Anne Arundel Community College Case Study



Founded in 1961, Anne Arundel Community College (AACC) is an award-winning, fully accredited public two-year institution serving approximately 53,000 students each year through classes offered at more than 100 sites in Anne Arundel County or online. AACC offers national and regional studies leading to a degree, certificate, industry credential, transfer to a four-year institution or career enhancement, personal enrichment and lifelong learning.

AACC offers high quality, affordable and accessible learning opportunities to a diverse community.  Anne Arundel Community College’s Virtual Campus is a model e-Learning provider.  The virtual campus provides the same excellent learning programs as AACC and makes them available any time and any place – locally, regionally, nationally and globally – to learners with academic, professional and life enrichment goals. 

AACC joined Quality Matters (QM) almost 10 years ago as a subscriber during the original FIPSE Grant. In 2010, as part of its three-year implementation plan with QM, AACC committed to using the QM standards as a foundation for the design of online and hybrid courses.  The institution endorsed the use of QM as evidenced by an institutional mandate:

Establish an Academy of Excellence modeled after Online Academy, to use criteria established by Quality Matters (QM) in a faculty-led peer review function (AACC Strategic Action 1.06Sa).1

AACC offers 387 distinct online and hybrid credit courses and over 1100 online and hybrid courses each semester. Nine degrees and 30 credit certificates (and several letters of recognition) can be completed fully online. AACC has identified its highly-enrolled courses; these were the first to be reviewed. To date, AACC has had over 60 courses reviewed and found to meet QM review standards2.  AACC is truly building a library of quality courses for its students.  Department chairs will now identify additional courses for review at the beginning of the fall and spring semesters. These courses will be considered master courses and will be used by adjuncts who teach course sections. In addition, faculty will volunteer courses for review.  The institution has allocated funds to support independent reviews.

AACC’s long-term goal is to develop and review all online and hybrid courses based on QM’s rigorous, research-based standards. QM standards ensure that these courses’ online components promote learner engagement and provide students with the tools and information they need to be successful learners. AACC faculty and staff recognize that courses must be well-designed and taught well; in addition, students must be supported throughout their e-learning experiences at an institution. The use of QM at AACC is one component of a comprehensive quality assurance plan designed to support faculty and, most importantly, promote student success and retention.

QM interviewed Jean Runyon, Associate Vice President, Learning Advancement and the Virtual Campus; Cheryl Miller, Virtual Campus Liaison; and Sandy King, Coordinator of the Academy of Excellence, about how they use QM.  Jean provides leadership and vision for the creation, continuous planning and evaluation of learning outcomes assessment, prior learning assessment, institutional professional development, special sessions, military/veterans initiatives, weekend college and off-campus programs and distance education initiatives at Anne Arundel Community College.

Jean Runyon is an Instructional Technology Council (ITC) board member and served as its chair from 2010- 2012. The ITC, an affiliated council of the American Association of Community Colleges, has represented higher education institutions involved in distance education throughout the United States and Canada since 1977. Runyon also served two terms on both the American Association of Community Colleges’ Commission on Research, Technology and Emerging Trends and its Council of Affiliated Councils. She is Chair, Board of Directors for MarylandOnline, a state-wide consortium of two- and four-year institutions and served two terms as president of the Maryland Distance Learning Association. In addition, she is actively involved in the QM Program, conducts QM training, is a master reviewer and is a member of the Quality Matters Academic Advisory Council (QMAAC). She is a member of the Delta Kappa Gamma Society International, Alpha Beta (Chi Chapter), a service organization that promotes the professional and personal growth of women educators and educational excellence through community outreach, service and scholarships to prospective educators.

Cheryl Miller has served as AACC’s QM Institution Representative (IR) since 2009. She has been a member of the Virtual Campus team for 15 years, supporting students enrolled in distance education courses and faculty developing and teaching distance education. 

Sandy King serves as the coordinator of the Academy of Excellence and is a professor of Communications.  She has taught online courses for 15 years, including an online public speaking course, and was certified by University of Maryland University College in distance education. She is a QM-certified peer reviewer, master reviewer and trainer. 

How do you use Quality Matters at AACC? 

Quality Matters started many years ago at AACC and is now part of its institutional fabric.  The college does around 100 course reviews per semester but not all are QM-recognized reviews. Each new and reformatted course is reviewed internally – looking at only the 21 essential QM standards.  In the fall semester, there are between 30 and 50 courses reviewed internally leading up to formal reviews in the spring.  Cheryl is in charge of the formal reviews. 

