2002). Peer instructional designers and technologists use the QA worksheet as a scorecard for this sequential course review, sharing the results with the lead as a way to request changes, identify defects, or request for elaboration of design choices.
The QA worksheet is:
- Succinct. The one-page document briefly lists specific requirements to meet, in a checklist style with yes/no confirmation. Reviewers can quickly access and use the checklist to document their changes; lead instructional designers and technologists can quickly find and understand change requests and identified defects.
- Sequential. The worksheet supports an evaluation of the course as a student would complete it—top-down, beginning with preliminary objects like a syllabus and working through the progressive order of learning modules and assignments. This ordered process can uncover course defects or inaccuracies that may have been undetectable during development of content.
- Three-tiered. The review targets three classifications—Format Consistency and Style Guide, Content and Accuracy, and Accessibility—for quality assurance. This focuses the review to three specific tenets for quality and captures the expectations for content that affect both student and faculty views in the learning management system.
- Transparent. The review adds a layer of accountability before the course opens to students and faculty. The worksheet captures course defects and requests for changes to keep on file by the department or share with faculty members. The record can attribute changes that were not documented in earlier stages of course development.
- Standardized. All online courses produced by Pitt Online receive the same QA review with the same worksheet. This prevents counterproductive generalizations or judgments from reviewers (Smith & Sutton, 1994). Despite the unique content, method of instruction, and faculty member in each course, the classifications on the worksheet stay the same, upholding standards that define the style and level of quality of Pitt Online.
- Scalable. The worksheet can adjust based on the changing needs of the online classroom or any new methods of instruction. In addition, any university can adopt or revise its format to meet the needs of its online programs and alignment to a particular style guide.
The discovery session will:
- Define three tiers of quality assurance and examples of each tier.
- Show visual examples of violations that the QA worksheet process has uncovered, as well as their solutions.
- Provide participants with a physical copy of the worksheet that they can use to scale the process to their needs.
- Elicit feedback from participants regarding opportunities for revisions to the form.
- Start a dialog about best practices that other instructional designers and technologists are using with success at their universities.
After completing the discovery session, participants will:
- Illustrate the need for a final quality assurance review to ensure the delivery of polished, professional-looking courses.
- Select relevant criteria for their university’s courses to perform a quality check prior to student enrollment.
- Utilize the worksheet model as a tool for peer review among instructional designers’ and technologists’ online courses.
Universities with online programs have many processes to ensure course quality, but one of them should be a quality assurance process. The advantages are numerous. It confirms high-quality course design and delivery. Peer instructional designers and technologists have the opportunity to review each other’s work for mutual benefit; by identifying errors made by their peers, instructional designers and technologists can develop confidence as proofreaders, suggesting apt improvements and corrections (Abbott, 2016). Faculty are not wholly accountable for their own quality assurance checks and can spend more time on the development of meaningful instruction and interaction. Students can expect high value of all of their online courses.
Abbott, M. R. B. (2016). Learning from errors: The importance of proofreading. Journal of Nursing Education, 55(2), 119.
Nihei, Y., Terashima, M., Suzuki, I., & Morikawa, S. (2002). Why are four eyes better than two? Effects of collaboration on the detection of errors in proofreading. Japanese Psychological Research, 44(3), 173–179.
Smith, D, & Sutton, H. (1994). Powerful proofreading skills: Tips, techniques, and tactics. Menlo Park, CA: Crisp.