Keeping Quality Standards in Online Learning

Friday 01st of June 2007
Keeping Quality Standards in Online Learning
Education through virtual environments, as offered by the Internet technology, proliferates more and more every day throughout the world. With the platforms currently available in the market, many institutions have been able to join this adventure and offer their academic products and services online. This pedagogic scenario brings up the issue of academic quality and effectiveness: How effective is actually the teaching-learning process through this modality? How can we assess the quality of those courses and instructional resources available to the student?
On May 4, 2007, HETS delivered a workshop on ?Quality Standards and Assessment of Online Courses and Faculty?, bringing to its membership the expertise of Dr. Antonio de las Casas, Associate Vice President of Distance Education at the Inter American University of Puerto Rico. During this event, he enumerated eight quality factors to take into account in online education: Administration, didactical model, technology platform, contents, faculty, students, assessment, and institutional culture. Among the fundamental aspects pointed out was the fact that e-learning quality actually starts as soon as the student enrolls in the academic institution. If any part in this process limits the student in reaching his or her goal of having access to an education, he or she could then feel upset and perceive that online classes have no value. Thus, every step related to the administrative aspect has to be perfectly aligned in order to be processed through the Web.
De las Casas stressed the significance of a good implementation of the teaching-learning process, especially taking into consideration that technology needs to be a tool in this process and not the main factor conditioning it. He also discussed the role of faculty: an agent that accompanies, facilitates, and guides the process. The educator, whose attitude is of outmost importance; his emotions, sensibility, and expressions need to be carefully shown and thought in order to avoid misinterpretations. On the other hand, it is recommended that the educator keeps a friendly and kind tone, and that he or she is approachable and helpful. Overall, the teaching practice should also lead to a process that brings out the knowledge and wisdom in each student.
In identifying the ideal platform, the expert recommended defining the didactical model and selecting the distance education platform that helps solve the model’s fundamental aspects, including interaction, continuing assessment, multimedia integration, and hypermedia, among others. The instructional design of the courses should have a clear and uniform structure, everything has to be stated with enough clarity, and contents need to be linked to external resources. Activities should be creative, innovative, and challenging. Overall, authenticity should be fostered in the student.
The workshop ended up brilliantly with the inclusion of a videoconference with Dr. Armando Villarroel and Dr. Luis Romero, CREAD’s Executive Director and Chancellor of the Universidad Tecnica Particular de Loja, Ecuador, respectively. Both leaders discussed the quality assessment system. Both pointed out that, currently, Mexico and Brazil are the two countries with the most advanced distance education and quality systems.
Original article in Spanish by Bessie Rivera
Instructional Designer
Center for Telecommunications and Distance Education
Ana G. Méndez University System
By Bessie Rivera (Original article in Spanish)