From Access to Quality?

Sloan-C, a well-known organization for online learning, is offering a new workshop on online quality.  Sloan’s description for this workshop is pasted below.  Our Online Learning Task Force is addressing and will continue to do more work on ‘quality’ as it relates to online learning at ICC.  Last fall you had the opportunity to complete a survey about course development, delivery and quality assurance and we’ll share and discuss the results this spring.  We’ll be revising or at least revisiting our own course development rubric and we’ll continue to investigate other course development and assessment tools such as Quality Matters and the CA Chico Rubric.  We also have two task force members engaged in the ION Master Online Teacher workshop on quality assurance this spring.

Weigh in on this after reading the description below – what do you think?  Are we on track?  Where are we headed?  What should we be most concerned about?  What should we not allow to concern us? Is it safe/enough for us to say we’ll assign, design, develop and deliver quality education online just like we do it in-person?  Why or why not?  How are we going to know when we’re at least starting the move from access to quality?  Or should we?  Add your comments to this blog entry to join in the conversation.

Retrieved January 29, 2012 from Sloan-C:

“Online education’s first era was all about providing access. The second era is more about improving quality — not just for online education, but for all education. Unfortunately, most ideas about the cyberization of education advocate narrow, oversimplified viewpoints about how to improve the quality of online education. Online learning practitioners need a broader, unifying perspective – one that accommodates multiple perspectives and integrates these viewpoints into a larger context by showing how to move online education from access to quality improvement.”

8 responses to “From Access to Quality?

  1. I agree that there needs to be an emphasis on quality in online classes. This is why I have invested significant amounts of time in pushing “web standards” as part of any curriculum covering web systems. I have personally reviewed a number of programs over the years (high school, community college, and university programs) and they range all over the spectrum (from absolute junk, not revised in a decade [for example, stressing the outmoded concept of using tables for web page design] to high quality stressing web standards, HTML5 where appropriate along with CSS-3 where appropriate). My suspicion is that curricula in other disciplines have the same broad spectrum of quality. The biggest problem that I see is that students have almost no method to gauge the quality of a program they are applying for. This is why I focused on our school becoming a WebProfessional Academy. Our curricula in web systems (including the AAS degree and 5 certificates) has undergone rigorous review by educators and practicing professionals. This review focuses on the actual content along with the methods of instruction and assessment. We continually strive to keep our classes up to date and incorporate new classes as business needs dictate.

    In the same vein that online classes are not for everyone; online instruction is not for everyone either. Frankly, if you are not willing to keep up with technology (you must invest both personal resources – time and money), are not engaged and actively using social media, and are not willing to be available in various media, teaching online is probably not for you. In my opinion, we need to recognize (and reward) those who are making a concerted effort to improve their online quality every year. It doesn’t matter where one is on the spectrum as long as they are willing to continually strive at improving the quality. However, if an instructor has simply joined the ROAD crew (Retired On Active Duty), they should do their students a favor and opt out of teaching any online courses. Regardless of the current quality of their courses, the course will stagnate and the quality will eventually decline.


  2. I agree that we do have to have standards for online courses. At a minimum, we should expect students (and professors) to be active in their online class a minimum of twice a week. I had a student tell me that his advisor at ICC told him that he need only access Blackboard once a week to take a 5 minute quiz. When he was failing my class because he wasn’t responding to any of the weekly discussion boards, he told me what his advisor said. I didn’t believe him until Carol Nelson (who was equally appalled) confirmed this.

    To ensure quality, we not only need qualified instructors, but we need the advisors to be equally onboard about what an online course entails. We also need to have gate-keepers to prevent students with low reading scores from taking classes online. Students need to be strong readers in order to follow the instructions.

    On the other hand, I’ve had some remarkable students who have flourished in the online community and who have bonded with their other online classmates.

  3. Angelia DeWeese

    I’m not sure the issue should be one of “either/or”. While it seems access is probably the easier point of evaluation, and I’m making assumptions; quality and access should go “hand in hand”. I don’t think one should replace the other.

    The simple, obvious questions come to mind: 1) How do you define quality?
    2)How do you define access? 3)What are the indicators of quality and how will it be measured? 4)Likewise, what are the indicators of access and how is it measured?

    On “is it safe to say we’ll design, deliver….quality online education as we do in person”? Well one is making an assumption the traditional method of delivery (in person) is quality. If you wish to compare the two, definitions and measurements must also be assigned to “in person” teaching.

    I do believe one cannot make the assumption, that a person teaching quality classes in person will automatically make the jump to quality online teaching. That said, I believe with the right resources, encouragement, training an abundant amount can. Some faculty will be phenomenal in the traditional classroom and online. Some faculty will be poor in the classroom and phenomenal online and vice-a-versa.

