Letter of the Day: Bring into line online education
THE EDITOR, Sir:
Recently, I overheard two young women, who attend a university in Kingston, trying to convince another from the same institution to pursue a course in the online mode rather than attending a traditional, face-to-face class. In that discussion, the two gloated about the ease at which they were able to complete courses offered online, as these courses were not as structured as face-to-face courses and they were generally offered over a shorter period.
The young women also declared that they enjoyed a significant advantage over their counterparts who pursued the same courses offered face to face. They pointed out that grades were easier to attain in the online space and assessment strategies and instruments were far less rigorous than those utilised and administered in the face-to-face mode. The fact that there are students who have had these or similar experiences is appalling in itself, but their claims also point to an important and undeniable need.
Responsible agents in the education sector must move to ensure that there is standardisation of online and blended offerings across the higher education landscape. Policymakers, administrators and practitioners must work together to establish some indicators that, at the very least, assure all stakeholders that some minimum levels of quality are offered to all our students who access online and blended courses. In November 2014, the International Council for Open and Distance Education, along with UNESCO, at a summit in Bali, Indonesia, articulated the continued need for governments to, among other things, encourage the adoption of quality standards, guidelines and benchmarks for open, online and distance learning to be mainstreamed into quality frameworks and protocols.
I must commend the University Council of Jamaica (UCJ) for having launched its distance education standards early in 2014. What is needed now is for other relevant stakeholders to collaborate and develop concrete frameworks and protocols that demonstrate the application of these standards. The standards created by the UCJ form a good point of departure for the continued work of ensuring quality and equity in this business of online/blended/flexible learning. Online/distance learning has much to offer higher education, and the UCJ standards are a clear indication that comparable quality can be achieved with that of face-to-face offerings. Higher education institutions now need to be guided on how they can operationalise the quality that we are all expecting. We need to bring online education in line.
Bernard Lodge, St Catherine