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31 Aug 2022

Establishing a shared quality assurance framework and standards for online learning and teaching

Establishing a shared quality assurance framework and standards for online learning and teaching

During the global pandemic strategic approaches to virtual teaching and learning (VTL) have emerged as centerpieces of institutional strategy. To assure continuity of learning, universities in Hong Kong have had to carefully consider alternative educational strategies and the need to agilely respond to rapidly changing learning and teaching environments.

Hong Kong universities each have their unique institutional teaching and learning policies and guidelines that explicitly address virtual teaching and learning strategies, institutional statements of vision and objectives, and associated quality standards and frameworks for virtual teaching and learning. However, at present there are no Hong Kongwide standards and frameworks for virtual teaching and learning that would draw on policy documents in the Higher Education context, as well as distinct cultural and local governance policy-making implications for virtual teaching and learning educational delivery in Hong Kong.

In Hong Kong, there are currently a total of eight government-funded Higher Education institutions (The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), City University of Hong Kong (CityU), The Education University of Hong Kong (EdUHK), Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBU), The Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU), The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST), Lingnan University (LU) and The University of Hong Kong (HKU)) that offer both tertiary (i.e., bachelors to doctoral programmes) and post-secondary education (i.e., Associate Degrees and Diploma programmes). Each of the eight self-accrediting Higher Education institutions have their own ordinance and governing body and are publicly funded by the University Grants Committee (UGC), a non-statutory advisory and regulatory body that regulates and oversees strategic directions and priorities including regulatory compliance with governing laws and regulations with respect to funding and strategic development of Higher Education in Hong Kong. Building on the experience and results garnered from previous UGC initiatives, such as the Teaching and Learning Quality Process Reviews (TLQPR) and other quality assurance (QA) activities, the UGC undertakes significant efforts to strengthen and inform policy processes and shape eLearning policy initiatives by:

  • Establishing eLearning policy coherence and transparency across all levels of institutional governance and strategic capacity with clear and consistent institution-wide eLearning policies and strategies that strengthen and enhance eLearning opportunities and subsequently ensure effective eLearning delivery and support.
  • Defining eLearning policy and governance processes to establish and reinforce strategic institutional objectives, ensuring progression towards the achievement of key performance indicators developed and applied both at the institutional, department and faculty levels.
  • Conducting on-going monitoring and reporting of eLearning initiatives, regularly evaluated, adjusted, and assessed in line with policy requirements and direction, with institutional responses to changing conditions by adapting to the rapidly changing Higher Education landscape and institutional context.

With the proliferation of educational technology and the integration and expansion of digital technologies and digital learning pedagogies over the last decade, substantial efforts have been made by the UGC to work closely with each of the eight institutions to establish official policies, guidelines and strategies on eLearning, digital spaces and/or virtual teaching and learning (VTL) environments. More recently, considering the COVID-19 pandemic and given the complexity of the educational disruptions and continually shifting educational landscape imposed by the pandemic across each of eight UGC-funded universities, the UGC has been particularly proactive and responsive in identifying and anticipating emerging educational needs, considering, and addressing the underlying challenges of rapidly changing institutional and educational policy contexts and territory-wide policy reform.

In late January 2021, in face of the unprecedented situation presented by the COVID-19 pandemic and to support 'the strategic move towards more intensive and systematic adoption of VTL,' the University Grants Committee (UGC) and the Quality Assurance Council (QAC) allocated dedicated funding to support the eight UGC-funded universities in driving the strategic long-term development of online virtual teaching and learning (VTL). Particular emphasis was placed on enhancing inter-institutional collaboration via a Inter-institutional Collaborative Activities (IICA) scheme between the eight institutions, with priority-driven allocation of funds targeted at the coordinated development of quality assurance policies, systems, governance frameworks and professional best practices of VTL (University Grants Committee). The main focus is on institutional strengthening and quality enhancement efforts in meeting or exceeding local and/or global standards with respect to eLearning provision, including online teaching and learning, distance, eLearning delivery and technology-enhanced learning processes and approaches, with the primary objective of enhancing the quality of online virtual teaching and learning (VTL) as a key strategic focus area of institutional development, institutional performance improvement and quality enhancement and strategic direction.

