Quality in online education: an interview with professor Torstein Rekkedal
Professor Torstein Rekkedal is chairing Campus NooA's International quality board which is set up to support NooA in assuring, maintaining and developing the quality of NooA’s total operations. This includes information of courses and programmes, administration of courses and programmes and student services, course contents, teaching and learning methodology, evaluation of students, and teacher qualifications.
Torstein Rekkedal was awarded Roll of Honour of the EADL in 2000 and received the ICDE Prize for life long contribution to the field of distance education in 2001. In 2003 he was conferred honorary doctor of the British Open University, and in 2008 he was granted the title Senior Fellow of EDEN.
What do you think is especially important for the content quality of NooA courses?
The course content is generally pre-produced to meet the needs of students with very different characteristics. In my opinion, national and international research demonstrates that online students are very different and as a group characterized by greater differences than on-campus students on most variables. Further, online courses require that students take responsibility for their own learning and study actively, not depending on teachers to feed them with knowledge. Online courses have to provide both subject materials and the didactical and pedagogical activities to facilitate motivating, effective and efficient learning. Despite the fact that the content is pre-produced for the target group, there must be opportunities for flexible and individual learning approaches, both concerning learning strategies and allocation of time. The aim must be to support pedagogical and system solutions that allow both individual learning and co-operation with other students. I see it as a great advantage if the solutions also allow that experiences and activities of previous students contribute to quality improvements by integrating their learning activities in the course and making them available to new students if needed.
What should NooA focus on with regard to the quality of the online teachers' work?
There is no doubt that the quality of the work of tutors is critical for the total quality. The teachers have to be quick in all aspects of communication with their students. Research demonstrates that the turn-around time of submitted assignments and student questions is extremely importance for students’ motivation and learning.
That teachers are academically competent is given. However, they must also understand the specific requirements of quality online education and the specific demands on online teachers. This means that they should facilitate student learning activities and supply sufficient and academically correct feedback on submitted assignments, and not least respond quickly to student initiatives and questions. The teachers have to establish a personal relationship with the students from the beginning in ways that make the students feel they know their teacher and participate in personal and individual communication. Ideally the teacher should have a good understanding of which student initiatives that require teacher responses and which should be left for students’ responses.
Do you think that the decision to use the Moodle learning management system will affect the quality of NooA courses?
I really don’t consider myself to be an expert on learning management systems as such. To me the main importance relates to which degree the system facilitates the administrative and didactical solutions that constitute the basis for NooA’s teaching and learning philosophies. As far as I can judge Moodle respresents an excellent alternative, which also has been chosen by other recognized online institutions world-wide, e.g. the British Open University.
What is your best advice for online course providers that are dedicated to provide high quality courses and services?
For distance students it is extremely important that all information from the first contact with the school and until the courses are completed is easily available, understandable and correct. Correct information also means that all that has been promised is maintained throughout the whole process. In my view, online students have a great need for flexibility.
- All information has to be correct.
- Correct information means that the institution delivers all that has been promised.
- Secure that all teachers are trained in online pedagogy specifically realted to the teaching and learning philosophy of NooA.
- Secure that new students are informed about study techniques specifically related to online studies, again specifically related to the learning philosophy of NooA.
- Courses, administative solutions and systems have to be developed according to and based upon research based knowledge of distance and online education.
- Regularly carry out systematic quality checks where student evaluations are important contributions and revise according to information collected.