Whether as a temporary or a long-term strategy, implementing Online Education in an institution is a process that requires coordinated efforts at all levels of the organisation. Institutional support to students, faculty and staff is key to attain quality Online Education.
In this section, we highlight five areas that are fundamental for a good e-learning practice from the institution’s perspective.
Digital Competency and Professional Development
In the context of Online Education, staff and faculty need to be digitally competent to develop their profession in a digital environment and to support students in the use of ICT during their studies. The following are examples of actions that institutions can take in order to develop, promote and ensure digital competency of staff and educators:
- Encourage peer-to-peer support and best-practice sharing;
- Offer a wide range of ICT training tools and resources for staff at all levels of the organisation to meet individual and organisational needs and for different learning styles;
- Incentivise and reward ICT training and continuous development;
- Include digital competence in staff and faculty appraisals;
- Describe and benchmark digital competence at the staff and faculty level to guide them in this process (e.g. by adopting/adapting tools such as the European Commission’s DigComEdu or the UNESCO’s ICT Competency Framework for Teachers);
Staff and Student Support
It is the institution’s responsibility to anticipate staff and students’ needs and provide the necessary support.
Staff and faculty will most likely require:
- Technical support to develop their daily work using the technical infrastructure;
- Guidance, training and professional development support to ensure digital competency;
- Additional resources (including time and financial resources) to fully adapt to and provide quality Online Education;
- Peer support practice, which can be key during the first steps/experiences in Online Education.
Students will most likely need:
- Guidance for the correct use of technology;
- Technical support to solve any problems and doubts;
- Administrative support to complete any required processes;
- Personalised counseling and orientation.
Virtual Learning Environment and Technical Infrastructure
Having a well-integrated and comprehensive Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) is key for quality Online Education. Today, most online learning technologies offer integration of different softwares and/or the inclusion of all required functionalities and services (from application and registration, to database management and learning and teaching tools and resources).
In this context, to guarantee a good use and navigation of the VLE, we highly encourage schools to develop clear guidelines for students, faculty and staff to indicate where, how, when and by whom they can be provided with the different services, resources and support.
In the context of Online Education, and specially during the transition/implementation for the first time, it is very helpful for institutions to develop and utilise a Policy for Quality Assurance that benchmarks quality practices. In other words, a framework that defines and describes what resources and methods the institution considers adequate and appropriate in accordance with the institutional mission and the programme-specific learning outcomes.
The institution’s Policy for Quality Assurance will not only help the institution as a whole to advance in the provision of Online Education, but it will also serve as a guide for instructors when designing and developing their courses.
Elements, such as institutional support, course development, teaching and learning, student support, faculty support, technological infrastructure, student assessment and electronic security measures need to be included in the Policy for Quality Assurance.
In order to ensure a smooth transition and a comprehensive institutional change towards Online Education, we highly encourage schools to include Online Education in the strategic plan of the organisation.
For an enhanced understanding and involvement of the different members of the organisation in this transition, the strategy shall include:
- The rationale for change
- The outcomes desired (e.g. more access, better skills, enhanced recruitment)
- Actions needed to support the changes (e.g. more faculty development; Centre for Teaching and Learning)
- Responsibilities at different levels throughout the institution
- A financial strategy/resources
Schools that implement online courses as a temporary strategy are also encouraged to define (maybe with a narrower scope) and communicate the above aspects in order to guarantee consistency throughout the organisation and the programmes.
¹ Esther Huertas, Ivan Biscan, et al.; Considerations for Quality Assurance of e-Learning Provision-Report from the ENQA Working Group VIII on Quality Assurance and e-Learning- Occasional Papers 26, ENQA, 2018
² Commonwealth of Learning, Teaching in a Digital Age with Dr. Tony Bates Video-Series, 2020