Quality Assurance: Breaking Through the Online Learning Plateau

Quality Assurance: Breaking Through the Online Learning Plateau

Jermaine S. McDougald (Universidad de La Sabana, Colombia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-0115-3.ch008

Abstract

Online education has continued to increase at a rapid rate over the past decades, offering diverse learning programs at all levels of education. As a result, online programs continue to shift and change according to the demands of society. However, the demands for qualified online instructors (OI) are not increasing at the same rate and are not proportional to the number of instructors directly responsible for delivering quality online courses. Many OI do not know their learners; therefore, a gap is left in terms of their needs in an online environment. This chapter will provide insights into how the strategy “module hosts” for online discussion boards, and learner profiles are used in an online graduate program to promote effective communication, leadership, and collaboration. Moreover, the chapter discusses varied ways through which online instructors can incorporate a “bottom-up” approach in their instruction as part of being a change agent.
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Introduction

Online learning or virtual learning continues to increase across the globe, in all academic areas for the past four decades (Zawacki-Richter & Latchem, 2018). As such there are still concerns surrounding the nature of online courses or programs as well as its validity (Agbebaku & Adavbiele, Justina, 2016; Markova, Glazkova, & Zaborova, 2017). It comes as no surprise as to the impact technology has had on education in the past few decades, in which distance education has grown rapidly into online, virtual education or even blended learning. Allen, Seaman, Poulin, and Straut (2016) claim that more than two-thirds of academic leaders believe online learning is a “critical” component to the long-term viability of the institution. This increase in online programs is partially attributed to its mobility, flexibility, internationalization and increased job opportunities. The flexibility and mobility of online learning make studying attractive, in which potential students can access high-quality education, across borders, without having to completely interrupt their already active lives.

Although online programs help learners to overcome the hassle and constraints of time, other hurdles obstacles arise such as, real-time communication, which is a vital role in making online learning more authentic and natural. The later in hopes of connecting with shy, less confident students, providing them with practical and genuine opportunities to stay involved in their own learning. However, Jiang (2017, p. para. 1) suggest that “learner's online behavior and peer-interaction would be more regulated and stimulated by assigning roles to learners in discussion activities”. There are an array of benefits to assigning roles with collaborative group assignments, such as allowing learners to stay on task, clear route for participation, encourage individual accountability while strengthening communication (Johnson, 2011; Villagonzalo, 2014). The diverse roles that could be assigned in online environments are mirrored from face-to-face interactions; however, they are still valid and extremely useful for online learners, such as being a facilitator, recorder, presenter, or even a reflector. In fact, additional roles such as encourager, questioner or even a checker (De Wever, Keer, Schellens, & Valcke, 2010) could also be used. Nevertheless, these roles can be assigned and distributed as needed in accordance with the topic or assignment at hand. Thus, this chapter will discuss how roles can be used managing online forum discussions, where learners become online instructors (OIs hereafter) for different periods during the online real-time sessions.

However, regardless of the increase and demand of online programs, many OIs still lack the essential knowledge of their learners as well as their online teaching context since OIs often carry over traditional face-to-face strategies into the online environment, making no significant adjustment, and simply changing the delivery modality. In fact, OIs are not truly aware of what or even who are their students, which in turn has a direct consequence on the teaching and learning process. Now, faculty members at higher education institutions (HEI, hereafter) across the globe are typically deemed “experts” in their field of study, but not in pedagogy, education or the like. Now, if a second or foreign language is involved, the recipe for teaching just got that much harder. Therefore, the combination of [expertise (-) pedagogy] + foreign language equals challenges in successfully acquiring the content at hand (Betts & Heaston, 2014; Tømte, Enochsson, Buskqvist, & Kårstein, 2015). Now, if this same formula is applied to an online course, the stakes just increased meaning that these professionals, now faculty at a HEI, often do not have competences to teach online, which in turn results in not so “positive” reactions from learners (i.e. high dropout rates, lack of field competences, limited cognition development, etc.).

HEIs try to off-set this lack of preparation/training by offering short courses, seminars and the like on various topics, unfortunately, teaching online is often not on “to-do list”, because faculty believe that since they are “experts” in their field, they do not need an “upgrade” to teach online, because they claim that it is the same. Unfortunately, both HEIs and faculty alike perceive online education as such.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Quality Assurance: Quality assurance in online education is a way to maintain a target level of quality in online programs, by carefully paying attention to details of online learners, online instructors, and content development, in order to maintain retention rates.

Learner Profile (LP): A learner profile comes in different shapes and sizes, such as a document, portfolio, or even a conversation with the learner that highlights key information about them, which could be used to better help the learner successfully achieve their learning outcomes.

Module Hosts (MH): A module host is responsible for promoting discussion and participation in an online discussion forum throughout a specific period of time, encouraging participants in the forum to actively participate and to begin new discussions when there is little activity, while playing different roles.

Online Instructor (OI)/Online Teacher (OT)/Online Tutor (OT): An online instructor/teacher/tutor teaches courses online using the internet and teaching methods that cater to online learning environments, possessing at a minimum pedagogical, social, technical and managerial competences.

Teacher Collaboration (TC): Teacher collaboration takes places when colleagues within a given learning community work towards a common goal to make the teaching and learning process more efficient, thereby increasing student learning.

Collaboration Roles: Collaboration roles are diverse roles that team members, colleagues, etc. take on in order to present ideas and lead discussions with other members of a team or group. These roles can change where the expertise is shared and requires members to have a cooperative spirit and mutual respect.

Professional Development (PD): Professional development is formal and informal training sessions designed to improve, increase and/or update faculty in order to remain effective and efficient in their job performance. PD is also an essential part of quality assurance.

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