Melbourne Graduate School of Education - Theses

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    Interrogating quality Indicators of students' online learning in Australian higher education
    El-Ayoubi, Mona ( 2021)
    The growth and proliferation of online education is one of the incisive radical transformations that has taken place in the higher education sector recently. Given the increasing centrality of online learning, it is imperative to have appropriate quality measures capable of effectively gauging the learning quality outcomes of students in the online environment. This research addressed the following two overarching questions: To what extent can students’ Student Experience Survey results predict outcome measures such as student pass rate, dropout rate and overall satisfaction? How effective are Student Experience Survey results in measuring online learning quality in Australian higher education? This study focused on the case of online undergraduate education at Australian universities and primarily drew on extensive empirical evidence, and systematic analysis of a significant amount of SES data. This analysis was complemented by a focused set of semi-structured interviews conducted with academic staff working in quality assurance in Australian universities. The research utilised a sequential mixed-methods approach combining analysis of secondary data (Student Experience Survey) and collection and analysis of primary data interviews. This approach offered the opportunity to contextualise the Student Experience Survey data and interrogate it for insights into the practical considerations and dimensions of online learning quality within universities. A framework to assess different aspects of learning quality was developed from the items in the survey and consisted of four groupings: curriculum, learner support, learner engagement, and technology. The analysis of student responses to the items in these groupings applied the principal components of factor analysis. Specifically, the research examined these factors to determine if they could predict student performance outcomes of pass rate, dropout rate, and overall satisfaction as effective quality measures. This analysis presents observations of student responses to individual items across disciplines, institutions, and academic year levels. When SES responses of student perceptions were examined, this study identified a critical disconnect between the positioning of the Student Experience Survey as a central measure of learning quality and the outcomes of those learners as a population. The key finding is that the Student Experience Survey responses were not related to pass rates and dropout rates. The second critical finding is that students’ perceptions of engagement and curriculum had no relation to these same outcomes. This finding is irrespective of students’ academic year level, their discipline, or the institution they attended. The study has implications for institutions and government bodies to evaluate existing metrics said to measure online learning quality. This study questions the ultimate purpose of student surveys and concludes that using student satisfaction to evaluate online learning quality through the Student Experience Survey instrument is ineffective in predicting or measuring outcome achievement. As such, institutions must invest in alternative and/or different approaches for assessing learning quality. This study provides substantial evidence base analysis of a large population in the Australian higher education online context. Further, it contributes to widening understandings about the limitations of student experience surveys in measures of learning quality. The study has implications for institutions, academics, and policymakers and provides opportunities for the reconceptualisation and the redevelopment of learning quality metrics beyond the Student Experience Survey.