WASC Definition of Distance Education
Distance education is defined, for the purpose of accreditation review as a formal interaction which uses one or more technologies to deliver instruction to students who are separated from the instructor and which supports regular and substantive interaction between the students and instructor, either synchronously or asynchronously. Distance education often incorporates technologies such as the internet; one-way and two-way transmissions through open broadcast, closed circuit, cable, microwave, broadband lines, fiber optics, satellite, or wireless communications devices; audio conferencing; or video cassettes, DVDs, and CD-ROMs, in conjunction with any of the other technologies (ACCJC, 2010).
WASC Accreditation Policies & Concerns
The Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) oversees accreditation at PCC. Since distance education courses alter many aspects of traditional course delivery and design, it is necessary to be aware of and understand the aspects of WASC accreditation policies and requirements as they pertain to teaching at PCC.
WASC Policy Guidelines
ACCJC policy specifies that all learning opportunities provided by our accredited institutions have the same quality, accountability, and focus on student outcomes, whether they are delivered electronically or by more traditional means. The intent of the policy is to provide a framework that allows institutions the flexibility to adapt their delivery modes to the emerging needs of students and society while maintaining quality. Any institution offering courses and programs electronically is expected to meet the requirements of accreditation in each of its courses and programs and at each of its sites (ACCJC, 2010).
What This Means at PCC
Regardless of mode of delivery, all courses and programs should provide the same level of instruction. This means that face-to-face instruction and distance education courses need to have the same course quality standards and learning outcomes. Individual institutions can create their own methods of assessing the effectiveness of distance education courses, but those courses should still meet WASC accreditation requirements.
WASC Policy Elements
The following is a summary of WASC policy as it relates to distance education:
- All aspects of course design, delivery and assessment for distance education courses should support the institution’s overall mission. Oversight for this process is the institution’s responsibility.
- Learning outcomes for distance education courses and programs should be clearly defined.
- Support and services should be provided to meet learning outcomes.
- Student outcomes should be measured through assessment and evaluation with provisions for ongoing assessment.
- Institutions should have procedures to verify student authentication and participation status. These procedures should also protect the privacy of each student.
Additional WASC Accreditation Concerns
The following is a list of accreditation concerns that most directly affect course design and implementation:
- Distance education course standards should be the same as in face-to-face classrooms and the mode of course delivery should be appropriate for the course content.
- Distance education should be compared with corresponding traditional courses and programs in order to meet institutional learning outcomes and quality standards.
- Faculty should have:
- Appropriate training.
- Means for ongoing professional development.
- Sufficient resources for technical and pedagogical support.
- The same evaluation system as in the face-to-face classroom.
- Students should have:
- Appropriate technical and pedagogical training in the course delivery method.
- Expectations that distance education courses will provide the same level of instruction as face-to-face courses.
- A clear idea about the technical skills needed for the course
- The same level of interaction with and access to the instructor as in face-to-face courses.
- The same access to support services as on-campus students.