QA in Open and Distributed Learning
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Alan Fielding, Simon Harris & Sue King
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How QA can learn from Distributed Learning
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The role of evaluation in the QA of e-Learning
Inside and outside the UK QA box
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QAA's revised code of practice
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Kathy Kinmond & Lisa Oakley
Embodying Theory: Choreographic 'style' explored through Labanotation
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Faculty Learning and Teaching Reports
Learning and Teaching News from the Library
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Head of Distributed Learning and Co-director of the eLearning Research
Centre, University Of Manchester
Quality Assurance of Open and Distributed Learning
In this paper I will try to extract and present very briefly the
overarching issues that emerged from the presentations and discussions
and especially to identify the issues and challenges that, collectively,
were felt to be those that open and distributed learning practitioners
were coming to face.
Coming in to Mainstream
If there is a single issue that came from the meeting it is that
there is a strong sense that open and distributed provision is about
to enter the mainstream of provision in HE. This feeling sees expression
within institutions and at a national level in the work of the QAA,
HEFCE, JISC, LTSN and other bodies.
The sector is entering a period of transition driven by the adoption
of technologies by the education professions, by students and by the
society in which they operate. This transition is not simply part
of the rapid changes we are experiencing as a result of technology
advances. It is now a step change forced on the structures and processes
that had served HE, locally and nationally, by a continuous though
rapid change in our operating environment. The step change is necessary
as we find that existing ways of doing things can for a while be adapted
but eventually we need redesign, retooling and radical re-engineering
in order to maintain and enhance quality. Ad hoc responses
by HE systems and administrators to the demands of open and distributed
learning are acceptable and tolerated when, in resource terms, they
are minor, but there comes a point when they have strategic and policy
impacts and when they have to be planned for. At this point systems
have to change.
QA within Institutions
Within this overall pattern of change there is a set of specific
quality issues that face the sector generally and that need to be
addressed at an institutional level since they require changes in
- The need to develop administrative processes that meet the needs
of open and distributed as well as of traditional learning
- The need to develop support systems that equitably meet the needs
of on-campus and other students
- The need to provide appropriate resources for the various aspects
of open and distributed provision.
On top of this is a universal need for institutions and developers
to go beyond established aspects of provision and address the issues
of quality that relate to the content of courses and to their delivery.
The wealth of experience and know-how that goes in to the design,
development and delivery of open and distributed learning that has
been built up over many years needs to be captured in the processes
that are supported within institutions.
There is a step change that is being experienced also in the need
for quality assurance. This is because of the fact that there is a
transition from specialist to general open and distributed provision.
That means there is a change from provision within a design context
of well-defined markets with well-understood needs, of dedicated pioneering
staff and of teams who have ownership of their mission. And the change
is to provision that is general, that is for multiple groups whose
needs can be met only with common resources, where interoperability
drives resourcing and where individuals and teams work within an institutional
The demands of on-line and distributed learning mean that evaluation
and quality assurance should be looked at in the whole life cycle
of development and delivery of learning. This means that evaluation
and QA need to become embedded in our institutional processes in general.
There is in short a need for our organisations to become ‘learning
organisations’ in which learning and improvement are integral
parts of the processes we operate.
Of course nothing is new, even in open and distributed learning,
and in being learning organisations we need as always to learn from
the past. There is a wealth of experience and knowledge, especially
from the Open University, and a major challenge for the sector is
in tapping in to this knowledge and experience. The sector is notorious
for its ‘not invented here’ attitude and for its focus
on aspects of the role of the individual but in a world where mass
high education is planned, where competition is vigorous and where
there are strong drivers for life long provision a likely key success
factor is the ability to co-operate and share; this applies to knowledge,
to experience and to resources. As with QA, these capabilities need
to be built in to our processes.
ODL as a Driver for Change
What is becoming clear to many observers, however, is that the demands
that open and distributed learning place on individuals and institutions
are best not seen as demands to accommodate some non-standard activity
but rather as a driver for change for teaching and learning in general.
Changes in the mind set needed for quality assurance and enhancement
are just that. The mind set needed for open and distributed learning
isn’t specific to those types of teaching and learning, it applies
generally and the changes engendered by open and distributed learning
should be seen as pointing to a more professional approach to HE business
as a whole.
The Focus for Change
The event tried to show the perspective on QA of the course developer,
of the institution and of national bodies. In conclusion, it seems
that the key level at which change and improvement will be driven
is the institutional level. It is at this level that key aspects of
the development and quality assurance processes are decided.
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