A recent report into the quality, equity and sustainability of higher education (HE) regulation1 identified the need to make changes to regulatory processes in HE in England.
This is in response to changes in funding and accountability, where students are now the principle direct funders of undergraduate provision. Despite changes at a national level, your institution is likely to maintain a degree of autonomy in establishing quality measures.
Although focussing on HE in England, this signals a general move towards increased accountability to students. For example, the Scottish Quality Enhancement Framework includes a need for a 'greater voice for student representatives in institutional quality systems'.
Equity of provision
A move to online course provision may mean that existing course validation mechanisms need to change. It can be easier to implement online modules or classes without significantly changing existing course descriptions, aims and objectives.
Ensuring equity of provision is vital if offering the same course to both campus-based and online students. Your institution needs to ensure that neither groups of students are disadvantaged by their choice of attendance, or by your course delivery choices.
It's important to ensure equity in relation to student support, particularly for learners with different needs. You need to consider equity when selecting technologies to support online learning and if you're planning to allow students to use their own technologies.
Students can feed back on the quality of their educational provision through both the National Student Survey and your institutional mechanisms, allowing you to gather this and use it.
Our work around digital students offers a range of examples showing how to involve and empower students.
We recommend the following approaches to make sure that your institution is listening to the student voice, either on-campus or online:
- Carry out student surveys that include questions about their digital experiences or expectations
- Gather student opinions on specific aspects of digital provision, eg, the VLE or library services
- Include student representation on groups that make decisions about the digital environment
- Work through digital issues when they come up in general student voice/student rep sessions.
Providing equal access and services for all students is important, but not always easy to deliver. For example, it can be particularly challenging to make sure online learners have an experience of assessment that’s comparable with campus-based students.
The same is true for access to content, information and support services.
Campus-based student support services may operate within a fairly traditional work day, but online students may expect the same levels of support when they are active online - which could be out of normal office hours.
Teaching staff may end up providing support but may not have sufficient skills or training to do this effectively.
Equity is particularly relevant for learners with disabilities, and your institution needs to consider how its choices of online curriculum design, technology, assessment and support meet a variety of needs.
Assistive technologies offer some solutions for some learners, and we recommend that you involve disability support services in considering and informing some of the choices we mentioned above.
Evaluating user services
Our guide to evaluating digital services: a visitors and residents approach contains advice on how to evaluate the services you offer to your users.
The focus is primarily on digital/online services but set within the broader context of more traditional services, exploring the relationship between the two.
|Barriers||What you can do|
|Difficulties identifying different needs and responding appropriately||Include students in curriculum design, technology choices and testing and get feedback|
|Carry out regular staff and student surveys to identify issues at an early stage|
|Adopt an iterative approach so that changes can be made quickly if issues around equity arise|
|Difficulties in measuring quality of educational provision||Ensure tracking analytics are balanced with qualitative evaluation|
|Adopt a long term approach so that you can identify trends over time|
|Adopt a baselining approach to measure ongoing developments against a meaningful baseline|