The Journal of Computer Assisted Learning (JCAL) is seeking for contributions to its forthcoming special issue to one of the guest editors.
The Journal is listed with ISI Journal Citation Reports® Ranking: 2008: 29/112 Education & Educational Research Impact Factor: 1.065
Each volume includes one, sometimes two, Special Issues and these provide readers with an in-depth perspective on a specific topic. It is intended to include a Special Issue on Quality in e-Learning in a forthcoming volume.
The Journal of Computer Assisted Learning invites authors to submit papers for this special issue.
Now I have a lot of respect for Ulf-Daniel Ehlers, who is very thoughtful and interesting in his approach to quality in e-learning (he is Vice-President of the European Foundation for Quality in e-Learning: EFQUEL), but I was struck by a comment a faculty member made on one of my many visits to a university:
I have the same feeling about quality assurance processes as Goebbels had for culture: whenever I hear the words I reach for my gun.
This reminded me of another visit to a two year college. They had invited me to talk about e-learning. When I got there, I said to my host: ‘I was surprised to get your invitation, because your institution was a pioneer in online learning in the mid 1990s. What’s happened?’ ‘Well, we put in place a quality assurance process for online learning that was so hideously bureaucratic, none of the faculty wanted to do it.’ ‘Do you have the same process for your classroom courses?’ ‘Of course not.’
So what’s gone wrong? Surely everyone is in favour of quality? We had some interesting results around this issue in our study of 11 institutions.
Generally, most institutions in the case studies depended heavily on conventional formal degree quality assurance processes (both internally and at a state or provincial level) to ensure that teaching with technology met the necessary standards. Fully online programs often received particular scrutiny.
Quality assurance processes developed specifically for online learning were not used in the case study institutions with the highest degree of technology integration.
One reason for the heavy emphasis on quality assurance is that e-learning is still under a cloud of suspicion in many institutions. Faculty often are suspicious of or hostile to using technology for teaching (although over time the fear factor seems to be diminishing). Thus even more rigorous forms of quality assurance are demanded than for face-to-face teaching. However, many of the quality assurance models focus on the management of e-learning processes, more than on what actually happens within teaching and learning with technology. At its worst, quality management can end up with many boxes on a questionnaire being ticked, in that the management processes are all in place, without in fact investigating whether students are really learning more or better as a result of using technology.
I have another worry about quality assurance processes, in that they can act as a brake on innovation. By definition, they are predicated on past best practices using ‘older’ technology such as learning management systems or asynchronous online learning. However, when a new technology comes along, or when instructors start to think differently about how existing technology can be used, by definition it is unlikely to reflect current ‘best practice’, especially if the quality assurance process does not look at the relationship between processes and learning outcomes.
At the end of the day, the best guarantees of quality in e-learning are:
- well-qualified subject experts also well trained in both teaching methods and the use of technology for teaching,
- highly qualified and professional learning technology support staff,
- adequate resources, including appropriate instructor/student ratios
- appropriate methods of working (teamwork, project management)
- systematic evaluation leading to continuous improvement.
Nevertheless, quality assurance methods are valuable for agencies concerned about rogue, private providers, or institutions using e-learning to cut corners or reduce costs without maintaining standards (for instance, by hiring untrained adjuncts, and giving them an unacceptably high student-teacher ratio to manage). They can be useful for providing instructors new to teaching with technology, or struggling with its use, with models of best practice to follow. But for any reputable state university or college, the same quality assurance methods used for face-to-face teaching should also apply to online programs, slightly adjusted for the difference in delivery method.