EADTU (the European Association of Distance Teaching Universities) is and has been leading a process of Quality Assurance in e-learning under the series of E-xcellence (pronounced “E-excellence”) projects executed from 2005 – 2012 within EU programmes (see E-xcellence - creating a standard of excellence for e-learning, E-xcellence+, E-xcellence Associates in Quality, and E-xcellence Next).
Within a consortium of experts in the field, EADTU has established a full procedural approach for universities to assess and improve their e-learning performance. This is supported by a dedicated website on QA in e-learning, where the manual can be found and more information on the tools, the review process and the E-xcellence Associates Label.
With E-xcellence, universities are stimulated to improve their e-learning performance by a guided self-assessment. This assessment can be a stand-alone exercise for the higher education institution, leading to a first insight in fields of improvement. The approach can be extended with a review at a distance or on-site from e-learning experts. This extension is formalised in an E-xcellence Associates label.
The E-xcellence Associates label is not a label for proven excellence but rather a label for institutions/faculties using the E-xcellence instrument for self-assessment and take measures of improvement accordingly. This label was established to reward the efforts of universities in a continuous process of improving their e-learning performance and offer them the platform and networking opportunities to meet virtually with peers and experts in the field. On their part universities can present their fields of expertise as well to this community.
The E-xcellence instrument consists of 3 main elements:
- Manual on QA in e-learning, covering the 33 benchmarks on e-learning, the indicators related to these benchmarks, guidance for improvement and references to excellence level performance. The manual is organised into six sections covering (1) Strategic management, (2) Curriculum design, (3) Course design, (4) Course delivery, (5) Staff support and (6) Student support. Each section follows a similar format setting out benchmarks, critical factors, performance indicators, and assessor’s notes. The benchmarks provide a set of general quality statements covering a wide range of contexts in which programme designers and others work. It is intended that the benchmarks will be relevant to virtually all e-learning situations. These benchmarks might usefully form the basis for institutions' quality self assessment where the full range of criteria and performance indicators are not judged relevant to the institutional context (e.g. in situations where e-learning developments are confined to a minority of courses or to specialist areas of the institution's work). The critical factors and performance indicators which follow then focus on particular topics relevant to the benchmark statements. Not all the critical factors will be relevant in all situations and several will be seen to cut across more than one benchmark statement. Thus there is not a one-to-one relationship between the benchmarks and the critical factors since they are pitched at different levels of analysis. Performance indicators relating to the critical factors have been developed at both general and excellence levels.
- The Assessors notes provide a more detailed account of the issues and the approaches which might be taken to meet requirements in each situation.
- Tools: Quick Scan and Full-Assessment.
The basic tool is the quick scan, a web-based tool which enables easy guidance and decision making which benchmarks are of interest for an institution. The quick scan can be applied in three ways:
- The quick scan as a quick orientation (basic option): An institution gets a first orientation on the strengths of eLearning performance and fields of improvement. The output can be used for example as input for internal discussions. The result of doing the Quick Scan must be an agreed overview of benchmarks that fit the institution as well as a number of benchmarks that ask for an action line in the roadmap of improvement. Each statement has to be considered and judged how this aspect of e-learning is realised in the course or programme of the particular institution or faculty. The instrument offers the opportunity to make comments on the specific issues byindicating: Not Adequate, Partially Adequate, Largely Adequate or Fully Adequate.
- The quick scan with a review at a distance (extended option): The review is based on a list of required documents. Reviewers give advice and recommendations in writing (at a distance). If the institution fulfills the conditions of integrating the benchmarks in the internal QA-system, it is allowed to use the E-xcellence label.
- The quick scan with an on-site assessment (most comprehensive option): After the quick scan, e-learn experts (reviewers) will do an on-site assessment. The institution meets up with the reviewers and receives recommendations and advice for improvement. If conditions are fulfilled, the institution is allowed to use the E-xcellence label.
Relevance to UK HE
- Due to information not being available by the deadline of late August 2006, there was no initially perceived relevance to Phase 1 of the Higher Education Academy Benchmarking Exercise. Despite that, two of the four MIT90s institutions in Phase 1 did make use of criteria derived from E-xcellence and at least one of the Pick&Mix institutions said that it was "interested" in the E-xcellence criteria (in the event this interest did not seem to come to much).
- As an emerging criterion-based methodology now mapped into MIT90s, E-xcellence might have become relevant to Phase 2. While eventually, E-xcellence was not being used by any institution in Phase 2, it is believed that one or two institutions are interested in whether some of the E-xcellence criteria may inform their analysis of their distance learning provision.
With a series of E-xcellence projects and initiatives, EADTU is and has been leading a European movement on quality assurance in e-learning:
- E-xcellence - creating a standard of excellence for e-learning (2005-2006), creating a quality benchmarking assessment instrument covering pedagogical, organisational and technical frameworks.
- E-xcellence+ (2007-2009), aiming to valorise the instrument (developed during E-xcellence) at the local, national and European level for the higher education and adult education sectors and to broaden the implementation and receive feedback for enhancing the instrument.
- E-xcellence Associates in Quality (launch 2010), the building of an e-learning benchmarking community of Associates in Quality. The E-xcellence Associates are focusing on the improvement of four priority elements of progressive higher education: Accessibility, Flexibility, Interactiveness and Personalization.
- E-xcellence Next (2011-2012), taking the third step in mainstreaming by integrating the instrument into the regular channels for QA (further European introduction, updating and extending the E-xcellence instrument and broadening the partnership on European and global level).
On this website, also a list of the first universities (faculties, departments) that are qualified for the E-xcellence label and are now an Associate in Quality can be found.
An updated version of the E-xcellence Manual will be launched September 2012 (see http://www.eadtu.eu/e-xcellencenext.html)