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Quality matters in online instruction, experts agree

National Distance Learning Week features “open space” forum to discuss ideas.

Published: Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, November 21, 2012 14:11

In today’s world, technology is used by educators for distance learning in online classes as well as face-to-face classes.

“We use a lot of technology today,” Usha Venkat, director of information and communication technologies, said Nov. 9 in an “open space” forum in visual arts. “Not only online education, but even education (in general) as in face-to-face classes.”

As part of National Distance Learning Week Nov. 5-9, the office of technology services and the Teaching with Technology Committee sponsored the forum.

“Open space” is a concept where the audience determines the agenda, Venkat said Oct. 29.

In an open space forum, audience members post topics they would like to discuss and break into smaller groups with common interests.

About 20 faculty, staff, administration and technology support members participated.

Venkat asked these two “groups” to come up with a list of distance learning topics they would like to discuss.

The focus topics of the faculty group related to quality of online courses and how various aspects of technology can apply to these courses.

Virginia Stewart, district director of Alamo Colleges online, said the district has applied for membership to Quality Matters, a peer review process for evaluating online and blended courses.

“For those of you that are teaching online, I am sure you know that the standards that we’re using right now vary by individual and by department,” Stewart said.

Quality Matters offers professional development program so that faculty can design standards according to their baseline rubric that will help ensure student success, Stewart said.

According to the Quality Matters website, it is an organization that developed from a three-year grant by MarylandOnline Inc. in fall 2003, and became a self-supporting program upon the expiration of the grant in 2006.

The program is a faculty-centered, peer review process designed to certify the quality of online and blended courses, according to the website.

The focus topics of the technology support group related to technology and support staff improving services in distance education, Venkat said in a follow-up interview Nov. 12.

Some key points were having a collaborative Wiki, emerging technology and increased focus on technology training.

Wiki is a collaborative website where everybody can post support issues and create a community of sharing, Venkat said, “We were thinking about something, to create a module or a system that sort of becomes a community of sharing.”

The group also discussed the importance of looking at emerging technology.

“We felt that we need to take an extra effort to dedicate some time in our week to look at what’s emerging out there,” Venkat said.

She said the college needs an increased focus on classroom technology training opportunities for faculty, such as MediaSite equipment and the better use of projectors, Venkat said.

The group also discussed training as an outreach activity to individual departments where faculty need advanced training or training customized for their discipline, Venkat said.

For more information on National Distance Learning Week, call 210-486-0030, or visit

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