Many in higher ed are excited about the scalability potential of online courses, but it’s important not to treat these courses with a set-it-and-forget-it mentality.
Content changes. Technology changes. Ever-evolving fields like engineering, especially, need to have the most up-to-date software and technology. So tt’s vital that schools come back and look at these courses, the content and delivery methods.
How can a current online course be improved upon?
We invited Laura Dicht, Manager of Online Program Quality at New York University’s Tandon School of Engineering, to join the to join the Enrollment Growth University podcast to talk about a new course quality management position that many institutions need to consider adding to their teams.
Differences Between Online Program Quality Management and Instructional Design
“As an instructional designer, I was in a much more focused position. I worked with a few different faculty at a time … to fully-developed online courses,” Laura said.
Mos of these faculty members had already taught the course on campus, and they were just converting it into an online format.
“I worked hand in hand with the faculty member to talk about their content, their curriculum, their syllabus,” Laura said. “Talk through their teaching methodology and how they envision they would teach online. Then we’d develop content that would be offered asynchronously and synchronously.”
Together, the faculty member and instructional designer would record videos and develop active learning engagements and simulations.
“As an instructional designer, when the course launched, my work was often
pretty much done,” Laura told us. “A big problem that I always had was, well okay, do we know that this was successful? How do we know that that the instructor actually did a good job? What happens next? How do we make sure this all works?”
That’s the role of quality management. In her current position, Laura works with the faculty while they are teaching their courses.
After the course development team finishes creating a course, Laura supports them throughout the teaching of their course.
“I have conversations with the faculty to see what’s going well, what’s not going well, to see how we can make this better for the future,” she said.
Regular Feedback and Continuous Improvement of Online Courses
“I have a rubric, which I’ve adapted, which looks at a lot of different elements of the course,” Laura said in response to our question about how she provides regular feedback and continuous improvement.
Her rubric asks hard questions such as: Is it set-up in a clear linear fashion so students have a clear idea of what they have to do from week to week? What their obligations are? Does it have a clear assessment plan that ties into the learning objective?
“I also talk to the faculty about these issues, about these areas because sometimes they don’t do everything within the LMS,” Laura said.
She also wants to know what they’re doing outside the LMS, how they are engaging with their students, and how their handling different situations.
“And I also talk to our course development team,” she told us, “our instructional designers, and educational technologists, to get their take on what was successful in this course development.”
Her work is to discover what could be improved for future offerings. It’s really like taking a wholistic look at the overarching picture of the course.
Faculty Alignment with Online Program Quality
“For the most part,” Laura told us, “I’m seen as a support resource.”
A lot of faculty appreciate having someone to whom they can say, “I have a question about this, what do I do?” Just having Laura there as a responsive person who will pick up the phone or reply to their emails is something they find beneficial.
Her role is not a place from which to intrude into the faculty’s work, anyway. They’re the instructors, they’re the subject matter experts, these are their courses. Laura’s attitude is — “This is your teaching style, that’s great. Let’s [00:10:30] think of ways that we could maybe tweak it to make it that much better.”
The Importance of Accessibility with Online Program Quality
You can’t skip accessibility.
As Laura says, “It can’t be an afterthought. It can’t be that we, ‘Oh, we’ll worry about that when we need to worry about that.” Instead, you have to think about how you are going to make this course accessible for a variety of learners right from the design phase.
For example, you have to make sure the color contrast is right, that there are closed captions and transcripts, and alternative tests are available. Make sure it is green-reader accessible because online education has leveled the playing field for everyone.
Should Universities Hire Online Program Quality Managers?
Course quality management is a useful position because people who occupy a lot of instructional design positions do not think about the longevity of these courses. It’s a distinct role from the instructional design and course development team.
“It is a good skill set, and it’s one that I think a lot of instructional designers have that idea of being forward-focused in how they are developing these courses,” Laura said.
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