I’m sure many people are familiar with the old idiom of “putting the cart before the horse” and the idea that a conventional process or timeline has been ignored. It’s definitely the first phrase that comes to my mind when I think about quality assurance in online and blended learning with regards to my personal experiences.
I’ve been “doing” online teaching since my first year as a tenure-track faculty member at my institution. And I’ve now added blended teaching to that. Both opportunities came about very informally and were more a product of my own interests rather than any institution-wide mandate or effort. The conversation went something like this: “Here is this modality of teaching that better suits the needs of some of our students and gives us some unique flexibility in course delivery. Go figure out how to make it work.” I went. I figured. In those early days of online teaching for me, probably 80% of what I did was self-taught. There may have been models out there for me to emulate, but I simply didn’t have time to find them or use them in between implementing my online classes and teaching my colleagues about what I was doing (and supporting them in their efforts to do the same). There was little formal institutional structure or guidance for what I was doing (and what did exist was largely “start up” support with little ongoing support). The conversation of quality assurance seemed very much an afterthought, and clear, institutional standards or guidelines for developing and implementing online/blended learning were (and to a degree, still are) nonexistent.
Almost as long as I’ve been teaching online (and blended), I’ve struggled to find meaningful ways to measure what’s happening in my courses and whether it’s working. Our institution’s standard student course evaluation is ill-suited to the online or blended environment and doesn’t capture the things I really want to know about my students’ experiences. Do my instructional materials “work” for them? Are they able to process and internalize the course content independently? Do they feel supported by their peers and by me as the instructor? Do they feel a connection to others in the class? Are the assignments clear? Do they see the connections between the course goals and the activities of the course? What about the designed environment “works”? What doesn’t?
Along the same lines, I love this quote from Chapter 5 of the BlendKit Reader…
While a tour of an unoccupied kindergarten classroom and an inventory of its resources might provide some indication of the nature of the teaching and learning that occur there, it is the lived experiences of the students and teachers, their actual interactions, in which teaching and learning are made manifest. Limiting the scope of blended or online course quality to considerations of the designed environment results in a significant blind spot.
I currently rely on a number of indicators to gauge how well the class is going. I look at the number of questions I get from students that are the result of poor organization or clarity on my part (“I can’t find _____!”). I watch student performance on course activities and assignments. I read students’ reflections on course content for depth of understanding and thought. I consider the feedback on those institutional evaluations (as limited as they may be, they has guided some changes in my practice). And I’m currently working with some colleagues to develop a peer review structure for online/blended teaching. However, none of this is currently institutionalized at my university, and I’d love to see the idea of quality assurance for online and blended more formalized. How great would it be for my colleagues who are new to online/blended teaching to have an established, research-based process of development and evaluation to follow?
I sense we’re on the cusp of some of these conversations at my university, and this is exciting to me. There are great things happening in online and blended classes, and I’d love to help find ways to capture that.
Here are some links to some existing resources and rubrics related to evaluating online and blended teaching (mostly just for my own selfish future reference…):
- University of Massachusetts Dartmouth’s Blended Course Rubric
- Blackboard’s Exemplary Course Rubric
- Quality Matters Higher Education Rubric
- BlendKit (UCF) Blended Course Peer Review Form