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Keeping the importance of QA for e-Learning, it is important to develop framework for formal quality assurance of e-learning content. As a first step to this quality metrics have to be developed that can be used for quantifying the various quality parameters of an e-Learning tool and the content. The development of quality metrics and the framework can become the base for developing the QA tools, which can collect data on various aspects, analyze and arrive at quality measures using well- understood models and then grade the e- Learning environments.
How does one define quality? In particular it is not easy to precisely decide what constitutes quality of education. Different persons may have different perspectives of quality. There are two aspects of quality in the educational context: quality of the system as a whole and quality of what the system offers to the students or the learners. In cotrast to conventional education quality covers various elements of face-to-face teaching like the infrastructure and basic amenities, social & geographical environment, professional teaching competence, administrative and finance staff, appropriateness and relevance of the curriculum, teaching-learning materials, teaching-learning processes, community support to the institution, performance evaluation of the faculty, learners ie. students and the system as a whole.
Meaning of quality in e-learning
Learning outcomes are at the heart of respondents' understanding of quality in the field of e-learning. When we talk about quality in e-learning, we assume an implicit consensus about the term 'quality'. In fact, however, 'quality' means very different things to most e-learning providers. Harvey and Green (2000), (and see Ehlers, 2004, pp. 52-56) have suggested the following set of categories:
(b) perfection or consistency,
(c) fitness for purpose,
(d) adequate return,
The last perception of quality, transformation, is the most relevant to the pedagogical process. It describes the increase in competence or ability as a result of the learning process as transformation. In order to make these categories manageable for respondents, they were operationalised as follows in the study:
Considering everything asked so far, which of the following statements best represents your own personal understanding of quality? Please choose only the one element from the list below which best represents your own opinion.
According to the paper New Developments in Technology Enabled Education presented by Professor Singaperumal these points were put
A clear and documented need for 450000 seats; the demand is increasing exponentially
Even to maintain the current levels of admissions a new major university is needed every week in India alone to meet the demand!
Thus on a massive scale online education is emerging as an important market and thereby also offering a business opportunity to some institutions opting for an education business model out of it.
With these thoughts in mind, and the immense opportunity in terms of potential students in the higher education, the scene has to change rapidly to shift the paradigm.
E-Learning is the learning experience that is delivered or enabled by electronic technology. The delivery of learning or content can be over the intra-net, extra-net or over the Internet, via CD-ROM, interactive TV, or satellite broadcast. In terms of structure, student numbers have been exploding on university campuses. The universities have been reluctant to change their programs, both in content and delivery. They are facing challenges from alternative providers of education and training, with more focus on employability; the university professors represent a breed of career academics who are quite isolated and insulated from the changes in the real world around them; distance learning is considered second best, even though universities are hard pressed to explain the superiority of the traditional classroom processes in effecting knowledge transfer.
INDIAN HIGHER EDUCATION SCENARIO
E-learning or electronic learning in India is gaining prominence slowly, but indeed steadily. This is due to the fact that more than half the population of India today is below 25 years of age and the numbers of Internet users are growing continuously. The tremendous growth of the economy in the recent past has also helped in the growth of online education in India. E-learning in India is specially popular with the young professionals who have joined the work force quite early but still would like to continue their education that may help them move up their career ladder quickly and safely. They find online education in India very convenient, as the nature of the course work does not require them to attend regular classes. Moreover reputed institutes like Indian Institute of Management, Indian Institute of Technology, Indian Institute of Foreign Trade are today offering e-learning courses.
INDIA is embracing e-learning in a big way. India has learned lessons from the success of the e-way in the West and today the grim educational picture is being replaced by e-governance's-classroom, e-tutorials. It is a matter of pride for the country in general and agencies in particular for the popularization of the mission mode programmes on e-governance.
The major advantage of e-learning is that it is self-paced and learning is done at the learner's pace. The content can be repeated until the trainee understands it. E learning is interactive too. With the growth of e-learning, more and more pupils will opt for it, as there would be no worry that the math teacher will beat them for a sum gone wrong. Also, there will also be no fear of coming late to class and then standing outside the classroom waiting for permission to enter.
More and more working professionals would be interested in learning the e-way because of flexibility that e-learning offer. E-learning will soon become a great tool to enhance qualifications and getting promotions in the job market. So, to sum up, the future of e-learning is bright.
However, there is significant knowledge retention. High quality e-learning solutions are being developed in India with the right technology and industry support in sectors as distinct as steel, IT, automobiles, cement and telecom. Industry watchers estimate that because of its advantages, India is bound to grow in stature as the hub for e-learning programmes.
In 2002, deliberations of various committees were held that led to the setting up of the UGC-INFONET towards the end of 2004. UGC also joined this crusade of introducing e-learning. Wholly funded by UGC, UGC-INFONET provides electronic access to scholarly literature available over the Internet in all areas of learning to the university sector in India.
