New Online Teaching Medium Means New Quality Controls

Two universities want to replace their current online education systems with better systems which they believe will be easier for students to navigate, as well as running content more smoothly. Easy-to-use software to present courses, a sure way to proctor exams to eliminate cheating by online students, and a means of judging the quality of an online course, are the three things the University of Oregon needs to improve its online education provision.

The “learning management system” of the University of Oregon and Oregon State University, called Blackboard, is on the verge of being replaced. Blackboard is a website where students log onto course Web pages, whether the courses are offered on campus or online.

“Blackboard is a rickety piece of software,” said Ian McNeely, a University of Oregon history associate professor and associate dean of undergraduate education in the College of Arts and Sciences.

Ideally, a new learning system would be easy for students to navigate, robust enough to hold and run course content such as videos or even learning games, and within the universities’ means. Hence, the University of Oregon and Oregon State University are both in the process of seeking better systems.

According to Diane Dietz of The Register-Guard, a key problem that universities have to solve for online courses is how to make sure the unseen student is who the student claims to be especially on exam day. Proctoring services are offered at colleges and universities. Online students can take exams at the University of Oregon’s Testing Center. Ahead of time, students ask their online instructors to send to the Testing Center the passwords needed to unlock online exams.

The use of website ProctorU, which through a Skype-like system monitors the test taker, is another option. Once the test starts, the students’ eyes cannot leave the computer screen. Students pay from $15 to $30 the online or in person proctoring.

How to ensure that online classes are as good as campus classes is a conundrum on campus. Although it can be hard to compare the two, major research hasn’t found a major difference. 30 courses that were offered at Oregon State University, both online and in person were examined by the faculty at Oregon State University. However, as Oregon State University documents suggest, they ran into some difficulties because 20% of online courses didn’t specify learning outcomes that could be judged – and neither did 30% of the on-site courses.

“That’s the point,” King said. “You can have some really bad face-to-face courses and, I won’t kid you, there are probably some not-so-good online courses. But there are some really great face-to-face courses and some phenomenal online courses.”

Together with 17 other public institutions, the University of Oregon and Oregon State University joined nationally to form a Personalized Learning Consortium as they seek ways to achieve and maintain quality. Discipline-specific groups will be gathered by faculty from consortium participants, to establish specific content and learning outcomes for online courses. English composition, economics, pre-calculus, introduction to biology and psychology have been tackled by the multi-campus group.

At Oregon State University, a separate effort to measure quality of existing online courses is underway. Means to evaluate and certify the design of online courses are offered by Quality Matters, a Maryland-based nonprofit group. McNeely said that the University of Oregon is drafting its own standards.

“There’s a little reluctance to cede control to an outside outfit,” he said. “There is an Oregon spirit. We came out here to do things our way.”

“But I’d imagine that, before it’s all over, we’d get some kind of consulting relationship with an organization like that,” he continued.

11 27, 2013
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