Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Open and distance learning (ODL) is growing at an exceedingly fast pace internationally. Seen as a means whereby those “left out” of the conventional educational system, due to lack of opportunity or other circumstances, can pursue their goals and aspirations at their own pace and convenience, ODL has emerged as the “great leveler” within the system of formal education. In developing countries like India, where historic inequities and a highly stratified social structure have denied educational opportunities to millions, it assumes the added dimension of social justice and equity. Institutions like IGNOU, the world's largest open university, have always spoken of “reaching the un‐reached” and “including the excluded” as their mission and mandate. In a situation where access is key, the issue of quality runs the danger of being sidelined.
How can ODL institutions ensure “quality?” What, indeed, is “quality” in education? Can there be any objective criteria to measure such a subjective concept? Is education a “product” or a “process?” Total Quality Management in Distance Education, edited by Nayantara Padhi, attempts to deploy the concept of total quality management (TQM) to understand and contextualize quality of ODL systems globally. TQM was developed by business houses to establish standards and techniques that ensure quality of products or services through continuous improvement rather than through final inspection.
The stated aims of the book are:
to provide an overview of the scope of quality with regard to distance learning;
to address learning as the core process and the essential elements of assessing to improve the quality of learning;
to describe the major challenges and issues of quality assurance for distance learning institutions;
to propose policy and practice responses for quality assurance; and
to introduce, review and provide an overview of the most useful TQM tools and techniques for higher education institutions.
Ann Deden's chapter, “Quality Practices at Open Universities, Australia” discusses the various TQM strategies used by OUA in the delivery of online higher education. She emphasizes the importance of collegiality, fair dealing, transparency and participatory decision making, and the need to always keep the end‐user as the focus of all our practices.
The other contribution from Australia, “Quality in Flexible, Online and Distance Education at Deakin University Australia” by Dale Holt and Stuart Palmer, traces the evolution of Deakin University from a dual‐mode teaching university operating from a single campus to a multi‐city/multi‐campus operation that caters to a diverse student population. The focus on quality has redefined the University's commitments, with a greater focus on e‐learning technologies and customization to accommodate student needs.
The chapter “Quality Management System at the Open Polytechnic of New Zealand” by Rowan Anderson, Axerl Laurs, Caryl‐Louise Robinson and Sally Rawnsley, sketches out the OP's progress in developing and maintaining a best practice quality management system. The central principles of customer orientation, management excellence, academic excellence, process excellence, people commitment and quality information and continual improvement underpin the process.
The case study of the OUHK, “Quality Management at Open University of Hong Kong” by Todd C.Y. Ng and Danny S.N. Wong makes the important point that, at the end of the day, any sound quality assurance system should be the work of the internal academics, rather than any other outside agency. The development of the self‐critical academic community is the most reliable safeguard of quality and academic standards. The chapter “Quality Management in Course Development and Delivery at the University of the West Indies Distance Education Centre” by Dianne Thurab N. Khosi and Stewart Marshall details some of the QA strategies adopted there. Of particular interest is the UWIDEC Quality Assurance tool, which covers the areas of course development, delivery and evaluation.
The contribution from Indonesia, “Quality Assurance and Assessment System in Distance Education: Stepwise Actions and Pragmatic Experience of Universitas Terbuka, Indonesia”, by Aminuddin Zuhairi, Dewi Padmo, Kristanti A. Puspitasari and Agung S. Putra, details the various steps followed by UT to implement a quality assurance system. The authors emphasize the importance of self‐assessment as the crucial factor in quality assurance.
The Chapter, “Quality Practices and the UK Open University” by its former Pro‐Vice Chancellor Richard Lewis, is of particular interest because IGNOU, the world's largest Open University was modeled on its lines. The author stresses on the extensive involvement of academic experts from outside the university and the “team approach” that characterizes the University. Its strong desire to help its students to succeed lies at the very heart of its quality culture. The final chapter of the book is, appropriately from home turf. “Role of Distance Education Council in Promoting Quality in the Distance Education System in India” by Manjulika Srivastava, Nalini Lele and Bharat Bhushan outlines some of the strategies used by DEC to manage and monitor quality in the world's largest Distance Education system.
Each case study provides important insights about TQM in distance‐education. However, a final chapter contextualizing and pulling together the learning and assessing their applications and utility in the Indian context, would have been desirable, and could have made the linkages between theory and practice more explicit. Having said that, there is no doubt that this is a timely and useful addition to the literature on quality management and distance learning. The book is recommended for practitioners, policy makers and students of higher education in general, and distance education in particular.