Technical Rule 3: Quality Defined as How Much Can Be Assessed Summatively in Order to Gauge How Close to Excellence the Student, Lecturer, University, State, and Nation Have Come
Universities currently measure how much is learned and how close to perfect the lecturer and course are through the use of student evaluations of courses and teaching surveys. Here, there is an economic calculus (Lingard, 2010) defined to mean apportioning a number to describe quality. These numbers have a variety of purposes. They can be used as a means to discipline or reward staff through the annual review processes of performance management. They can also be used as a means whereby the university encourages students to demand top quality services for the money that they expend on a course. Students are encouraged to take more control over the content and functioning of courses in this way. Unexpectedly, evaluation systems can also provide a staff member with a bargaining chip.
I did well on these measures and so the process could lead to rewards for me. The great numbers that I received that were ‘pretty close to perfect’ provided me with a cachet with management. I could prove that what they had hoped would occur online actually did occur. It is important to note though that the scores were gained from good teaching principles and good teaching online.
I approached the task of going online as a teacher with 43-year experience in classrooms. I made a number of initial judgments, and none of these judgments were those management expected me to make. None of these judgments is easily quantifiable either. First, I determined that good teaching occurs anywhere, whether under a tree or in a virtual environment, and if this was the case, then the new online environment for me should be about good teaching. In this, I referred to the work of Alton-Lee (2003) and Brimijoin (2005). I also drew on a diary entry I made on 18 May 2013 where I observed that “blended learning is best as some students just can’t get to lectures ... but the overwhelming majority do in my case”. Second, I determined that if I were to use a virtual environment, then no face-to-face online collaborative sessions were necessary. Confusion occurs for me with the idea that we can have collaborative sessions with students online. These sessions are where students are called to an electronic group session at a particular time. Again, this did not make sense to me, and I wondered why we could not achieve the same result with a face-to-face lecture. Third, I understood that learning involved prior knowledge and given, for example, that my first-year students would hear from my last year’s cohort that they had only face-to-face lectures, then I needed to account for this change. Fourth, I looked at why I had been successful in classrooms for so long and determined that it was my sense of withitness (Garrick 2013) that had helped. Being present in a classroom is a skill where teachers learn to observe how well they are doing, how motivated the students are, and where any problems are beginning to surface. So I determined to find a computer package that would provide withitness while students were off-campus. In this, I looked to student needs first. Finally, following from the work, I had undertaken with colleagues (Larkin et al. 2016) I looked first to find ways to diversify offerings, especially because the course in question was one about diversity.
However, very few of these ideas appear in the literature about quality in universities defined as how much can be assessed summatively in order to gauge how close to excellence the student, lecturer, university, state, and nation have come. None of the questions on the surveys asked about the location, space, and timing of the course, collaboration with students, their prior knowledge of the course, my sense of withitness, or the manner in which I catered for diversity. In the literature, the only thing that I have read that has come close to what I did was found in the work of Conole et al. (2004). These authors find fault with the behaviourist bent of much e-mediated instruction observing that many “authors of e-learning claim to draw upon theoretical positions, such as constructivism, without explaining how they embody the principles” (p. 17) and further that much of the e-learning literature is commonsensical and not theoretically informed. What I took away from these authors was their ideas about course design. Their process involves
- • a review of the current course structure,
- • the identification of areas of learning [my emphasis] that could be electronically supported more effectively,
- • the comparison of different course formats, and
- • choice and specification of the final course format.
My diary entries in relation to this issue were about choice concerning the areas of learning that I would make electronic. The diary entries included phrases such as
...deciding on approach (16 November 2012)
.. .met with a colleague and invited her to do some literature searches (12 December 2012)
.trying to find a style, my signature and an avatar (7 January 2013)
I have realised that a simple design is the best. Have had so much fun designing an interactive task sheet. The hyperlinks link to electronic posters and films (9 January 2013)
Despite the university’s use of surveys and questionnaires to determine quality, my diary provided another means to record quality and ideas.
This process implies an action orientation and permits the course convener to think through when, where, how, and why e-mediation occurs. I hope that the process is a little more honest for students as well, in that I recognise that, at least at this early stage, personalised learning through e-mediated instruction is not about helping students gain control over when, where and how they learn, but is more about what can be managed through university systems. The question then becomes the manner in which this process can be quantified. I argue that much of what is happening in universities currently is driven by the need to provide systems for distribution and storage, archiving and retrieval, and now it is time to think about the ways that these systems can become more flexible and shared.