Christie Smith, a Blackboard Exemplary Course Program Director and the Director of Online Course Development, Lone Star College-Online recently chatted with two 2011 Blackboard Exemplary Course Program winners—Dorothy Jones and Gillian McKnight-Tutein. Dorothy teaches for Norfolk State University in Norfolk, Virginia, and Gillian teaches for Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland, Ohio. This was the first time either instructor submitted a course for program review, and they both won! In addition, Gillian participated as a course reviewer to gain experience from the other end of the process.Both faculty members had their students in mind when they decided to participate in the Exemplary Course Program. Dorothy explained that she was interested in having her course evaluated externally against established standards that indicate “value and quality to potential students.” Gillian’s goal was to receive feedback that would help her to make learning more enjoyable for her students. When asked what makes their courses exemplary, Dorothy mentioned the overall best practices in course design that were used to redesign her course and the positive feedback she received from her students. She states, “When students enroll in my course, I often hear that it is different from many of the online courses they have taken.” Gillian says her course was built upon the Quality Matters ™ framework, a program similar to the Blackboard ECP that focuses on research-based best practices in course design. View Gillian’s Course Tour. For those who are considering course submission in the 2012 program but are not sure if their courses are “exemplary caliber,” consider the invaluable insight you will gain from your course reviewers. Both Gillian and Dorothy said they received excellent feedback enabling them to further improve their courses. Dorothy said, “It was nice to have several sets of eyes reviewing what I was attempting to accomplish. There is a lot to be said for the saying, ‘two heads are better than one.’ Having course reviewers who also teach the same content was most valuable. These reviewers were able to make recommendations not only on the tools being utilized but whether or not the pedagogical strategies were in alignment with the stated learning outcomes.” Winning the ECP award had a significant impact on their careers. Dorothy is now called on by other faculty members when they need advice on course design, and Gillian feels that her win propelled her to the top for a Professional Excellence Award at her own institution. She was one of only five recipients! Both were also recognized in various publications, and Dorothy has made presentations about the program at several conferences. In summary, Gillian stated, “Students are impacted by the faculty I touch when we discuss best practices and how to use Blackboard and Quality Matters™ together to create their best courses.” Dorothy said, “With the ongoing questions about the quality of online courses, this award helped me to validate that high-quality, interactive online courses can be developed by a faculty member at a University with limited resources.” She went on to say, “I view teaching as an interaction between a professor and a learner, and the impact of this interaction upon the learner is my primary concern. This award validated the effective use of tools to enhance student engagement. This is an awesome professional development opportunity for anyone who is interested in implementing online learning best practices and achieving student success.” The 2012 Catalyst Awards and Exemplary Course Program is underway and we are accepting nominations through February 29, 2012. Please consider submitting your course or becoming a Course Reviewer.