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C2C Digital Magazine (Spring / Summer 2016)

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Using Standardized Templates to Meet Quality Matters(TM) Standards

By Linda Merillat and Jeanne Catanzaro, School of Nursing, Washburn University

The need to develop online courses based on proven best practices is indisputable.  Over time, Quality Matters(TM)  has emerged as the gold standard for online course design.  The heart of QM Quality Matters(TM) is a 43-point rubric (Figure 1).  It includes benchmarks in the areas of Course Overview and Introduction, Learning Objectives/Competencies, Assessment and Measurement, Instructional Materials, Learner Activities and Learner Interaction, Course Technology, Learner Support, and Accessibility & Usability.  

However, when an instructor is confronted with developing an online course based on these standards, it can daunting!  The Quality Matters(TM) rubric is developed from an instructional designer’s perspective, and the underlying concepts may be unfamiliar to the average faculty member.

Figure 1: Quality Matters(TM) Rubric

Quality Matters(TM) website:

The School of Nursing at Washburn University is in the process of rolling out a fully online program for RN-to-BSN students.  There are 15 courses in the program of 30 credit hours.  A strategic decision was made early on to design all the courses to meet Quality Matters(TM) standards.

One way to approach adopting the Quality Matters(TM) standards is to analyze each benchmark to see what is required. Our analysis showed that many of the features could be “canned” or developed so that they could be reused over and over again in many courses. In the School of Nursing, we adopted this approach. The reusable tools we developed are a Course Template for D2L, a Syllabus Template, and a Student Resource Center. About 37% of the QM benchmarks can be achieved by using these standard objects.  To make it easier for Quality Matters(TM) reviewers to evaluate a course, a cross-reference of where evidence of a Quality Matters(TM) standard could be found within each of the standardized elements was also developed.

Course Template

The course template in D2L provides students with a standardized experience about where to easily find information from course to course. It doesn’t mean that every course is identical, but that key features are consistently used. Consistency is a crucial characteristic of effective online course design.  

Figure 2:  D2L Template, Main Page

Figure 3:  Course Overview Section

The elements in the standard D2L template include:

  • Welcome message in the News section
  • Course Overview
    • Syllabus
    • Introduction
    • Meet the Instructor
    • Class Ice-Breaker
  • Course Structure
    • Course Outcomes
    • Module to Course outcomes mapping
    • Course Expectations
      • Student Participation
      • Discussion Forums
      • Assignments
      • Quizzes/Exams
      • Course Rubrics
      • For Communication and Feedback
    • Course Grading Policy
    • Tracking Your Progress
    • Copyright Notice & Disclaimer
  • General Issues or Questions forum
  • In each module, these sections are included (8 default):
    • Module outcomes
    • Mapping of activities to outcomes, including reference to Bloom’s taxonomy
    • Required Readings & Materials
    • Learning Activities
    • Student Interaction
    • Additional Recommended Resources
    • Module Assignments
  • A link to the Student Resource Center (see below for more details)
  • Instructor Notes – includes notes on setting up the course each term and is hidden from students

Syllabus Template

The next major component adopted was a standard syllabus template.  One of the first things you’ll notice about this syllabus template is that is uses color. These are online students and color is free!  An example of the syllabus template is available for download from the Faculty Support Center.

Figure 4:  Syllabus Template

Figure 5:  Syllabus Template, Technology Requirements

The different sections in the syllabus that address Quality Matters(TM) standards include:

  • Course Description
  • Course Prerequisites and Competencies
  • Mapping to Program Outcomes
  • Course Bibliography
  • Course Methodology
  • Methods of Evaluation
  • Technology Requirements
  • Virtual Classroom Requirements
  • Other Technology Requirements
  • Minimum Technical Skills
  • Technical Support
  • Student Expectations of Instructor
  • Instructor Expectations of Students
  • Netiquette
  • Email Expectations
  • Course Policies and University Additions to Syllabus

Student Resource Center

The final standardized element developed was the School of Nursing Student Resource Center.  When the Quality Matters(TM) standards were analyzed, it was observed that the Learner Support standards referenced university-wide services rather than course specific items.  The Student Resource Center was developed to address and provide access to these university-wide services (Figure 6).

Figure 6:  Student Resource Center


Overall, the response to the standardized elements has been very well received by both instructors and students.  The instructors like the professional presentation.  From an instructional design perspective, it saves about 8 hours of effort versus starting a new course from scratch.  It allows an instructor to focus on the actual content of the course rather than the mechanics of setting one up. 

Feedback from students has also been favorable.  The D2L template also includes a mid-term anonymous survey.  It simply asks what’s working well and what isn’t.  Some of the feedback we’ve received from students is listed below:

  • The format/outline is clear and comprehendible (sic).
  • Clear date/time for assignments turn-in.
  • Great access to resources/materials.
  • I love the navigation of the webpage.  It give me an overview of everything I need to get done.
  • I like the consistency between each module.
  • I like the “content” tab and layout. It helps me stay organized.
  • I enjoy seeing the outline of the course.  It helps me stay on track.

The Student Resource Center is rarely used, but those students who did use it spent a lot of time in the Being a Successful Online Learner section.  In review, it may be beneficial to talk more about this resource in the students’ orientation.

These standardized elements were originally developed for the RN-to-BSN program in the School of the Nursing. There are four other programs in the school, and as new online courses are being developed in these other programs, they are electing to use the standardized elements as well.

From a Quality Matters review perspective, the feedback has been positive as well.  Four courses have been reviewed and we have received an average score of 98 out of 99 for the four courses.  Comments from the reviewers:

  • You've done a great job of providing introductory material and your content and objective mapping is among the best I've ever seen.
  • Overall, this is a very well-designed and easy to navigate course.
  • This course has many great attributes worth emulating!
  • This course has very well thought-out and carried-out delivery design. It was a pleasure to review.
  • It was very user friendly and visually appealing!

In summary, the strategy to develop and adopt standardized elements has made the process of getting courses Quality Matters(TM) reviewed successfully much easier to implement and manage.

About the Co-authors

Linda Merillat's experience and skills represent a union between technology, education, and interaction design. In the course of her career, she has played many different roles: programmer, systems analyst, business analyst, interaction designer, program manager, project manager, consultant, trainer, educator, instructional designer, researcher, author, and entrepreneur. The common thread running throughout has always been the challenge of how to successfully use and integrate the latest technology into an organization.  Dr. Merillat currently holds a faculty position with the School of Nursing at Washburn University in the role of Instructional Designer.

Jeanne Catanzaro, Ed.D., R.N., is currently the Director for the new online RN to BSN program at Washburn University School of Nursing in Topeka, Kansas. This program began January 2015 to provide an opportunity for Registered Nurses with Associate Degrees to complete a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree. Entirely online, the program is perfectly suited for the adult learner, working full-time to attain a 4-year degree. The program can be completed in 18 months part-time or 12 months full-time.  Jeanne has been involved in online education for 10 years. As the program director, she believes all students should have access to affordable, innovative, and well-designed course content in order to meet their learning goals.  Dr. Catanzaro holds a BS in Nursing from St. Louis University, an MS in Nursing from University of Missouri – Kansas City, and is completing her doctorate in Educational Technology & E-Learning from Northcentral University.

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