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Even if the question of eLearning quality has been intensely discussed in the recent years, with several approaches and models arising, the implementation of concepts into practices remains contested ...

Even if the question of eLearning quality has been intensely discussed in the recent years, with several approaches and models arising, the implementation of concepts into practices remains contested (Elhers & Hilera, 2012 ) . Higher Education Institutions (HEI) are facing an important change:from the single institutional efforts to give answer to a very changing society and labour market to the transnational debates and pressure for HEI modernization, like the case of Bologna Process.In this context, eLearning is given different importance with regard to organizational innovation and the general HEI culture of quality (Ehlers & Schneckenberg, 2010). While it has been envisaged as the panacea to promote improvements in such different dimensions as cost-benefit ratio, access and inclusiveness, or the introduction of learner centered pedagogical approaches, very often the values and motivations entrenched in these dimensions clash and enter in more or less evident contradictions. As a result, the implementation of quality eLearning in HEI could be slowed down or blocked (Conole, Smith, & White, A critique of the impact of policy and funding, 2007).
In this article the authors introduce the results of an initial exploratory phase undertaken as part of a participatory action research funded by the Italian Ministry of Education PRIN (Research Project of National Interest, “Progetto di Ricerca d’Interesse Nazionale”) namely, “Evaluation for the improvement of educational contexts. A research involving University and local communities in the participatory development of innovative assessment models”.
On the basis of a qualitative epistemological approach (Creswell, 2007) (Denzin & Lincoln, 2011), several stakeholders from one University were interviewed, attempting to capture the several discourses on quality in HE and the embedded idea of quality eLearning . The results obtained were later conceptualized attempting to define quality as a complex object that requires mediation for the negotiation of the several perspectives.



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  • 5th International Conference of Education, Research and Innovation Madrid, 19-21 November 2012Patrizia Ghislandi – Juliana RaffaghelliUniversity of Trento
  • A) eLearning and change in highereducation: tensions and contradictions ELearning evolution and its contribution to Higher Education change What is eLearning quality? Quality as a complex objectB) The PRIN project case:“Evaluation for the improvement ofeducational contexts” C) Conclusions The Methodological Approach Mediated quality. deep understanding, reflection and contextualized design First Findings from an exploratory phase
  • Are Universities fully using the power of technologies to rethink pedagogical practices? Web 2.0 and Social Media3
  • Dimensions of The initial media 2.0 Future change revolution (1.0) Teachers Sage on the Guide on the Side The orchestra director: Stage harmonizing the generation of content Pedagogical Individual Collaboration Open Knowledge and Practices & assignments on flexible social networking: Learning given contents networked learning Institution campus Interinstitutional Beyond local and Cooperation institutional barriers Students Passive role Initial sense of Co-creation of contents being part of the educational process4
  •  We all agree but… Organizational (O’ Hearn, 2000; Holley, 2000; Volery, 2000; Rosenblitt, 2006; ) Cultures the differential infrastructure and readiness of different types of higher education institutions to utilize the technologies’ potential ; the extent to which the ‘old’ distance education technologies and the new technologies replace teaching/learning Digital Skills Unprepared Pedagogical practices in classrooms ; Institutions Beliefs the role of real problems, barriers and obstacles in applying new technologies ; the impact of the new technologies on different student clienteles ; information acquisition vs knowledge construction in higher education ; cost considerations ; the human capacity to adapt to new learning styles in face of the rapid development of the Infrasatructure technologies ; and the organizational cultures of academic and corporate worlds.
