Boom! First pure online degrees get through QAA review
Two good thing happened in 2012; 1) loans for part-time students in HE and 2) alternative providers (those not in receipt of funding from HEFCE) could apply to QAA. Martin Bean and I lobbied for these in a meeting with David Willetts.
IDI (Interactive Design Institute), who I’ve written about before, are one such innovative ‘alternative provider’. Formed in 2004 to deliver visual arts and design courses online, IDI teamed up with the University of Hertfordshire in 2008. Since then IDI have adapted a number of UH undergraduate degree programmes for pure online delivery. Currently they deliver, end-to-end online: BA (Hons) Graphic Design, Photography, Illustration, and Interior Architecture & Design. An online BA in Fine Art is planned for 2013, with online MA courses in design to follow.
Zero face-to-face learning
IDI students have their own online studios, with world class software designed around detailed feedback, where they access learning materials, projects and activities and communicate with their tutors on a one-to-one basis (asynchronously). They interact with their fellow students within online forums. All assessment takes place online. The only time students ever get together in a physical location is when they attend their graduation ceremony, held each November at Edinburgh Castle. I’ve been gowned up, given speeches and handed out prizes at both of the last graduations and both were eye-opening experiences, where I got first-hand feedback from learners, tutors, IDI staff, the Dean and Vice Chancellor.
Mulltiple and flexible intakes
IDI have three intakes a year in October, February and June. They offer both full time and part time study routes and currently have 500+ students enrolled across their undergraduate degree programmes. Their students are primarily UK based, but they have students in ones and twos in over 68 countries worldwide, and international student numbers are growing. To date IDI show consistently low drop-out rates and high levels of student satisfaction and achievement.
First purely online degree provider through QAA
Importantly, they were among the first of the ‘alternative providers’ to apply to be reviewed by the QAA, and the first purely online provider of Higher Education degree level courses ever to go through a QAA review in November 2012.
IDI has been through a Review for Specific Course Designation by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) and has received its final report, which is available in full here. and have received the following judgements from QAA:
“The review team has confidence in The Interactive Design Institute's management of its responsibilities for the standards of the awards it offers on behalf of its awarding body. The review team has confidence that The Interactive Design Institute is fulfilling its responsibilities for managing and enhancing the quality of the intended learning opportunities it provides for students. The review team concludes that reliance can be placed on the information that The Interactive Design Institute produces for its intended audiences about the learning opportunities it offers.”
In plain language this is good news as they have been been approved in terms of QAA standards but more than this, the QAA review team identified the following good practice:
- use of the virtual learning environment to encourage student engagement in enhancement activity
- engagement of students in designing the content of the virtual studio and an application for mobile phones and tablet computers
- online student support mechanisms identify students who are not engaging with their learning.
Unique model – secret sauce
What makes IDI’s model unique, and is key to its success, is a belief that students studying at a distance require more support, not less. A network of qualified tutors, who are subject specialists, communicate with IDI students on a one-to-one basis within individual online studios. This communication is mainly asynchronous – a deliberate choice. This is their secret sauce – asynchronous but considered, constructive feedback that leads to reflection and is fully archived. My own belief is that this is a superior to many campus systems based on synchronous lectures and often scant feedback that takes ages to get back from tutors. Students can normally expect a response from their tutors to any message within 24 hours Monday to Friday.
Plenty of discussion
Students engage with their peers within online forums. There are forums for each course and module, as well as for specific activities. Forum participation is largely informal, however the forums are also used for group activity, and at key stages, participation in a forum can form part of a formative or summative assessment.
Fundamental to IDI’s approach to course development is an understanding of how students learn. The team have developed a methodology for taking the university curriculum and adapting it to provide structured and logical learning paths which consist of comprehensive support materials and practical activities. The course materials deliver the teaching, whilst IDI tutors provide critical feedback, advice and encouragement. The course content goes through a continuous cycle of review in response to student and tutor feedback. This feedback is gathered at regular intervals at a 4 week student feedback questionnaires, module reviews and course committee meetings, which take place each semester, and feeds in to the University’s Annual Monitoring and Evaluation Reports (AMER).
Behind all of this, a dedicated team of Course Managers and Student Support Advisors provide students with pastoral support, monitor student engagement and liaise with colleagues at the University of Hertfordshire to coordinate the assessment process. This means that tutors are entirely freed up to able to focus on the student’s learning.
This pure, online offer is clearly successful in terms of quality, student achievement, peer communication, student and tutor support. It is groundbreaking and if we are to change HE for the better we need a massive expansion in this type of delivery. Why? This proves that we can lower costs and keep quality, increase the number of intakes per year, not rely on expensive campuses and spend less money on degrees that are as good and arguably better than their campus equivalents. If you are genuinely interested in deleivering pure online degrees, speak to these guys, they’re passionate about their students and learning and have built a model that is now proven in terms of quality.