The approval process
1. Discussion with the Head of Department and involvement in the Medium Term Planning (MTP) process
- Distance learning programmes usually require an investment of resources in the planning stages – such funding should be discussed in the department
- Developing a Business Plan
2. Board of Studies approval
3. Planning Committee approval of the business case. The costs of developing a new DL programme can be significant, see business planning.
4. University Teaching Committee (UTC) approval of the academic case
There are additional stages which should also be considered prior to seeking formal approval, which include:
5. Meeting with your department's Planning Officer, in order to discuss business planning, interaction with the MTP process and any available market analysis.
6. Attendance at the Distance Learning Forum and/or meetings with Forum members: the Forum provides an informal layer of support and advice to prospective distance learning providers.
7. Meetings with the Academic Support Office:
Quality Assurance Team for the programme approval process
E-learning Development Team for learning technologist support
Learning Enhancement Team for advice on curriculum, assessment and delivery
Such meetings are designed to guide you through the support and advice available, and for you to sound your ideas against.
It is recommended that you consult the Quality Assurance Framework for Distance Learning Programmes during the planning and development stages.
Issues for consideration
In line with the approval process for all new programmes, distance learning provision should offer:
- programmes and modules which meet nationally agreed academic standards for the award in question
- high quality learning opportunities which help students to realise their potential
- opportunities for learners to take personal control of their development through supporting and promoting autonomous learning
- programmes of study and modules which are monitored and reviewed regularly to assure and enhance quality
- full and clear information about the nature and expectations of their programme of study
Alongside the additional approval stages for new programmes, prospective DL providers need to carefully consider:
- Peer Review: extension of peer support for teaching to address the quality assurance and enhancement of online teaching materials and online support for students.
- Provision of accurate information to students which is evaluated and updated frequently
- Student feedback and representation: specially tailored forms; implementation of online surveys and discussion forums to collect feedback, representation of students in departmental governance structures
- effective means of student representation which are appropriate and realistic for students on distance learning programmes of study
- accurate information about how students provide feedback through the appropriate channels to both the department and the University
The student experience of a DL programme should be comparable with that of a face-to-face programme, for example:
- students must have quality and timely feedback
- opportunities for students to work as a cohort and engage with the departmental community
- academic support should be available to students, in a timely manner
- pastoral support should be available, and students should be aware of the other layers of support available
- learning resources must be accessible and user-friendly, offering a stimulating learning environment
- there should be effective student representation
- processes must be in place to deal with complaints.