Kathleen is currently an Associate Professor of Practice in the Retailing and Consumer Science program at the University of Arizona and teaches retail and marketing strategy, innovation and entrepreneurship, digital retailing, and sustainable consumption courses. She is a certified Master Reviewer for Quality Matters and has served on review teams for both UArizona internal reviews and external reviews managed by the Quality Matters program. Kathleen is an experienced and highly proficient reviewer and shared her experiences with QM in the following interview.
How did you first get involved with Quality Matters?
I came to the University of Arizona in 2017 and a colleague was a QM advocate and mentioned it. Previously, when I was at another university, I had a QM course review, but when you have your course reviewed, you’re not as actively engaged in the process. You basically hand over your course and you get back the evaluation and comments. To be frank, when I signed up for the first workshop, I really didn't know what I was doing or signing up for. I knew the basic purpose of QM and roughly what the goal was in terms of learning how to use the process to review courses, but I didn't know very much and neither did anybody else who was in the cohort with me. So my first QM experience, I just walked into it and said, you know, I'm going to do this and if I get anything out of it, wonderful. I had low expectations.
And what kept you going after that?
As I moved through QM, there was a well-developed QM community and you move from doing things at the University of Arizona to doing things more broadly from Quality Matters. That became interesting because I was now in courses and learning environments with people who were QM advocates, who were actively engaged as QM champions on their campus. With the community and with the online resources, you can continuously learn more and you can improve your skills, which is great.
Another thing is the structure of QM. There is a QM Master Reviewer [or Peer Review Chair] who's running the review and the two other reviewers learn from the Master Reviewer. So it's much like an apprenticeship program in the sense that you come in and you don't know very much when you do your first review. It's like, I don't know what I'm doing here. I'll do my best. You do your review and you get a lot of very nice one-to-two coaching. It’s a very collegial, very respectful environment, so it's supportive. And that allowed me to advance my skills in many ways.
Also, the QM support team at UCATT is another reason why I've been able to stay engaged with Quality Matters, keep my skills up. If it was just me as an island on this campus, without that support, I wouldn't be able to do it. The QM team, all the other staff, the people involved with QM, without them, we wouldn't have the critical mass of support for QM on campus that we need.
How has QM impacted how you approach your own courses?
The whole QM framework has informed my teaching in a way that I didn't expect. I thought, initially, it was going to make me have better online courses and having better online courses would be really good for the online students. But in reality, the more I've worked with QM, the better all of my courses have been. I take a different approach, perhaps, to in-person education and instruction than other instructors. All of my courses, no matter how they're delivered, have everything on D2L so that if a student misses a class, they can go to the D2L page for the day and learn what they missed, keep up with the class. I did that pre-COVID, and by doing so, I had basically built a full online course to QM standards and with UDL considerations. Then when COVID happened, I didn't have to change much except move to Zoom.
QM linked me to Universal Design for Learning and student-centered design. And my own undergraduate academic career was not easy. I'm an LD person. I have some issues that we see commonly amongst our students: I have issues with organization and structure; reading is challenging for me. So I've been interested in accessibility and broadening accessibility for students. The combination of QM and then specifically extending the principles of UDL has made me able to have classes that are fully accessible to the students who are in my classrooms.
And going all the way back to the basics of QM, Quality Matters is: Figure out what you want students to have as the learning outcomes, and then build the course to align to those learning outcomes, build your assessments to make sure you're measuring those learning outcomes, and if it's not doing that, if it's not forwarding those learning outcomes, then question why it's in the course. If it belongs in the course, then there's something missing in the learning outcomes. But if your learning outcomes are generally on track, and you have a whole module that you're struggling to figure out how do I fit it in there… It could be a subject I love, but it really doesn't belong in the course and I have to take it out. Making those sacrifices becomes a little bit easier when you have a system like QM. In business, there's a concept of writing SMART objectives: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. And if you think about the spirit of Quality Matters, QM wants the learning outcomes to be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. So now I give myself an assignment to go back through all my course learning outcomes and make sure that every single one of them is specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.
What role does QM have in your life right now?
I do three things when it comes to QM. First and foremost, I try to build all my courses, whether I get them QM certified or not, to QM standards. Secondly, I try to build I try to build courses that live what QM intent is, not just tick the boxes. So, for example, building interactivity into courses so that students are truly engaged and not just saying, oh, I have discussion boards, I use VoiceThread, therefore it’s interactive. Instead, focusing on how do I get students to engage with the content as they're going through a course, particularly a fully online course, so that they are part of the learning process and not just a consumer of information.
The second thing is I do and I have done course reviews on our campus. I find those are nice moments to learn more about other disciplines, other programs, what they're doing, how they approach things. And I have reviewed courses in other programs, greatly admired something somebody else did and said, oh, I can do something like that in my courses. Or I can bring this back to my school and show this to other faculty members who can use that in their course. So doing the course reviews on our campus has helped me better inform my own teaching and my colleagues’ in the Norton School.
