An ‘odyssey’ in quality course design: Professor details experience with CELT resources

By Kelly McGowan, Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching

Picture a run of dominoes. Each topples to set off the next in an elaborate and meticulously planned design. Dr. John Monroe, a professor in the Department of History, sees an analogy between that and teaching an online course.  

“It starts, and then it runs steadily to the end along a fixed path,” Monroe said. “Students learn by following a process: engaging with materials, doing activities, and taking assessments in a prescribed sequence, ideally at a prescribed pace.”  

Key for a successful online instructor, he said, is “laying out that domino course from beginning to end with as much care as possible, making sure that each domino is positioned so it tips the next in exactly the right way.”   

This reflection came during what Monroe called a professional development odyssey this summer through CELT-facilitated resources: Course Design Institute, Applying the Quality Matters online workshop, and Improving Your Online Course 3-week asynchronous course.  

CELT provides faculty across campus with engaging professional development programming throughout their careers. These resources help to improve instruction for students and can lead to faculty seeking external certification from Quality Matters, a global organization dedicated to quality assurance in online education.  

A shifting perspective on online instruction 

As teachers and students quickly moved to online formats in 2020, Monroe said he “always felt a bit behind the eight ball, like there were some basic principles I was having trouble seeing clearly because of how I’d been trained in pedagogy — absorbing by example rather than explicitly being taught how to teach.”  

He found guidance through CELT’s resources.   

“What I discovered this summer is that the Quality Matters system not only spells out those basics in a useful way,” he said, “but also provides a detailed framework for the intensive pre-planning that good online course design requires.” 

Monroe started the summer by enrolling in the CELT Course Design Institute, where seasoned instructors explored options for (re)designing their Canvas courses in partnership with CELT instructional designers. That’s where he first learned about Quality Matters. He went on to take a two-day online synchronous workshop on applying the Quality Matters rubric to online courses. Mid-summer, he engaged in a three-week online course called “Improving Your Online Course” taught by Dr. Olga Mesropova, a certified Quality Matters facilitator, Quality Matters Master Reviewer, and CELT Faculty Affiliate. 

The most important takeaway for Monroe was a clear sense of how online pedagogy differs from the face-to-face instruction he has practiced for more than two decades. While in-person classes allow real-time reactions and interactions, online instruction’s different landscape requires a different approach. 

Monroe had support as he put that into practice, and he appreciated the individualized feedback from CELT experts along the way. 

“While it’s possible to get a lot out of reading through the Quality Matters literature and looking at CELT’s online resources, having a chance to engage directly with multiple experts is invaluable,” he said. “Thanks to that feedback, I’ve been able to dig into my course design much more deeply than I’d have been able to if I were working exclusively on my own.”

Four instructors achieved Quality Matters certification for their course over the summer.  

  • Kevin Kasper, STAT 305, Engineering Statistics 

  • Daniel Dobill, AGRON 502, Chemistry, Physics, and Biology of Soils  

  • David Cantor, SCM/MIS 440, Supply Chain Information Systems  

  • Jacqulyn Baughman, ME 270, Introduction to Mechanical Engineering Design  

Ready to engage in these CELT resources for yourself? Sign up for the programming below.