4. Course Delivery

Course delivery encompasses the Virtual Learning Environment and/or other interfaces through which students receive their course materials and communicate with fellow learners and staff. These systems represent a very significant investment of financial and human resource in their acquisition and ongoing support.

The selection of a particular system, which may influence teaching developments for many years, should be driven by both educational and technical requirements. Educational requirements include delivery of learning resources, facilities for online communication and tools for assessment. Technical requirements include reliability and security standards. The delivery system should be reviewed and monitored to ensure it continues to meet these requirements. 

Effective course delivery requires collaboration between academic and operational divisions of the institution. Technical infrastructure should serve the educational requirements of the academic community, both students and staff.

19. The technical infrastructure maintaining the blended and online education system is fit for purpose and supports both academic and administrative functions. The technical specification is based on stakeholder requirements and involves realistic estimates of system usage and development.

Effective delivery of blended and online educationcourses requires a computer-based system capable of:

  • registering students to courses and programmes;
  • distributing blended and online education materials to students;
  • maintaining and updating records of student performance;
  • conducting aspects of e-business with respect to student fees etc.;
  • facilitating communication between the institution, its students, staff and affiliate staff (if any).

The institution itself may acquire, operate and maintain this system; alternatively the facilities may be provided via outsourcing arrangements with a third-party. 

It is recommended that there is a survey and analysis of stakeholder expectations of the blended and online education system. Major stakeholder groups are academics, administrators, students, and those providing on-line tutorial support.

The technical design must take account of anticipated course use by students, administrative transactions and download requirements. Realistic assumptions of student usage patterns (e.g. prediction of peak periods such as assignment submission) should be used in estimation of server and connectivity requirements.

Arrangements for backup, archiving and recovery should be specified as an integral element of the technical specification. 

20. The systems for communication and provision of information are secure, reliable and assure appropriate levels of privacy. Measures are in place for system recovery in the event of failure or breakdown.

Good performance against this benchmark is dependent on effective design and management of technical systems. A system that is not professionally managed is unlikely to perform well against these criteria.

The institution must have a clear set of standards for the operation of the technical infrastructure, together with evidence of compliance with these standards. Key performance indicators such as system availability, downtime, queuing time for access, etc. should be monitored and available for review.

The VLE must provide sufficient security of all personal details and of all communications between student, teacher and institution.

21. Appropriate provision is made for system maintenance, monitoring and review of performance against the standards set. These standards are updated when necessary.

This benchmark expands on the previous statement and applies the principle of effective professional management to the delivery of services. Attention to the following factors is necessary to ensure good performance. 

  • Technical requirements of the system are monitored on a regular basis.
  • IT professionals operate the system to the standards commonly encountered in the commercial customer service sector.
  • Comprehensive documentation of operational procedures is evident.
  • Logbooks and other routine record keeping should demonstrate whether the standards set are being achieved.

The system must allow for the data collection on many aspects of its operation and use. 

22. Blended and online education systems provide a choice of online tools which are appropriate for the educational models adopted and for the requirements of students and educators.

The design and management of the virtual learning environment (VLE), or other blended and online education system, should support the achievement of pedagogic objectives. This should be evident in the processes used to acquire, implement and manage the system.

The systems must allow for management of all processes from course authoring to delivery of the course materials to students and recording their performance. 

The system may need to be compatible with many pre-existing systems within an institution, e.g. its student registration system. Some institutions may choose to implement a VLE by an internal systems integration project.

The core of the VLE is the system that undertakes the delivery of blended and online education materials to students. Its facilities influence the nature of the teaching process and student interactions that can be offered. The blended and online education system should address the needs of users for easy access and high-quality interaction with the learning materials. 

To achieve this, the VLE needs to offer a range of tools such as quizzes, forums, wikis, text chat and web conferencing.

23. Information about how to use the institution’s blended and online education systems and services is provided to all users in a logical, consistent and reliable way.

There should be clear information available to students and other interested parties about blended and online education courses and how they are presented: for example, mechanisms for the dissemination of course materials, and types of assessment. 

Information may be extracted to suit the needs of differing audiences and modes of presentation, for example, prospective students, enrolled students, system managers and student support agents.

Achievement of good performance in this area will be indicated by user satisfaction. Satisfaction should be based on ease of access, completeness, relevance, up-to-date information, coherence, consistency etc. 

24. Institutional materials and information accessible through the VLE are regularly monitored, reviewed and updated. The responsibility for this is clearly defined and those responsible are provided with appropriate and secure access to the system to enable revision and updating.

The blended and online education provision must be monitored, managed and updated on a continuous basis to ensure its effectiveness. Monitoring student use may make an important contribution to successful performance in this area.

Monitoring should cover the detailed operational aspects of the system (performance, availability, capacity utilization, user error reports etc.) and also the performance of the human support systems.

Student surveys administered on-line, routinely as part of courses and by random selection, should be augmented by consultation with the student body regarding the effectiveness of the system. This information should be used to inform future development.

© 2009 EADTU