Using the Critical Incident Technique to Identify Factors of Service Quality in Online Higher Education

Using the Critical Incident Technique to Identify Factors of Service Quality in Online Higher Education

María J. Martínez-Argüelles (Open University of Catalonia, Spain), José M. Castán (University of Barcelona, Spain) and Angel A. Juan (Open University of Catalonia, Spain)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-0044-7.ch019


Information technologies are changing the way in which higher education is delivered. In this regard, there is a necessity for developing information systems that help university managers measure the quality of online services offered to their students. This paper discusses the importance of considering students’ perception of service quality. The authors then identify key factors of service quality, as perceived by students, in online higher education. To this end, the Critical Incident Technique (CIT) is proposed as an effective qualitative methodology. Some benefits of this methodology are highlighted and an exploratory research is carried out in a real environment to illustrate this approach. Results from this research explain which quality dimensions are considered the most valuable to online students. Information provided by this methodology can significantly improve strategic decision-making processes in online universities worldwide.
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Service Quality In Higher Education

Following the general pattern set by service industries, the issue of service quality within the higher education sector has received increasing attention in recent years. In particular, there is a clear interest in developing information systems for monitoring students’ and groups’ activity in online environments, since it can contribute to improve learning processes and, therefore, the quality of the service being offered (Daradoumis et al., 2010; Juan et al., 2009b). Although debate has ranged over various issues, the most dominant theme is the development of valid, reliable and replicable measures of perceived service quality (O’Neill & Palmer, 2004). In the early stages, most models designed to evaluate PSQ focused exclusively on teaching and learning. In the last decade, though, several studies have approached the evaluation of university services from a broad perspective, considering not only the core service (the teaching) but the peripheral or auxiliary administrative and backup services as well (O’Neill & Palmer, 2004; Abdullah, 2005).

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