Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Higher Education

First Advisor's Name

Daniel Saunders

First Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Chair

Second Advisor's Name

Benjamin Baez

Second Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Member

Third Advisor's Name

James Burns

Third Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Member

Fourth Advisor's Name

Eric Dwyer

Fourth Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Member


distance education, quality assurance, Quality Matters, audit

Date of Defense



Online education has become a pervasive and embedded instructional modality in American higher education, with nearly one-third of all students taking at least one course at a distance and another 15% enrolled exclusively in online courses. Concomitant with the growth in online education has been increased pressure from institutions, administrations, lawmakers, accreditors, and the public to regulate the quality of online courses. Some institutions have responded to this pressure by pursuing quality assurance certification programs. Quality Matters (QM) is a non-profit organization that facilitates a peer-reviewed quality assurance program for online courses and is the predominant mechanism of online course quality assurance used by higher education institutions. Understanding the QM course review as an audit practice, the purpose of this qualitative study was to explore how faculty members negotiated, maneuvered, and resisted the Quality Matters process; the motivational factors, impacts, and significance that led up to and followed their engagement with Quality Matters; and the relations between the standards of the Quality Matters rubric and faculty members’ own conceptualizations of quality. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with eight university faculty members, representing a variety of faculty ranks and subject areas, who have successfully passed a formal Quality Matters course review for one or more online courses. Interview transcripts and documentary artifacts were analyzed to identify salient themes. The results indicated that participants’ conceptualizations of course quality were not fully aligned with the QM rubric, resulting in an expectations gap. Participants engaged in Quality Matters because of factors relating to perceptions of prestige, recognition, and distinction; the possibility of a monetary incentive; or because it was mandated or expected. Participants in this study were able to navigate and maneuver QM in large part through the support of a decoupled organizational structure and resisted through various performative means. The major impacts of Quality Matters included colonization of QM-related logics into other aspects of their teaching practice and its role as a platform for self-reflection. Ultimately, the findings from this study suggest that the Quality Matters audit represents an encroachment on the professional autonomy of teaching faculty emblematic of the neoliberalization of the university.






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