With universities launching a variety of new virtual learning platforms and expanding their online course catalogs to meet demand for distance learning options, it’s hard to argue that COVID-19 has helped change the way learning is being done Institutions across the US are taking place Remote and online programming has driven the digitization of higher education, little has changed about the way the country is regional accreditation bodies Evaluation of institutions and their programmes, which the heads of accreditation bodies say are mainly measured by their results over time.
According to Jamienne Studley, President of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges’ Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC), the growth of virtual learning during COVID-19 has helped firmly spotlight discussions of student achievement as educators work to maintain student engagement and provide appropriate academic support remotely. When it comes to evaluating online programs, she says organizations like hers tend to measure student learning outcomes such as post-graduation success and job placement, among other metrics that are related to WSCUC’s online metrics are found Key Indicators Dashboardto “contextualize student achievement across time and institution”.
“It is important to prepare institutions and accrediting assessors to use this information thoughtfully, consistently, and in a nuanced way to understand whether students are successful and why, to estimate differences between student populations and delivery models, and particularly how this information relates to use is improve results,” she said in an email government technology.
Studley said the shift to full online learning in all course subjects during COVID-19 has forced educational leaders and institutions to take a closer and deeper look at the diverse needs of students, particularly first-generation students who tend to be subject to frequent instructional guidance require more readily available in traditional, face-to-face courses. Together with the WASC Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, the two accrediting bodies have accredited a total of 340 institutions, most of which other colleges and universities have followed and expanded online programming during COVID-19.
“A particular challenge that online education has brought to the fore is ensuring that student services and support are tailored to different programs, student needs and educational delivery models. Online education has forced colleges and universities to ask [more about] how to provide effective counseling, information resources, career development, undergraduate opportunities, health care and other services to their students. This, in turn, has prepared them to better understand the needs and support options of all students,” she said government technology. “Many students and educators believe that online education is simply a method of delivery that can be judged against the same standards of quality and outcomes that accreditors apply to higher education in general… As with current debates about distance and In face-to-face work, the challenge is to ensure we understand what we mean by success, productivity and outcomes, and to think creatively about how we can ensure quality for students in any type of learning environment.”
Similarly, Janea Johnson, a PR and data specialist for the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) said very little, if any, has fundamentally changed in the way SACSCOC accredits schools when they add their online course catalogues. While some assessments for institutional accreditation took place remotely in the early days of the 2020 pandemic, she said all 810 institutions accredited by the organization would be assessed against the same standards, which included student outcomes, institutional planning and the question whether or not instructional strategies are detectable, measure-based.
“We have accredited institutions that provide online education well before COVID, and we use the same process to determine if institutions are prepared for online instruction,” she said. “We make no distinction between in person and online [learning] for our member institutions, and our institutions are responsible for 88 standards, regardless of their course delivery method… There is no alternative way.”
Sonny Ramaswamy, President of Northwest Commission for Colleges and Universities, said a large part of assessing the effectiveness of online programs in the institutional accreditation process is examining how the trainers themselves are trained. With the advent of digital learning tools transforming the way people teach, Ed-Tech professional development is a key factor in how well schools can manage online courses.
“We need to make sure that the online program is properly vetted, in the sense that they have the appropriate resources and the faculty members and credentials to be able to do this,” he said, noting that fully online schools like the Western Governors University do so among the 162 institutions accredited by the organization.
“When we accredit and visit institutions, we look at different types of courses and degree programs that those institutions offer, whether online or on campus, and also look at them in detail. We also need the institutions’ annual reports, where they provide us with information about online or face-to-face courses and degree programs,” he said. “They disaggregate the data for us in terms of enrollment and also in terms of completion, completion, retention and all those things.”
Despite some concerns about the effectiveness of distance learning for students who need more in-person academic support and guidance, he hopes the rise of distance learning will help “democratize” higher education in the years to come by meeting students where they are.
“As an accreditation body, our assessors check how the students perform. Did they receive the knowledge that the institution promised? Did they achieve the degree that the institution promised? And then we’re starting to track other things now too, like results beyond college,” he said. “As far as [concerns about] academic dishonesty and academic integrity and all that, you could let it happen in either situation, online or in person… The idea is really to make sure you’re responsive to that student’s needs, wherever that student is, and I think those digital revolution really allows us to do this well.”
Speaking of which Accreditation Commission for Distance Learning, Executive Director and CEO Leah Matthews said the effectiveness of online programming depends largely on how the courses are administered. Like Ramaswamy, she believes that professional development in the ed-tech field is a key factor in an online institution’s ability to gain accreditation.
“Many [regional accreditation bodies] have very clear and concise procedures for adding distance learning that institutions have had to follow in order to move forward and some are tracking quick approvals that happened at the start of the pandemic. There was some leniency in quickly approving distance learning, with the caveat that there would be a rigorous review of educational quality,” she said, noting that unlike most regional bodies, DEAC only has full online academies in all 50 states rated.
“Educational quality standards for distance learning measure outcomes in a similar way as [in-person] educational delivery, but standards for how teachers are qualified to teach online learning, how learning management systems deliver the curriculum to the online learner and the quality of that curriculum, its accessibility and ability to measure student learning and to provide student progress reports delivering learning outcomes is a really important factor. This is often done differently than student curriculum assessment in a traditional face-to-face learning environment,” she continued. “I would also say that we value supplemental resources differently… How is that integrated into the curriculum? Are the materials of appropriate rigor and relevant?”
Matthews added that while accrediting bodies are complying US Department of Education Guidelines for institutional and programmatic evaluation, the USA has a largely decentralized accreditation system. She added that the effectiveness of online programs can vary widely when comparing first-generation students, who need more academic support, to advanced students, who benefit most from the flexibility of online learning.
“When you’re decentralized, no two institutions or two accreditors work the same way, and all that decentralization and diversity can create unequal outcomes for students,” she said. “Getting started with online learning can be extremely difficult for them… First-time learners tend to have the greatest challenges when it comes to focusing, staying focused, and staying with it.
“If we really want to scale up online learning, especially for these learners, we really need to focus our resources on support services for them, coaching, mentoring, academic advice, tutoring and building communities of online learners.”