This spring universities across the country raced to transition courses to online delivery in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. With numbers still rising in the state of Arkansas, the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith is making strategic investments in training its faculty to excel in online course delivery, partnering with the world-renowned Quality Matters.
“After the rapid transition from face-to-face to online course delivery in the middle of the spring semester, a number of faculty expressed the desire for professional development in online teaching to maximize the student experience in their classes,” explained Dr. Georgia Hale, UAFS provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs. “Student success is always at the heart of our institutional goals, and as we navigate a new normal for the fall semester, utilizing Quality Matters to help faculty hone their online teaching skills will help us ensure our students are successful in all the ways their classes may be delivered.".
Thus far faculty members at UAFS have registered for more than 150 Quality Matters courses, all of which focus on improving course quality, managing content delivery, and implementing a system of quality assurance.
“Even before the contract was signed, we had over 50 faculty express their interest in Quality Matters courses and workshops,” said Susan Simkowski, associate professor, chair of the UAFS Faculty Senate, and one of the university’s three acting Quality Matters coordinators. “Our faculty are in the process of taking webinars, certifications, and courses to improve their online courses. The Quality Matters goal is for faculty to build courses, which ultimately can be reviewed by experts in online pedagogy, and receive the QM certification as a course or program which achieved quality assurance goals.”
According to its website, Quality Matters trainings aim to create a culture of continuous improvement so faculty can deliver on their promise to provide excellent content day after day, semester after semester.
“Keeping learners engaged is different in online courses,” the website reads. “Getting them past the ‘packaging’— the mechanics of the course — so they can focus on content and learning objectives can be a challenge. That’s where our research-based rubrics and standards really shine: They provide objective, evidence-based ways to evaluate the components of online learning."
Most workshops range in price for member institutions from $100-200 for each instructor who participates. Leading into August the university has already committed approximately $20,000 to workshops for its faculty, though as a member institution, more faculty may choose to participate throughout the semester.
“The primary emphasis for this initiative is to provide high-quality professional development to faculty who are or will be teaching in one of the distance formats,” said Dr. Margaret Tanner, associate provost for academic affairs.
Dennis Sprouse, an adjunct professor in the UAFS College of Business, described his first week of Quality Matters training as both a rigorous and enjoyable opportunity.
“I am learning a lot of new information while strengthening much of my previous knowledge, and I am certainly seeing things from a different perspective,” he said. “The student's need for a well-designed and delivered course is as important as the subject matter of that course. The process has included much valuable reading resources and written assignments.”
Though Sprouse said the process was not for the faint of heart, he embraced the training, noting that UAFS students will certainly benefit from taking online courses developed from the start with their success in mind.
UAFS faculty are currently registered for courses covering applying the QM rubric, assessing learners, connecting learning theories to teaching strategies, creating presence in online courses, designing a blended course, designing an online course, evaluating course design, gauging technology skills, improving online courses, orienting online learners, and using instructional materials and technology to promote learner engagement.