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Quality Assurance in e-Learning: issues for developing nations. Presentation at The Fourth Annual Conference of Learning International Networks Consortium ( LINC ), Amman Jordan, October 28 -30 2007 . Professor Babatunde Ipaye Director, Learner Support Services,

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Quality Assurance in e-Learning: issues for developing nations.

Presentation at

The Fourth Annual Conference of Learning International Networks Consortium (LINC), Amman Jordan, October 28 -30 2007


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Professor Babatunde Ipaye

Director, Learner Support Services,

National Open University of Nigeria.


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Introduction

  • Growth of e-Learning in Africa quite rapid and on-going

  • Difficult to stop the march of cross-border education and the intrusion of international education systems

  • Debate as to whether e-Learning is supplemental, complementary or independent

  • Important thing is that it provides access to whoever, wherever, and whenever, thus taking away distance from distance education


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Importance of quality assurance in e-Learning

  • Quality means fit for purpose

  • Quality assurance is the process of ensuring that fitness for purpose

  • Quality assurance could thus be defined as a set of procedures designed to ensure that quality standards and processes are adhered to, and that the final product meets or exceeds the required technical and performance requirements.


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Extent of quality assurance

  • Quality assurance covers activities including, but not limited to:

  • product design,

  • development,

  • production,

  • installation, and

  • servicing,

  • as well as proper and effective utilization.


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E-Learning has two sides

  • e-learning has two sides:

  • the ‘e’ or electronic, technical side, and

  • the ‘learning’ side which is mainly human

  • Quality assurance in e-learning therefore focuses on the two sides of e-learning;

    - the design of the technical equipment, the design and development of learning materials i.e. the software and the installation of the software.


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The human side of e-Learning

Next is the human side, here Quality assurance focuses on :

  • the delivery methods i.e. the support services that use technology to get learning materials unto the learners.

  • Hence, in e-Learning, quality assurance is an approach integrated into the production of hard and software to improve upon product delivery and the meeting of societal requirements and expectations.

  • Without quality, e-Learning does not provide value for money


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Main processes involved in QA

  • Ensuring a quality assurance mindset throughout the educational system but specifically within the institution providing e-learning services ; including it's infrastructure, ( i.e. the ‘e’ or electronic/technical component) it's controls and job management, its worker's competence, skills and experience, as well as less tangible elements such as institutional morale and motivation, corporate culture, and integrity ( i.e. the ‘learning’ or human component)


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  • Using a variety of controls to monitor, report and analyze problem areas, and working immediately to reduce or eliminate them. In many cases, this area of quality assurance falls back on ideas such as close monitoring, accurate collection and collation of data, analyzing data to identify areas of faults, leading to correcting issues before they become widespread or worsen.


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  • Full testing of products - whether referring to hardware products or software products. In industries, this step of quality assurance looks at testing a product to it's point of failure and then measuring variables or identifying problem areas, while in education it looks at testing a product as well as the process to the level of identifying the barest minimal errors or what is called ‘safe failure point’.

  • In addition to hardware issues, this step also includes the proper training of staff, particularly support staff, on-line tutors; course materials reviewers etc. to spot issues, as well as making sure they are adhering to known process that will not result in premature failure of the product, process and practice.


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Developing nations and quality issues in e-learning

  • A number of African universities had started the dual-mode of distance education whereby the universities provide distance education to off-campus students by various means including on-line provisions,

  • In most parts of Africa today, Distance Education is often implemented in form of e-learning or on-line learning by external providers.

  • Often such educational provision is not indigenous to the country since it is transported from the developed nations with all the features of a ‘Northern design’, and exported across the border into the recipient African country.


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  • It has been variously described as trans-border education, Trans- National Education, cross border education etc. While many of these countries that export such educational provisions have standards in their own countries, very few if any of the providers bother to apply such standards when they export their provisions to the developing nations of Africa.


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  • Trans-border education in Africa is mainly in two forms.

  • Direct face to face provisions in which the providers establish institutions in the recipient country and do direct didactic teaching.

  • The second approach is by e-learning and on-line programmes.

  • This approach is growing so rapidly in many African countries that the governments of such countries may have lost count of the number of such programmes within their boarders. OR may not even know that they exist!


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Ensuring quality assurance in e-Learning in developing nations

  • The following have to be addressed and focused upon


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Needs Assessment:

  • this gives an idea of what is available

  • What is required by :

    -the individuals,

    - the system,

    -the programme,

  • as well as what hardware and software are required and to what level of efficiency.

