In today’s higher education environment, when students are increasingly expecting information that is readily accessible “anytime, anywhere”, it seems clear that online teaching is inevitable.
The number of higher education institutions in Western Balkan beneficiary countries that have adopted some form of online teaching is increasing, but the quality varies substantially. Students often face the problem of not knowing what they can expect in courses or study programs marked as “online”. In such a fast moving field, it is obvious that program revisions and staff retraining should take place frequently, since the institutional motivation is not enough for achieving required level of quality.
Turbulent times in the last decade have affected higher education in Western Balkan region and there is an urgent need to adopt European practices. The opportunities for regional student exchanges, joint DL study programs and borderless cooperation are immeasurably strengthened by having a shared language, by being geographically contiguous and by the proximity of the centers of population. As the population of Western Balkan partner countries exceeds 25 million of people, a joint effort for the uniformity of e-learning methodology, quality standards and harmonization of the national accreditation systems with the European quality assurance system would be benefit for potential students throughout the region.
The expansion of distance learning has encouraged national Ministries of Education, Councils for Higher Educations, Accreditation agencies and quality assurance bodies in Western Balkan beneficiary countries to consider developing standards for the assessment of quality in open and distance learning. National initiatives are outlined in this section.
The Law of Higher Education in Serbia, the Government Strategy for Information Society and Ministry of Education strongly support development of e-Education. Accordingly, universities are taking steps towards the implementation of DL. As at the national system level, accreditation remains the basic tool for assuring quality (measured as state wide threshold standard), the National council for HE has defined the initial rules and regulations on accreditation standards for DL studies in 2007, with the following key issues:
- hitherto, the National Council and Commission for Accreditation reconsidered those standards and some additional recommendations were amended, but parts of it still remain unclear and incomplete
- there are no special instructions for preparing the accreditation documentations
- accreditation reviewers are not retrained for DL specificity
- there are no regulations covering study programs self-assessment and quality review
Because of this, there is still no uniformity in DL study programs submitted by university authorities. Up to now, there are several DL study programs of the first and second tiers of HE accredited by the National council. The process or reaccredidation on the system level should start in 2012, the standards shall be reconsidered and revised, so the need for improvements in legislation acts is obvious.
In Montenegro and Macedonia, the legislations in the Law of Higher Education for defining accreditation process in higher education institutions still does not have specific clauses for distance learning. Despite of it, universities in both countries are applying various forms of distance learning, but its quality signifficiantly varies. Both countries are oriented towards implementing full distance learning study programs, but have recognized that pre-conditions must still be made.
The benefits of implementing DL are recognized by the Ministry of Education and Science in Montenegro and the Ministry of Education in Macedonia, and both Ministries gave the strong support for the initiative of developing new legal and sublegal acts for regulating accreditation of DL at national system levels. Montenegrin Ministry of Education and Science has constituted professional teams who shall be in charge of defining amendments in existing legislations for quality assurance in HE, where distance learning needs to be defined in detail.
In Montenegro, the Ministry for Information Society has determined fundamental educational goals by its “Strategy for development of Information Society in Montenegro 2009-2013”, with special emphasis on establishing legal framework for efficient introduction of eEducation. In Macedonia, the “National strategy for development of information society” and in related “Action plan” highly anticipate development of eContents, LMS, DL tools and open education forms.
This project is building-up on the previous cooperation in the framework of Tempus JEP-41016-2006 where DL study program “MSc curriclum in e-Learning” is successfully developed and implemented at University of Kragujevac. Also, noticeable effort in curricula development was made by postgraduate study programs in “Management of ebusiness – distance learning” at University “Ss Cyril and Methodius”, Skopje within the TEMPUS JEP 40093-2005.
We believe that through a joint effort of the Western Balkan beneficiary universities with strong support from the HE public authorities and significant help from our EU partners we could assimilate and improve the quality of DL studies on a system level which would bring significant benefits to all prospective students of the WB region.
Accordingly, the specific objectives are:
- To improve, develop and implement accreditation standards, guidelines and procedures for QA of distance education study programs according to EU practices in WB countries
- To provide a roadmap for establishing quality in eLearning on HE institutional level in WB countries and join in European associations for quality in e-Learning
- To provide training for relevant members of of HE public and education authorities involved in DL from each partner country who would act as assessors and trainers