While preparing to present at FIU Online Con 2022, CultivatED, instructors Brent Huffman and Eugenio Jaramillo shared their experience in constructing quality courses with the Insider. Both Huffman and Jaramillo teach as adjuncts in the Moss Department of Construction Management program, part of the FIU Engineering and Computing department.
The “Constructing Quality Courses” presentation‘s aim was to inspire other instructors, like they inspired each other in the process of getting their respective courses quality certified. They recognized preparing their courses for quality certification was hard work, but worth it.
In 2019, FIU Online launched Achieving Panther High-Quality Course Design, supporting the Florida Board of Governors’ online course quality mandate. The initiative includes two levels of quality certification, High Quality (HQ internal review) or Quality Matters (QM external review). Both courses striving for HQ and QM certification are developed and evaluated based on the QM rubric.
Currently, FIU is ranked number one for active QM certified classes in the state of Florida and nationally. The QM program is a faculty-centered, peer-reviewed process to help prepare, improve, and certify online courses through a comprehensive evaluation process.
Some Benefits in Constructing Quality Courses
In a 2016 study, FIU Online presented a white paper highlighting differences in the student learning experience with courses that had received Quality Matters certification versus those not certified. Data revealed that QM courses had higher access of classes, more interactions, higher rate of student submissions, and higher time spent “in class,” with higher marks on course evaluations than those classes not certified.
Improved Student Feedback
Huffman and Jaramillo agreed they encountered stronger, more helpful feedback on their SPOTS evaluations. Huffman encouraged his students to frame their feedback comments by including something they liked about the course, something that distracted them, and something they could improve upon. It allowed him to review and address issues for future courses, as maintaining a quality course is an iterative process. Jaramillo shared he was most proud of his student feedback he received after earning quality certification. “Getting positive feedback from students who are industry professionals was very affirming.”
Organized Navigation & Structure
Jaramillo shared an anecdote of teaching a face-to-face a course in Spring 2020, where the parallel fully online course already received Quality Matters certification. “It was seamless that I went from teaching in person, to teaching online (for emergency remote learning) in less than a week because the certified course was already built.” He noted that because the content was already there and organized, it was easier to transition to remote instruction.
Huffman noted after transitioning from the fully online class to face-to-face, it’s easy to unpublish the content you don’t want students in the class to see because you’ll be addressing that content in-person or live. He stated it’s easier to teach his course since quality certification and it’s fun. “I could never go back to teaching my course the way it was before. If I went back to the disorganized class I had before, both the students and I would be confused.”
Top 5 Tips for Getting Your Course Quality Certified
Tip 1 – Get thee a mentor.
Huffman stated he was lucky to have Jaramillo as a mentor in his life, so reaching out to him as an instructor, who has earned quality certification for his course, was easy. He suggested finding someone in your department whose course has earned quality certification, or from a different department. Beyond collaborating with the FIU Online instructional designer, a mentor can provide an alternative perspective and shared experience.
Also, Huffman was inspired when he attended professional development sessions hosted by FIU Online staff members (Shara Gonzalez, Cora Fernandez, & Lili Steiner). “These ‘lunch and learn’ training sessions were my ‘aha’ moment for Quality Matters. How can I not do this?”
Tip 2 – Build in added value for the students.
Huffman shared that he and Jaramillo created added value for the students. “It’s exciting when at the end of the semester your student comes up to you saying the class was hard, but worth it.” He stated he had students show their course work with their supervisors and the supervisors exclaim they could believe the type of work that was being done. Through their mentoring relationship, Huffman and Jaramillo shared ideas about building out this value-added aspect in their courses.
Huffman paired external industry certifications with his class material. “I came up with the ProCore certifications because I wanted students to finish the class with more than a grade. I wanted them to take away something they can use in their business and show their employer that they accomplished these things.”
Including opportunities like this in a class can help achieve QM standards related to instructional materials, as well as assessment & measurement. Beyond industry-specific certification programs, one could also implement lessons and course pathways from FIU LinkedIn Learning related to your course objectives.
Tip 3 – Get aligned.
Huffman shared the hardest and most challenging thing in pursuing quality certification was the Course Alignment Map (CAM). The CAM is a collaborative document for the instructor and instructional designer to show alignment between course objectives, module objectives, assessments & learning activities, and the instructional materials used in the course.
He added “course organization and how it’s all put together within modules is key.” Huffman noted, “organization and quality go hand in hand. Once you’ve done the CAM, it’s so much easier to make it quality at that point. That organizational step is what it took to make my course what it is today.”
Tip 4 – Trust the process.
Both Huffman and Jaramillo credit their instructional designers (Valentine S. King & Lili Steiner, respectively) for their assistance. FIU Online instructional design staff can share a plethora of resources to assist you in getting your course quality certified. For example, they can provide the CAM and access to the state of the art FIU Online Multimedia Studios. Jaramillo said the collaboration with instructional designers was a perfect fit, given the instructor’s subject matter expertise and the designer’s Canvas LMS knowledge.
Jaramillo added the MANGO (Management And New Growth Opportunity) building on the MMC campus “has amazing video & audio recording studios. They have teleprompters with a green screen behind you. I could do parts over if I needed. The Multimedia staff were cordial and patient, taking me through the whole process. The videos came out very professional.”
Alternatively, Huffman recorded his lecture videos using Zoom at a location that was convenient for him. He watched a video provided by FIU Online instructional design staff while working on improving his group projects. He applied what instructional designers did with another course to his own, breaking the larger project into milestones and included a Q & A discussion forum. Afterwards, he found students submitted a better quality product yielding better grades. When working with his instructional designer, he’d ask her a question or a request for help, and “within a couple of days magic starts happening in my course.”
Huffman emphasized the quality certification process doesn’t happen overnight; it takes a good chunk of time. He shared there has been no better feeling having that Quality Matters banner on the top of his course homepage. He even includes the accomplishment in his CV (curriculum vitae), which makes sense since QM is a national certification program.
Tip 5 – Get Started on Your Path to Quality Certification
Instructors who are teaching a fully online class for the first time are automatically paired with a FIU Online instructional designer, with the expectation the new course development will yield a quality certification. If you are included in this category, set up your initial meeting with your instructional designer as soon as possible.
Instructors whom wish to enhance their existing fully online course to seek quality certification, can opt-in for consultation with an FIU Online instructional designer. Once assigned your FIU Online instructional designer or design team, contact them for a meeting to get started.
Currently, FIU Online only certifies fully online courses. FIU instructors should talk to their department about the opportunity to teach a class in the fully online modality. The FIU Online Learning Design team looks forward to working with you to design your engaging and interactive class.
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