Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Creating a Quality Online University Through Research

The Australian National Unviersity is currently undergoing an Australian Universities Quality Agency's Quality Audit by a panel of eminent people:
Andrew Lister (Panel Chairperson), Consultant, Emeritus Professor Andrew Lister was Executive Dean, Faculty of Engineering, Physical Sciences and Architecture at the University of Queensland from 1998 to 2002. ...

Dorte Kristoffersen, Audit Director, AUQA... was deputy director of the Danish Evaluation Institute from 1999 to 2004. ...

Graeme Davies, Vice-Chancellor, University of London ... Sir Graeme is currently Vice-Chancellor and President of the University of London. ...

Adrian Lee, Consultant, ... Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Education & Quality Improvement) at UNSW in 2000 ...

William Massy, President, Jackson Hole Higher Education Group & Professor Emeritus, Stanford University ...

Brian Robinson, Mellor Professor of Chemistry, University of Otago ...

From: Audit Reports: Self Accrediting Institutions - Panel for The Australian National University, Australian Universities Quality Agency, 2007.
The government sponsored audits are conducted to ensure the quality of Australian Universities:
The Australian Universities Quality Agency (AUQA) is established to be Australia’s principal national quality agency for higher education, with responsibility for: quality audits of higher education institutions and accreditation authorities; reporting on performance and outcomes; assisting in quality enhancement; advising on quality assurance; and liaising internationally with quality agencies in other jurisdictions, for the benefit of Australian higher education.

From: Audit Manual V4.0, Australian Universities Quality Agency, 28/03/2007
The reports produced by the auditors are released publicly.

This is in addition to the internal processes carried out by universities, externally by professional bodies and by state government. As an example, the Australian Computer Society accredits IT courses at tertiary institutions in Australia against a detailed set of guidelines. The Core Body Of Knowledge for the ICT Profession, used for accreditation is currently under review.

I have been on the accreditation panels of several ACS assessments, ones in conjunction with other professional bodies, state government assessments and as an outside member on an internal university review. The processes for these are all much the same and often the paperwork produced by one review at an institution can be used for the review by another (the AQUA reviews make particularly interesting reading).

One issue is to what standard are the reviews being conducted and are all the institutions aiming for the same result by the same methods. This particularly becomes an issue where institutions use innovative new teaching methods, uses online and outsourced teaching and blends research with teaching.

There are universities which emphasize online education. As an example the Master of Internet Communication at University of Canberra of which Gavin Dispain , Department of Environment Web Master is a well known graduate. The Internet Studies Program, run by Matthew Allen at Curtin University of Technology is another example. The ACS itself runs a postgraduate Computer Professional Education Program using Australian developed online software, within my ACS Professional Development Board.

However, how does the emphasis on online education fit with institutions which have a tradition of research and small scale face to face teaching? The problem is how to how to add the virtual environment, without diluting the research and reputation.

Some changes to achieve the online university need remarkably little technology, but a difficult to achieve change it thinking.
As an example the ANU implemented an Digital Lecture Delivery system some years ago. However, the students were required to log in to collect lectures. A small technical addition was required to allow the lectures to be delivered by podcasting. However, this required a change in the thinking by the university staff, from students coming to lecture, to the lectures being delivered on denmand to the students.

One way to achieve the efficiencies from online education while maintaining a reputation for research is by applying that research to the education process. This can be done both by applying the results of research into education methods and using research processes and results in the education.

Peter Strazdins, from ANU Computer Science Department, presented two illuminating semianrs on research and education in 2007, on "A Survey of 'Best Practice' in Computer Science Teaching" and "Research-Based Education in Computer Science". The idea here was that education research could be used at university and that research could be incorporated into teaching, including undergraduates.

The MIT iCampus shows one way computer aided teaching systems can be used both in the classroom and remotely over the web to provide education as good or better than traditional methods. It should be possible to use the same online courseware systems, such as Moodle, for remote and in classroom use.

Roger Clarke will be presenting a seminar at the ANU next week, arguing that Web 2.0 systems are an area requiring serious scholarly research. Systems such as MySpace, YouTube and Facebook are significant social and business developments and deserve research for that alone. However, the techniques they embody can also be applied to the process of education and research. Systems such as Linkedin, provide an example of how these techniques can be applied to work purposes.

At the same time advanced computer based learning systems can be used for elementary education in remote areas and for people with limited literacy. As well as being of value for disadvantaged sections of the Australian community, this will provide a very valuable export product.

1 comment:

Tom Worthington said...

Just noticed I mis-spelt "Unviersity" in the post title. ;-)

Also ANU's Academic Skills and Learning Centre (ASLC) is hosting a symposium on learning futures and Web 2.0 in September 2007.