  • The reality today: Open questions…  Access and prevention of drop outs How can we with more people following studies at University level; conceive and introduce • Transparency and usability of teaching contents; QUALITY • Open relationships with the society Elearning in and the world of work to improve Higher young students’ transitions, Education • Wider access through the use of (QeLHE)? eLearning; Building on Laurillard, 2002
  •  Diverse Cultures of Quality are underpinned by diverse values:  Exceptional/Original: the value is on the uniqueness  Distinctiveness: not for all  Excellence: The highest levels of performance  Fitness for Purpose: doing what has been planned  Inclusive: all people can participate 7
  • Elements DimensionsMultiperspective The teacher – the student – the institution, the evaluatorsDiverse Methods of Benchmarking – guidelines – standards –Analysis quantitative or qualitative approachesDiverse Time In itinere – ex ante – ex postDiverse Meanings Pedagogical – Organizational – Technological – EconomicalDiverse Levels of Individual – Group – Institutional – Socio-culturalAnalysis 9
  •  Quality is not an intrinsic, universal value It is very much about the methodology of evaluation, And the substantial epistemological principles and values underlying the process of evaluation
  •  The selection of qualitative methods,  a phenomenological approach based on narrative self-evaluation, peer-evaluation and meta-evaluation, emphasizes the interest on processes and on the empowerment of participants AS COMMITTED EVALUATED  This logic studies the topic within its context, uses an emerging design that accounts for reality as subjective and multiple, lessen the distance between “official” evaluators and participants (Denzin & Lincoln, 2011). As a result, the evaluation process encompasses a transformational (participatory/innovative) opportunity for the engaged individuals/ institutions.(Creswell, 2007; Mertens, 2009).
  •  The transformational perspective is the kernel of a quality learning culture:  a human group that take part of a learning experience as a deep, reflective experience, connected to the own professional/ personal identity ▪ For which purposes do I learn? What can I do with this learning?  not just for accomplishing activities, recalling information, and obtaining credentials (course diploma). Teachers and students should become insiders of the culture of quality.
  •  PRIN (Projects of National Relevance, Ministry of University, Education and Research of Italian Republic) project 2009  “Evaluation for the improvement of educational contexts. A research involving University and local communities in the participatory development of innovative assessment models” PRIN first exploratory phase:  Analysis of the institutional culture (values, meanings, beliefs) about quality in HE;  Analysis the stakeholders approach to quality of HE and in this context, to quality of eLearning in HE.
  • Exploratory Reflection &•Understanding fieldwork •Pedagogical Feedback QeLHE at different Innovation, levels •Conflicts and participatory •Joint analysis on the contraddictions in the evaluation educational impact of discourses about the quality model QeLHE within the University Preliminary Design & Analysis Intervention • Methodological Approach: Case Study, Participatory Action Research • Main sources of data: documents, interviews, forum analysis, observations, design workshops, use of tools for design (Conole, 2012) • Method for data analysis: • Exploratory phase: Discourse analysis, Semio-pragmatic Analysis • Transformative phase: design based research (DBR) 14
  • Exploratory Reflection & • Understanding fieldwork • Pedagogical Feedback QeLHE at different Innovation, levels • Conflicts and participatory • Joint analysis on the contraddictions in evaluation educational impact the discourses about of the quality model QeLHE within the University Preliminary Design & Analysis Intervention Subphase 1 (A1-2 / A8-9) Subphase 2 (A3-A6 / A10)Exploratory Phase Documental/Web Analysis Interviews / Observation 3 Courses A.A. 2011/2012 6 StudentsMethod: Case Study/PAR Near 500 students 6 Academics 3 Academics 1 NVA 1 Support to Didactics 4 Instructional Designers 2 eTutorsTransformative Phase Planning Interventions InterveningMethod: dbr 4 "Learning Design Workshops" 3 Courses A.A. 2012/2013 Near 500 students 3 Academics 2 eTutors 15
  •  Focus on the critical tensions and contradictions within the institution between the several stakeholders to implement concrete practices linked to the own vision of educational quality Methodological approach  Documental Analysis  Semio-pragmatic Analysis  Interviews  Triangulation and Member-checking
  • Perspectives on eLearning inside an academic course More than having access to materials: I didnt think they (materials) are very useful, I had other files from other classes and other friends, they are giving me some other stuffs to help me learn [S3] Something very complementary: Due to my way of learning, I like to follow the teacher’s lessons, then I organize my study. I don’t like technologiesStudents very much. It is ok if I can just receive communications, or have access to materials (…) If I can choose, I take the FTF course. [S1] Better possibilities of communicating among students and the teaching staff: the teacher has to generate a sense of continuity between the FTF activities and the online. I like that. Clearly a teacher with 100 students cannot do this very well. But this year there was another assistant (the eTutor) that accompanied us and it was very good [S2]
