Chapter 6: Quality assurance and lecture capture systems for distance education

Chapter 6 begins with a scenario about a small two year college whose quality and academic integrity have come under attack for rapidly expanding e-learning through the use of a lecture capture system.

Meet George, VP Education, Cornbelt Community College

Dr. George Carter has been in the post for three months. He has a problem. About five years ago, the college started putting in a lecture capture system, which suddenly rapidly expanded across nearly all departments. At the same time, several academic departments started enrolling fully online students, mainly using the lecture capture system, and specially hired adjuncts to deliver the online programs. The college executive team had seen this strategy as a great success, as the online enrollments had rapidly grown by about 40% over the last three years. Now over one-third of all enrollments were distance students. Furthermore, because online students paid a higher tuition fee, and the college made a handsome profit on the online courses, they were a source of essential revenues to the college at a time when the state was cutting its operating budget.

However, a graduate student at the nearby state university had just completed a study for her dissertation that compared completion rates between students taking courses on campus with students taking the same courses online at the college. She found that male,  Hispanic, and low-performing students fared worse in the online courses. The study was reported on the local TV station, and picked up around the country. George was particularly disturbed by an e-mail the college president had received from a distinguished scholar at a major university, who accused the college of criminal negligence in failing to follow best standards and practice in the design of online courses, and of “gouging” online students. All this had been discussed at a recent meeting with the college board of governors. A statement had been drafted by the director of communications, but George had asked for and been given a mandate to “clean up the mess.”

One challenge he faces is that there is nothing in the college’s strategic plan about online learning, and no strategy or priorities for it. The main decisions in the past about online learning had been made by the individual deans and faculty, working with the director of IT services, who was the champion for the lecture capture strategy. George now had to think about the best way to go about tackling this problem.

The VP Education in this small college has a major quality assurance problem on his hands. What could the college have done to avoid the problem in the first place? What advice would you give to George about how to deal with the problem as it now exists in the college?

Other reading

The scenario is based on a study done by the U.S. National Bureau of Economic Research: see Figlio, D., Rush, N. and Yin, L. (2010) Is it Live or is it Internet? Experimental Estimates of the Effects of Online Instruction on Student LearningCambridge MA: National Bureau of Economic Research.

Although Cornbelt Community College and George Carter are fictional, the NBEC research did find similar results to those of the fictional case above when lecture capture was used for distance education in a ‘real’ college.

Besides Chapter 6, you may want to read about what is said about strategic planning in Chapter 4, committee structures and governance in Chapter 5, and Chapter 7 on resources.

If you are not already familiar with best practice in the design of online learning, you might also read some publications on this topic, for instance Designing and implementing e-learning or E-learning quality assurance standards, organizations and research.

Points for discussion (use the comment box below for your response)

1. What’s wrong (if anything) with using recordings of lectures for online courses?

2. Does online learning require different quality criteria or standards from classroom teaching?

3. Who should be responsible for assuring the quality of online learning? Individual instructors? The dean? The VP Academic? The President? The Board of Governors? The accreditation agencies? The state? Anyone else?

4. What processes or procedures could George suggest and/or implement to improve the college’s reputation for the quality of its online courses? What would you do in his position? Can this omelette be unscrambled?

5. Why do you think the instructor in the quote that opens this chapter hates quality assurance processes so much? Does he have a point?

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