Promoting quality of e-learning and ICT use in Mongolian education: NGO involvement

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ABSTRACT

Since 1992 distance education (DE), especially e-learning, has found wider usage in the field of
higher, formal and vocational education in Mongolia as available technologies, including the Internet,
have greatly facilitated teaching and learning methods. In recent years some NGOs and higher education
institutions have been collaborating with foreign partners in developing and delivering quality e-learning
programmes in Mongolia. This paper will discuss how an NGO, Mongolian e-Knowledge (MeK) has
assured the quality of its e-learning development and delivery. It will look at the MeK’s quality assurance
(QA) mechanism, analyze various QA measures taken during the e-learning process, and discuss issues
and challenges of QA in e-learning.

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Promoting quality of e-learning and ICT use in Mongolian education: NGO involvement

  1. 1. Promoting quality of e-learning and ICT use in Mongolian education: NGO involvement Sanjaa Baigaltugs baigaltugs@csms.edu.mn Mongolian University of Science and Technology Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia Insung Sung isjung@icu.ac.jp International Christian University Tokyo, Japan ABSTRACT Since 1992 distance education (DE), especially e-learning, has found wider usage in the field of higher, formal and vocational education in Mongolia as available technologies, including the Internet, have greatly facilitated teaching and learning methods. In recent years some NGOs and higher education institutions have been collaborating with foreign partners in developing and delivering quality e-learning programmes in Mongolia. This paper will discuss how an NGO, Mongolian e-Knowledge (MeK) has assured the quality of its e-learning development and delivery. It will look at the MeK’s quality assurance (QA) mechanism, analyze various QA measures taken during the e-learning process, and discuss issues and challenges of QA in e-learning. Keywords: Accreditation, Distance education, E-learning, Quality assurance DEVELOPMENT OF DISTANCE EDUCATION IN MONGOLIA Since 1998, more than 10 DE projects have been implemented by a number of national higher education institutions (HEIs) and NGOs. Most of these projects are funded by international agencies such as the World Bank, ADB, the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) of Canada and Japan- Funds-in-Trust. The following are projects that are related to DE or to the use of ICT in education.  Knowledge Network, funded by the IDRC and supported by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science (MOECS), was initiated in 1998 by an NGO, the Internet and Information Centre, with the aim to provide news and information for teachers and students through its website. Under this project, two schools (one in Ulaanbaatar and another in a rural area) were provided with internet connections.  Education Sector Development Programme, funded by ADB, was implemented by MOECS in 1998. It contributed to furnishing over 90 secondary schools in rural and urban areas in Mongolia with computers, offering training courses for ICT education teachers and providing technical support.  Internet Based Distance Education Project, initiated and funded by the IDRC between 2001 and 2002, introduced internet-based DE methodologies to selected Mongolian learning communities. Outcomes of the project included several Web-based courses on specific subjects such as English Language, ICT and computer skills, gender issues and legal rights. A Mongolian consulting company, InfoCon Co., Ltd. was responsible for managing and coordinating all activities of the entire project implementation, and developing training materials in ICT. In addition, it recommended national strategies to develop technology-based DE, based on its project experience.
  2. 2.  Mongol Education is the first educational portal site providing a variety of educational and training resources for teachers and students in Mongolia. Funded by MFOS and managed by InfoCon Co., Ltd., it provides educational information to the Mongolian education community and contributes to increasing public awareness of education reform issues.  Video conferencing centres across 12 rural provinces have been established and facilitated jointly by the ICT Training Centre and MOECS within the framework of the ‘Capacity Building for Civil Servants’ project funded by ADB. It is anticipated that these video conferencing facilities will be utilized for the training of postgraduate teachers through distance mode.  E-learning Centre was established at the Computer Science and Management School (CSMS) of the Mongolian University of Science and Technology (MUST) in 2003, with support from the Center for International Cooperation for Computerization of Japan. Its mission has been to develop online content for DE. So far more than 300 content modules have been developed in areas of engineering study and used by learners from MUST. Whilst these developments concern various DE projects, in 2000 the Mongolian government adopted ICT Vision-2010 as a blueprint for ICT development in the country (Government of Mongolia, 2000). The major activities undertaken in ICT Vision-2010 included:  the development of a structure to provide ICT education to all citizens;  the establishment of high-tech centres in Ulaanbaatar and major cities of other socio- economic development areas to offer ICT education;  the creation of infrastructure for education;  the development of a detailed human resources development plan to