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When Quality Matters, Turn to Harmonize for Active Learning & Learner Engagement

We’re sharing the best ways to use Harmonize to meet QM standards, including ones critical for passing a QM review, and ensure meaningful student engagement.

happy professor in classroom

Whether traditional face-to-face, hybrid, or fully online courses, institutions are finding it critical to create more engaging and collaborative learning environments to support student retention and success — but especially when it comes to online learning. This is where Quality Matters standards come in. Quality Matters (QM), a non-profit, faculty-driven course assurance organization, provides instructional designers and instructors with tools to continuously improve their online and blended courses through a rigorous review process organized around a research-based rubric of QM Course Design Standards.

To put it simply, at the heart of Quality Matters is ensuring online course quality — it’s a QA process for your online course offerings. They focus on promoting learning experiences that are supported by the critical course components working together — learning objectives, assessment, instructional materials, learning activities, and course technology — to enable learner achievement of course objectives.

In this article, we’ll share the best ways to use Harmonize, a suite of discussion & collaboration tools, to meet several QM Standards — including ones critical for passing a QM review — and to ensure meaningful student engagement.

At the Core of Quality Matters Standards

Quality Matters is focused on course design and the value an online course brings to a student. Like in the classroom, instructor-student interaction in the form of active learning activities is a key component to learning. This is no less true for online education. A course designed to support regular and ongoing interaction among students and with the instructor in order to engage them in continuous growth is the key to understanding and meeting Quality Matters standards — and for good reason.

  • Students who are highly engaged are 1.5 times more likely to complete a degree (Svanum and Bigatti, 2009).
  • Engaged students, on average, require one fewer semester to complete their degree (Svanum and Bigatti, 2009).
  • Students who actively participate are more motivated (Frisby & Myers, 2008; Junn, 1994), engage in more critical thinking (Garside, 1996), and show improvement in communication skills (Dancer & Kamvounias, 2005).

Studies continue to show that meaningful online interactions can improve student engagement, retention, motivation and confidence in academic performance, as well as foster a sense of community — critical for engaging students online. And to do this effectively, the kind of technology you leverage to power your online courses matters. Here are some of the most effective, high impact ways to use your course technology to meet Quality Matters standards.

Using Harmonize to Address Quality Matters Standards

Accessibility & Diverse Learners: Provide learners and instructors with a variety of ways to produce and deliver content, including multimedia.

Quality Matters Standards Addressed

✔8.3 The course provides accessible text and images in files, documents, LMS pages, and web pages to meet the needs of diverse learners.

✔8.4 The course provides alternative means of access to multimedia content in formats that meet the needs of diverse learners.

✔8.5 Course multimedia facilitate ease of use.

✔ 8.6 Vendor accessibility statements are provided for all technologies required in the course.

Providing learners with multiple ways to engage with content and each other is important if you want to enable participation. With rich, fully accessible multimedia tools for adding content and collaborating, you can ensure there’s a way for students of all abilities to be part of the conversation.

Encourage instructors to use open educational resources and other forms of fully accessible media. Textbooks, journal articles, podcasts, simulations, case studies, video, multimedia, and interactive learning objects are just some of the ways you can deliver concepts to students online.

When you offer instructional content in a variety of ways, you’re going to be able to reach a broader set of students whose abilities and learning styles all vary.

Just as important as the instructor’s use of media, be sure to encourage students to create and submit assignments and make contributions using a variety of Harmonize’s multimedia options, from images and video with annotation to text and audio snippets, as well as auto-captioning. Mobile-first and available 24/7 on any device offers students a choice in how and when they complete an assignment. And asking them to find their own content in a way that fits your parameters gives students a broader range of expression and supports a more inclusive approach to learning, which spurs participation.

Learner Activities & Interactions: Leverage discussion boards to increase and improve the quality of learner interactions.

Quality Matters Standards Addressed

✔ 1.3 Communication expectations for online discussions, email, and other forms of interaction are clearly stated.

✔ 5.4  The requirements for learner interaction are clearly stated.

It’s important to provide clear guidance for learner interactions. In addition to outlining when and how students should communicate with you in the syllabus and providing video or written reminders throughout the course, you can also set requirements through the use of milestones — or multiple due dates — and notifications.

Setting students up for success, these tools  keep them organized around instructors’ expectations for the class, including baseline requirements for how and when students should be interacting.  With reminders built-in, milestones help reinforce expectations for participation, increase the frequency of posts, and allow learners to track their progress throughout assignments.

Learner Interactions: Leverage discussion boards to increase and improve the quality of learner interactions.

Quality Matters Standards Addressed

✔ 5.2  Learning activities provide opportunities for interaction that support active learning.

✔ 6.1   The tools used in the course support the learning objectives or competencies.

✔ 6.2  Course tools promote learner engagement and active learning.

At the heart of Harmonize is its ability to drive online discussions — and to keep students coming back to the conversation. With an array of powerful tools, instructors have the flexibility and control to provide socially engaging, instructor-facilitated discussions and the kinds of dynamic interactions that won’t end up lost in a hundred different threads. That’s because its social media-like interface is modern, intuitive, and familiar to students — which means it draws students in.

You know as well as anyone that students will engage only at levels they’re comfortable with, and it’s generally the most outgoing students who speak up. This leaves a lot of shy or struggling students behind. When in a physical classroom, it’s easier to spot and re-engage those students. In Harmonize discussions, you can allow students to post anonymously when appropriate, use a variety of multimedia like video and images, share reactions, and you can tag students in order to coax them back into the fold.

