Campus Alastair: An interview about quality in online education
Alastair Creelman works with net-based learning at Linnaeus University, Kalmar in south-east Sweden with particular interest in social media and open educational resources. He is also a board member of the European Foundation for Quality in E-learning.
He is also on NooA’s International quality board which is set up to support Campus NooA in assuring, maintaining and developing the quality of NooA’s total operations. This is including 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.
What do you think is especially important for the content quality of NooA courses?
Clear structure and attractive layout are extremely important – first impressions matter. Well produced material creates credibility and trust. Content should have a consistent profile and the student should always be able to see exactly where they are in the course structure. A good variety in the types of content in the course is also healthy with alternative paths available to students. Avoid repeating the same formula for every unit and add some surprise elements now and again to stimulate curiosity. Encourage students to contribute their own material to the course and to collaborate on reading lists or playlists. If each course leaves new material and ideas that are then used in the next version of the course students feel they are part of the course development.
What should we focus on with regard to the quality of the online teachers’ work?
The personal touch is so important. Students who feel welcome and recognized are more likely to complete a course and even if a course has many students there are ways of making all feel welcome and part of a dynamic community. For example a short introduction video from the teacher is much more personal than a written e-mail. Spoken feedback on an assignment as a sound file is often far more effective than written feedback and often takes much less of the teacher’s time to record. It’s also vital for teachers to help create a network between students and encourgae them to solve problems themselves rather than waiting for the teacher.
Do you think that the decision to use the Moodle learning management system will affect the quality of NooA courses?
Moodle is of course the world’s most widely used learning management system and therefore many of NooA’s students will already be familiar with the environment. The important factor is not the name of the platform you choose but how you use it. Moodle has a wide range of functions that allow for example formative assessment, peer review and a wide range of testing options and these can all contribute to enrichening the learning process. Clear and atractive layouts and design features are essential to provide students with an attractive and user-friendly learning arena. A common mistake is to overload pages with too much information or create excessively long pages sometimes known as the scroll of death. Once again, it’s not the tool it’s how you use it.
What is your best advice for online course providers that are dedicated to provide high quality courses and services?
In online learning the quality of information about the course is vital. Students need to know exactly what the course offers, what is expected of them, what support is available, pedagogical methods to be used, how they will be assessed and examined and clear deadlines. We need to make it absolutely clear what type of course this is, what it will lead to and how it will be conducted. The most important factor however is that we then keep our promises.