Online Program Directors' Perspectives of Quality Programs

Online Program Directors' Perspectives of Quality Programs

Rui Li (West Chester University of Pennsylvania, USA), Esther Smidt (West Chester University of Pennsylvania, USA) and Emily Dachroeden (West Chester University of Pennsylvania, USA)
Copyright: © 2019 |Pages: 22
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-7844-4.ch007
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The purpose of this chapter is to identify and understand the factors that contribute to the development and maintenance of “quality” online programs and ensure program success. The authors took the online program directors' perspectives and investigated a variety of factors with regards to course design, faculty, students, and institutions. Interview data from seven online program directors from a mid-sized public university in the United States were collected. A list of factors emerged from the data, such as faculty buy-in, faculty training and support, program standardization through course design, third-party certification, online student needs assessment, and investment in marketing and advertising. The authors suggest that these factors should be considered while developing new online programs or improving and expanding on existing online programs.
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Current higher education institutions (HEIs) are challenged with the task of promoting learning as well as preparing students who are capable of acting as global citizens within an increasingly educated workforce (Anderson, 2008; Biro, Mullins, & Runyon, 2014; Keegan, 1996; King & Alperstein, 2015). Each year, HEIs are faced with the problem of finding ways to increase student enrollment. However, as HEIs are expected to increase the size of their student body, an additional challenge can be anticipated - how to accommodate and meet the needs of thousands of students. Similarly, with more students attending HEIs, there is the added issue of fitting each individual into a classroom. Unless the institution has the ability to expand, it is not uncommon for classroom space to run out. Thus, it is imperative for HEIs to find a way to modify their approach to both recruitment and program delivery in order to appropriately accommodate each incoming cohort of students, and distance education (DE) offers just one possible solution to this dilemma (Jaggers, 2013; Keegan, 1996; Valente, 2018).

It is generally agreed that DE refers to a learning environment where students are separated by distance from their instructor. While DE programs may incorporate some face-to-face elements (either through synchronous web-chats or actual classroom meetings), it is not uncommon for students in DE programs to never meet their instructor in person. Students who are enrolled in DE programs may live local to the HEI they are attending, but they may also live in a different part of the country or in a different country entirely; thus, the distance between the student and the instructor becomes further accentuated by a change in time-zones. In order to make up for this distance, it is essential for the learners in DE programs to use some form of technology (e.g. computers, tablets, etc.) to access the learning materials that are provided to them by the instructor (Anderson, 2008). Within the last decade, many HEIs have begun to offer DE programs to students as an alternative route to program delivery due to their great versatility.

The decision of an HEI to implement DE programs is not an easy one. Prior to beginning the design process, there are five major questions that an online program director should answer: 1) what is distance education, and how does it fit into the existing schema of the HEI; 2) what approach to online development is best suited for the desired program; 3) how can one ensure program quality; 4) what are the steps to accreditation; and 5) what faculty training/development is necessary? (Bergeron & Fornero, 2018; Biro et al., 2014; Ice, Curtis, Phillips, & Wells, 2007; King & Alperstein, 2015; Milman, 2016; O’Brien, 2013; Ragan & McQuiggan, 2014; Shattuck, Frese, Lalla, Mikalson, Simunich, & Wang, 2013; Shelton, 2011; Thornton & Koech, 2018; Valente, 2018; Yang & Cornelious, 2005). This chapter seeks to provide a guide on how to answer these questions by examining existing research on the topic, as well as data collected from interviews with online program directors.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Accreditation: A process of validation in which colleges, universities and other institutions of higher learning are evaluated. The standards for accreditation are set by a peer review board whose members include faculty from various accredited colleges and universities.

Quality Matters: An international organization that is recognized as a leader in quality assurance for online education.

Quality Assurance: The process by which a higher education institution assesses its faculty, development, and the impact these two factors have on teaching behaviors and the improvement of student performance.

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