The final thing is I do external reviews for QM. That gives me a chance to see work being done on other campuses and people who are stretching beyond what they're doing. And I've had a few moments that were just amazing opportunities. I use design thinking to design my course, which is a process of human-centered design from Stanford, and I got to review a supply chain course for another university and the prof had built this course based on design thinking from Stanford, same program I use. So it was another person doing something that I do, and other people do, on our campus at a totally different campus, same underlying principles, but a very different outcome and approach. And we have now been working together, back and forth, for a couple years. And that relationship started out of reviewing his course for QM.
What impact have you seen QM have on your own students?
My measure of how well a course is designed is: Do I have to make a modification for anyone? And since I came to UA over five years ago, I have never needed to make a course revision to accommodate a student. And that's because of the course design. Our whole campus has a very high percentage of learning disabled students for whom online instruction presents some barriers. And in my program that I teach in, I have been trying to make sure that I don't put unnecessary barriers in for students who have a learning disability or have some biological issue that causes problems. For example, I’ve had students who are colorblind and can’t differentiate between certain colors. I make sure that I use a color palette for my courses that is designed for colorblind students. And sometimes it's not my favorite color palette and required me to change some things.
One small thing I have done is to be more thoughtful about putting information in tables. I provide the information in two ways. I will put a table up for the students who can consume information in table structure more easily because it's deconstructed for them. And then I will describe it in a paragraph below that is built for a machine reader to do easily. And I'll say “description of the table” so that the students know that the description below is the description of the table that tells them how to interpret it. Well, I did that because I thought some students would want A, other students would want B. What I learned from my students this week was they look at the table, they’re not sure what it means, and they read the paragraph. Then when they want to refer to it later, they look at the table. So what I found was by accident that the two together helped students who were having issues of comprehension about some complex things involving finance understand this information. So doing both ways is now my routine course.
Then there are videos. Students tell me they don’t like to watch a long lecture video, and if I look back at some of my old courses, there are big, long lecture videos. I don't do that anymore. I will give students a short video. My goal used to be under 10 minutes. Now my goal's under three minutes, but I'll give students a short video. I’ll closed caption it, post the transcript, and chapterize the video, even if it’s three minutes long, so that it's got the links to where in the video you go to find certain things. Because we often put really critical information in videos, and students watch them, but then they can’t figure out where they saw that information later on. And there's nothing more painful than having to scan through a video to try and find something.
I mentioned earlier going over my course learning outcomes and using the SMART system. I’ve found sometimes I’ve shot little bit too high on the Achievable one. It looks good on paper, but the reality is that it might be trying to achieve too much within a course. Maybe I had eight learning outcomes and two of them really weren't essential. If I take those out, I can focus more time on the six that matter, and I can make sure that they get those six rather than nothing. Having a vague recall they once took a course, not quite sure what they learned… yeah, I don’t want to be that course. My students are busy, they have responsibilities and the future to worry about, they have all kinds of things happen to them – to carve out of their lives this time and this effort to put into a course, I want every hour they spend on my courses to matter.
What benefits have you seen from QM in your own professional life?
With teaching, quality course design frees me up so that I have time to teach. In focusing more attention on making sure that everything in my course is aligned properly, that I've paid attention to materials being up to date, that I model proper behavior in terms of sourcing, all of that has eliminated almost all of the emails about where is this? Where do I find this assignment? And instead, what I get is questions about course content, the kinds of questions that we want to get as instructors.
Another thing is that as an instructor, I give a lot of feedback to students. With QM, you have to give feedback to people and you get trained in how to give proactive feedback. Learning how to give feedback to instructional colleagues helped me give better feedback to my students because this is a transferable skill. It also helped me do better reviews on academic articles because that's something many of us do, but don't really have a lot of training in. And anybody who sent anything off to a publisher or journal knows that you get back reviews sometimes and you just wanna crawl under a rock. QM helped me a lot with doing peer reviews of all types that were kinder and better, more useful.
I am also working on research and scholarship of teaching and learning and my work, which is around adaptive learning, got its roots from when I came to UA in 2017 and arrived on a QM campus and said, oh, I've had a QM course review, I’m interested in learning more about this, and taking an intro course on our campus. That moved me through a process of understanding QM, moving to understand UDL, and eventually doing workshops in UDL around how to use assessments as a learning tool and make them accessible. So that's taken me on path now to researching in the area.
Do you have any closing thoughts that you’d like to leave us with?
Quality Matters has helped me make courses crystallized and focused around the things that matter and remove the things that don't matter without becoming drab, boring places. Not only that, I find QM to be really rewarding because it makes a difference. So my hope is that, with the things starting to feel more normal that more faculty will have the bandwidth to learn more about QM and its benefits.