Strengthening the Internal Quality Assurance Mechanisms in Open and Distance Learning Systems

Strengthening the Internal Quality Assurance Mechanisms in Open and Distance Learning Systems

Felix Kayode Olakulehin (National Open University of Nigeria Victoria Island, Nigeria)
Copyright: © 2009 |Pages: 7
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-198-8.ch283
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Abstract

The term quality is a difficult concept to define. The concept is easily misconstrued because of its rather nebulous characteristics. While many people have a fair idea as to what they construe the quality of a phenomenon or an object to be, they find it difficult to define the term. Dictionaries define quality as degree of excellence. This suggests that quality is not some kind of fixed, immutable target or destination that may be attained merely by striving sufficiently hard, but a dynamic or moving target whose attainment at each point in time is facilitated by a set of strategies that are themselves also dynamic(Ekhaguere, 2006). In industrial organizations, where the assembly line production format is popular, control measures are used by managers to ascertain and sustain the credibility and standard of the product being released into the market. According to Duncan (1978) there are two types of control measures for goal attainment –feedback control and preventive control. While the feedback control is based on the information from the end-users of a product regarding the performance of the product, after they must have obtained and made use of it; preventive control relies on preventive planning to minimize variance or deviation in the production process. Quality assurance is a component of the preventive control mechanisms which involves ensuring that all intermediate products in production process conform as much as possible to specifications. It is believed that the lack of variance in intermediate products guarantees final product quality, all things being equal.
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Introduction

The term quality is a difficult concept to define. The concept is easily misconstrued because of its rather nebulous characteristics. While many people have a fair idea as to what they construe the quality of a phenomenon or an object to be, they find it difficult to define the term. Dictionaries define quality as degree of excellence. This suggests that quality is not some kind of fixed, immutable target or destination that may be attained merely by striving sufficiently hard, but a dynamic or moving target whose attainment at each point in time is facilitated by a set of strategies that are themselves also dynamic(Ekhaguere, 2006).

In industrial organizations, where the assembly line production format is popular, control measures are used by managers to ascertain and sustain the credibility and standard of the product being released into the market. According to Duncan (1978) there are two types of control measures for goal attainment –feedback control and preventive control. While the feedback control is based on the information from the end-users of a product regarding the performance of the product, after they must have obtained and made use of it; preventive control relies on preventive planning to minimize variance or deviation in the production process. Quality assurance is a component of the preventive control mechanisms which involves ensuring that all intermediate products in production process conform as much as possible to specifications. It is believed that the lack of variance in intermediate products guarantees final product quality, all things being equal.

In the past, quality issues were not among the major concerns of educational institutions, because the excellence of formal training and knowledge was taken for granted. At that time, educational institutions focused more on ensuring that their offerings are of certain universally predetermined standards. These standards, formally referred to as Academic Standards are normally identified by features such as the depth of content and duration of a course of study; the transactional treatment received by learners at a given period of time, which is defined by classroom teaching, tutorials and the practical sessions that learners are exposed in the course of their training; and a standard norm of evaluating learning achievements, through assignments and end-of-term examinations. These standards had characterized educational systems for centuries and it is regarded as a common denominator of all that is necessary in all educational institutions.

However, as the global environments enlarged and educational institutions expanded in size and numbers, there arose the need for benchmarking the value of the instructional content given to (clients) or seekers of knowledge. Thus, different quality assurance agencies were put in place in many countries of the world to ascertain the credibility of educational programmes on offer in all institutions of learning - conventional, distance including online. Many of these external quality assurance mechanisms have been somewhat effective in setting bench marks and minimum academic standards below which all relevant institutions are not expected to fall. The implementation of quality assurance procedures in educational organizations according to Broadfoot (1994) in Afemikhe (2004), involves defining appropriate criteria, accreditation of institutions, visits of verifiers and use of assessment panels. Moderation of examination questions and scripts also forms part of the quality assurance process as it seeks to reduce sources of errors. Harlem (1994) identified two levels of moderation and these are: adjusting assessment outcomes to improve fairness, and putting in place processes of arriving at fair assessment. These factors point out the roles which are played by the external quality assurance and accreditation agencies within national and international boundaries. According to Barney Pityana, Vice Chancellor of UNISA, external quality assurance begins with accreditation as a service provider for distance higher education programmes which government through possibly a Higher Education Commission or another independence system or mechanism. However Daniels (2006) observed that no quality assurance system should be transplanted from one institution to another across organizational, social and cultural boundaries. The development must be home grown from its context.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Formative Evaluation: The assessment of learning that occurs as a project or course is in progress, with the aim of identifying problems and addressing them, immediately.

Open and Distance Learning: A way of providing learning opportunities that is characterized by the separation of teacher and learner in time and place, or both time and place; learning that is certified in some way by an institution or agency ; the use of a variety of media, including print and electronic; two-way communications that allow learners and tutors to interact; the possibility of occasional face-to-face meetings; and a specialized division of labour in the production and delivery of courses.

Curriculum: The total structure of knowledge and skills and educational experiences that make up any one educational system or its component parts.

Standards: The parts of a learning objective that describe how well the learner will be expected to perform, expressed in terms of accuracy, speed or quality.

Quality: The fitness for purpose of a product or service according to a set of required standards.

Quality Assurance: An approach to organizing work that: ensures the institution’s mission and aims are clear and known to all; ensures the systems through which work will be done are well thought out, foolproof and communicated to everyone; ensures everyone’s responsibilities are clear and understood; defines and documents the institution’s sense of ‘quality’; sets in place systems to check that everything is working to plan; and when things go wrong – and they will- there are agreed ways of putting them right.

Summative Evaluation: Assessment that occurs at the completion of a course or project, which provides a summary account of its effectiveness and the extent to which it met its goals and objectives.

Developmental Testing: Trying out materials with learners in the hope of developing or improving those materials for the benefit of other or future learners.

Interactivity: The ability for the learner to respond in some way to the learning materials and obtain feedback on the response; there are two kinds of interactivity: (1) learning materials interactivity, involving the learners’ interaction with the medium, the level and immediacy of feedback the medium itself provides, and the extent to which the medium will accommodate learners’ own input and direction; (2) social interactivity, the extent to which learners interact with teachers and with each other via a given medium.

Task Analysis: The process that identifies the skills and knowledge a competent person needs to complete a task to ensure that they are included in the learning process.

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