THE ROLE OF TECHNOLOGY IN QUALITY EDUCATION Dr. R. Sivakumar Assistant Professor Department of Education Annamalai University Introduction Quality education is a universal goal. It is common to hear arguments that instructional technology will be the key to educational quality as we enter the new millennium. Investment in educational technology is urged upon policy-makers as the path to educational quality.
In fact, enthusiasts for educational technology argue that quality has and will continue to increase rapidly, creating a “new educational culture” Whatever problems exist are seen as ones which can be handled through better administrative and technological planning – that is, technology believers perceive no intrinsic obstacles to total quality assurance using information technology in higher education. Other voices question educational technology as a panacea.
The problems associated with technology in the college classroom in terms of issues such as poorly functioning equipment, over-promotion of technology-based learning to students, and lack of quality in courses delivered by technology. Educational technology who say students choosing online courses are not getting the education they pay for, and question whether universities should be providing such instruction.
The American Federation of Teachers and other faculty organizations have also raised serious cautions about web-based education and have even gone on strike over it. Technology in Quality Education In response to growing criticism of the recent, rapid, unregulated growth of distance education, a number of recognized higher education organizations have formulated quality standards and guidelines. The principles have been endorsed by a number of higher education governing and policymaking bodies in the world, as well as by the regional accrediting community.
The core assumption of these guidelines is that, “The institution’s programs holding specialized accreditation meet the same requirements when offered electronically. ” Since these guidelines are a widely-accepted definition of “quality” as applied to online education, they are quoted below: * Each program of study results in learning outcomes appropriate to the rigor and breadth of the degree or certificate awarded. * An electronically offered degree or certificate program is coherent and complete. The program provides for appropriate real-time or delayed interaction between faculty and students and among students. * Qualified faculty provides appropriate oversight of the program electronically offered. * The program is consistent with the institution’s role and mission. * Review and approval processes ensure the appropriateness of the technology being used to meet the program’s objectives. * The program provides faculty support services specifically related to teaching via an electronic system. The program provides training for faculty who teach via the use of technology. * The program ensures that appropriate learning resources are available to students. * The program provides students with clear, complete, and timely information on the curriculum, course and degree requirements, nature of faculty/student interaction, assumptions about technological competence and skills, technical equipment requirements, availability of academic support services and financial aid resources, and costs and payment policies. Enrolled students have reasonable and adequate access to the range of student services appropriate to support their learning. * Accepted students have the background, knowledge, and technical skills needed to undertake the program. * Advertising, recruiting, and admissions materials clearly and accurately represent the program and the services available. * Policies for faculty evaluation include appropriate consideration of teaching and scholarly activities related to electronically offered programs. The institution demonstrates a commitment to ongoing support, both financial and technical, and to continuation of the program for a period sufficient to enable students to complete a degree/certificate. * The institution evaluates the program’s educational effectiveness, including assessments of student learning outcomes, student retention, and student and faculty satisfaction. Students have access to such program evaluation data. * The institution provides for assessment and documentation of student achievement in each course and at completion of the program.
Empowerment in Online Education Technology enthusiasts believe online methods will liberate learning from the confines of the lecture hall, but it can be difficult to reconcile distance education with empowerment of students and faculty. One common tactic where empowerment is a goal of distance education at all is to keep guidelines-from-on-high to a minimum and to rely on local autonomy. Recent position, quality assurance in distance education, however, have noted with dismay the drift toward standards imposed from above. Remote learning” would simply lead to students staying at home in front of computer keyboards instead of being taught in a school environment. “This is way out of touch with the expectations of parents who want their children to develop both socially with other students and educationally under the guidance of qualified teachers”. Online Education and Community The “community of scholars” was central to the traditional concept of higher education.
The thrust of online education advocacy is to broaden the concept of community in non-traditional ways, particularly through partnership with or even contracting out to the business community. Educational institutions in all advanced countries encounter strong incentives for private sector partnering since the high costs of multimedia-rich online curricula are often beyond what a single local college can afford. In the traditional “community of scholars” the student was mentored as an apprentice and eventually became a co-investigator in research and creative activity.
Advocates of online education argue that this notion of academic community will be enhanced through the wonders of technology. Online education is frequently the province of the campus adult education unit, not the academic departments. Often instructor participation is an overload, potentially seducing faculty away from research. Administrators seek to use online education “to increase academic productivity” and, as discussed elsewhere in this essay, seek cost savings in an atmosphere unfavorable to the research function.
