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Online Education and Instructional Quality

Brent Muirhead
Guest Editor, June 2004

The field of distance education has made definite progress in the past ten years but it remains an immature academic discipline. As a veteran online educator, faculty mentor and researcher, it concerns me that our online courses sometimes lack a certain dynamic quality that can be found in traditional face-to-face classroom settings. The utilization of multimedia is often limited to Power Point presentations or simulations which are individually oriented activities that fail to promote interaction between students.

Today’s online courses require having skilled instructors to increase the level of interactivity. Contemporary instructors need training to become more skilled at effectively using emails, creating threaded discussions and moderating online small groups or learning teams. Therefore, it is imperative that all higher education organizations offer relevant training for their online instructors. Additionally, research studies recommend that universities and colleges consider enhancing the quality of their online degree programs by considering six recommendations:

recognition and support of online instructors - universities and colleges must address questions about tenure and providing appropriate financial arrangements for teaching assignments.

instructors sharing their expertise and resources - administrators need to foster the concept of mentoring in higher education to assist new online instructors.

online policy development - higher education officials must develop realistic policies about ownership of online materials, royalties and teaching at other institutions.

research online programs - universities should invest time and financial resources into research efforts that would enable them to have the type of online learning programs that will meet their needs.

cultivating educational partnerships - a major cost cutting strategy would involve creating partnerships with other institutions that have similar interests in online education. This would encourage saving money on courseware through joint testing of tools and products.

encourage reflective instruction - higher education institutions must develop a relevant and vibrant curriculum that encourages critical thinking and knowledge creation by their students (Bonk, 2002).

The six recommendations are considered foundational to fostering quality in online degree programs. Obviously, there are institutional barriers that must be overcome to implement relevant changes. The academic credibility of online degree programs will be enhanced by colleges and universities who are willing to embrace a contemporary vision of learning that wisely invests their resources into online education.


Bonk, C. (2002). Online teaching in the online world. USDLA, 16 (1). Available: http://www.usdla.org/html/journal/JAN02_Issue/article02.html

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