While many institutions have already faced (and hopefully have won) the fight for more online courses and programs, the quality of those courses and programs must be at the forefront of the administrators’ minds, and there has been an increasing trend toward policy and process development specifically related to quality assurance.
What happens at an institution when the faculty have had complete freedom in online course design and teaching methods and are suddenly faced with new policies, overseers, and “helpful” staff who are dedicated to increasing course and instructor quality? In short, it’s mostly a mess. But, with some planning, patience, and a lot of communication, it doesn’t have to be.
In this post, I’ll share how we tried to make the process as painless as possible for the faculty at Rush University in Chicago. As an online leader, I first met with administrators and offered guidance in terms of developing and implementing some standards and quality assurance – and to ensure that faculty were involved from the start.
With administrative support, a committee was developed made up of myself, faculty from all four colleges at the institution, instructional designers, library staff, and a few higher-level administrators. This committee initially developed recommendations that included mandatory online training, standards for online course design, and standards for online teaching. Those recommendations were presented to multiple committees and eventually the governing body (University Council). Once the recommendations were approved, a sub-committee was created to develop the standards. This smaller committee, made up of myself, instructional design staff, library staff, and faculty members from all four colleges wrote two sets of standards – for online course design and online teaching – which were also presented to multiple committees and were approved by the University Council.
Following approval, I led implementation efforts while simultaneously developing a new teaching center. These two tasks resulting in the creation of an advisory group, the Educational Innovation Team, made up of faculty members, instructional designers, and library staff. This group developed implementation processes, and we purposefully included faculty members who had experience in online teaching who were influential in their colleges. When it became time to announce that all online courses would need to go through an “online standards process,” it was not a surprise to most faculty members as the policy and process were developed by their peers.
The course design review process is as follows:
- Faculty members fill out a self-evaluation, which is an electronic version of the online course design standards.
- The self-evaluation is sent to my email address and I assign the course to an instructional designer.
- The instructional designer reaches out, introduces him/herself to the faculty member, and sets a goal to complete a course evaluation.
- Once the ID performs the evaluation, they meet with the faculty member to talk about the course and what may need to be modified to meet standards.
- We keep a very detailed spreadsheet of all of these courses, where they are in the process, and pertinent notes (such as an uncooperative faculty member or a course that is absolutely amazing).
As of this time, we have not yet created the process for implementing the online teaching standards because of the time and resources required to get hundreds of online classes through the design standards (currently in implementation) with a team of 4 instructional designers.
Overall, the course design review process has gone quite well. In 18 months about 90 online courses have gone through the process or are currently in-process. We have the same challenges that every ID team does – some faculty do not want to be part of the process (even if it’s mandated), and communication can be difficult, for example. However, for the most part, faculty members and IDs work together to follow the process successfully. A lot of this collaborative success has to do with the way the instructional design team approaches this initiative; making sure that faculty members feel supported, valued, and in control of the outcome as much as possible.
The culture at Rush is definitely shifting; it is not easy, to be sure, but change takes a great deal of time. We’ve found progress and success in this model, and in the end, our key pointers would be that patience is extremely valuable, as is constant relationship-building, active participation, and intentional inclusion of faculty members in such processes whenever possible.
Angela Velez-Solic is the Director for the Center for Teaching Excellence & Innovation at Rush University in Chicago. She has been an educator in higher education for 22 years and has spent the last 12 years supporting, training, and developing faculty. She has significant experience in online training and online leadership.