Characteristics all guidelines should have
The research, which analyzed more than 40 quality standards models or guidelines from organizations (i.e. The Council for Higher Education Accreditation, EADTU, The African Council for Distance Education Quality Assurance and Accreditation Agency, etc.) found that though the guidelines differed in terms of specificity and benchmarking procedures, there were critical foundation characteristics that were included in all quality guidelines:
Multifaceted: Systems use multiple measures for quality, and will often consider strategy, policy, infrastructure, processes, outputs and more to come to a well-rounded view of holistic quality.
Dynamic: Flexibility is built in to systems to accommodate for rapid-changed in technology, as well as social norms. For this reason, they rarely refer to specific technological measures, and rather concentrate on the services provided to users through that technology.
Mainstreamed: While all the quality tools surveyed aim at high-level quality improvement, this is intended to trickle down throughout the institution and be used as a tool for reflective practice by individual members of staff in their daily work.
Representative: Quality systems seek to balance the perspectives and demands of various interested stakeholders, including students, staff, enterprise, government and community.
Multifunctional: Most systems serve a “triple function of instilling a quality culture within an institution, providing a roadmap for future improvement, as well as serving as a label of quality for outside perspective.”
To further quality measures for online and open education, the report’s authors detail 11 recommendations for consideration and adoption by national and international online and open organizations (more thorough detail of each recommendation can be found in the full report):
- Mainstream e-learning quality into traditional institutional quality assurance: requires disaggregation of the common components of e-learning quality systems and integrating each of these into the appropriate part of the quality assurance process. These are: e-learning as tech-enhanced learning, as a mode of provision, and as a driver for innovation.
- Support the contextualization of quality systems: According to the authors, “Many of the quality systems we studied make socio-economic-cultural assumptions that are not equally true in all contexts.” For example, the assumption that students have access to high-bandwidth internet; the existence of a multi-stakeholder, participatory governance environment; that students have personal computers; and academia universally speaks English or a national language.
- Support professional development, in particular through documentation of best practice and exchange of information: All reviewers of quality measures must be able to understand terminology within the measures. Also, better documentation and reference materials could be achieved by stakeholders through the creation of an e-learning quality resource hub, a best practice database, and a compilation and registration of professional development programs and training materials.
- Communicate and promote general principles (the general guideline characteristics listed above): This promotion can occur through training reviewers on the principles, promoting the principles to distance education institutions, and working with stakeholders toward international adoption.
- Assist institutions in designing a personalized quality management system: Several of the quality systems reviewed provide eligibility checks (e.g. UNIQUe), quick checks with self-evaluation (e.g. E-xcellence) or other similar tools to allow institutions to determine their eligibility to use the tool in question. “However, quality-service managers from several of the schemes still mention that queries from institutions that are not appropriate or not ready for the schemes remains a recurring problem,” notes the report.
(Next page: Recommendations 6-11)