  • Usually, one of the most important steps never to be missed while producing materials for e-learning in Africa is to conduct a learning needs assessment before ever starting the delivery of instructions.


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  • A societal needs assessment would reveal the ethno-cultural intricacies that may impede learning and it is important to know in order to weed them out during :

  • the contents identification phase,

  • the material development stage,

  • the determination of graphics to use in illustration

  • as well as in determining the learning strategies.

  • A needs assessment done before building up the contents and a pretest before beginning the programme delivery proper engages the learners better.


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Congruence with national educational goals and philosophy

  • Ensure that the programmes and courses provided agree with the national goal and national philosophy of education. Some have argued that the aim of trans-border education is the production of an international body of employees who can function in the global village into which the world is developing. But deep in the mind of such providers is profit making and profit maximization. The recipient nations should assess the quality of the programme provided; is it the same as in the home country of the providers in terms of coverage, depth, duration, quality of tutors, quality of study materials, quality and usability of the on-line hardware and software etc. More importantly the aims and objectives of the programmes must agree with national goals and philosophy of education.


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Parity of offering:

  • For cross-border programmes, it is essential that the programmes provided be at par with the same programme in the country of origin. Students should be able to expect that their e-learning study materials, mode of delivery, assessment procedure etc are subject to the same rigour of quality assurance as the awarding institution would use for any of its programmes of study.

  • The same is true of dual mode provisions


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Participatory and interactive activities

  • It is difficult not to build a participatory approach into e-learning materials. If this is absent then quality is absent. The participatory approach in e-learning is the key to encouraging adults to participate in their own learning, especially there is something in it committing them to the future. On the human side, ( i.e. the second part of e-learning) quality assurance focuses on ensuring that the process of using e-learning is fit for purpose in following SEVEN ways:


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  • enhancing learning

  • breaking isolation by being sufficiently interactive thus enhancing uninterrupted interaction with study materials, with colleagues, with the on-line tutor and with other resources

  • promoting transactions by being flexible enough to sustain intra- and inter-group contacts

  • engendering the willingness to complete programme by being self motivating


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  • being user friendly thus preventing procrastinations and supporting effective utilization of time, resources and materials

  • being sufficiently supportive of both synchronous and asynchronous learning

  • actually removing the distance from distance education


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iv) Statement of objectives and strategies

  • An important aspect of quality assurance is for the programme provider to state clearly for ‘consumers’, as students of distance education are often described, the objectives, the operational strategies and the assessment procedure to know before hand. According to the QAAHE (2004), these should include, but not limited to:


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  • documents that set out the respective responsibilities of the awarding

  • institution and the programme presenter for the delivery of e-learning or element of study;

  • descriptions of the component units or modules of the programme or

  • element of study, to show the intended learning outcomes and teaching,

  • learning and assessment methods of the unit or module;

  • a clear schedule for the delivery of their study materials and

  • for assessment of their work.


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v) Orientation towards e-learning

  • In Africa, the prior experience of all prospective e-learners had been through directed teaching and face to face didactic encounters. It is thus the concern of quality assurance to provide opportunities for them to become aware of the different challenges and opportunities of autonomous learning, and of their responsibilities as autonomous learners. They need clear guidance on the characteristics of on-line learning, and on the general expectation of time commitment that they should be making.


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  • Particularly in an e-learning environment, students may need time to understand

  • and become familiar with technologies that are new to them.

  • They may need some introductory support, possibly involving access to on-line learning environments prior to the start of the course

  • This way, equipment and technical access can be tested and new skills practised.


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  • Consideration might be given to the need to assign an identified contact prior to the commencement of study to enable the programme presenter to ensure that the student's induction and preparation have been adequate.


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Conclusion:

  • An innovation is penetrating the African education scene through e-learning. A wider access to higher education is made available, people can conveniently work and learn, the burden of higher education is gradually shifting away from Government to learners or at least, it is been shared and more people are obtaining higher qualifications. As it does, there is need for the nations involved to be conscious of quality and quality assurance. The quality of a nation’s education, particularly higher education, is intricately interwoven with her economic development.


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  • Further, the education a nation gives her citizens must be congruent with the nation’s philosophy, goals and aspirations, and in these days of global development, a nation’s educational system must support the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) alongside the national goals. As other nations import their educational system to African countries through e-learning, there is need for preventing implantation of diploma mills in Africa as this is likely to worsen the development problems of Africa. Quality higher education is what is needed to accelerate national economic and socio-political growth and development in Africa. And indeed in the developing nations of the world.


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