By Christine Voelker, K-12 Program Director for Quality Matters
Christine Voelker be the most enthusiastic librarian and teacher ever. QM's K-12 Program Director is a 20-year education veteran who spent many years running around libraries and schools teaching research skills and integrating instructional technology before entering the world of online learning. She has an advanced certificate in Administration and Supervision, and a Masters in Library and Information Sciences. Connect with Christine on Twitter: @voelkerc.
When purchasing online and blended course content, it's important to do your research. You want to provide your learners with the best experiences and, as you know, there's no "one size fits all" solution. With so many courses out there to choose, what’s the best way to evaluate a course?
These tips are designed to help you identify courses that best fit your school and students:
1. Look at the course through a learner's eyes.
Is there an overview or introduction that helps you know what to expect from this specific course, and how to get off and learning with a smooth start? Do you know up front what hardware and software you'll need to successfully access the materials and complete the assignments?
2. Find the learning objectives.
They should be listed in each module or unit of the course. If the overall course objectives are not available in the course, make sure you ask the publisher for them to ensure the course meets your state or other accepted content standards. Check for measurable learning objectives and instructions to learners on how to successfully meet them.
3. Will the assessments in the course give the instructor a broad perspective on the student’s mastery of the content?
Research has shown they should be varied in order to provide multiple ways for learners to demonstrate mastery and accommodate different learning styles. Additionally, look for opportunities throughout the course to allow learners to measure their learning progress.
4. Sure, the instructional materials might be flashy and seductive, but take a closer look.
When you buy a publisher course, you should be getting a robust and rich learning experience with current materials. Examine those materials well to make sure that they are going to help students meet the listed learning objectives. They should be purposeful, appropriate to the reading level of the students, culturally diverse and bias free. Investigate what works!
5. Make sure that course is loaded with interaction!
Learners need to be engaged and you want to get the most bang for your buck. Each course you buy or enroll your learners in should motivate them by providing them with many opportunities to interact with the instructor, other learners and the content! Look for active learning experiences within the course. You can also check to see if the course has met QM’s Standards. If it does, you can assume it has gone through a rigorous review process that has evaluated, among other things, whether or not learners have opportunities for interaction and engagement within the course.
6. Can your students readily access the technology tools used in the course and find usage instructions?
Make sure the course you choose takes advantage of current and emerging technologies that help to advance the learning experience, not hinder it. Most importantly, check to see that the technology tools used in the course protect learner confidentiality. If you’re not sure, ask!
7. Look for lots of support!
You may have help locally to make sure your online learners don’t get lost at sea, but when you buy an online course, it should provide additional help, like technical support for both learners and teachers. The publisher’s website might have additional resources, like reference tools and tutoring. A student should be able to find these extra supports easily.
All learners should have an equal opportunity to take an online course. The course you buy should demonstrate a commitment to accessibility for all learners by incorporating Universal Design for Learning principles and consistency with WCAG 2.0. Learners using assistive technologies should have no problem navigating and participating in the learning experience. If you aren’t sure if the publisher’s course is accessible, ask! They should provide you with a statement outlining ways in which the course is in compliance with accessibility standards. Learn more about designing courses with accessibility and usability in mind.
9. Make sure instructional materials, learner activities and instructional technology used in the course are in alignment.
They should work together to help learners master the learning objectives. If you take a train somewhere, you want the tracks to be aligned or else you won’t get to your destination without problems. If the components of a course are in alignment, they work together to help learners arrive safely at their destination: mastery of the objectives.
10. Look for the Q!
Find out if the course is QM-Certified. Why? When you see the QM Certification mark next to a course, it means that it has gone through a rigorous review and met Quality Matters’ K-12 Publisher Rubric Online and Blended Course Design Standards. You can be confident you're buying a well-aligned course that fits the above criteria .