Yet another project to provide web based training is the National Programme on Technology Enhanced Learning (NPTEL), which is being funded by the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD.) This was first conceived in 1999, to pave the way for introducing multimedia and web technology to enhance learning of basic science and engineering concepts, was launched in September 2006.
Significant infrastructure has been set up for production of video-based teaching material by the Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT), the Bangalore based Indian Institutes of Sciences (IISc) and Technical Teacher Training Institutes (TTTI.) Gyan Darshan, which was launched on January 26, 2000, as an exclusive higher education TV channel to provide quality distance education by IGNOU, can be considered as an effective effort in India.
At the institutional level many institutes, mainly private as of now; have entered into online distance education and the much talked about NIIT Varsity offers training to 500,000 students annually across 33 countries. One of the world's leading management schools, the Indian Institute of Management at Calcutta (IIM-C), amongst others, entered into a strategic alliance with NIIT, to offer executive development programmes through virtual classrooms.
It is very difficult for a person of my stature to issue a declaration on the issue but I suggest that higher educational institutions in India, which plan to venture into e-learning should take a lesson from this and must first follow the education and communication strategy of organizational change where the stakeholders should be informed as to how the change will affect them.
The government needs to stimulate a learning culture and e-learning must become a policy issue. Government must recognize the e-learning industry as a separate forum and not treat it as part of the IT enabled services (IT'S) or a sub sector of the IT industry.
KEY E-LEARNING: QUALITY ISSUES
As institutions adopt e-learning, some important new issues arise:
îµ Institutions should made available an adequate and reliable technical infrastructure to support and sustain e-learning activities.
îµ Instructors and students must possess the technical skills to use e- learning tools.
îµ Instructors must redesign their courses to incorporate e-learning effectively into their pedagogy.
Online learning should be an active, not passive, experience:
Two important facts converge to make this recommendation a key part of any model for online learning. The first has a core principle of effective pedagogy. Microsoft PowerPoint presentations or Word documents saved in HTML format don't allow learners to do anything except sit in front of their screens and click through text.
The second converging fact is that early efforts at e-learning suffered a high rate of attrition because many learners complained that the content was boring and disengaging. To activate students so that they engage with content better, learning ware should contain multimedia interactions, such as simulations, explorations, games, and drag-and-drop exercises. Animations, video, and audio round out some of the stalwarts of rich media. When you map learning content to the appropriate rich media, you get impressive results.
QUALITY FACTORS DRIVE E-LEARNING ADOPTION
Institutions interviewed for this research cited various institutional, user, and market drivers as spurring the adoption of e- learning. Some institutions designate e- learning as an institutional objective, for example, to support their charter of outreach, reach new markets in an area of specialization, or enhance the educational process. Faculty interest-to improve teaching methods in general, to make courses more interesting for students, or to keep up-to-date in their academic field-spurs e-learning adoption at others. Institutions might use e- learning to help students ft learning into their increasingly hectic schedules and develop required technical skills for their professional development. In some institutions, e-learning courses have developed from video-oriented courses. Some institutions reported the use of hybrid courses to alleviate overcrowded classrooms. For many institutions, e-learning is part of higher education's evolution, and course management systems' ease of use has encouraged e-learning adoption.
BENEFITS OF E-LEARNING WITH QUALITY ASSURANCE
Integration: All institutions, research institutions, regulatory bodies, professionals, academicians and students can be integrated on regional, state, national and international level. Sharing of knowledge, experience, infrastructure and technology will enhance the effective and efficient utilization of available resources. Students can have an access to unlimited storehouse of information at any hour and from any place.
Access to best faculty and quality study material: Since e-Learning has ability to cover distances, a few good teachers can be scaled up. Faculty availability is not restricted by geography or even time because of recorded classrooms. The expert teachers also will be identified and honored by the demand for them from learners.
Human bias: eLearning helps removes the bias of sex, religion, color, caste etc.
Dust free environment: Unlike in chalk and talk method, learning atmosphere becomes dust free.
Individualized instruction: E-Learning also offers individualized instruction, which print media cannot provide. It makes learning exciting, engaging and compelling. Blended programmes can integrate eLearning with face-to-face workshops, coaching, action learning and a huge range of other learning methods to cover a range of needs, styles and approaches. Private messaging readily supports these exchanges while protecting the participants' privacy. Based on the individual and/or group needs, interests, career objectives and job profiles, lesson modules can be chosen.
The new system must be made up of five different components. These are:
â€¢ Audits of the quality assurance mechanisms of the higher education institutions
â€¢ Evaluations of subjects and programmes.
â€¢ Appraisals of the entitlement to award degrees
â€¢ Thematic evaluations and thematic studies
â€¢ Identification of centers of educational excellence
A CASE STUDY ON QUALITY ASSURANCE EFFORT AT THE SYMBIOSIS CENTRE FOR DISTANCE
Learning, Pune, India
The Symbiosis Centre for Distance Learning (SCDL), Pune, is the leading private sector provider of open & distance learning in India. Its learners, numbering more than 200,000 are drawn from all the nooks & corners of India, and also, from more than 40 overseas countries.
