#39: What is Quality Matters?


KIERAN  00:06 

It’s time for Wired Ivy Office Hours!  A quick but deep dive into an online higher ed term or concept to cultivate effective communication and weed out confusion.


DAN  00:15 

Dan here, and welcome to another Wired Ivy Office Hours.

Educators who are engaged in online teaching are, at some point, going to hear the words “quality matters.”  At first mentioned, this seems self-evident. As educators, we understand that the quality of our course design content and delivery is important for learners to have a productive and hopefully optimal learning experience. No one would argue with that.

But that is small case quality matters; the myriad initiatives we take upon ourselves to continuously improve outcomes for learners.  There’s also capital letter Quality Matters, which is often abbreviated to the trademarked QM™. This Quality Matters™ refers to a very specific certification process for online and hybrid courses.

Let’s set aside, for now, the irony that traditional in-person courses are not systematically scrutinized for the quality of their design, even though they are considerably more ephemeral than LMS-based online and hybrid courses. The simple fact is, as someone leading online learning, you may have Quality Matters™ forced upon you. Your institution may use Quality Matters™ to certify its online courses and you’ll have no choice but to go through it. Or, as was my experience, your school may use the structure of QM™ in a self-review to support its own instructional design processes.

On the other hand, you may simply be on a quest to improve your knowledge of online teaching. Well, if that is the case, first I have to congratulate you for listening to Wired Ivy — well done! Next, you might also want to take a look at the Quality Matters™ process and see if it provides a useful checklist for you.

But let’s review for a minute just where Quality Matters™ came from.  In the early 2000s, high-speed internet arrived onto the scene, and within just a few years more than half of the households in the United States were connected. Higher education programs and faculty quickly began harnessing this tool as a way to deliver higher education to learners in new, and sometimes less expensive, ways.

But, as with much disruptive innovation, the traditional industry cast a doubtful glance about the quality of this unfamiliar, and to them unseen, learning.  Classroom techniques, for better or worse, had been passed down from generation to generation, informally. Now there was this vast opportunity for innovation and an industry that was built upon face-to-face communication didn’t know how to react.

To be sure, we didn’t have the data we do now indicating the high effectiveness of intentionally designed online learning.

In the effort to assure the quality of these new courses, the Maryland Online Consortium received a grant in 2003 from the US Department of Education to develop a Quality Matters™ protocol.  This initiative continued to expand and in 2014 became an independent nonprofit. QualityMatters.org now works with higher education internationally, as well as K-to-12 education. It has well over a thousand member institutions; your school may already be a member. You can also engage with QualityMatters.org directly as an individual.

So what is Quality Matters™ now?

Essentially, it is a peer review process that uses an established rubric to certify course design — and not content or delivery. The assertion being, the assessment is from the student’s perspective. There are different rubrics for various forms of learning.  The HE Rubric (for Higher Education) is used for all college and university courses, whether you’re teaching freshmen writing or a graduate sculpture studio.  In the HE Rubric there are eight categories containing 42 items, each with points associated.  Out of 100 possible points you have to get 85 to have your course be QM™ Certified.

It costs money to have each course reviewed.  An official review is done by a team of three experienced and trained online educators.  The process is purported to be collaborative.  A certification is good for between three and five years, at which point it is due for renewal. There are also internal reviews and self-reviews, which are less involved than the official review. The Summary HE Rubric is published and linked to in our show notes. However, the annotated rubric is behind a membership wall; ask your school if they have access to it. 

There are thoughtful critiques of Quality Matters™, too. Despite the rubric being updated periodically by online educators to keep abreast of standard best practices, just the act of measuring standardization changes the object itself and, in this case, can stifle innovation.

Also, while rubrics are accepted orthodoxy in so much of contemporary assessment theory, there are appropriate challenges to their value and limitations. To this point, Martha Burtis and Jesse Stommel published a noteworthy critique called The Cult of Quality Matters in Hybrid Pedagogy, in which they ask, “How do we make space for students as co-authors of their own learning if the most basic structure of that learning must be predetermined?”

Furthermore, Quality Matters™ claims that it’s intended as an assessment framework, not a design guideline and certainly not a template. But with time and ongoing dissemination, that distinction becomes considerably less convincing. Assessments that are widely accepted change behavior — just look at the college rankings game. 

And finally, my own concern is, it’s not credible that the educator-created rubric is free of any particular educational philosophy, as is claimed. Surely it carries the collective philosophy of the rubric writing committee; yours may or may not align with it.

So the takeaway for this Wired Ivy Office Hours is…

  • That a voluntary or involuntary look at Quality Matters™ may stimulate ideas for you to explore.
  • It is important to know what QM™ is, and is not.
  • It is something your school may require you to do.
  • It is something that can provide guidance on course design from the student’s perspective. 

We know that intentionally designed courses are necessary for strong learning outcomes; however, QM™ does not certified content or delivery.  If your goal is to create a safe, effective online learning experience, there’s a lot more than design needed to assure high quality outcomes. 

And that’s it for this episode of Wired Ivy Office Hours. We’ll include links to the reference materials used to create this explainer on the show notes page at WiredIvy.org

Quality Matters challenges us to ask, how do we balance the benefits of using a predetermined standard rubric for course design while still allowing students to be co-authors of their own learning? #highered #virtualclassroom #QualityMatters


KIERAN  06:31 

Let’s hear what you have to say!  Send us your questions, comments, and suggestions. You can leave a voice message at speakpipe.com/wiredivy, or send us an email to kieran@wiredivy.org —  Kieran is spelled K-I-E-R-A-N, or Dan@wiredivy.org  —  Dan is spelled D-A-N.

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Daniel J. Marcucci advocates for sustaining a livable, rich biosphere—because the alternative is scary. He teaches Sustainability Systems, Coastal and Marine Systems, and Urban Water Systems courses and leads Global Study trips. Dr. Marcucci has two decades’ experience in higher education as an environmental educator, the last several years focusing on creating supportive asynchronous online learning communities. He has published in numerous environmental planning journals. He also has extensive experience as a regional and environmental planner. His current research explores individual landscapes and landscape as an integrative and holistic concept. Dan is a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners.).

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Wired Ivy is wholly owned by Kieran Lindsey and Daniel Marcucci, and we are solely responsible for its content.   Views expressed in this podcast and affiliated media are those of Kieran, Dan, and our guests, and do not represent Virginia Tech or any other institution.  Our audio engineer is Star Path Images, and a license for our theme music, Breakfast with You, was purchased from SmartSound.

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