meet ICT competency requirements for users, trainers and specialists;  the development of electronic library systems;  the promotion of lifelong learning through open and distance learning; and the introduction of electronic services for leisure and entertainment activities Further, in 2002 the Mongolian government approved a National Programme on Distance Education with the main goal of providing its people with an opportunity to engage in lifelong learning for the improvement of their living standards, and to build a national DE system (Uyanga 2005). The objectives of this Programme included 1) the establishment of a national DE strategy, coordination and management; 2) the creation of a mechanism for DE services and activities; 3) the development of human resources capacity to train DE specialists; 4) the creation of a quality distance learning environment; and 5) the selection of the most appropriate methods of distance learning to deliver content. In 2005, the ICT Vision-2010 was further elaborated in the E-Mongolia National Programme to establish a knowledge-based society in Mongolia by enhancing ICT applications in all sectors of society (Government of Mongolia, 2005). In education, the E-Education Project was initiated:  to achieve an average international ICT literacy level of 80 percent of all capable people by 2012;  to ensure that 70 percent of all ‘soums’ (a primary administrative unit like a county) and all provincial capital cities will have access to the DE system by 2012; and  to create a model ‘e-school’ and ensure that 50 percent of schools will have e-school capability by 2012. Since 2006, many more ICT development projects, including online and mobile content development and the expansion of fiber optic cables, have been implemented. However, as Bates (2011) notes, DE in Mongolia remains new or underdeveloped and national policies to support the development of quality DE and effective ICT integration in education are still lacking. In recent years some NGOs and HEIs have been collaborating with foreign partners in developing and delivering quality e-learning programmes in Mongolia. The following section introduces one such case and highlights QA efforts with respect to a strategic partnership with an established foreign e- learning provider. MeK NGO AND ITS QUALITY ASSURANCE MeK QA mechanism The NGO Mongolian e-Knowledge (MeK) was established in 2007 to promote e-learning in Mongolia through the use of ICT. Its main objective is to contribute to the country’s development by
  3. 3. providing opportunities for individuals and organizations to share and manage knowledge using electronic means. MeK is the only NGO which adopts QA standards in developing and delivering e- learning. MeK’s main advantage lies in its collaboration with an international institution, Inwent of Germany (now GIZ, as of 2011), that offers practice-oriented e-learning with SQS (Software Quality System) certification. MeK’s QA mechanism follows Inwent’s quality management system, which was developed by the European Foundation for Quality Management (EFQM). Under the Inwent-MeK agreement, MeK courses adopt instructional design strategies and course content used in Inwent courses, although MeK courses are delivered in the Mongolian language. New courses are developed to meet the demands of Mongolian market, following Inwent’s quality standards. Developers of these new MeK courses include staff from private and public universities and colleges in Mongolia.  QA in course design and delivery: MeK’s QA system adopts an holistic systems approach when designing its courses. Academic quality standards in course design are established and approval and review procedures are specified. Prior to the beginning of each course, a face-to-face orientation meeting is organized to help the MeK team develop the course syllabus and become familiar with its e-campus functions, such as how enter to a training site and participate in discussion forums and chatting. During the course, regular and systematic monitoring of learner support services is conducted to facilitate continuous improvement. After the course is over, a process evaluation report is compiled and used to make adjustments and improvements of the course.  QA in learner support: The MeK team constantly strives to improve the quality of learner support services that currently include online consultations, asynchronous communication via email feedback, and synchronous support via telephones and chatting. Free ICT training courses are also provided to learners who demonstrate a lack of ICT skills in using Moodle, before a class begins. In addition, counseling is provided by dedicated guidance teachers on campus to those MeK learners who need to be motivated and helped to keep up with their course schedule.  QA in evaluation and assessment: An important component of MeK’s QA process is the development of survey questionnaires to evaluate learner satisfaction with regard to how the courses are delivered, how the learning materials are received and utilized, how much time is taken to complete each course, and other quality elements considered important by the learners. Such surveys are administered at the end of each course using Internet-based online survey tools. Survey results provide useful feedback on the courses as well as the students’ perceptions of the quality of the course content. Quality as process As part of the aforementioned Inwent-MeK agreement, all courses from MeK must comply with the ‘Quality as Process’ (QaP) management system. The QaP system helps the entire organization to be involved in the development process of both individual and group learning environments, and provides feedback about the effectiveness of all activities during the process. MeK also adopts Inwent’s planning, monitoring and evaluation system (PriME) for assuring the quality of its programmes. In addition, MeK independently strives to manage its QA process beyond use of the Inwent QA tools by employing self- assessment, external observation, assessment and verification procedures as tools to assess its productivity. All of these measures are designed to ensure that both positive and negative experiences are considered when strategies or quality policies are updated. Issues and challenges MeK has encountered several issues and challenges related to its quality management.  