Learning and Teaching in Action

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MMU Learning and Teaching in Action
Volume 3, Issue 2: Reflection, Work in Progress and Successes

Published by: Learning and Teaching Unit

Rachel Forsyth

QA in Open and Distributed Learning
Jim Petch

QA for on-line courses
Alan Fielding, Simon Harris & Sue King

UNIGIS - QA Crossing Borders
Dave Lambrick

How QA can learn from Distributed Learning
Louise Walmsley

QA in Open, Distance and Online Learning
Fred Lockwood

Integrating eLearning in to University procedures at UMIST
Bland Tomkinson & Simon Perry

The role of evaluation in the QA of e-Learning
Grainne Conole

Inside and outside the UK QA box
Bernadette Robinson

Certificating your QA
Richard Freeman

QA in Open and Distance Learning: A national perspective
John Slater

QAA's revised code of practice
Peter Williams

Learning by Doing
Kathy Kinmond & Lisa Oakley

Embodying Theory: Choreographic 'style' explored through Labanotation
Rachel Duerden

Good Practice in Open and Distance Learning
Mary Issitt

Why should teaching staff get involved in 'Reach-Out'?
Gaye Heathcote

Plagiarism detection and JISC
Bill Johnston

Faculty Learning and Teaching Reports

Learning and Teaching News from the Library

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photo of jim petch

Jim Petch,
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 institutional processes:

  • 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.

Changing Needs

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 mission.

Learning Organisations

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.

Jim Petch
e-mail: jim.petch@man.ac.uk
telephone: 0161 275 5292


Summer 2004
ISSN 1477-1241

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