Quality is the hallmark of SCDL's working. The quality concerns adopted by the SCDL are presented below:
The learning programs are selected very carefully, taking into consideration the market demands as well as the felt-needs of the learners. Once a tentative decision is taken to introduce a new program, its various pros & cons are discussed in the Academic Council, which is the principal body for taking all academic decisions.
The next step is to allocate the work of writing the Self Learning Materials. For this purpose the SCDL has enlisted more than 400 visiting faculty who are all well qualified and long experienced teachers from reputed universities and colleges as well as persons with practical experience in industry.
Electronic learning materials in the form of e-learning modules and pre-recorded DVD lectures are also prepared. The faculty preparing the electronic learning materials may, or more likely may not, be those who had prepared the SLM in the print form.
Self assessment is an important system adopted by the SCDL. All the learning materials sent to the distance learners - whether print or electronic - contain self-assessment questions. In fact the learning material contents are broken down into sections and sub-sections, and at the end of each the learner is expected to take a pause and attempt answering the self-assessment questions. This way, the learner will come to know whether she/he has understood the content of the section or the sub-section. This process builds up the learner's confidence.
A distinguishing feature of the SCDL is the use of most modern technology in the student progression and assessment system. Each learner is required to complete two online assignments per course per semester. The online assignments are based on the thoughtfully prepared and exhaustive Question Banks which are uploaded on the web for accession by the learners. Last but not least of the quality assurance measures cover the Student Support & Guidance System. This system has three important planks: the Personal Contact Programs (PCP), the Data Support Department and the system of quick response to students' queries and requirements.
CASE STUDY 2: E-LEARNING AT BOSTON COLLEGE
By Rita R. Owens, Associate Academic V.P. for Technology, Boston College
This is just one example of how 141-year-old Boston College (BC), one of the oldest Jesuit Catholic universities in the United States, is incorporating e-learning into its time-honored academic tradition. Indeed, the older and more venerable an institution-US News & World Report ranks BC number 37th among national universities-the more that's at stake when it introduces a dramatic and potentially revolutionary tool like the Internet into the educational program. Reputation and quality are the first concerns.
E-learning has affected everyone at our 15,000-plus-student university, regardless of age, role, experience or academic discipline. And mostly in a positive way. But success hasn't come without obstacles, challenges and tough decisions.
One of our most critical decisions was assessing how e-learning would affect our hard-earned reputation, steeped in centuries of classical academic tradition. Although we plan to scale our e-learning, we had no need to use it as a flagship marketing tool for admissions. Our curriculum sells itself. We evaluate e-learning only in the context of its power to improve education. As a matter of fact, we don't even make any distinction between online education and traditional education. Education per se is the only thing that matters.
Consistent with this position, we elected not to mandate e-learning for every course. Instead, we have let e-learning develop organically, driven by students, faculty and the academic environment. Several learning-related factors are strengthening our e-learning adoption. E-book publishers are flooding academia with digitized online content for a wide range of courses.
All of our classrooms have been networked with state-of-the-art facilities. Faculty members are supplied with powerful desktops and laptops. Our students tend to be technologically savvy and often come to us with e-learning experience gained in high school. Not only are they comfortable with the technology, they virtually grew up online. Their demand for online course components has propelled our e-learning adoption.
Early on, we determined we needed well-defined "checks and balances" to ensure e-learning was properly incorporated into our campus environment. We have adopted a multiple committee structure that serves us very well. Our University Council on Teaching comprises respected faculty members who set strategy on how e-learning will play out on campus. We have an e-learning Action Group, a collaboration of college reference librarians and academic initiatives. My group, Academic Technology Services, promotes e-learning on campus and assists in training and technical support.
With these key governance and infrastructure decisions made, we've had strong results with e-learning across a wide range of disciplines.
Extracurricular activities are also got boosted by e-learning technology. First-year MBA candidates at our Carroll School of Management have a special intranet where they can find fellowships, social activities, discussions, and a "community calendar." Although it sounds like a trivial thing, this digital orientation/bulletin board in one is a campus lifeline for the many students with full-time job and family responsibilities.
Compared to an almost 80 per cent literacy rate in urban India, that in rural areas is only 56 percent. Further, the average teacher: student ratio at primary level is 1:58 in rural regions. Improvement of connectivity is another area of concern. India needs to increase penetration in terms of PCs and communication lines for any e-Learning project to be successful. The high cost of ownership, which proves to be a barrier, needs to be lowered. Following steps could help in arresting the above problems:
The Service providers, including the Government need to reduce the tariff levels. As the field becomes more and more competitive, this is bound to happen.
Inventions such as the Computer can reduce costs by providing affordable computing. At INR 10,000 a piece, the Computer offers computing facilities at a drastically lower cost compared to INR 30,000 for a PC. Further, it has a local language interface.
Use of open source software will not only be cost effective but can also meet the localized demands of the enormous linguistic diversity of India. Further, open source software can also be used on old hardware.