Lack of internal capacity: Some staff members are unable to deliver good quality courses due to their lack of understanding of the quality aspects of e-learning. To address this issue, MeK has provided staff training prior to the launch of the courses. However, there is still need for continuous training opportunities, written manuals, and good communication between staff and the organization.  Increased competition: With the increasing number of institutions adopting Moodle to deliver e- learning in Mongolia, MeK faces competition from other organizations. Their courses use the same open source content but are delivered over longer durations, which are more attractive to students. MeK should develop a clear, long-term plan, which includes clear standards for quality courseware development and support.
  4. 4.  Low students’ e-learning readiness: Many students are unfamiliar with e-learning approaches and have not experienced this form of learning before. Some expect lectures to be delivered, as in the case of face-to-face delivery. This mismatch of expectations of students and providers often results in student dissatisfaction. To meet this particular challenge, MeK has begun to deliver most courses in a blended mode of face-to-face and online education. CONCLUSION The MeK experience has revealed that when there is no national QA system for DE/e-learning, a strategic partnership with a successful international non-profit organisation with worldwide operations dedicated to human resource development helps DE/e-learning providers build internal capacity. This has been achieved by introducing appropriate QA policies and procedures and developing a quality culture, all in a relatively short period of time. Among more than five thousand NGOs registered with the Ministry of Justice and Home Affairs in 2005, 183 cited education as their main activity. But MeK is the only NGO which adopts QA standards in developing and delivering e-learning. MeK’s main advantage lies in its collaboration with an international institution, Inwent of Germany (now GIZ, as of 2011). The MeK experience has taught us that the purpose of QA is to ensure the consistency of services and products, reduce variability and unpredictability, and thus improve reliability in delivery and quality. It has also shown that QA should aim to make processes and procedures clear to the people using them; that is, to promote transparency and reduce uncertainty, and to avoid errors as a consequence. In the context of e-learning, QA should reflect the unique features of e-learning, as e-learning often adopts flexible ICT tools to promote students’ active participation. In order to establish such QA systems, stakeholders, organizations and government agencies must communicate with each other to develop a better understanding of what is necessary to improve the quality of DE/e-learning. As indicated by Daniel (1999), communication, coordination, and careful attention to details are needed for QA in DE/e-learning. The MeK case has evidenced the gradual development of a local need-based QA system as experiences in QA activities are accumulated. Previously, Inwent courses were simply translated into Mongolian and the MeK team did not pay too much attention to the QA elements, as the course content was designed by Inwent. But during course implementation, the MeK team realized the necessity and importance of modifying the course content to make it more user-friendly to meet the needs of the target learning groups in Mongolia. It is envisaged that MeK may contribute to the establishment of a national QA framework for DE/e-learning and the creation of QA criteria and standards in the near future. MeK practice has taught us that capacity building efforts should be made to improve the quality of DE/e-learning. DE/e-learning is still new in Mongolia due to lack of ICT knowledge and skills, limited high speed broadband infrastructure, lack of funds for e-learning development, insufficient e-learning practice and supporting national policies. For these reasons, DE/e-learning will need more time and development before it is ready to play a major role in the provision of higher education to the Mongolian people. REFERENCES Bates, A. 2011, January 14. Distance education in Mongolia. Available online at http://www.tonybates.ca/2011/01/14/distance-education-in-mongolia/ Daniel, J. 1999. ‘Open learning and/or distance education: which one for what purpose?’ in K. Harry (ed.), Higher Education through Open and Distance Learning, London: Routledge and Commonwealth of Learning. Government of Mongolia. 2000. Concept of ICT development of Mongolia by Year 2010. Government of Mongolia. 2005. E-Mongolia National Programme. Uyanga, S. 2005. ‘The usage of ICT for secondary education in Mongolia’, International Journal of Education and Development using Information and Communication Technology (IJEDICT), 1(4), 101- 118.

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