National Peer-Review Organization Recognizes Gardner-Webb Online Courses for Excellence

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School of Education and Hunt School of Nursing Courses Earn “Quality Matters” Certification Mark 

BOILING SPRINGS, N.C. – Two online courses authored by Gardner-Webb University faculty members have earned national recognition from Quality Matters (QM), a faculty-centered, peer-review process that certifies the quality of online courses. Dr. Sydney Brown and Dr. Jennifer Putnam designed the course “EDCI 700: Theory Development” as part of the University’s Doctor of Education in Curriculum and Instruction program. Dr. Tracy Arnold developed “NURS 600: The Nurse Educator” as part of the Hunt School of Nursing’s Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program.

QM has developed a widely-respected set of standards for the design of effective online courses and a rigorous, faculty peer-review process for applying these standards to existing courses. Through this process, reviewers provide instructors and instructional design teams with insights and recommendations that increase learning engagement, retention and satisfaction, and ultimately, learner achievement.

“The genius of the Quality Matters system is that it is rooted in the philosophy of peer review, rather than a top-down or administratively-driven system,” explained Dr. Ben Leslie, provost and executive vice president for GWU. “QM helps Gardner-Webb’s online courses in that it provides us with a continuing emphasis on student engagement and all those elements that make for active learning in the online environment as opposed to the passive transfer of information.”

L to R: Dr. Janet Land, Dr. Sydney Brown, and Dr. Jennifer Putnam

Dr. Janet Land is a professor of English and the director for the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL), and she spearheaded the effort to engage the University as a QM institution. She has witnessed the positive effects of the Quality Matters affiliation in a variety of ways. “Students seek affordability and quality in a graduate degree program,” Land shared. “The Quality Matters logo is like a stamp of approval on a course, meaning it is vetted by faculty for high-quality standards. Effective teaching or instruction is not simply using technology, nor is it simply lecturing and testing—in any format—as research repeatedly demonstrates.”

Dr. Tracy Arnold, assistant professor of nursing, was among the first GWU faculty members to certify as a reviewer for online courses. “This process really makes sure that online education is quality and that it replicates the same level of instruction that students would receive in face-to-face environments,” Arnold stated.

Several other Gardner-Webb faculty members have since participated in the training that allows them to become certified QM peer-reviewers, including School of Education faculty members Brown and Putnam, whose course was designated as QM-certified. “As we are teaching master’s and doctoral curriculum and instruction courses, we wanted to ‘walk the talk’ in terms of quality design and development,” Brown shared.

Putnam agreed. “One of the things we both talk about a lot is not losing the relationship piece in an online environment, and that is easy to do if you don’t build it in,” she explained. “The relationship component is what keeps students in a program and what helps them become successful. We require candidates to work collaboratively on projects from the very beginning. At first, that can be very intimidating but by the end, they see the value.”

At Gardner-Webb, the Quality Matters distinction may even help recruit new students to its academic programs. “If we can demonstrate right away that candidates are signing up for a quality experience, I think that certainly helps attract students,” Brown reflected. “Then, once students come and understand the course design and that they are getting feedback from a professor while developing a relationship with the people in their cohort, they will want to stay in the program because they feel supported and successful. Quality Matters is an important thing for our university for lots of different stakeholders.”

Click below to listen to a interview featuring Dr. Janet Land, Dr. Sydney Brown, and Dr. Jennifer Putnam.


Quality Matters (QM) is a leader in quality assurance for online education and has received national recognition for its peer-based approach to continuous improvement in online education and student learning. QM subscribers include community and technical colleges, colleges and universities, K-12 schools and systems, government agencies, corporations, and other education-related organizations. For more information, visit

Located in Boiling Springs, N.C., Gardner-Webb University’s purpose is to advance the Kingdom of God through Christian higher education by preparing graduates for professional and personal success, instilling in them a deep commitment to service and leadership, and equipping them for well-rounded lives of lasting impact, Pro Deo et Humanitate (For God and Humanity).