Category Archives: E-learning

A Primer on Quality Matters

During the 1/19 faculty meeting I described a little bit about the organization Quality Matters. Quality Matters is an organization that grew out of a FIPSE grant from MarylandOnline in an effort to improve and provide standards for online and blended course delivery. After the three year grant came to a close, Quality Matters became its own entity and is now funded by subscriptions. To date there are over 900 institutional subscribers.

Quality Matters provides tools and services to educational institutions to assist in the improvement of online and blended learning. Some of the tools that are provided are the rubrics based on the Eight Standards identified by QM as important for online learning, training courses for developing online and blended courses, using the QM rubrics, and becoming an official QM peer-reviewer and they also provide the service of coordinating and conducting individual course reviews. Benefits of being a subscriber is having access to these tools at a reduced price and being provided with a structure to manage internal course reviews within the institution.

Morningside is currently testing out the utility of the Quality Matters rubrics and exploring the benefits of continuing a subscription to their services.  Grad Nursing has been using the rubrics in their course development for this semester and plans to conduct some peer reviews of these courses later on. Grad Ed is planning on applying the QM rubrics to courses within their Foundations Core to assist in course improvement. A few faculty teaching online undergraduate courses will participate in a pilot using the QM rubrics on their courses.

Additionally, I plan to complete several (three) of the online professional development courses offered by Quality Matters (Applying the QM Rubrics, Designing Online Courses, and Designing Blended Courses) over the course of this semester not only to improve my own understanding in these areas, but to evaluate the quality of these professional development opportunities.

Later on in the semester (April 9) FDC will hold a workshop on Online Course Development where myself and several others who have been involved in using the QM rubrics will describe our experiences and methods of using these tools.

As we move toward the creation of new programs that are online and in increasing online offerings for our residential students, the issue of quality is paramount. Quality Matters provides a national (really international) benchmark for quality of online teaching. Whether we stay with Quality Matters will depend on the value that we see from these pilots. But if it is not Quality Matters, it will be something else similar that will be used.



Another e-book product: SmartBook

About a month ago I posted a blog about the evolution of e-books. In this post I briefly described  one product by Pearson called Revel.  In this week’s post I want to share the product from another publisher, McGraw-Hill, and their approach to e-books.  MGH’s SmartBook product is an e-book based on the principles of mastery learning.  Mastery learning is the notion of having learners study material and then demonstrate their competence typically through quizzing.  Mastery learning requires a student to master earlier material before moving on to more complex material.  MGH’s SmartBook product uses this basic principle.

In a nutshell, instructors select the learning objectives from the text that they want their students to learn and the depth at which they wish to have students learn the material (from very basic understanding to having a deeper conceptual understanding of the material).  Students then read the text and answer a series of questions.  The question presentation is based on a complex algorithm  which adapts to several things that the student can do while answering questions (if right/wrong, level of confidence, time to answer, clicking on resources, etc) so each student’s question experience is different (which makes cheating and copying off one another difficult).  Based on the question performance and the student’s confidence level, completing an assignment can take a very short amount of time (if the student knows the material and is confident) or a very long amount of time (if simply guessing and clicking through).

In addition to these features, the grades from the assignments can be integrated into a Moodle gradebook (we just need to obtain the plug-in so if you are interested let me know).  Also there are some possibilities for assessment results to be displayed as well.

Comparing the two products, they are very different.  From my viewpoint, Revel focuses more on creating interactivity in the books and segmenting the learning (read a little then do a little) more whereas SmartBook focuses more on using the mastery learning approach to help get students to read and study more before class.  SmartBook is created for both computer and mobile devices.

The Evolution of E-Books

With computers and other electronic devices (phones, tablets, etc.) becoming more ubiquitous on college campuses, the presence of e-books has become more and more visible. E-books have been touted as a potential cost saving measure for students and publishers. Without the need to create physical books, the savings on materials should be passed along to the user, and the information is the same so the experience should be similar, right? This belief is not entirely true and there are benefits and drawbacks to using e-books.


  • Fewer heavy books to carry around daily
  • Easy searching using the e-book’s search function
  • Ability to highlight and write notes
  • Costs may be lower
  • Ability to include multimedia within the book


  • Comfort level using electronic books or simply a preference for physical books
  • E-book may be on a limited license use (i.e. 6 month access)
  • Loss of access because of limited Internet access or computer problems
  • Reading on a screen is different and potentially more difficult than reading from page

Some instructors have conducted casual polls in their courses and have found that students still tend to prefer a physical text book to an e-book and other published work has supported these classroom polls (e.g. Woody, Daniel, & Baker, 2009).

With the results of these polls and the drawbacks listed above, is there any benefit to having your students use an e-book in class? The answer to this, I believe lies in how e-books have evolved over the years.

What exactly is an e-book? What do you envision when you hear this term? Do you think of the novel that you are currently reading on your Kindle? Is it the PDF version of the textbook that the publisher makes available? If so, this is – in my opinion – the worst form that an e-book can take and in my mind has little benefit other than making ones backpack a little lighter. This is the first iteration of the e-book. Publishers have simply taken the text already created by the authors and put it into some reader form (Kindle, PDF, etc). It is nothing more than static text you read on the screen rather than the page.

However, if you can imagine a “book” that is more interactive and dynamic. A “book” that takes advantage of the medium by which it is delivered, then I believe there is potential greatness in e-books. But before I go into this detail, I first want to acknowledge that I have a bit of a biased view because I did assist in the creation of one of these books recently. Though there may be a little conflict of interest here (though I do not get any royalties from this book), I hope that you know that my interest in this area was present before I took on that project.

With tablets becoming more popular and mobile learning becoming more prevalent, the future of the e-book, I think, is bright – as long as they are created with the principles of how people learn best. Today’s e-books are less like “books” and more like interactive learning modules. The example I will discuss in this post is the platform being used by a well-known publisher in the textbook world.

First, the authoring system can be different for these books. Authors that start with the creation of the interactive elements (the things you want the students to do) and then go on to create the text to support that student’s ability to learn how to do this task is a newer approach to authoring. However, this is not a new approach to lesson and curriculum planning. This form of backward engineering focuses more on what we want the learner to accomplish or do, rather than on what the instructor or author tells (a focus on student learning, not on the teacher).

Second, these books take advantage of the multimedia capabilities of electronic devices. Information can be segmented into smaller pieces (rather than large blocks of text) and supported by things like video, online articles, quizzes, simulations, journal entry, discussion boards, demonstrations, and others). This supports the notion of repetition and multiple ways of processing information.

Third, these books have the potential of increasing student accountability. If the book is Internet based, then there is the ability to record student activity while progressing through the book. This could even be evaluated and graded. Particular activities could be assigned to be completed by a certain time and date. Of course there is the question of WHO is doing the work or students working together, but there can be ways of addressing these concerns.

Finally, there is a possibility of students having more positive experiences with these types of books. Breaking up material, including interesting and applied multimedia, including low-stakes concept checks can help to increase student motivation and attitude potentially. I am particularly interested to see if this is actually true. My sense is that the generally negative attitude toward e-books that research has shown in the past is due to the rather primitive nature of those books. Designing a better e-book that uses the science of learning, I would hope, would increase positive attitudes.

If you are interested in what these new-generation e-books might look like, you can check out the Revel products from Pearson ( I am sure the other publishers have other products similar to this. This was the publisher I worked with. I was the content matter expert who created all of the interactive features of one of their Revel versions of a General Psychology book.

In Spring 2016 I plan on using one of these books in my General Psychology class and I will be sure to report my experiences using this book as well as asking my students about their experiences with a product like this.