The online courses are designed by faculty members who are able to call on a team of instructional designers for help.  The highest-enrolled courses are then reviewed by a faculty member who is a QM-certified peer reviewer.   

How has QM been received by faculty?

Over time, faculty have received it pretty well. As with anything new, at the start there was some pushback around the feeling of “why are you reviewing me?”  However, the output of the reviewed courses has been well-received and now many of the faculty look forward to the course review process – both the internal and external QM process.  A few years ago the college adopted this format so now the faculty do not have a choice in using it; QM is just part of their training and professional development. All faculty are required to complete training in order to teach a fully-developed online or hybrid course and to develop a new online or hybrid course.  Faculty are introduced to QM’s purpose and standards in a training course called Pathways I and must demonstrate how the courses will meet the 21 essential standards in Pathways II. The faculty need to have this information before they are able to teach online or develop online courses/materials.

The faculty take the above-listed internal trainings along with the QM flagship workshop, “Applying the Quality Matters Rubric (APPQMR)”.  Showcase courses are also available, and the faculty appreciate the opportunity to view a variety of discipline-specific courses to see how the standards have been applied.

Another program available for AACC faculty is a faculty mentoring program. Sandy is the Coordinator of the Academy of Excellence and has been with the program since it started six years ago. The Academy supports QM processes via QM reviews and mentoring new faculty in online teaching.  Each faculty member who is new to online/hybrid instruction receives an experienced mentor.  There are around 14 mentors available per semester. 

AACC, through the Academy of Excellence, realized communication was the key to get faculty on board with delivering high-quality online/hybrid courses.  QM had been discussed for years at AACC but it was not fully implemented until five years ago.  The Academy created the training course, Preparing for a QM Review, which covers “all you want to know about QM.”  It explains each standard and provides examples.  Sandy stated that “a big factor in our success was that the examples in the training were contributed by AACC faculty so newer online faculty had access to the people whose examples they were viewing.  It took a while to get exemplary courses that met all 41 standards, but once we had them in place, it demonstrated that there was not one cookie-cutter way to meet the QM standards, an initial concern of faculty.”  Sandy further reported that the faculty likes having the models to look at and use. The faculty enjoy the freedom to see the many different ways to meet standards. One of Sandy’s courses was one of the first model courses, and now that she works with faculty as a mentor, many have followed that model while others like to use other ways, so having many models is a positive for AACC.

Course reviews are also handled by the Academy.  In the fall, there are informal course reviews with full reviews happening in the spring.  Many faculty (adjunct specifically) find the review process a bit daunting, but Sandy helps walk them through the process and then they are more comfortable.  Providing support is the key to success.  Courses that have been reviewed and updated have been receiving positive reviews from faculty here at AACC. Sandy reports that she gets many comments like, “I am not getting as many questions from students about ‘where is this in the course’ or ‘how will my work be evaluated’.”  Faculty have told the Academy that they like being able to have more time to focus on content and not the day-to-day workings of an online course.   Sandy reports that she often hears things like, “Wow there is more to this QM than I thought – it really does make the course more accessible!” The Academy is really about having faculty help faculty. 

What are the key elements in promoting QM adoption among faculty?

The key elements in promoting the adoption of QM with the faculty have been the professional development offerings along with the mentor program.  AACC has invested in ensuring its faculty have the tools needed to design and deliver high-quality online/hybrid courses.

What was your biggest challenge in using or implementing QM?

The biggest challenge was the investment of time to get the whole program up and running.  The success of the students was the biggest motivator.  The course review process takes time and the outcome –students liked the updated course design and were more successful at meeting course requirements – made the process worthwhile.  The faculty also liked the new course designs.  AACC built an overview of the program on its internal website with a list of people who designed QM- recognized courses.  Cheryl distributes information as needed on the process for internal and external reviews to all stakeholders.  Communication is key to getting support and buy-in from the faculty throughout the process. 

How does your institution use QM to support your re-accreditation efforts?

Quality Matters is part of the re-accreditation process and the information that comes from the reviews has been very useful in that process. 

What is next for your institution and Quality Matters?

AACC has set a goal to have all 1100 of its courses reviewed.  It would also like to see more courses become “master courses” so they can be shared among all faculty and others can teach them.  Master courses are for high-volume courses like Introduction to Psychology classes and other popular courses.    

Ultimately, success with quality online and blended courses depends on the faculty and the work they do, plus the detailed information that comes from QM around what constitutes a quality course.  Additionally, AACC will be updating its three-year implementation plan next year to develop a game plan and targets on what they will do next.