  • Perspectives on eLearning inside an academic course A way of following the institution approach to learning: Our university is not outside of the times, and eLearning came to stay. So it is better to tackle the issue and be prompt to do what is our duty.[T2] Facilitating the access to materials: well, I don’t use eLearning in an advanced way; I have to recognize that it has facilitated the delivery ofTeachers materials, but I never adopted collaborative ways, for I like to work FTF if I can. So eLearning helps me to qualify my course in this sense [T4] Opening to continuing pedagogical innovation: eLearning is like a Trojan horse…you introduce the technological frame, then you start to rethink all your teaching practices and in the end the nature of the knowledge that you teach. This should be a never ending process [T1]
  • Perspectives on eLearning inside an academic course Technologies are not all in the implementation and quality of eLearning: in our initial phases of implementation of a project to introduce eLearning at academic level, we adopted different technologies. The eLearning platform adopted till today represented an important frame to support teachers in their way of working with eLearning. But this is not all, this is (and continues toInstructional Designers be) the excuse to rethink the way of teaching (the pedagogical approach, our comment) [ID1] An invisible role: our role must be invisible, must be a base and a springboard for the teacher that wants to adopt eLearning (…) but it would be better if it was better recognized (…) no teacher likes to be told how to teach. The problem is that in eLearning, the deep knowledge of your subject do not necessarily take to the good delivery of online activities (…) sometimes we are seen as the “text editors” [ID2] Institutional context matters: the political context in the institution clearly addresses what we can do or not in order to promote eLearning and the renew of teaching methods [ID1]
  • Perspectives on eLearning inside an academic course eLearning is the last concern in a process of quality evaluation in HEI: I never really care about eLearning, evenAcademic Secretariat when I understand it importance. I see the importance of technologies in what I do every day with students, but to me (…) there are other important issues to solve. To be part of the Bologna process, with the Dublin indicators (…) we have to change the way we evaluate students (…). I think that an important position to implement this process is that of the coordination of academic courses, but now the role is overwhelmed of bureaucracy and the academic in charge cannot dedicate too much attention to institutional change.
  • Perspectives on eLearning inside an academic course An excellent researcher is a good teacher. If you do real research and you are an excellent researcher, you are able of being an excellent teacher.External Evaluator The recognition of the teaching activity in HEIs: academics are not really recognized by their teaching activity. Research counts, not teaching, and teaching is a heavy work that they are not always open to focus properly if it takes time from research. Technologies can help the communication of your research field into your teaching. I’m not an expert of eLearning, of course I recognize the value. The technologies in my field of teaching are important to show concepts/practices that in today’s crowded universities you cannot always present.
  •  eLearning has a very different and rather contradictory status among the interviewees. The main contradictions regard the dimensions that matter for a overall quality culture in HEI:  some stakeholders concern is on the policy context and institutional change  other claim for the recognition of eLearning as field of practice that is evidence based  Concern on innovation vs. concern on tradition
  • Personal Approach Interest on Practices Qualitypositioni eLearning valuesngOutsiders Sense of duty with regard Secondary Implementing only Traditionof QeLHE to a model that it is being issue official Outcomes(1) implemented generally at Not aware programmes (*); the UniversityOutsiders Solving specific problems eLearning as Delivery of content Traditionof QeLHE on current practices support of facilitated by Outcomes(2) what we eLearning already do platformsInsiders Clear personal conviction eLearning can Experimenting Transformationof QeLHE on innovation, evidence be a mean to with eLearning Process based driven transform pedagogy(*) In Italy there are only very few regulations regarding eLearning
  •  Raise awareness on the context as well as specificities of pedagogical innovation within higher education could lead to the harmonization of quality discourses. We call this operation mediation of quality: quality.  From a socio-constructivist approach: means offering tools that would support the processes of negotiating the many values lying behing a quality culture  Tools mediate learning of stakeholders to pass from a position as outsiders of quality to a position as insiders, or active agents of change.
  • On the incommensurability of Quality Quality….you know what it is, yet you don’t know what it is. But that’s self-contradictory. But some things are better than others, that is, they have more Quality. But when you try to say what Quality is, apart from the things that have it, it all goes poof!. There’s nothing to talk about. But if you can’t say what Quality is, how do you know that it even exists? If no one knows what it is, then for all practical purposes it doesn’t exist at all. But for all practical purposes it really does exist (Robert Pirsig. 1974)On Learning Designmaking the design process more explicit andshareable (…) help learners to make more sense oftheir educational provision and associated learningpathways. (Grainne Conole 2011)
  • For