Quality Assurance and Online Higher Education

Quality Assurance and Online Higher Education

Edward D. Garten (University of Dayton, USA) and Tedi Thompson (American Public University System, USA)
Copyright: © 2009 |Pages: 9
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-198-8.ch249
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Abstract

For higher education, the assurance of quality to others in what it does is a deeply held value. Yet, marks surrounding quality are not easily identified, clearly understood, or universally accepted. The consumer movement, among other societal factors in recent years, has nudged and in some instances pushed institutions of higher learning toward the specification of meaningful assessment measures and the subsequent reporting out to concerned parties indications of quality relative to institutional infrastructure and resources, institutional processes, and readily understood outcomes measures (Baker, 2002, p. 3).
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Introduction

For higher education, the assurance of quality to others in what it does is a deeply held value. Yet, marks surrounding quality are not easily identified, clearly understood, or universally accepted. The consumer movement, among other societal factors in recent years, has nudged and in some instances pushed institutions of higher learning toward the specification of meaningful assessment measures and the subsequent reporting out to concerned parties indications of quality relative to institutional infrastructure and resources, institutional processes, and readily understood outcomes measures (Baker, 2002, p. 3).

Technology-enhanced teaching and learning has fundamental implications for quality assurance and accreditation that include:

  • The reality that online learning technologies are reshaping some of the most fundamental and pervasive activities of learning and teaching.

  • Digital technology will continue to change far faster than any other aspect of the academic infrastructure. Each new generation of technology calls into question fundamental values and practices with quality assurance processes, both externally and internally imposed, having roles to play in deciding what to change and what to regain.

  • Computers and networked learning are being employed to broaden participation in higher education, with wider access to information and experiences. In many instances, these unfolding uses of technology are having profound effects on the identity, mission, and character of academic departments, institutions, and systems.

  • Technology-enabled learning can trigger dramatic increases in costs with sometimes minimal educational payoff unless providers use careful planning, evaluation, and focused quality assurance processes.

Online higher education in multiple ways has challenged and been challenged by traditional quality assurance and accreditation processes. Online higher education alters the traditional faculty role, and it may alter many of the fundamental intellectual tasks of faculty. Moreover, many online initiatives separate curriculum design from curriculum delivery, replacing curricula designed by individual faculty or faculty teams with standardized course content. Critically, online learning can shift, in the case of some virtual university providers, responsibility for determination of academic standards from faculty to corporate leadership (Eaton, 2002, pp. 8-9). It is clear that the “continued growth of the global demand for distance education and the acceptance of the virtual university as a mainstream institution both drive the need (and also the technological capability) for more effective measurements of human and organizational performance” (Stallings, 2002, p. 53). This article assumes the understanding of online higher education to consist of that broad range of higher learning activities that include corporate training centers, nonprofit and governmental education activities, multi-state and international learning collaborations, and the distance learning efforts of individual institutions of higher learning both for profit and non-profit (Epper & Garn, 2004).

In this article we explore key elements associated with quality control and regulation of online higher education: (1) the learning outcomes movement, (2) national standards and guidelines which better ensure evidences of quality, (3) expectations of regional accreditation agencies for quality online delivery, and (4) institutionally adopted quality processes.

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Impact Of The Learning Outcomes Movement

Any discussion of quality control of online higher education must necessarily begin with a statement of the critical importance that the learning outcomes and learning assessment movement has had on the wider conversation regarding quality assurance. Multiple and diverse constituencies, legislative agencies, and accrediting bodies today demand improved accountability from institutions of higher learning in both online and traditionally delivered programs. These demands have resulted in a greater emphasis on learning outcomes assessment and learner-centered methodologies. Learning outcomes assessment not only assists an institution in the evaluation of the effectiveness of its programs, it provides the basis for continual quality assurance and improvement (Muirhead, 2002).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Quality Assurance: Those processes that assess the relative strength of academic programs and associated student and faculty support programs, and offer strategies for both program and institutional improvements recognizable by both internal and external constituencies

Virtual Universities: Universities that deliver their academic programs solely or primarily in an Internet-based online mode, and which typically do not have extensive physical facilities or campuses

Accreditation: The primary means by which colleges and universities and other higher learning programs assure academic quality to students and to the public.

Technology-Enabled Education: The use of advanced electronic technologies for purposes of direct support and enhancement of the student learning experience, in all of its aspects and wherever it might occur

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