Moreover, most institutions have found that online education is intrinsically very demanding of valuable faculty time, which can also take away from research. On the student side, the social distance inherent in online education seems to make students want clear, precise, objectives-oriented curricula which may represent a narrowing of education, and may make them unlikely candidates for collegial work on faculty research projects. The reality of online education is that it favors a transition from traditional notions of academic community toward a much narrower, transactions-based model.
Online Education and Learning Autonomy Online education faces the paradox that it is best undertaken by students with strong autonomous learning skills, yet at the same time the disconnectedness of students from teachers seems correlated with insistent student demands for clearly structured learning assignments and schedules. Students frequently feel the need for ongoing communication with their instructor. A commonly expressed student need is that for very clearly and explicitly articulated course learning objectives.
That is, online pedagogy seems more associated with “cyber distance” than with “virtual community,” and students quickly become motivated to seek to overcome cyber distance through increased course structure, reducing learning autonomy. Online education is part of a cost reduction effort, requiring human resources to be stretched to cover more credit hours, faculty resignation to the training mentality of outcome-based evaluation is all but assured except, of course, in environments which do not even bother to attempt to enforce quality assurance standards. Online Education and Critical Thinking
Online education can handle instruction-to-facts more easily; drill-and-practice is the forte of computer methods. Ironically, in contrast, traditional education with its supposedly uncreative lecture hall methods has prided itself in its ability to inculcate critical thinking skills. Distance education administrators are aware that critical thinking of online methods. Therefore it is not unusual to find that quality assurance standards for online education make reference to student thinking skills, independent learning skills, teamwork and communication skills, and other aspects of critical thinking.
Moreover, intelligent-agent and workgroup collaboration software often are targeted directly at encouraging critical thinking skills. Critical thinking can be inculcated using technology such as cyber mentoring and video theater. A love-hate relationship exists between online education and critical thinking skill development. Writing assignments are thought to help develop critical thinking and while online methods can enhance collaborative writing, in general online courses are associated with less writing, not more.
Socratic discussion with faculty is also thought to inculcate critical thinking, but while online methods in theory could enhance discussion, in reality online courses are associated with far less instructor-oriented discussion. Critical thinking is also thought to be associated with problem-solving going beyond computational mechanics to consideration of complex causal and value systems, but while intelligent tutoring software does exist, the open-endedness of creating problem-solving together with the asynchronous nature of most online education mean that in practice online courses rarely develop the problem-solving approach.
Online Education and Educational Quality In comparing computer-mediated distance education with traditional face-to-face teaching experiences, while distance education increases access to education, one may well find decreases in instructional quality brought about by increased faculty workload, problems of adapting to technology, difficulties with online course management, and related obstacles. By focusing on instruction to learning objectives, as with traditional instruction-to-test approaches, test performance standards are usually met by online courses.
Although tested output of electronic education is often on a par with conventional teaching, this does not mean educational quality is unaffected however. Many observers find in typical online education offerings a substantial narrowing of the concept of education to the detriment of students. One of the recurring problems of computer-mediated education is that it is programmed around concrete learning objectives. Conclusion Many educational technology writers, in fact, explicitly argue that quality education using computer methods must be built on a foundation of clearly-defined competency-based curricular objectives.
Online education is now arousing academic resistance. The emergence of a two-tier educational system – a more expensive upper tier with sound traditional education supplemented with the benefits of full online access, and a cheaper inferior tier dispensing programmed training which meets objectives far narrower than the traditional goals of liberal education. References Barnard, John (1997). The World Wide Web and higher education: The promise of virtual universities and online libraries. Educational Technology, Vol. 37, No. 3 (May-June): 30-35. Special issue: Web-Based Learning. Bergeron, Bryan P. (1996).
Competency as a paradigm for technology-enabled instruction and evaluation, Journal of Instruction Delivery Systems, 10(2): 22-24. Hillesheim, Gwen (1998). The search for quality standards in distance learning, In Distance Learning ’98, Proceedings of the Annual Conference on Distance Teaching and Learning, (14th, Madison, WI, August 5-7, 1998). Pakkiff, Rena M. and Keith Pratt (1999). Building learning communities in cyberspace: Effective strategies for the online classroom. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Roth, Brenda F. and Denisha Sanders (1996). Instructional technology to enhance teaching. New Directions for Higher Education, 94: 21-32.
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