Measures of quality

I spent a day in London this week at the British Academy Offices of the Quality Assurance Association (QAA). I was invited to attend as our University is part of the Futurelearn consortium and they wanted to bring the partners together with their QA people to discuss how involved or what place the QAA has/should have with monitoring quality of the courses that are on offer. There were representatives of about 10 of the partners, including Leeds, Cardiff, Exeter and Edinburgh. Mark Lester (Futurelearn) was our Chair and it was a nice informal (and open) discussion with Stephen Jackson of the QAA.

There were three questions that were put to us:

1. As corporates and others consider entering HE territory with their own MOOCs, is academic credit the key differentiator of MOOCs for the HE sector?
2. Given criticism of the varied quality of MOOCs, is their a role for any agency in helping to make the quality of MOOCs second to none?
3. How should one measure or evaluate the quality of a MOOC?

This was an interesting meeting for me because I haven’t been involved in many Futurelearn meetings (no time!) but I’ve kept my eyes on what’s been happening at my own institution and at others. I’ve watched the development of MOOCs from the sidelines and have noted various degrees of quality assurance processes being applied usually in accordance with current in house procedures. Which has worked fine and the results have been pretty good. This is only natural, as you would apply what you know. I had it in my head that maybe, just maybe we need to be thinking differently. I don’t have all the answers but I’m not sure using models of design and therefore QA created for a different time and system and squeezing then to fit, may not be the best approach.

What was also interesting for me was the conversations that purely focused on Futurelearn. I know it was a Futurelearn meeting and many of my colleagues are involved in the development of courses using their platform. However, the QAA were concerned with ALL UK MOOCs, not just those via a platform provider.

Being concerned with digital literacies, and the development of innovative and engaging learning, I see that MOOCs, in all their guises (cMOOC or otherwise) could be an effective tool for creating a wonderful, rich learning environment for many on campus students. I also know that in the UK we are very lucky and admired for, our quality of education provision, so the role of the QAA as a vehicle for quality enhancement and consistency is where I hope we can be headed.

Stephen Jackson mentioned that the QAA were going to develop their own MOOC with a set of toolkit like resources to offer guidance. I hope this works. That seems to be the best approach, ‘the guide on the side’.

One last comment, I felt that the last question on measures was a bit ‘old news’. One of the first articles I ever read about the MOOCs in the US was about how the learners provided the measures for success of MOOCs. The market via the tools at their disposal would speak, publicly, about successes and failures. Institutions wouldn’t have the control that they have over survey data, the learners would speak for themselves. Losing control is not comfortable for many institutions, but if you put yourself out there, be prepared for the fallout. Good or bad, we are always encouraging feedback from our students. It’s time we practice what we preached.

MOOCing in the name of

In the back of my mind, every time I think about MOOCs, both within my institution or because of the articles I have been adding to my resources on, I’m constantly drawn to the issue of  QA.  How does a Faculty/Institution, know who is offering a MOOC in their name?  And by what process or measure can we assure the quality of that MOOC in line with the campus based offer?  Annoying as this may be, I think these are questions that we need to consider if offering a course, by whatever means, to whomever.  Its just a matter of quality and, in turn, reputation.

The second part of my week was spent at the CRA Residential, which I will probably blog about via the CITE website.  However, I thought that I would add here a question that cropped up during the two days I was there.  On Friday there was a talk from the QAA about how they recognise the awards that are given to students as part of the co-curricular activity that they may get involved in.  Things like a Vice Chancellors award, a Employability Award etc.  Now, these are not credit bearing but they said that they were interested because of the impact on the student experience.

My question, was “If these non credit bearing awards are of interest to the QAA, why not MOOCs?”   I did go and speak to them afterwards to ask them and they said that as long as a MOOC was not offering credit, although they do represent UK Higher Education, they wouldn’t be interested in particular (other than the reputation part) however, I then asked what about blended learning and MOOCs?  What if, you took a MOOC (from Coursera for example) and then asked your on campus students to enrol? This has happened to many in the US already.   My research has led me to Doug Fisher, who spoke at the ALT conference in November.  He has just written a paper about ‘Wrapping’ the MOOC around his course.  He was not alone.  There are at least three others within my research that took a similar approach.   In the US, their programmes are different, QA is not the same.  But in the UK, if you offer a course that leads to an award for that institution, then all of it, no matter where the course is from, would be of interest to the QAA.

Blended learning and MOOCs are what I see as a huge benefit of MOOCs.  So when preparing a MOOC in the UK, the advice would be to ensure that you follow traditional processes for approval of modules, then at the very least, there won’t be any nasty surprises should the QAA come a knocking’.