Innovation in Quality Assurance


 Jennifer Mathes, Ph.D; Online Learning Consortium

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Earlier this month, the Department of Education hosted a workshop on Innovation in Quality Assurance which focused on how institutions identify the appropriate metrics to evaluate quality in higher education. While not the primary focus, this meeting also provided some insights into the Department of Education’s pilot program Education Quality through Innovative Programs (EQUIP) announced in October 2015. Joined by thought leaders in the field of higher education, I was fortunate to participate in this meeting to discuss opportunities to incorporate innovation into the quality assurance process “in order  to equip more Americans with the skills, knowledge and training they need for the jobs of today and tomorrow” (DOE, 2015).    

The meeting was designed to encourage representatives from the field of higher education to think outside the box regarding how quality is defined educational programs. Representing the Online Learning Consortium (OLC), I contributed to the conversation in regards to OLC’s commitment to providing higher education institutions with the knowledge and support needed to develop and maintain quality in online, blended and digital initiatives through tools like the OLC Online Quality Scorecard and the OLC Quality Scorecard for Blended Learning Programs.

In reflecting on my participation in the meeting, the power of collaboration was reinforced for me. In this instance, higher education leaders from across the country joined forces to imagine how they could facilitate change that would benefit the assessment landscape and, most importantly, students. Tough questions were asked and thought-provoking discussion ensued throughout the day.  Concerns were expressed about how quality and student learning would be measured to avoid creating scenarios that have been exploited in the past.  In small working groups, discussion was focused on the measurement of student learning claims made by institutions, as well as how assessment fits into the picture.

By day’s end, there were still some questions about how the higher education community evaluates quality and measures student learning outcomes, but progress was made as the stage was set for further conversations and actionable items in the quality assurance field of higher education. On a personal note, I realized that OLC has been a thought leader in quality in higher education for quite some time and continues to do so through professional development opportunities like the Quality Scorecard Mastery Series and OLC Advisory Services  that conducts  third-party official reviews for institutions to best evaluate the quality of their online and/or blended programs.

The meeting left me energized about the future of higher education.  Yes, there is still work to do in terms of how student learning is measured consistently and effectively at higher education institutions, but it is encouraging to see the Department of Education offer the opportunity to experiment with new learning opportunities and engage in an open dialogue about innovation in the field.  As educators, we have the opportunity to shape the future of higher education assessment models by embracing the ambiguity that exists in current models and transforming these models into innovative, working models that can be embraced the higher education community.

Department of Education. (2015, October 15). Notice Inviting Postsecondary Educational Institutions To Participate in Experiments Under the Experimental Sites Initiative; Federal Student Financial Assistance Programs Under Title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965, as Amended. Federal Register: The Daily Journal of the United States Government. Department of Higher Education. Retrieved from

About the Author

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Jennifer Mathes, Ph.D. is the Director of Strategic Partnerships at the Online Learning Consortium. Dr. Mathes has nearly 20 years of experience in both public and private for-profit higher education where she has supported online learning initiatives since she taught her first online course in 1997. She has been instrumental in working with start-up online initiatives as well as leading growth in institutions with an existing online program. She holds a Doctor of Philosophy degree in Education from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where she wrote her dissertation on “Predictors for Student Success in Online Education.” She also has earned a Master of Science degree in Business Education and a Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications from Illinois State University.

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