QM Connect: Accessibility, Engagement and Outreach

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Published: Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Tiffany McClelland, our Quality Assurance Course Support Specialist, shares her big takeaways from QM Connect 2018, a national conference on quality assurance hosted by Quality Matters.

I had the privilege of attending QM Connect, a national conference on quality assurance hosted by Quality Matters, in rainy St. Louis Oct. 30-Nov. 2. This being my first conference, I was not entirely sure what to expect - or frankly where to start! I attended myriad workshops and break-out sessions, as well as an informative poster session on accessibility, objective writing and student engagement, which are part of the quality assurance focus at the University of Arizona Office of Digital Learning. I also attended workshops on global outreach for UA micro-campus research, and QM leadership to prepare for Higher Learning Commission accreditation.

I got a hint of what would be my first big takeaway from the conference during the kick-off address, which was given by Mark Milliron, co-founder and chief learning officer of Civitas Learning. He focused on the collaborative effort necessary to meet the goals and needs of our learners, and he used the UA as an example twice, mentioning our online course map initiative and our research behind the graduation rates based on English 101 grades.

My first big takeaway from QM Connect: thanks to our efforts at the Office of Digital Learning, the UA is on par with - or a few steps ahead of - many institutions around the nation when it comes to issues related to quality assurance. 

I attended some workshops focused on accessibility, and was pleasantly surprised to learn that we are already doing much of what was recommended as best practices. Having recently presented my own workshop on accessible syllabi and documents, I noticed that the conference presenters offered many of the same ideas/practices for use of specific fonts, colors, headings and formatting that I suggested to our faculty. Additionally, we are currently researching video captioning options, so it was advantageous to speak with colleagues from other universities about their challenges and successes with captioning options such as Youtube and Rev.

I was also surprised to learn that many institutions had much smaller production facilities and few had quality assurance teams. I was often met by surprised looks when I explained that the main focus of my job was quality assurance, and no, I was not an ID. The work we are doing here at ODL appears to be ahead of many other institutions, thanks to the early adoption of QM by Janet Smith, our Quality Assurance Instructional Designer, and our directors Angela Gunder and Melody Buckner. Many people attending these workshops wanted practical advice on how to implement QM at their school, and I was able to speak up in a few workshops, sharing our successes and challenges.

My next two biggest takeaways from QM Connect revolved around creating community for online learners, both locally and globally.

During the research poster session, I spoke with Dr. Reba-Anna Lee from Northwestern University who shared two very practical ideas they have implemented for their online learners. Northwestern has a bi-yearly symposium for their online learners to attend at the University in person, as well as a lounge on campus that can be accessed by their online students. Dr. Lee shared that they had roughly 180 students attend their last symposium, during which students were able to explore campus, meet their online professors and staff in person, and feel part of the campus community. She also spoke of their Distance Learning Lounge, which provides a space for online learners to work on campus. I thought this was such a neat idea. While a benefit of online education is enabling students all over the world to engage in our programs, these are very practical solutions to giving students a sense of belonging and a place to call their own on campus.

Additionally, the QM World Cafe session focused on sharing QM with the global community and I loved the idea of working collaboratively with people all over the world as a community. As the UA extends around the globe through its micro-campuses, the goal should be not only to share what we know with other communities, but also to learn from them, so there is a true exchange of ideas.

Authored By:

Tiffany McClelland

Instructional Designer 1, Continuous Improvement