Washington, D.C., March 21, 2000—The National Education Association (NEA) and Blackboard Inc. today unveiled an important, research-driven list of quality benchmarks for distance learning in higher education. The list of 24 quality measures is the centerpiece of "Quality On the Line"—an Institute for Higher Education Policy study commissioned by NEA and Blackboard Inc.
With the growth worldwide of teaching and learning on the Internet, attention is being paid to the nature and quality of online higher education. Speaking before an international forum of higher education policymakers convened for the Blackboard Summit 2000, NEA President Bob Chase and Blackboard Inc. Chairman Matthew Pittinsky previewed the findings of the study and declared the 24 benchmarks essential to ensuring excellence in Internet-based learning.
"The distance from faculty to student must be measured in results achieved for our students," said Chase. "The benchmarks identified in this study are important guideposts as our nation navigates the future of online higher education."
Pittinsky said, “The quality of the education we provide for students is the driving force behind the way teaching and learning takes place. The benchmarks identified in the NEA-Blackboard study will be invaluable to colleges and universities around the world for years to come as they keep their focus on quality while working to create and improve their Internet-based teaching and learning environments.”
To formulate the benchmarks, the report identified first-hand, practical strategies being used by U.S. colleges considered to be leaders in online distance education. The benchmarks distilled from this study are divided into seven categories of quality measures currently in use on campuses around the nation. Many are common sense, but the study validates their importance. The categories and benchmarks include:
Institutional Support Benchmarks
- A documented technology plan that includes electronic security measures to ensure both quality standards and the integrity and validity of information.
- The reliability of the technology delivery system is as failsafe as possible.
- A centralized system provides support for building and maintaining the distance education infrastructure.
Course Development Benchmarks
- Guidelines regarding minimum standards are used for course development, design, and delivery, while learning outcomes -not the availability of existing technology - determine the technology being used to deliver course content.
- Instructional materials are reviewed periodically to ensure they meet program standards.
- Courses are designed to require students to engage themselves in analysis, synthesis, and evaluation as part of their course and program requirements.
- Student interaction with faculty and other students is an essential characteristic and is facilitated through a variety of ways, including voice-mail and/or e-mail.
- Feedback to student assignments and questions is constructive and provided in a timely manner.
- Students are instructed in the proper methods of effective research, including assessment of the validity of resources.
Course Structure Benchmarks
- Before starting an online program, students are advised about the program to determine if they possess the self-motivation and commitment to learn at a distance and if they have access to the minimal technology required by the course design.
- Students are provided with supplemental course information that outlines course objectives, concepts, and ideas, and learning outcomes for each course are summarized in a clearly written, straightforward statement.
- Students have access to sufficient library resources that may include a "virtual library" accessible through the World Wide Web.
- Faculty and students agree upon expectations regarding times for student assignment completion and faculty response.
Student Support Benchmarks
- Students receive information about programs, including admission requirements, tuition and fees, books and supplies, technical and proctoring requirements, and student support services.
- Students are provided with hands-on training and information to aid them in securing material through electronic databases, inter-library loans, government archives, news services, and other sources.
- Throughout the duration of the course/program, students have access to technical assistance, including detailed instructions regarding the electronic media used, practice sessions prior to the beginning of the course, and convenient access to technical support staff.
- Questions directed to student service personnel are answered accurately and quickly, with a structured system in place to address student complaints.
Faculty Support Benchmarks
- Technical assistance in course development is available to faculty, who are encouraged to use it.
- Faculty members are assisted in the transition from classroom teaching to online instruction and are assessed during the process.
- Instructor training and assistance, including peer mentoring, continues through the progression of the online course.
- Faculty members are provided with written resources to deal with issues arising from student use of electronically-accessed data.
Evaluation and Assessment Benchmarks
- The program's educational effectiveness and teaching/learning process is assessed through an evaluation process that uses several methods and applies specific standards.
- Data on enrollment, costs, and successful/innovative uses of technology are used to evaluate program effectiveness.
- Intended learning outcomes are reviewed regularly to ensure clarity, utility, and appropriateness.