(by Shelly Theriault Muhl, Communications Coordinator, Information Technology Services)
Online learning is maturing into an essential need, versus a convenient option, for many who pursue higher education. Limited financial resources, family responsibilities, conflicting work schedules – these are just some situations that contribute to a powerful, growing educational community in the digital universe.
There are tremendous possibilities offered through online technology; however, they also invite drawbacks. A confusing user interface, unclear objectives, unmanaged class participation and other factors can quickly derail online course goals, no matter how compelling the content.
Keeping online learners engaged
Florence Martin, director of UNC Charlotte’s fully online Instructional Systems Technology (IST) program is a leading expert in online instruction. She and IST program faculty understand that sound instructional design yields successful online courses, which is why their program was recently awarded Quality Matters’ prestigious program certification in “Program Design.”
Quality Matters is a nationally recognized organization that offers researched-based quality assurance certifications to help instructors provide thoughtfully designed online educational experiences. The peer-review process gives instructors observations and recommendations that increase learner engagement, retention and satisfaction and learner achievement.
IST’s program recognition means UNC Charlotte is now:
1. The first UNC system school to attain this program-level certification
2. The second major research institution to demonstrate online program-wide quality
3. The fourth university worldwide to be certified in Program Design
Martin joined UNC Charlotte in 2014 as associate professor and program director of Cato College of Education’s Instructional Systems Technology Program. Since then she and her colleagues have grown the program by greater than 400 percent – from 19 to 81 students – as of fall semester 2017.
“As we prepare our graduates to be future instructional designers, technology facilitators and online learning designers and facilitators, this certification has added value to our program” said Martin. “The [certification] has helped us with carefully aligning our program objectives with course objectives, and also making sure that all of our instructors have received the professional development to design and teach online courses.”
Opportunities for QM online course development
Faculty are invited to use the growing array of Quality Matters (QM) course development opportunities at UNC Charlotte. A unique partnership created by Distance Education (DE), the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) and Audio-Visual Integration and Support for Learning (AISLE, or formerly, Classroom Support) provides participants with proven QM pedagogy for high-impact, high-quality online or blended courses.
“Our QM program has been an initiative through the combined efforts of DE, CTL and AISLE, in working with innovative UNC Charlotte faculty like Dr. Martin,” shared Garvey Pyke, director of the Center for Teaching and Learning.
Opportunities for faculty include:
QM faculty fellow Dean Adams, associate dean of performing arts services, has appreciated the strong network of peer reviewers and quality assurance tools that give him the “opportunity to construct and compare strategies of active learning within an online environment.” He added, “the professional development provided by QM and CTL has enhanced my online course design and has provided me with tools and practices that have improved my face-to-face teaching as well.”
Photo (left to right) IST faculty members Beth Allred Oyarzun, Florence Martin and Ayesha Sadaf.