Adopt, Adapt, and Apply a US-Based Quality Assurance Process to Culturally and Pedagogically Different Educational Systems – The Saudi Arabia Case

Workshop Session 1

Brief Abstract

Can US-based quality assurance practices for online learning be adapted to culturally and pedagogically different communities? The presenters will share their experience, strategies, opportunities & challenges, in initiating and developing collaborations in Saudi Arabia to establish a quality assurance process for e-learning and distance education in the Arabic-speaking region. 

Extended Abstract

Can a US-based and research-supported approach to quality assurance in online and blended learning, adopted by over 1100 institutions and organizations, be adapted to educational environments outside of USA and in non-English speaking communities? What needs to be taken into consideration, and what adaptations are needed in order for the quality standards developed for the US-based and other English-speaking communities to be applicable to international communities that are vastly different culturally and pedagogically?

The presenter(s) will share their experience working with various institutions and organizations in non-English speaking communities, Arabic-speaking Mid-Eastern region in particular, and the strategies to establish collaborations with the goal to localize US-based standards and contribute to the establishment of quality assurance processes for online and blended learning in the international community. Samples of internationalized standards will be shared with participants and input sought.

US-Based Research-Supported Quality Assurance Process

The primary components of the US-based quality assurance process includes: 1) five sets of research-supported standards (or rubrics) to guide the design, development and review of online courses and the online components of blended courses; 2) variety of customizable professional development offerings and tracks for administrators, faculty and instructional design support staff to apply the standards for course design, development, and review; 3) a peer-review process for online and blended course reviews resulting in constructive recommendations for continuous improvement, certification of quality and national recognition, and 4) implementation of the quality assurance process as pathway on a continuum to program excellence, achievement of institutional goals, and facilitation of accreditation process.

Can this US-based research-supported approach to quality assurance and continuous improvement in online and blended learning, adopted by over 1100 higher educational institutions, K-12, and other educational organizations for over a decade, be adapted to educational systems and environments outside of USA? What needs to be taken into consideration, and what adjustments and adaptations are needed in order for the quality standards to be applicable to educational systems and environments that are vastly different culturally and pedagogically?

Strategic Goals for International Outreach

Although the research-supported quality assurance process was primarily developed and adapted to US-based institutions and educational settings around 2003-2004, a steadily growing interest from the international community has made it a priority to expand its application to non-English-speaking, culturally and pedagogically different international communities. Among the strategic goals that were subsequently established are: a) to contribute to the improvement of online and distance education quality worldwide by fostering the dissemination, adoption, and adaptation of the quality standards, b) to research and develop new products and services to meet the needs of the changing landscape of education, both domestically in USA and globally; and c) to grow the international reputation of the quality assurance process and its influence.

Due to constraints in unfamiliarity of cultural tradition and lack of foreign language expertise, a set of strategies and considerations have been developed to guide the identification of potential collaborators and initiation of conversations to explore potential partnership. The presenter(s) will share some of these established strategies and considerations.

Based on market research and evaluation of interest trends as well as existing connections and resources, there top priority outreach target regions were identified: 1) Arabic-speaking Middle-East region starting with Saudi Arabia, 2) Chinese-speaking region starting with China, and 3) Spanish-speaking region focus on Latin America. This presentation will focus on the Arabic-speaking community.

Success of Initial International Collaboration in China

In May of 2015, a five-year collaboration agreement was signed with a leading tier-1 research university in China, the culmination of several years of informal contacts and preliminary explorations of mutual vision and interest between the two parties. Based on the results of two years’ research, an adapted rubric of Higher Education Online Course Quality Standards for China has been developed, which will serve as a benchmarking tool to promote and foster a quality assurance process for online education throughout the Chinese higher education community. This collaborative project won the United States Distance Learning Association’s (USDLA) inaugural Global Impact Award in 2017.

Outreach into the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Middle-East Region

Inspired by the KSA 2030 Vision and encouraged by the success of collaboration in China, a decision was made to reach out to the Arabic-speaking Middle-East region.

Led and shared by Mohammad bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud, the Crown Prince and Chairman of the Council of Economic and Development Affairs, the 2030 Vision reads: Saudi Arabia … the heart of the Arab and Islamic worlds, the investment powerhouse, and the hub connecting three continents. This is a bold and ambitious vision shared by its people and supported by a governance model and various reforms and programs. Among the many transformative programs are 1) the Strategic Partnerships program: … to build new strategic partnerships for the twenty-first century, in harmony with our national Vision …2) the Privatization program: … to make use of international best practices, transfer knowledge and achieve our goals in a balanced and scientific manner.

Among the higher education institutions from Saudi Arabia that have been participating and utilizing the US-based quality assurance process for their elearning and distance learning initiatives, IAU stands out with their unique and systematic way to establish and implement a quality assurance process that fits their needs and lays the foundations for broader applications to reach institutional goals. All levels of administration, from the President to Vice Presidents to Dean of eLearning and Distance Learning, have a shared vision for the institution to become a leader to adopt and adapt the US-based quality assurance process to the Saudi culture and educational system, and subsequently to the Arabic-speaking Mid-East region.

In 2013, IAU began a pilot to introduce the US-based quality standards into its eCourses development process, with the goal of testing the efficiency of course templates and development process based on the US-based standards. Following the successful implementation of the pilot and internal positive reactions and buy-in, the University Council subsequently approved a selected number of the quality standards, based on the recommendations from the Deanship of eLearning, to be implemented for its entire academic programs, which would eventually cover all 1500 courses offered. Furthermore, a course development management system was developed by the Deanship to manage and provide progress reports for all. 

In late November, 2017, the leading US-based quality assurance organization signed a five-year Memorandum of Understanding with IAU to establish a broad range of areas for collaborations. Of uttermost importance to the MOU is the concept and establishment of a center by IAU to lead the collaboration and implementation of the adapted quality standards and services, including but not limited to: 1) translation of existing US-based standards and related resources, 2) adaptation of the US-based standards to Saudi culture and educational environment based on research, 3) developing and offering professional development workshops to other institutions in the country and Arabic speaking region, and 5) developing an adapted course and program review process and certification marks for the Arabic region.

Combining the over-a-decade experience from the US-based quality assurance organization, the best practices from the online learning community, the Saudi 2030 vision as a beacon, the strong leadership at IAU, the state-of-art infrastructure, the focus on teaching and learning, and the dedication and talents of faculty and staff, all this makes a strong case for a promising collaboration to help establish a quality assurance for elearning and distance learning in the Arabic region.

Summary and Reflection:

Several years’ efforts in international outreach initiatives by the US-based leading quality assurance organization have resulted in many reflections and takeaways, including but not limited:

  1. How does the international community consider and approach the educational system in the western world and its best practices, particularly those related to theory and practices in elearning, blended learning, online and/or distance education?
  2. Will the research-supported quality standards and processes that have proven to work well with US-based and other English-speaking institutions also work for the international community?
  3. When it comes to adaption and localization of standards and services, one size does not fit all. What considerations important or even essential in one culture may not be considered as such in another?
  4. Although online and blended learning has become mainstream in US and other English-speaking countries, for the rest of the world, it is just starting but with great potentials. What areas lie the most opportunities for organizations to explore collaborations?
  5. As much as cultures and traditions and technical infrastructures can seem to differ, when it comes to teaching and learning, some core values and practices in a quality education remain the same and cut across all cultures. What are those core standards that would apply to all international communities regardless of culture and language difference?

The presenters will share what has been accomplished so far in the collaboration and invite participants to share their ideas, insights, or experience in international collaborations with diverse educational communities.

(Total words: 1434)