Assurance of Learning

13th December 2022

Author: Dr Soma Arora

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Online education is perhaps on its steepest learning curve since the pandemic. The dynamics of higher education is changing faster than what the educators had planned for themselves. The most questionable yet critical link in the online learning system is AOL, Assurance of Learning.

In common parlance, Assurance of learning (assessment) is defined as a process by which faculty performs informal but structured classroom research to reveal the extent to which their students are mastering the learning competencies established by academic programmes.

In online and distance education there is minimalistic scope for structured classroom research as there is limited student interface as in the physical space. So, the onus of equipping students with praiseworthy competencies as desired in their programme outcomes lies entirely in the hands of expert faculty and superior content delivered through state of art technology.

Usually, AOL programmes help institutions answer the questions: “Do students achieve learning appropriate to the programmes in which they participate? Do they have the knowledge and skills appropriate to their earned degrees?” Palomba and Banta (1999) more specifically define outcomes assessment as a systematic process of collecting, reviewing and using programme information in order to improve student outcomes.

The motivation to engage in academic assurance initiatives is evident for progressive private institutions in that their reputations are contingent upon the quality of graduates’ performance in professional roles. (Pearce and Offerman, 2010) In essence a completed online course is an educator’s goldmine for database. The backed-up courses contain a repository of learning activity information from which queries may extract specific data for reporting purposes.

Course Instructors and content writers are aware that the Learning Management System, LMS provides a veritable road map of structured information. In the most clinical way, to articulate teaching effectiveness, an instructor may provide a summary report of a self-audit or permit an external auditor to explore the activities linked to the content bar in her classroom.

In this case the auditor has reviewed the periodic announcements posted along with timelines to determine the effectiveness of the instructor’s communication of course expectations. So the assessment of learning outcomes will focus on metrics associated with class testing and written assignments. Each test is extracted from the database in the form of question sets from which randomised test questions and answers (in the case of multiple choice versions) appear to each student. Written assignments are retained in an ‘assignment’ database and may also be viewed by an auditor.

However, for reasons inherent to human behavior, learning is dependent not on the structure and documentation of assessments but cognitive styles and information processing preferences. (Kozhenvnikov, et al., 2014). Behavioural scientists are of the opinion that skilled faculty are able to enhance the absorptive capacity of learners through their involvement and presentation of courses which improve learning outcomes. The best way to engage our learners is to discuss and talk!

In the online education space, the discussion board is the only platform that allows participation for all students and faculty to discuss and talk. But any experienced online course instructor is aware that the essence of a course unfolds in the form of discussion board group interaction.

The discussion board tool is an archived transcript of every interaction that had occurred throughout a course. The discussion maybe tracked week by week and by participants. Summary tracking statistics easily determine overall levels of interactivity and grading distributions. Some online courses include streaming video lectures that may reside on a separate university server or be posted to a public access forum. The content page of the course will enable the auditor to view each video lecture. All of this would finally, lead to an embedded ‘grade book’ deciding the fate of the learner.

Though it is common practice today to make AOL data available to faculty, administration and accreditors in Business Management programmes, a less common mandate is to provide such information to the public in a way that they can digest and use AOL data to assess the relative effectiveness of various academic programmes.

The future of online education rests on the shoulders of the Discussion Forum. If this is the verdict one would like to hear and bear then so be it! The learner seldom connects with the video so meticulously and painstakingly recorded for him, because he is unable to connect with the one in front of the camera. Once again, it is time to write as we pen our thoughts on the electronic keypad, opinionating categorically, and vehemently on issues loaded onto our plate piece by piece through within that online discussion board.

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Quality education for all

We believe in quality education for everyone, everywhere and by highlighting the issue and working with experts in the field, we can start to find ways we can all be part of the solution.