Quality Practices in Higher Education Distance Learning: The Perspective of Practitioners

Quality Practices in Higher Education Distance Learning: The Perspective of Practitioners

Fernando Bandeira (University Fernando Pessoa, Portugal) and João Casqueira Cardoso (University Fernando Pessoa, Portugal)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-4769-4.ch001
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Abstract

This chapter is an attempt to systematize the available knowledge in quality assurance and assessment in higher education distance learning, taking into consideration that information is consubstantiated mostly in grey literature produced in the past decade. It begins by framing the historical and the political approach to quality and accountability and then opts for an approach the outline the analyses, using the concept of distance learning as a system. This approach, which is a classical theoretical framework, considers the following sub-systems: management and administration; instructional design; teaching, provisions on teaching and learning; the teacher and the tutor; and students. As for the procedural aspects, it looks at the official information issued by specialized agencies that develop standards, benchmarks, audit and accreditations schemes, and to the information of the institutions themselves, in order to identify the most important topics and practices concerning quality assessment development and assurance.
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Introduction

This chapter focuses on the practices in quality in higher education distance learning (from now on HEDL) and the respective assessment. It starts by drawing an historical framework of the problem, mentioning the conditions that lead to the need for quality assurance in distance education systems.

Once done, that contextualization, the chapter follows with the discussion of the main topics related to the operationalization of quality assurance.

To attain that goal, it should be mentioned that are almost endless the approaches to the subject: political, legal, economic, theoretical, models, hands on approach… and as consequence they raise of two elementary questions: What type of perspective to give? What should it be the main topics to be addressed?

The answer to the first question is implicit in the title “the perspective of the practitioners”. It means that more than presenting theories or the discussion of concepts, one shall try to systematize what are the practices and concerns in the quality assurance, both from the perspective of the education institutions and from the quality agencies. To attain this aim, it deliberately works upon the grey literature, issued by the most prominent authorities in the field of practice, quality assessment and accreditation.

The answer to the second question lies in the theory but derives also from the practice and the key is to consider distance learning as a system, that later on will be reasoned, with the following components:

  • a)

    HEDL Management and administration: which deals with the strategic management, the mission, governance, organizational development, these functions support the development of organizations and provide the means to accomplish it. This topic discusses how organizations should present evidence to sustain the excellence of their offer.

  • b)

    Instructional Design in Distance Education: although is one of the functions of distance learning that gather less attention, is undoubtedly one of the most important, as it deals with the design of learning processes, the respective support material and information how to plan and manage the efforts and time of the students against course and personal objectives, all this is done in a comprehensive approach matching requirements with practices in areas like course design team; syllabus; learning objectives; assessment; pedagogic resources.

  • c)

    Provision of Teaching Learning and Curriculum in Distance Education: is the next step after instructional design, this topic refers to the capacity that the institution has to carry out the different process and tasks associated with the curriculum.

    • e)

      The Teacher and Tutor in Distance Education: this topic starts by point out the different functions of teaching and tutoring in distance education, then it deals with the profile of competencies and skills that should be mastered by teachers and stress the need for the organizations to have a recruitment training plan.

    • f)

      Students are the last element of the system, first the social characteristics were addressed and then the personality traits necessary to study at a distance, associated with these two situations there is the dropout phenomenon, a ´peculiar situation that may victimize some students and for which institutions must have adequate responses, the chapter ends with the need to address the situation of students with disabilities in the educational context and in presence if this situation occurs.

To summarize the purpose of this chapter is to analyze how institutions can guarantee the quality of teaching/learning provision. To proceed, this objective is necessary to problematize, to understand and clearly define what are the requirements for the different processes and how they interlock.

Once, it should be stressed that it is not the objective to conduct theoretical discussion, but rather looking for answers in the practical field, examining the work and the documentation of the different accreditation agencies and universities, questioning the possibility of systematizing these themes, approaches and alternatives in a systematic way.

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Quality Assessment In Higher Education Historical Foundations

Education evaluation can be considered under a diachronic perspective: the evaluation of the learning provided by the institutions, which is the focus of this article, or in a second perspective (diachronic) the evaluation of organizations, withing the perspective of educational system.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Distance Education: A mode of educational provision, characterized by the physical separation between the student and the teacher. It can be synchronous where both coexist at the same time in the educational process, or asynchronous when the student defines his own time space and rhythm of study independently of the teacher.

Institutional Support: Consists of a set of physical facilities, software or processes, made available by the organization, which make learning success possible. It is addressed to all agents involved: managers, tutors, student teachers, administrative staff. Some examples: to allow interaction between students and teachers and with other students there may be learning management systems; to allow management of administrative aspects there may be electronic office services, to optimize the use of technology throughout the organization, technical support.

Distance Learning as a System: Distance learning is a highly specialized form of teaching, the student separation from teachers and institution, requires that the entire process be properly thought out and structured, that is why there is an unanimity among the authors that it should be thought of as a system, although its components it may vary, as a rule, the subsystems considered are: institution management; instructional design teaching and learning, teachers, students.

Instructional Interaction: The whole set of means and practices that allow establishment of a rapport between the student other students, teachers, and institution. This is a complex process that begins with instructional design, updates with teaching and learning than continues with professional counseling and when successful lasts for the rest of the students' lives (alumni).

Quality Assurance (QA): All the means used by institutions that allow them to ensure that they deliver what they are expect or promise to deliver. Usually quality assurance is achieved through three process: a) say what you do: describe/document the organizations and its operations based in standards, benchmarks, guides of good practice; b) do what you say: proceed accordingly by implementing the respective policies and procedures; d) and prove it: collect information (measurements, factual information, questionnaires, etc.) that provide evidence about your operation in order to assure his compliance.

Best Practices: Policies, practices, process, and procedures that guide organizations and practitioners towards consistent achievements, they result from technical though models or the experience consolidated over time.

Accreditation: It is the recognition that the institutions or its teaching is of quality. It results from an audit process, by which agencies with delegated powers from state, evaluate if institutions and educational practices are compliant to standards, guidelines, or benchmarks.

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