  4. I agree with Mark’s statement that “the biggest problem that I see is that students have almost no method to gauge the quality of a program they are applying for.” After reviewing many online programs, there seems to be quite a few different accreditation style groups or education “councils” that I had never seen before. This can be easily confusing to students who are deciding on what online college to attend. Moreover, if you search for “the best online schools”, the schools with the most money and clout always seem to be at the top.

    As for “access” and “quality”, the statement in the description that states “online learning practitioners need a broader, unifying perspective” struck me, but in perhaps in a different way than the authors intended. A unifying perspective means that we should incorporate in-person teaching into the online environment while also utilizing all of the new and always changing technologies. This can include video lectures in conjunction with having students use social media and discussion forums. With these “multiple perspectives”, we can ensure we teach to every student’s strengths which is difficult to do online because it is much harder to keep what I call the “pulse of the class” in focus. I agree with Angelia that we can not assume in-person teaching is “quality”, but we can definitely try to take what’s great about it and adapt it for the online environment. Essentially, quality comes when the pros of both in-person and online teaching finally morph into a single entity.

  5. I agree that quality and access needs to go hand-in-hand. I think we an jump into the “second era” and provide access and a good quality education.

    Mark made the point that online learning and teaching is not for everyone. I think though courses like ION Master Online Teacher workshop and other offerings are very helpful for improving the quality of classes. I think there are certain people cut out to be online educators. I loved being an online student for my second master’s degree and I love teaching in the online environment. The problem is finding the instructors who are good at navigating the online environment, many might not know they would be a good online educator because they have not had the opportunity. The other part is having the mind-set to continuously improve. I am not sure if you can teach someone to have this mind-set, but we should try.

    In the library, we are always striving to keep on top of the industry and provide a lot of online resources and services to all at ICC. This is our mind-set. It is just part of the climate here. We are always looking at ways to improve. The trick is to make this a mind-set everywhere.

  6. I think this is a great time for us to be having this discussion. Because ICC is an AQIP institution, as part of our quality improvement plan, the idea of continuous growth–assessment–understanding–change–and more of the same is something that makes sense in all areas of the college. Add on to that the better percentages of faculty who are participating in assessment projects, and we can see that there is a culture of quality assessment in full swing at ICC. Also, because we are continuously thinking about student needs and trying to better help students succeed, focusing on our online students and the quality of the product we are providing them is a logical fit to what we are already doing assessment-wise.
    My hope is that faculty will understand the need for online quality assessment. The challenge always seems to be finding people to evaluate courses and teaching methods–people who are experts within a certain discipline, but also adept in navigating the online environment.

  7. I agree with Kyle’s comment that a “unifying perspective means that we should incorporate in-person teaching into the online environment while also utilizing all of the new and always changing technologies” as we move from access to quality. Yes, we need to incorporate changing (and up to date) technologies, but we cannot forget that our online programs are bound under law to consider accessibility.

    As Patrice mentioned, Doug Peterson and I are enrolled in the ION Master Online Teacher workshop on quality assurance. This past week, there was much discussion about the legal aspects of accessibility. Even though I have had students in my f2f classes that needed accommodation, this was an area that I had not considered from an institutional perspective prior this discussion in our ION course.

    Quoting from one of my classmates in the ION course, Elaine, “Standards in a university setting should always align with the institution’s mission and any distance education standards need to be within this academic mainstream. This includes accessibility standards at our colleges and universities as well. Most accessibility to date has been focused on physical accessibility within the F2F classroom. Universities have conformed to the ADA laws but with distance education new accessibility standards need to be met. Educational institutions offering online coursework must also provide access to this coursework for those with vision, hearing, and other physical disabilities. This is now the law. Two Federal laws govern accessibility of education: Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (as amended in 1998). All elementary, secondary, and post-secondary educational institutions are regulated under these laws.”

    Our instructor reported that there are at least 2 notable lawsuits currently going on relating to accessibility in online learning.

  8. With respect to quality instruction, IMHO quality instruction is the abililty for the instructor to communicate with students resulting in transfer of knowledge. Quality — regardless of delivery method, online, in person, the like.

    There is an assumption “out there” that online classes are “easier”. Although I’m new to advising, when my students express interest in online courses, I review their previous semesters and ask questions. Why are you interested in online? Are you a self-directed learner? What type of connection do you have at home? Do you have a back up plan if your system or ISP goes out? Will you be available at XYZ if there is a sychronous component? There may not be a “right” answer for these questions, but it gets the student thinking. And, I’m always leary when a student says ” my advisor said….” I’ve put together some of the best schedules, only to find the student took it upon themselves to register for something completely different.

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