Under this funding opportunity Lingnan University proposed an IICA Project entitled 'STANDARDS, SYNERGIES and SUPPORT - Establishing a shared Quality Assurance Framework and Standards for Online Learning and Teaching', with an overarching goal to establish, implement and promote guidelines and benchmarking criteria that reference internationally accepted standards for online virtual teaching and learning (VTL) within the local Hong Kong context. (See more here.). A consortium of six participating universities led by Lingnan University (LU), with collaboration and funding from The University of Hong Kong (HKU), The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) and City University of Hong Kong (CityU), and in-kind support from the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) and the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) identified the following identified project goals:

  • Developing a Quality Assurance Framework and Standards for online virtual teaching and learning (VTL) specific to Hong Kong;
  • Developing a toolkit comprising of online resources, vignettes and video case studies of the Framework and Standards in practice drawn from the collective experience of the UGC participating institutions (estimated 5-10 per institution);
  • Organizing and promoting various dissemination and promotion events culminating in a Symposium on Quality Assurance in online virtual teaching and learning (VTL).

Critically important to the success of the IICA project has been undertaking research and a benchmark exercise on evidence-based practice for existing standards to inform the design of a standards-based quality assurance framework on online virtual teaching and learning (VTL) tailored specifically to the Hong Kong context and underpinned by robust and transparent quality assurance and enhancement mechanisms and procedures in the systematic adoption of online VTL. This has involved: 1) undertaking a comprehensive review of specific and/or generically-applicable quality assurance (QA) frameworks on online virtual teaching and learning (VTL) in other sectors and regions; 2) identifying best practices in respect to quality assurance mechanisms, based on internationally adapted or adopted standards on online virtual teaching and learning (VTL); 3) elucidating and synthesizing different perspectives and insights on online virtual teaching and learning (VTL) and; 4) establishing a shared understanding around various emergent terminology broadly captured under the umbrella term of online virtual teaching and learning (VTL).

Furthermore, a systematic review and content analysis of each institution's policy statements, practice guidelines and policy documents on eLearning has allowed us to develop a classification model and mapping scheme by drawing comparisons of each of the institution's key thematic dimensions, domains, or elements specific to the context of online teaching and learning. This can be considered both a useful and valuable exercise in that it has allowed us to map key themes and categories and synthesize them by making connections, identifying gaps and then generating and/or classifying a list of common themes, traits and/or focus areas that emerge. Hence, the mapping exercise allows us to get a deeper and more nuanced understanding of each institution's own distinctive policies and practices on eLearning that fit to the institution's values, culture and strategic goals and objectives, but also provides useful and pragmatic guidance on the development of a set of quality indicators or best practice statements with respect to online virtual teaching and learning. Finally, it is envisaged that the standards developed could serve as a guiding framework that offers the flexibility of adapting, modifying, and applying the developed framework to each university's own distinct identity, philosophy, and culture, thereby allowing the institution to build its own capacity in respect to strategically driving and supporting quality online virtual teaching and learning delivery and governance.

Prof Peter DuffyAbout Prof. Peter Duffy

Professor Peter Duffy is the Director of the Teaching and Learning Centre at Lingnan University (LU). Duffy has a demonstrated record of exemplary leadership, management and outcomes in education, curriculum renewal and compliance, digital learning and academic/institutional transformation and has been involved in the education field for the past 30 years. He is the project leader of an Inter-institutional Collaborative Activities (IICAs) Project, 'Standards, Synergies and Support - establishing a shared Quality Assurance Framework and Standards for Online Learning and Teaching." This project involves a consortium of six participating universities led by Lingnan University who are working together to create a HK Quality Assurance Framework and Standards for Online Learning and Teaching.


Dr Ronnie ShroffAbout Dr Ronnie H. Shroff

Shroff is a Principal Project Fellow with the Teaching and Learning Centre at Lingnan University, Hong Kong. His research and academic work focuses on the use of emerging technologies to advance teaching and learning in higher education, leveraging learning applications across multiple contexts, ranging from instructional design to assessment of learning, including pedagogical and technology integration to enhance the educational experiences of students and further student learning across disciplines.

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