Unlike LMS-based discussion forums, you can also use milestones — multiple due dates — to set clear expectations for when and how often students should be interacting, which encourages ongoing participation and keeps students coming back to the conversation.

For example, at Pittsburg State University, assignments that used milestones had higher engagement, with 83% more posts and 93% more comments. Plus, nearly half of all student-created content included multimedia (image, video), resulting in richer discussion activities.

“We wanted to shift away from the dreaded threaded online discussions toward something that better supports today’s students. With Harmonize, we have been able to engage our students in more meaningful discussions and have seen students post well beyond the requirements. In fact, my class intro discussion had the most interaction and engagement I’ve seen in my 20 years of teaching online,” noted  Dr. Susan Dellasega, Director for the Center for Teaching, Learning and Technology at Pitt State.

Pitt State uses more than 20 Quality Matters standards to help guide faculty in creating quality course content and to certify the quality of its online courses. Coupled with QM standards, Harmonize facilitates more interaction and collaboration online, and in the process, helps the institution better address several key QM standards — including essential three-point standards.

When you facilitate online discussions this way, you’re helping students collaborate and share their diversity of thought, as well as promoting an inclusive approach to learning and creating a sense of community — and that’s huge when it comes to fostering better interactions and engagement online!

Launch student-facilitated discussions, peer review & collaboration activities

In addition to discussion boards, Harmonize encourages meaningful  student-to-student, student-to-content, and student-to-instruction interactions in other ways.

For example, using student-facilitated discussion boards often leads to more productive learning and better engaged students. Instructors can break the class into smaller discussion groups and assign leaders. It’s an opportunity for students to flourish, learn from each other, as well as practice leadership and facilitation.

Similarly, tools in Harmonize that enable peer review, small group, and other unique online collaboration activities can lead to deeper interaction among students and with instructors. Instructors and students can use Q&A boards for asynchronous communication and built-in text-like chats for real-time communication to exchange information; students can flag questions in their posts for instructors to respond and provide additional feedback on; and instructors can create polls to ask students for collective feedback that can be used to inform future instruction.

Pulling on multiple levers to interact with students in online courses, you can create multiple pathways for interaction and can be sure students have the information and responses they need to move forward in their coursework. Students will feel heard and seen, keeping them motivated and engaged.

Communication: Help learners connect, communicate, and build community in ways they are most familiar with.

Quality Matters Standards Addressed

✔ 1.9 Learners are asked to introduce themselves to the class.

✔ 1.8 The self-introduction by the instructor is professional and is available online.

Setting the stage for your course is important. Online instructor introductions can help you welcome and better connect with the class, share the best ways to communicate with you, and prepare students for the course. Learners can also share their own introductions — an effective way to engage students from the start.

With rich multimedia, including video, image, audio, and text, you can encourage students to introduce themselves in the way they’re most comfortable with.  Instructors can also quickly create and post an introduction, as well as ongoing reminders that state expectations for how and when students should interact with you and classmates. Plus, with social-media inspired discussion boards for sharing introductions, students can react, comment, and interact with classmates’ introductions. With this approach, you’ll see increased participation, and a sense of community begin to develop.

Meaningful Feedback: Streamlined grading & annotation lets instructors more easily assess and provide feedback.

Quality Matters Standards Addressed

✔ 3.5 The course provides learners with multiple opportunities to track their learning progress with timely feedback.

Instead of spending time transferring grades, searching for posts, scanning threads for replies, digging through email, or manually checking for authenticity, instructors using Harmonize can focus their time on assessing student participation and work.

Activity reporting provides an at-a-glance dashboard that includes all the information instructors need to assess students. Instructors can use rubrics, along with video and image annotation to provide students with feedback and evaluate performance. Auto-grading helps instructors quickly grade student participation.

With LMS gradebook integrations, plagiarism detection integrations, and an activity dashboard for assessment, Harmonize eliminates time-consuming manual tasks so you can focus on what matters most — providing the kind of feedback that can help learners continuously improve.

Keep Tabs on Engagement: Gain visibility into a student’s level of engagement in order to maintain engagement

Quality Matters Standards Addressed

✔ 6.2 Course tools promote learner engagement and active learning.

We’re going to circle back to this standard because it’s super important. Traditionally, it’s been hard to know which students are engaged and which are not. A lot of times, once you get a good sense, that student has dropped off entirely. If you’re using Harmonize, that’s a thing of the past.

From an easy-to-read dashboard, instructors have greater visibility into how students are progressing toward goals — seeing who, how, and when students are participating in their courses. Instructors can see which students are struggling or need more attention and which topics worked best. Serving as an early-warning system, Harmonize’s Engagement Insights let an instructor trigger customized outreach to specific students — a proactive and prompt approach to keep students engaged or getting them back on track.

{screenshot suggestion: Engagement Insights}

Finally, in support of QM’s 6.3 standard on using a variety of technology in your course, you’ll want to be sure that whichever technology you use, it works well with your other technologies. That means full and seamless integration with your LMS, plagiarism detection tools, video conferencing, and other tools so that instructors can save time, eliminate manual tasks, and can focus on the kind of active learning activities that will help students improve.

And remember, throughout the Quality Matters review process, it remains clear that there are many ways to meet each standard and that no course is perfect. The process is designed to ensure that courses undergoing review will eventually meet expectations — the goal being to meet an 85% threshold in order to be certified. With Harmonize a part of your course design toolkit, you can ensure your online courses enable meaningful interaction, active learning, collaboration, and community for your online learners.

If you’re exploring ways to leverage tools within your LMS to better engage students, power meaningful connection, and further support student success, we’d love to connect with you.

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