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Benchmarks That Are Essential for Quality Internet-based Distance Education

Benchmarks That Are Essential for Quality Internet-based Distance Education

The following benchmarks are excerpted from an April 2000 report by Ronald Phipps and Jamie Merisotis for the Institute for Higher Education Policy (http://www.ihep.org), a non-profit, non-partisan organization whose mission is to foster access to and quality in postsecondary education. The report was commissioned by the National Education Association (NEA), the nation's largest professional association of higher education faculty, and Blackboard Inc., a widely used platform provider for online education.

Institutional Support Benchmarks

  • A documented technology plan that includes electronic security measures(i.e., password protection, encryption, back-up systems) is in place and operational 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.

Teaching/learning Benchmarks

  • 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 is (1) they possess the self-motivation and commitment to learn at a distance and 92) 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 exceptions 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, interlibrary 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, practical 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.