Behind the Scenes of Exemplary Program Status

“The team’s support in this journey has been incredible. I think every instructional designer reviewed at least one of my courses internally and every suggestion made multiple courses better for the students.”
Dr. Joanne Healy, School of Education Program Head

How do you spell exemplary? U-A-F! The University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) is the first university in the world to receive Quality Matters Exemplary Program Status —  QM’s highest level of quality certification.  

Getting Started

The achievement is the culmination of months of hard work, during which the University’s Special Education and Teaching program earned individual QM Program Certifications in four key areas — Online Program Design, Online Teaching Support, Online Learner Support, and Online Learner Success. Exemplary Program Status is achieved when all four individual certifications are earned within a period of three years.

The effort was spearheaded by UAF’s School of Education Program Head Dr. Joanne Healy. “I wanted to apply the experience of my first course design review to my program and started with the QM Program Certification for Online Program Design because it gave me the opportunity to apply the QM Rubric to all of my courses,” Joanne shared. During that process, which involved Internal Reviews, QM-Managed Reviews or both for all 15 courses in the program, Joanne noted how the review feedback helped improve each course and allowed her to see the courses through a different lens. “The process of mapping the module-level objectives to the course-level objectives to the program goals was enlightening when preparing for the program review for Online Program Design,” Joanne explained. “I have to laugh as I always think I have it together — by continually improving my courses — only to discover there are details I overlooked when looking at the BIG picture.”

After receiving QM Program Certification for Online Program Design, Joanne heard that the University’s eCampus earned QM Program Certification for Online Learner Support. Tim Stickel, 
Student Services Manager for the eCampus, drove that effort, which covers all the school’s online programs, including the Special Education and Teaching program. That’s when Joanne knew that the Special Education and Teaching Program could be the first to reach QM Exemplary Program Status. “I told everyone that the eCampus unit was the best and that one of its programs deserved to be the first in the nation to reach that distinction,” Joanne said. The team agreed and rallied around Joanne as she moved forward with the final two QM Program Certifications — Online Teaching Support and Online Learner Success. Joanne added, “The team’s support in this journey has been incredible. I think every instructional designer reviewed at least one of my courses internally and every suggestion made multiple courses better for the students. Funding, as usual, is short, but when I asked the Provost if she would support my efforts, she willingly supported them because she knows how passionate I am about providing quality assurances to my students.”

To help achieve QM Program Certification for Online Teaching Support, Joanne created a Faculty Handbook to get faculty, including adjuncts, up to speed regarding accreditation requirements and QM Standards. “I want this program to survive system changes and be a strong program when new adjuncts and faculty are hired so creating the Faculty Handbook was imperative,” Joanne shared. “The handbook gives everyone a historical and procedural reference guide and lays out expectations, including the fact that QM training, LMS training, and the exploration of best practices in online pedagogy are required.” She also created master shells for faculty to use.

As Joanne explained, the Online Learner Success review went hand-in-hand with Online  Teaching Support. Students were given mid- and end-of-semester surveys about the responsiveness of the instructor. “Instructors teaching in a QM master shell course need to be engaged with and responsive to students throughout the course,” Joanne expounded. 

The K-12 Connection

“I completed a Master’s degree in special education completely online through UAF while I was teaching full-time,” said Kristy Robbins, principal and teacher at Eagle Community School. “The quality of the program was first-rate all the way. While the coursework was often challenging, I always felt supported. The flexibility of the teaching staff and their understanding of my unique situation made my experience very personal.”

Kristy is just one of the dozens of teacher candidates in the program. When they heard about the program achieving QM Exemplary Program Status, there was an overwhelming sense of excitement. As Joanne shared, “The teacher candidates are proud of this accomplishment. They are passionate about teaching and helping K-12 students reach their potential. An online program of this caliber, that provides teacher candidates with the technical, collaborative and student engagement skills needed to succeed in the classroom, significantly improves education delivery for K-12 students. That is ultimately the goal of this program — the advancement of K-12 students.”

Momentum for the Future

Though the process wasn’t always easy, Joanne said it was definitely worth it. As a result of going through QM Program Certification — and achieving QM Exemplary Program Status  — Joanne reported that the UAF teacher candidate experience improved and their skill levels increased. The program itself is also stronger, including the quality assurance components. And the synergy created by the collaboration benefited everyone involved. 

Achieving QM Exemplary Program Status is not the end of UAF delivering on its online promise. It is the beginning. Joanne believes the Exemplary Program Status will help ensure the longevity of the program. Additionally, Joanne said that consistent training, including QM professional development, will help the program grow and get stronger. The University also plans to pursue QM Certification for Online Teaching Support for the School of Education’s Master’s Program in Online Innovation Design. 

While Exemplary Program Status may not be your goal at the moment, there is one thing Joanne believes every QM member should be doing, “I think every instructor should bring one course through QM review. The results are wonderful and a baseline for further innovations! I would also encourage others to take part in QM professional development and see how they can improve the student experience.”

Quality Matters is a comprehensive quality assurance system built on the pillars of research-supported Standards, a robust review process, and professional development designed to train staff in using QM tools and resources. Discover how you can use QM to meet your quality assurance goals no matter how big or small they may be.