The Same but Different: Reframing Contemporary Online Education in Higher Education Towards Quality and Integrity

The Same but Different: Reframing Contemporary Online Education in Higher Education Towards Quality and Integrity

Maria Northcote (Avondale College of Higher Education, Australia)
Copyright: © 2019 |Pages: 32
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-7844-4.ch001
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The field of online learning, like many other technological innovations, has not burgeoned without controversy. Despite the debates about the role and value of online learning, it has continued to grow in many sectors, especially in higher education. Alongside the growth of online learning, discussions about its benefits and limitations have also flourished, and many studies have investigated the quality and integrity of online courses. This chapter offers an investigation of some of the history of online learning, concluding with a collection of practical recommendations and suggestions for future research directions to guide institutions embarking on online learning programs.
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Discussions around the topic of online education in higher education often feature strong views by those who design, teach or learn in online courses. While some are supportive of e-learning, espousing its benefits and affordances, others are not so positive. Such views may be dependent on the designers’, teachers’ or students’ experiences in the online learning environment. An unenjoyable online experience can result in the formation of intense negative opinions about online learning. In contrast, positive online learning or teaching experiences can create loyal advocates of online education. In addition to students’ and teachers’ online experiences, many researchers and educators have explored the impact of online learning environments on the quality of students’ learning. Whatever the overall balance of views expressed and the results of research studies about the value of online learning, it appears to be here to stay, along with its varied and associated emerging online pedagogies.

This chapter is written from two perspectives: one that acknowledges the benefits and limitations of online education; and the other in relation to the practice of converting on-campus courses to online courses, and vice versa. This chapter recognizes that online education in the higher education sector offers many benefits for both teachers and students but that an awareness of the limitations and challenges of online education is essential to maintain the quality and integrity of courses offered in the online realm. Also, at the basis of this chapter is an assumption that the design of online courses should not necessarily be limited to the conversion of a similar on-campus or face-to-face course; instead, the quality of an online course is often greater when it is designed according to a fit-for-purpose approach, that is, for a specific audience and expressly for the online learning context.

While the early days of online learning appear to have been characterized by discussions, frequently dichotomous in nature, about the benefits and dangers of facilitating learning in an online context (Kim, Liu, & Bonk, 2005), and lengthy debates about how to define terms such as online, blended, hybrid, integrated, interactive and distance learning (Leh, 2002; Osguthorpe & Graham, 2003; Rumble, 2006), current explorations of online education have entered a new era. Recent conversations about online learning and teaching have addressed a more comprehensive range of issues such as equity of access (Rose, Kennedy, & Plants, 2014), course preparation times (Kenny & Fluck, 2014), the quality of learning (Gómez-Rey, Barbera, & Fernández-Navarro, 2016; Smidt, Li, Bunk, Kochem, & McAndrew, 2017), the integrity of student assessment submissions (Lee-Post & Hapke, 2017) and the use of social media for learning (Mbati, 2013; Wang, Niiya, Mark, Reich, & Warschauer, 2015) and teaching (Murray & Ward, 2017). In these contexts, teaching is often equated with the facilitation of learning.

This chapter aims to:

  • Summarize past developments in online learning;

  • Analyze research about the quality and integrity of online learning; and

  • Offer practical recommendations and suggestions for future research to guide educators engaged in the process of designing, teaching and researching online courses in higher education.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Humanization of Online Education: The process of humanizing online course design and online learning experiences of students by enhancing the online presence of both students and instructors and by developing instructors' soft skills associated with communication and interpersonal interaction.

Course Design: In the context of higher education online courses and within the constraints of this chapter, the term “course design” is interpreted as being the way in which a course is planned and created, in terms of intended learning outcomes, topic, content, structure and sequence. The manner in which the learning activities and assessment tasks are structured is also an element of course design, as is the approach taken to engage students in the use of selected resources.

MOOC (Massive Open Online Course): A course of study offered free-of-charge via an online learning platform that usually accommodates large numbers (i.e., thousands) of student enrolments.

Online Learning Program.: A degree or course that is offered through an educational institution in which students typically access course materials and complete learning activities through online learning and teaching technologies.

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