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Quality assurance for distance learning: a case study at Brunel University

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Abstract

Brunel University currently has four distance learning MSc courses, with over 500 students registered, and one undergraduate distance learning course. Some have been running for over five years, and well-established practices have been developed and provide a basis of support for the university. Quality assurance in the university has always been considered in three, equally important, ways: the curriculum and its assessment; the handling of coursework and assignments; and the liaison with students. The lesson we have learned is that a distance learning programme must be based on an existing full-time MSc programme, which is the gold standard for curriculum and its assessment, and where possible, common examinations and assessment be used. This can be further assured by scrutinisation by the associated research council. This is going to become ever more important with the increasing scrutiny by overseas governments on the academic quality of distance learning courses, which seek assurance on the comparability and quality of degrees. Quality assurance for the handling of coursework and assignments must be secure and demands a high overhead of paperwork. Detailed feedback to students on their assignments is essential, but this can, at the same time, form a quality assurance check for later progression decisions. We also copy and retain approximately 10% of the assignments for the same purpose. Rapid turnaround is essential if feedback is to be timely and therefore useful, and quality checks on processing time should be standard. Quality assurance for the procedures for liaison with distance learning students are somewhat harder to measure quantitatively. The mark of good distance learning must be its tutorial support. This demands good communications. Our own course, entitled Data Communications Systems, benefits from the high proportion of use of electronic communications, namely email, which allows fast turnaround of questions, yet is not intrusive. However, it is deemed essential that hard copy of all such correspondence is kept. Migration to other Internet support services, such as the World Wide Web, videoconferencing and groupware, is inevitable.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2004-01-01

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