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Miniature desks and chairs on top of a computer keyboard

Over the past two decades, academic deans, directors, and faculty have struggled to develop an effective peer review process for online courses. Most institutional review processes begin and end with the Quality Matters (QM) standard, the most widely accepted quality standard in the field of online education. But while QM provides an industry standard for evaluating online course design using peer review, it does not address other aspects of online courses, such as course delivery and how an instructor engages with students.

The comprehensive review process used in the Washburn University School of Nursing (SON) focuses on three domains: design, delivery, and content. The evaluation is intended to be formative rather than summative. Faculty obtain feedback related to each of the domain areas and use the feedback to improve their courses. Deans use an overall administrative process to coordinate the various reviews. The online peer review process is depicted in Figure 1.

Diagram labeled "Online Peer Review Model." Three domains are shown in boxes: Design, Delivery, and Content, each of which has bullet points below it. Under Design: Instructional Design Consultation and Quality Matters Review. Under Delivery: Delivery Review. Under Content: Collaborative Faculty Review and External Expertise Review. Below the three domains are two other labeled boxes: Impact and Administrative Process.
Figure 1. Online peer review model

The design domain is based on Quality Matters standards and interaction design principles. The course design peer review consists of an instructional design consultation and a formal QM review.

The delivery domain focuses exclusively on how well instructors engage with students in the online environment. Each course delivery peer review is completed by a colleague who is given complete access to all areas of a course. The team that developed the model gleaned elements for this domain from a variety of sources. They compiled a list of desirable behaviors in the following areas:


The administrative process supports the following:

Impact occurs when faculty incorporate feedback generated by the review process into the courses they teach. Faculty reflect on the recommendations they receive and consider ways to improve the design, delivery, and content of their courses. Faculty use the feedback to identify specific goals, action items, or plans to improve the course. The administrative team may assign a coach or mentor. After a period of one year, the faculty member provides a summary of changes they made as a result of the peer review process to the SON’s instructional designer, associate dean, and dean.

Incorporating an online peer review process is a valuable strategy for ensuring an online program’s continued success. Reviewing an online course and instructor in the different domains of design, delivery, and content from the perspective of a diverse group of people can be insightful and transformative. The thoughtful and detailed feedback gleaned from external reviewers has been exceptional and has given SON faculty a deeper, more nuanced view of how to improve their courses, while the adoption of regular collaborative faculty reviews has expanded the focus of curriculum reviews from individual courses to include mapping and threading key themes throughout the program. Most importantly, it has allowed faculty who teach exclusively online to collaborate with and learning from their peers.

Linda Merillat, PhD, is a lecturer and instructional designer, Bobbe Mansfield, DNP, is an associate dean, Marian Jamison, PhD, is a professor, Monica Scheibmeir, PhD, is a retired dean, and Jeanne Catanzaro, EdD, is an assistant professor and director of the RN-to-BSN program at Washburn University.