“Quality Assurance Re-Imagined”: Leveraging a “Perfect Storm” of Factors to Redefine Online Course Quality Assurance

Concurrent Session 3

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Through a “perfect storm” of factors, we “re-imagined” our Quality Assurance process for online courses, developing different pathways to support faculty and departments better. We will share our experiences and showcase our Guidelines for Course Quality Assurance, created in-house to help all faculty teaching online courses at the university.


Monisha brings over twenty years of work experience in instructional design, training, and quality assurance, with application in both higher education and corporate settings. In her role, she provides design support to Mason faculty members who are teaching classes online. She also assists with curriculum planning, provides ongoing support to ensure learner-centric instruction, and engages in the online course review process, working with faculty members on continuous course improvement efforts. Monisha received her MEd in Instructional Design and Technology from Mason. Her specialties and professional interests include curriculum development, adult learning theory, online class development, online instruction, and quality assurance.

Additional Authors

Darlene is Assistant Director for Digital Learning, Stearns Center, George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia, USA. As Assistant Director, Darlene’s role focuses on quality in online courses and programs, including online faculty development, services, and support. As part of the Stearns Center Digital Learning Quality Assurance (QA) Team, she conducts online course audits and reviews at Mason to guide online course and teaching improvements. With her 20 years of experience in online teaching, Darlene offers an instructor’s perspective to faculty. She shares guidance, practical tips, and resources for teaching and facilitating online courses and actionable feedback for course improvement. Darlene received her PhD in Anthropology from UCLA. After years as a biomedical researcher, Darlene then assumed a career in higher education administration and teaching. Before Mason, she worked at the University of Maryland University College (now University of Maryland Global Campus) as the Academic Director of the social science online undergraduate program. She managed faculty and oversaw the design, redesign, and quality of courses social science undergraduate degree program. She also taught online, hybrid, and face-to-face courses as a collegiate professor and was recognized by the university for engaging and learner-centered teaching.

Extended Abstract

Course quality assurance (QA) has become an indispensable option since pivoting to online with the pandemic in Spring 2020.  The “pre-pandemic” era in online education found many institutions not realizing, or perhaps even entirely ignoring, the importance of checking and ensuring online course quality.  Due to the overall need and urgency in this space, Spring 2020 changed that perception forever!  Before Spring 2020, our Digital Learning (DL) Team experienced a limited number of instructors who pro-actively sought out and appreciated online course QA, readiness checks and reviews, conducted by our team.  We also found that most faculty often were defiant to formal quality assurance of their courses.  Even at online program levels, there was a lack of active pursuit to leverage QA services for the most part, which led to most online faculty being unaware of the services and resources for course quality assurance that our DL team offered.  Specific training to ensure quality online course design and online teaching was also limited. Online education was growing at our institution pre-pandemic, yet online was not a central focus for students, faculty, or administrators. 

It took that "perfect storm" of factors to allow re-vision, re-design, and re-focus of our process, while leveraging the timing of the pivot.  While it takes a whole village to initiate, implement, and be successful in a process, we acknowledge the multifaceted actions to shift and align faculty and program mindsets.  Ever since the “pandemic pivot” to online, stakeholders at our university (e.g., students, faculty, and higher administrators) all have expressed interest and concern about the “quality” of fully-online asynchronous courses.  Additionally, with greater competition for students in higher education, particularly in the online space, ensuring quality online courses has become a critical and pressing need.  Through a “perfect storm” of factors, online courses, programs, and resources are now in the spotlight at our university.  Our Digital Learning team revisited and re-imagined online course quality assurance, sharing the expertise and leadership across the university to provide consistency and clarity with a more formalized QA process through multiple pathways.

We will share our experiences in “re-imagining” our QA process for online course quality in this Education Session. We will talk briefly about our past practices and how we moved forward quickly to meet the critical needs of online course quality reviews requested by faculty and from departments and programs.  We then will describe our QA Process and the different pathways we adopted to support faculty and departments.  We also will showcase our Guidelines for Course Quality Assurance, created in-house to help all faculty teaching online courses at the university.  These guidelines provide key indicators and examples for quality in course design and/or re-design and online teaching.  While there are multiple QA instruments and checklists already out there  (e.g., Baldwin et al., 2018; Baldwin and Yu-Hui, 2019; Bigatel and Edel-Malizia, 2018; Karam et al., 2021), we have developed our own QA instrument (Online Quality Checklist) so that it represents the needs, language, and culture of our institution. Our quality indicators are research-based, guided, and inspired by open resources (e.g., Open SUNY and OLC OSCQR Course Design Review Scorecard; OLC Quality Course Teaching and Instructional Practice Scorecard).  We will also review how our QA Team communicates feedback for improving online courses and empowers faculty, departments, and programs to make decisions on the next steps for quality improvements, directing them to relevant resources at the university.  Thus our QA Process “closes the loop” on how feedback is provided, received, and finally incorporated into course improvements. 

How can you apply our “lessons learned” to your institution?  What is the “perfect storm” of factors influencing QA at your institution (e.g., deNoyelles et al., 2017)?  How can you take action to leverage these factors and improve QA at your institution?  This session will be of particular interest to administrators, university leadership teams, faculty, and instructional designers at institutions seeking to conduct “in-house” quality assurance.

Session’s Key Learning Outcomes

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

  • Describe the importance of quality assurance as part of the continuous improvement cycle for online course design and teaching quality. 
  • Identify the perspectives of stakeholders across the university for online course quality, reflecting on their own institutions. 
  • Apply our shared experiences to re-imagine quality assurance, and consider their own quality assurance processes.   
  • Expand their networks within OLC by sharing best practices and ideas in interactive exercises during the session. 

Proposed Agenda for 45-minute Education Session (with estimated times for each part)

  • Introduction and Review of Agenda (5 minutes): Introduce the Education Session, co-facilitators, and the plan for the session.
  • Quality Assurance Process Overview (20 minutes): Share the Quality Assurance Process, the different pathways to support faculty, and our Quality Assurance Guidelines for Online Courses.
  • Small-Group Discussion (10 minutes): Participants share ideas for online course quality assurance, how to implement online course quality assurance at their institutions, and assess effectiveness. 
  • Closing and Q&A (10 minutes)

References Cited

Baldwin, S., Yu-Hui, C., & Yu-Chang, H. (2018). Online course design in higher education: A review of national and statewide evaluation instruments. TechTrends, 62(1), 46-57. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11528-017-0215-z  

Baldwin, S. J., & Yu-Hui, C. (2019). An online course design checklist: Development and users’ perceptions. Journal of Computing in Higher Education, 31(1), 156-172. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s12528-018-9199-8 

Bigatel, P. M., & Edel-Malizia, S. (2018). Using the “Indicators of engaged learning online” framework to evaluate online course quality. TechTrends, 62(1), 58-70. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11528-017-0239-4  

deNoyelles, A., Major, A., Lowe, D., Calandrino, T., & Albrecht, A. (2017). Perfect storm for the quality course review at UCF. Distance Learning, 14(4), 1-12.

Karam, M., Fares, H., & Al-Majeed, S. (2021). Quality assurance framework for the design and delivery of virtual, real-time courses. Information, 12(2), 93. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.3390/info12020093