Thursday, September 30, 2004

Quality Assurance in Learning & Teaching?

For the last few days I've been looking at the Australian University Quality Agency's (AUQA) audit reports on Australian universities. I've undertaken this research with a view to just how my university will fair in our audit planned for early next year.

While it is clear that AUQA is looking for systematic approaches to learning & teaching the auditors come with a traditional educational background and interpret what they observe through this type lens.
It is clear from the data gathered by these auditors that a demonstrable quality assurance (QA) approach doesn't necessarily result in development of a learning product that meets the learners' needs.
One example of this lies in the perceived need to collect consistent student evaluation data by limiting the choice of questions and imposing a rigid system onto academic staff.
AUQA reports show that many institutions who allow a freedom of choice in how academic staff are able to obtain student feedback, have superior rates of change implementation in their courses that result from the student feedback.
Others that impose more systematic and rigid requirements often fail to have their teachers close the loop by reflecting on the data obtained centrally.

I guess one possible explanation could be that when systems are imposed centrally, the level of academic ownership is reduced and hence engagement with the data is often not done sufficiently well.
We also find this with students and assessment. If we offer students the ability to find an assessment project that meets the stated learning outcomes and assessment criteria, they very often become so engaged in that task that their learning substantially exceeds that required by the assessment standard. Students who have rigid assessment imposed on them often see these activities as just another hoop to jump through to pass the subject.

Some I've heard suggest that the assessment is the defacto curriculum--if this is the case then the better we design and integrate these items with the learning tasks, the better the learning outcomes should be.

Enough for today--tomorrow I'd like to chat about bringing about cultural change in academe.



Welcome to e-learning engagement

Education practitioners have for some time now been looking for the "killer approach" to conduction successful e-learning and there has been some excellent research carried out of a number of approaches that seem to work well. Unfortunately, these findings are only rarely applied to courses offered online.
So why is this? It would seem to me that there are a number of factors at work here:
  1. Fear of change: when we are use to doing things in a particular way many have an innate fear of failure that limits how far they are prepared to risk different approaches to learning.
  2. Basic misconceptions about learning: many practitioners still believe that learning is about filling an empty vessel--a content delivery model. The truth, of course, is very different with the enormous growth in publicly accessible knowledge over the past 20 years it is no longer possible to be the Sage on the Stage. No one person can know everything in their own discipline and learners need to know how to find and evaluate information and develop skills.
  3. A belief that e-learning will go away like many of the educational technologies before it: back in the 1970's videotape became the new technology that took over from film, but videotape is now declining in its use. The use of print study guides and resources are also in decline with audiotapes almost non-existent now. So you can see that there is a trend to discard older educational technology for the new stuff. What some educators are failing to recognise, however, that we have undergone a fundamental cultural shift with the proliferation of the Internet and that while media will wane and wax, the delivery technology will become evermore sophisticated. Flexible learning is here to stay and those who do it well will prosper— the rest will need to play catch up.
So what is the answer? Well, while there is no single answer, there are some strong indications as to how to design successful e-learning courseware. The contemporary research seems to indicate that e-learning courses need to engender high levels of learning engagement and there are a number of ways that this can be achieved.
The purpose of this Blog is to articulate and discuss these methodologies and where their implementation is appropriate. Think of this Blog as a learning journey that we share together.

I look forward to sharing my experiences with you all and listening to yours.

Kind regards,