Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Assessing Distance Teaching and Learning

Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Assessing Distance Teaching and Learning

Article excerpt

Abstract

Recently, the number of college and university programs delivered via forms of distance education has increased. In the wake of this growth, questions are raised about the quality of distance teaching and learning, and about how to assess such teaching and learning. There is a lack of evaluation tools and the majority of distance education publications are opinion pieces and how-to-articles rather than original research. So how can the quality of distance teaching and learning be assessed? We present a theoretical framework for three researched assessment approaches: "Faculty/Student Assessment of Distance Education Practices," course-long student journal, and student focus group.

Introduction

In recent years the number of college and university programs being delivered via forms of distance education, particularly via the Interact, has increased. The U.S. Department of Education found that their number increased by 72%, to 1,190 and "certificate programs grew from 170 to 330" from 1995 to 1998. In 1998 alone, 54,000 online education courses were taken by 1.6 million students. In 1995, 33% of higher education institutions offered distance education courses, and by 1998 the percentage grew to 44%. The Internet was the primary medium for delivering these courses and programs: 66% in 1998, 22% in 1995. (National Center for Education Statistics, Distance Education at Postsecondary Education Institutions: 1997-98. December, 1999. ).

Quality Questions

There are, in the wake of this growth, questions being raised about the quality of distance teaching and learning. Neo-Luddites, a congressional commission, conscientious professors, and even the U.S. Department of Education have raised this important issue.

Neo-Luddites

David F. Noble, a professor of history at York University, Toronto, and long time critic of the role of technology in culture, speaks of distance education as "fools' gold" that "is tempting some administrators to put the core values of their institutions at risk." He refers to the low-tech, old-fashioned classroom as "sacred space" and says, "In person, you get a sense of me you can't get online. I'm convinced of that we have five senses. Why artificially narrow the bandwidth?" (Young, The Chronicle of Higher Education, March 31, 2000, A47-A49).

Congress

The Congressional Commission on Web-Based Education, chaired by Senator Bob Kerrey (Democrat, Nebraska), announced that it would encourage distance education providers to offer high-quality programs (Carnevale, The Chronicle of Higher Education, February 18, 2000, A56).

Faculty

Faculty have expressed concerns about the quality of distance education. For example, a January 2000 report, Teaching at an Internet Distance, is from a faculty study committee from the University of Illinois' three campuses. The committee members' initial perspectives for distance education were balanced between skepticism and enthusiasm. However, the report of the faculty raised concerns about the quality of teaching and learning. "Computer mediated instruction may indeed introduce new and highly effective teaching paradigms, but high-quality teaching is not always assured. Administrative decisions made without due consideration to pedagogy, or worse, with policies or technology which hampers quality, may cause much wasted time, money, and effort of both faculty and students." See (Young, The Chronicle of Higher Education, January 14, 2000, A48).

Elsewhere

The Faculty Senate at San Diego State University, on April 6, 2000, adopted a five page distance education policy focused on balancing the rights of professors with quality control of courses delivered online. Professorial oversight of distance education courses in their field; student interaction with faculty and other students in the course that is "substantial, personal, and timely"; student access to appropriate resources and services; and full-time professors were among the quality concerns addressed. …

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