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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2009, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Article Type: Guest editorial From: Quality Assurance in Education, Volume 17, Issue 3
From the Editors
The genesis of this special issue was from the paper Dr Alistair Inglis wrote in the volume 16.4 of this journal (in 2008), where he compared a range of quality frameworks for e-learning. The author and the reviewers of the paper identified the need for more attention to be paid to the development of methods of validation of e-learning that are both objective and robust.
It is this perceived deficiency that got us thinking about devoting a special issue to focus on the different approaches adopted in various countries to improve quality in e-learning. We are very grateful to the concerted efforts of Dr Alistair Inglis who has done a great job as the Guest Editor in assembling a range of contributors from all over the world (literally) who have provided an extensive picture of various facets of quality systems e-learning. We also note that Dr Inglis, in his editorial regrets the lack of dedicated books addressing this area. We feel reasonably sure that the present special issue, touching upon various practices, would form the seed for a more dedicated publication on quality assurance in e-learning in the near future.
Finally, our team hopes that the papers included in this issue will provide some ideas and inspiration for reviewing quality practices and techniques adopted by different educational institutions for improving the standard of e-learning.
G. SrikanthanFor the Editorial Team
From the Guest Editor
No technology has had greater impact on formal education since Gutenberg’s invention of movable type and the mechanical printing press than the world wide web. Although the origins of e-learning long predate the arrival of the web, it is to the development of the web browser and the associated protocols and technologies that must be attributed to the explosion in e-learning seen in the past decade or more.
The creation of the world wide web has led to an unprecedented shift in the way in which both teachers and learners think about, and relate to learning. The impact of the web would not have been so great had not two other important changes been taking place in education over the same period. The first of these changes has been the shift from passive to participative models of teaching and learning propelled by the constructivist movement. This change has expanded the functional requirements of e-learning technologies and has underpinned the development of the new generation of web 2.0 technologies. The second has been the internationalisation of education and training and the growth in cross-border delivery of courses. The rise of cross-border education has elevated the importance of quality issues, as institutions have increasingly recognised that to remain competitive in an increasingly dynamic industry they need to not just maintain quality but to improve it continuously. While the latter development may not have played a major role in the initial take-up of e-learning by institutions, it has given added impetus to the trend towards bringing e-learning into the mainstream of higher education.
From the beginning, the fact that implementation of e-learning was recognised as being so dependent on technological systems and processes, made it quite apparent that quality assurance processes of some kind would be needed to ensure that the quality of courses did not slip. It was further reinforced by the need to remain competitive in an increasingly internationalising industry. Yet, notwithstanding the recognition of the importance of assuring the quality of new online offerings, there has been growing recognition of the need to think beyond the immediate compliance needs to the long-term requirement for embedding a culture of quality improvement. These two sets of processes have increasingly been seen as representing “two sides of the one coin” – complementary processes that both can and must be advanced together and at the same time.
The changes wrought by the explosive growth in e-learning, and the range of quality concerns that those changes have in turn brought with them, are so wide-ranging that it could scarcely be expected that all of these concerns could be covered in a single issue of a journal such as this. The most that one can hope to achieve is to draw attention to, and begin to unpack a few of the more critical issues. Insofar as the papers presented in this issue are concerned, they keep returning to a series of common themes: the rapidly changing context in which e-learning is bring practised, the need to integrate quality processes more closely into institutional processes, and the critical role of professional development in enabling teaching staff to meet the challenges of e-learning, and above all, the focal importance of pedagogy to any consideration of quality.
In the first paper, Magdalena Jara and Harvey Mellar have investigated the factors impacting the effectiveness with which quality assurance processes are applied in four postgraduate courses in four different British universities. The factors that they have identified are the separation of the members of course teams which made coordination difficult, the disaggregation of processes involved in the delivery of courses through the division of responsibilities, and the physical distance of students from the campus at which a course was being offered.
Professional development has repeatedly been identified in the literature as a critical factor in striving to improve the quality of e-learning. In the second paper, Juliana Mansvelt, Gordon Suddaby, Duncan O’Hara, and Amanda Gilbert report the results of study of professional development in e-learning that extend across two universities and three polytechnics in New Zealand. Their findings are consistent with the findings of other researchers that professional development remains an aspect of e-learning that needs to be addressed.
The next two papers provide case studies of the implementation of quality assurance systems in two quite different institutions. The first of these papers, by Jennifer Ireland, Helen Mary Correia and Tim Mark Griffin describe the implementation of a system introduced at the University of Western Sydney that employs a quality framework. The distinctive feature of this framework is that it comprises a set of basic elements, a set of advanced elements, plus a toolkit that is intended to enable staff to move the advanced standard. In the second paper, Dianne Thurab-Nkhosi and Stewart Marshall describe the introduction of a quality assurance system at the University of the West Indies. This university, along with the University of the South Pacific, are the only two truly multi-national universities, although there are now many universities that have established campuses across state borders.
The fifth paper by M’hammed Abdous describes a process-oriented approach to quality assurance, structured around the three phases of development and delivery:
planning and analysis;
design, prototyping and production; and
post-production and delivery.
A distinctive feature of this model is the integration into it of an advanced information system to facilitate implementation, tracking, and reporting, aimed at embedding QA processes within the daily routine of staff.
In the final paper, Ulf-Daniel Ehlers examines the significance of the shift from transmissive to collaborative and reflective learning models, first in terms of the types of technologies used to support e-learning, but then more importantly in terms of the approaches appropriate to assuring, managing, and developing quality in e-learning in the context of this shift.
Two book reviews complete the issue. Despite the growing importance of e-learning, and the attention being given to the issue of quality in the research literature, there is currently a dearth of books directly addressing quality assurance in e-learning. For this issue, the books selected for review have been chosen for their focus on e-learning and their relevance to improving quality.
Project Managing e-Learning: A Handbook for Successful Design, Delivery and Management by Maggie McVay Lynch and John Roecher overlays the widely used analyze, design, develop implement, evaluate instructional design model onto project management. However, John Kenny, the reviewer of this book, argues that project management, when applied to e-learning, needs much more than the application of standard project management processes. He argues that while a corporate top-down approach may be suitable for the rollout of e-learning infrastructure, much of the innovation in this field is small-scale and requires quite a different approach.
The second book, Contemporary Perspectives in e-Learning Research: Themes, Methods and Impact on Practice, edited by Gráinne Conole and Martin Oliver offers an overview of the current state of research in e-learning. In reviewing this book, Peter Smith regrets the fact that it “draws largely on higher education thinking, experience, research and applications and it doesn’t range into the issues of other sectors or their applications of e-learning,” but nevertheless, he approves of the fact that it draws on the thinking and literatures of other sectors. He particularly finds it pleasing that the book presents a strongly evidence-based set of readings through the amount of recent, relevant research on which it draws. As well as recommending it to people with a serious interest in e-learning he suggests that it could also be considered as a text in relevant courses.
So, there it is. With contributions from Britain, Germany, the USA, the West Indies, New Zealand, and Australia this is also a truly international issue.
Alistair InglisGuest Editor