Goal 2. To critically evaluate examples of distance education implementation in educational and business settings.

Key Projects, Assignments, & Activities Related to Goal

Anderson, T. & Elloumi, F. (Eds.). (2008) Theory and Practice of Online Learning, 2nd edition, Athabasca, AB, Canada: Athabasca University.
http://www.aupress.ca/index.php/books/120146 (select ebook)

Chapter Thirteen (TPOL): The Quality Dilemma in Online Education Revisited

Learning Management System (LMS) Site Evaluation

Development of an Evaluation Rubric for assessing the quality of the components of an online course delivered via an LMS

LMS Evaluation Summary

Reflection on Learning Experiences

In reading Chapter 13 of the Theory and Practice of Online Learning, we reviewed a discussion on issues related to defining quality and developing standards and systems of accountability. The pressure to apply management techniques to higher education came from a perceived crisis in confidence with post-secondary systems, and from the growth of sponsored accountability systems. For supporters, it “has long been understood in organizations that when you want to improve something, you first must measure it” (Widrick, Mergen, & Grant, 2002, p. 130). As someone with a background in assessment, institutional research and who has been actively involved with my College’s SACS reaffirmation of accreditation, the issue of measuring organizational effectiveness and using data to make decisions and be accountable to stakeholders is one that is close to my heart.

In experiencing the accreditation process personally, I agree strongly with the statement made in the chapter that “Establishing the terms through which to assess online education should not be left to either the marketplace or to self-perpetuating bureaucracies”. It is important that educational institutions take an active role in “making the case” for how they are meeting accepted standards of quality in education and actively assess student learning outcomes in online education. There needs to be a sustained institutional commitment to support distance learners through continued assessment of our programs. Ultimately, the goal of such examination should be to identify ways to improve the teaching and learning environment. Too many people view assessment and accountability as something “they have to do” rather than something they “should be doing” as best practice to inform their pedagogy and strategic planning processes.

In the Chapter, David Noble (2001) presents a very negative view of the reach of educational technologies into the classroom today in viewing the increase of online learning as a “rapidly growing trend of university corporatism” and the exploitation of knowledge workers (Kompf,2001). Interesting, this is the argument being presented by the faculty at my College. They view the inclusion of hybrid and online learning environments not from a perspective of increasing access to higher education and the excitement of new learning platforms and communities, but instead tend to focus on the corporate “money-making” reasons for adding these programs. Unfortunately, there are numerous examples of these type of profit motivated programs, but through the discussion of incorporating sound research based practices, well-defined principles and standards of excellence and measuring academic outcomes, hopefully we can begin to see the paradigm shift so often referenced in our readings.

The project assignment to develop an evaluation rubric and then use the rubric to assess LMS sites was a great application of the discussion of how to appropriately define quality and develop measures to assess such. Our group attempted to use some of the standards and principles that had been established through the ISTE National Standards for Educational Technology as well as the guidelines suggested by an accountability program, Quality Matters. These frameworks helped to shape our ideas regarding important features to evaluate within an online course using an LMS. I must say, though, that it was disappointing to see how poorly the courses we selected "measured up" so to speak. It did, however, present a solid background for the LMS build project where our group tried to incorporate the different standards within our respective rubrics and established guidelines for effective teaching and ensure we integrated experiences that would promote active learning, collaboaration, community building, and demonstration of learning through a more product based demonstration than simple wrote memorization of content.

The process of developing our own course utilizing the Blackboard Learning Management System did demonstrate both positive experiences as well as how the limitations and intricacies of any system can present barriers to fully meeting the demands of a "model". Even though the system contains numerous features and capabilities that allow for the potential to meet the standards of a quality online course, it is ultimately the course design, theoretical perspective, pedagogical approaches and ability of the instructor to interface with the system that will determine if the course development meets its goals. I definitely learned that the course development process is far more complex and requires far more planning, design and technological expertise than most instructors possess. It was a solid reminder that this type of course development and programming cannot happen in isolation, but requires the team approach that was discussed in Chapter 10 of the Theory and Practice of Online Learning.