Assuring Quality in Online Course Delivery

Assuring Quality in Online Course Delivery

Julia M. Matuga, Deborah Wooldridge, Sandra Poirier
DOI: 10.4018/javet.2011010104
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This paper examines the critical issue of assuring quality online course delivery by examining four key components of online teaching and learning. The topic of course delivery is viewed as a cultural issue that permeates processes from the design of an online course to its evaluation. First, the authors examine and review key components of and tools for designing high impact online courses that support student learning. Second, in this paper, the authors provide suggestions for faculty teaching online courses to assist in creating high quality online courses that supports teaching and, consequently, facilitates opportunities for student learning. Quality online course delivery is also contingent on the support of faculty by administration. Lastly, this paper provides suggestions for conducting course evaluation and feedback loops for the continual improvement of online learning and teaching. These four components are essential elements in assuring quality online courses.
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Few would argue that online teaching and learning has been and is on a meteoric rise. David Nagel (2009), in fact, predicted that by 2014 over 10 Million PreK-12 students will be taking online courses. A cursory search in Google Scholar showed that over 2.3 million hits were found when searching for “online education”. However, when the precursor “quality” was added to “online education” the search results declined to 1,050 articles. While this is a somewhat flawed example, it does illustrate a dilemma that has faced the field of online teaching and learning—ensuring quality while delivering course content and engaging students within online environments has not garnered the attention that it has deserved. The topic of course delivery to ensure quality within this paper is viewed as a cultural issue that permeates processes from the design to the evaluation of an online course.

It may first be helpful to highlight three myths and misconceptions about online teaching and learning. These myths/misconceptions are held by students, faculty, and administrators and influence any discussion about the quality of online course delivery (e.g., White, n.d.):

  • (1)

    Online teaching and learning is ‘worse’ (or ‘better’) for meeting student learning outcomes than face-to-face courses.

  • (2)

    Online teaching and learning is easier and more convenient for students and faculty than face-to-face courses.

  • (3)

    Online teaching and learning is less interactive for both student and faculty than face-to-face courses.

All of these statements are based upon the premise that there are no special affordances or constraints of the environment, either online or face-to-face, when it comes to teaching or learning-that we are comparing apples to apples. It has been argued elsewhere that this is not the case, that there are many fundamental differences that the educational environment both affords or constraints (Anderson, 2004; Matuga, 2001, 2005, 2007) and that establishing a dichotomistic relationship does not adequately reflect the complexity of teaching or learning within either environment. In essence, learning and teaching within online environments is fundamentally different than learning and teaching in face-to-face environments. One is not comparing apples to apples, but more like apples to oranges.

A useful concept to use as a framework, one that more adequately reflects the complexity of online teaching and learning, would be to view both through the lens of a cultural system. There are many definitions of culture and descriptions of what constitute a cultural system. LeVine (1984), for example, defined culture as “a shared organization of ideas that includes the intellectual, moral, and aesthetic standards prevalent in a community and the meanings of communicative actions” (p. 67). Others have claimed that these organizations of ideas and meanings derived from actions are not static and that culture should be thought of as systems that may be more complicated and organic collections of cognitive functions, practices, and meaning (D’Andrade, 2001; Giddens, 1984; Kitayama, 2002). Online teaching and learning may be viewed as cultural systems in that understandings and meanings are socially shared within online environments (Courtney, 2001; Mehlinger & Powers, 2002). There are also cultural practices and customs within these environments that may be linked, in various ways, to the values and beliefs of larger cultural systems, like face-to-face educational environments (Courtney, 2001; LeVine, 1984).

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