“Quality Assurance was put in place to monitor and review internal processes and the effectiveness of CSU departments in providing our students with an exceptional customer experience,” explained Tina Shipp, director of Quality Assurance.
Essentially, Shipp and her staff of five representatives and one supervisor serve as a watchdog group for CSU students. The department was launched in March 2010 to ensure a high-level of quality is maintained at CSU. This is Shipp’s overall goal, but “I am also heavily involved in student retention and statistical reporting of data for annual reports and accreditation purposes.”
She and her small staff deal with these herculean tasks daily by utilizing an impressive system of quality checks and processes to help ensure CSU students enjoy and gain from their learning experience. Quality Assurance also works on special projects assigned in regard to research into ongoing retention and graduation rates at CSU.
“The staff focuses on course reviews to ensure compliance with standards of quality, so we find any issues before the course launches for enrollment,” Shipp said. “In addition, the staff works on monitoring grade posting software for exceptions, the assignment overdue report, end-of-course surveys and the complaint ticket system.”
The latter falls with QA supervisor Bernice Morris who says the biggest part of her job is examining and filtering items in the complaint ticket system.
“All complaints are put in without assignment. I read all of the complaints to see if I can solve the complaint first,” she said. ”If it’s a library link [for example] and I can replace the library link in a course, then I take care of that complaint.” However, if the issue is more involved, then Morris determines who or what CSU department(s) can best resolve the complaint and assigns the ticket accordingly.
Morris said she also monitors the resolution process of a complaint from beginning to end, particularly if the complaint came from a student. She does a follow-up with students for feedback and comments regarding the complaint. On some occasions, Morris may reopen the complaint ticket to fully resolve the issue if the student is not satisfied with the current solution.
Although members of the QA staff have varying duties, one of the most common things they do is course review. This entails a “test drive” of a course to make sure all the bells and whistles are working and there are no performance quality issues before it is released to the students.
“It could be a grammatical error, a functional error like a broken link, anything that causes a complication within the course quality,” explained Morris. Generally, course errors or problems are reported to the CSU Curriculum Development department which handles the correction or changes to the course along with other key departments.
This review process is very much appreciated by Cindy McNeely, a QA representative and CSU student. McNeely monitors and helps resolve course quality complaints. On average, she said she gets up to 20 emails per week regarding courses. Most issues are resolved within the department’s three business days standard. She said that knowing the courses are checked for quality makes her feel good about the classes.
Jeanie Smith is also a QA representative and CSU student and agrees with McNeely’s statement. “As the old saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. I have always found this to be a profound understatement,” said Smith. “For six of my seven years at CSU, I have been directly involved with student complaints. I have seen first-hand how much time and effort is exerted when mistakes or technical abnormalities have to be resolved after the course is launched rather than before. As a student, I feel better knowing that proactive measures are in place to help make my learning experience go smoother.”
Shipp added. “There is so much competition in the online world of education. If we do not offer students quality courses and unmatched customer service, it’s very easy for students to take their business elsewhere,” she said.
Quality Assurance also monitors grade posting to ensure students’ grades are posted correctly and in a timely manner. If a problem arises, such as a technical glitch or error in posting, QA representative Alisha Carlo makes sure the matter is resolved quickly.
If for some reason a grade is posted late, an overdue report is filed and QA representative Karen Fetherolf steps in to track and resolve the issue. This type of accountability is excellent for the student said Fetherolf as it ensures their efforts are graded in a timely manner and no backlog occurs in grading.
Furthermore, QA is developing a grade challenge system for students who may have a complaint about a grade. This process will help a professor explain why and how the grade was assigned so the student can better understand how the grade was determined.
“I think it’s good. It will give the students feedback as to why the professor graded in that manner and help them with their other assessments in the future,” said Theresa Enfinger. This QA representative added that the process also helps students stay on track with their course as they understand how the professor assesses their work.
“Given that we are completely online, we have set very high expectations for communication, and when we find that this expectation is not being met, we immediately take action to notify the appropriate individuals,” Shipp commented.
However, Shipp stresses that all this can be avoided if students contact their professor first. “He/she is there to assist you with course content, understanding the assignments and due dates, allowing for late submission if warranted and other course related issues,” she explained. “Many times, students contact CSU directly and the faculty member isn’t even aware there is a situation going on with the student.”
Shipp added that students also can contact their Student Services representative if they need assistance submitting forms such as course extensions or requests for final exams, or when enrollment assistance is needed. “We have very personable and highly trained staff willing to take your call and/or email, and respond to you quickly and in a helpful manner.”
According to Shipp, all of these QA checks reflect the department’s most important service, “to continuously monitor processes to ensure that students are getting quality courses and exceptional customer service from our faculty and staff.”
And the QA staff say they derive a good feeling knowing that they are protecting the interests of students.
“We’re here on the side of the student,” said Morris. “We basically look at the problem from the student’s point of view. A lot of them think that the university has set standards and we don’t go outside of that to help them and that’s not true. That’s what QA is for.
“We look at the services we are supplying and determine if they are really meeting the students’ needs,” Morris added.
Although QA may be the “bad guy” sometimes, Shipp does find the job very rewarding. “I am most rewarded when finding a resolution to a particular snag in the process that will benefit both employee production and the student’s experience,” she said.
“I enjoy making things run more smoothly. I also love to read the end of course surveys and find good feedback from students. QA has a negative component and this encourages me to keep the staff motivated.”
As for the future of the Quality Assurance department, Shipp said, “As quality in our courses continues to increase, we will begin focusing more on retention projects, as well as spot checking departmental processes to ensure timely production and response to student needs.”