Distance Learning Courses Reviewed
What Can We See?
Gianna Oliveira Bogossian Roque
, Gilda Helena Bernardino de Campos
and Camila Sousa Santos
Central Coordination for Distance learning, Pontificia Universidade Católica do Rio de Janeiro,
Rio de Janeiro, 22453900, Brazil
Dept. of Education and Central Coordination for Distance learning, Pontificia Universidade Católica do Rio de Janeiro,
Rio de Janeiro, 22453900, Brazil
Graduate student. Dept. of Education, PUC-Rio, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Keywords: Quality Assurance, Course Evaluation, Teacher Training, Distance Education.
Abstract: The research project "Quality in Distance Education: a longitudinal survey of teacher’s training in federal
programs" has prospected nine thousand teachers about critical achievements in distance learning courses.
Our target public was students in a postgraduate course from 2006 to 2013. This article presents the results
collected through the final survey instrument applied to 5,892 students. The data was analyzed and some
detected constructs pointed to a definition of quality setting in the student’s perspective, namely: teaching
materials, pedagogical mediation, virtual learning environment, methodology, student academic and technical
support. The qualitative assessment showed other aspects mentioned by the respondents. This paper also
presents the analysis of an open question asking a free review of the course. Surprisingly, students nominated
important aspects of the pedagogical process in distance learning such as teaching strategies, objectives,
curricula content and their dynamics indicating that a distance learning mode course requires an active
pedagogical mediation and the teaching-learning design must encourage collaboration.
Brazilian institutions, governmental and private, have
made major investments in undergraduate and post-
graduation offered in the distance learning mode,
increasing considerably the number of enrollments
and courses in recent years. This rapid growth,
especially when means of carrying out government
goals with regard to increasing the number of
enrollments in higher education, imposes the need to
rethink the indicators used to evaluate the quality of
distance courses. GOLD (2010) points out that "it is
fundamental to highlight the political action, organic
or not, of different actors and institutional contexts,
influenced by complex regulatory frameworks,
sometimes contradictory, the result of guidelines,
commitments and prospects - at local, national scale,
regional and global".
The initial argument of this work is to evince
authors that deal with the construction of the concept
of quality in higher education on the assumption that
education is a right and that the government should
provide it for the society. We believe in the
consolidation of national identity and the social and
economic inclusion of marginalized groups. This
principle of education guides a concept of quality
articulated with the paradigm of relevance and social
responsibility and is based on two other principles:
democratization and the reconceptualization of the
role of higher education institutions in the Network
Society (CASTELLS; CARDOSO, 2005).
From this axis, we seek a reflection on the quality
concept that has anchored the practices and
perceptions of distance education. We consider three
aspects: educational-learning, tutorial and technical-
The diversity of views and the inexorable conceptual
subjectivity of the term quality in education is not
exempt from the constant referencing in speeches
Roque G., Bernardino de Campos G. and Sousa Santos C..
Distance Learning Courses Reviewed - What Can We See?.
DOI: 10.5220/0005491301480155
In Proceedings of the 7th International Conference on Computer Supported Education (CSEDU-2015), pages 148-155
ISBN: 978-989-758-107-6
2015 SCITEPRESS (Science and Technology Publications, Lda.)
about educational policies and institutional practices
(BERTOLIN, 2009a). The chameleon effect of the
term “quality” when applied to higher education
stems from the complexity of possible relationships
that education may have in their technical, scientific,
political, cultural and economic dimensions. Thus,
talking about quality is always to seek reference
"quality of what?", "which social-historical
moment?", "defined by whom?". In this section, we
will seek to bring some of these reflections.
Generically, the term quality can be defined as the
satisfaction of a dynamic in which the effectiveness
of the results is equivalent to the first placed
expectations and, therefore, the processes should
demonstrate efficiency.
The issue of quality in brazilian higher education
was studied by Bertolin (2009b) from qualitative
indicators anchored in the socio-cultural and
economic context, such as the effectiveness (achieve
the basic functions of higher education and integral
formation of individuals and society), relevance
(development of the socio-cultural and economic
areas of the country), fairness (opportunity to access
and retention for all people from different regions and
social classes) and diversity (meet the various
demands and needs of education and training).
These qualitative indicators are related to the
search for solutions to major national problems such
as inequality and social exclusion, insufficient
economic growth and qualitative and quantitative
deficient education systems. In this sense, the quality
of higher education must be analyzed from the
paradigm of relevance and social responsibility
showing the ability to propose ways and coping
alternatives of the national problems.
Debates about quality in higher education are
centralized in the paradigm of relevance and social
responsibility that clashes with the interests and
expectations of another paradigm, derived from the
neoliberal policy (BERTOLIN, 2009a and 2009b;
DAYS NEPHEW, 2008 ; 2010; 2012). The
paradigms of neoliberal policies and the relevance
and social responsibility evoke three central themes
on the agenda of higher education around the world:
democratization, reconceptualization of higher
education institutions and the quality.
The emerging paradigm of neoliberal policy
considers that quality aims to be objective and
universal, valuing the scientific rigor and the
quantitative and measurable aspects. Criteria are
identified with terms and economic schemes such as
development indices, profitability, cost-benefit
calculations, efficiency, innovation linked to
economic income, growth in enrollment, teacher-
student ratio, output indicators, expansion systems,
performance measurement of institutions, student
performance, diversification of funding sources,
among others (DIAS SOBRINHO, 2008). According
to BERTOLIN (2009b), the neoliberal paradigm
opens an economistic vision of quality in higher
education, in which the main mission of the
universities must be the economic growth and the
preparation of individuals for the labor market.
Therefore, institutions should be organized efficiently
and effectively so that their objectives are achieved
quickly and at lower cost, demonstrating an
instrumental and productive view of education.
According to the author, the economic view of quality
in higher education is shared by the private sector, by
some governments and multilateral organizations
identified with the minimum state policy and fiscal
The paradigm of relevance and social
responsibility, although it does not despise many of
the aspects mentioned above, perceives a different
light, valuing the social and political realities of the
institutions and education systems, the qualitative
dimensions inserting the higher education in national
and regional strategies for consolidating democracy.
(DIAS SOBRINHO, 2008). The principle of this
paradigm is that the mission of higher education goes
beyond economic promotion and is also a way to
promote cultural, social, political and scientific
development. Thus, higher education quality must be
able to promote equity and social cohesion,
increasing the possibilities for access and retention.
It is in the 2000s that Brazil became a nation in
transition to the so-called Network Society
(CASTELLS, 2005) and, therefore, the labor market
has demanded new training requirements and training
at a higher level in order to become the most dynamic
and productive economy. Given this situation, it was
necessary to increase the number of enrollments in
public universities, which represented a challenge to
the state, given that the public higher education
institutions are located in urban areas, concentrating
the supply of places around 30% of the municipalities
As for teacher training, it was found that the
training of teachers in the early years of the 2000s,
was a sticking point in the implementation of public
policies. The association of teacher education level
with the quality of basic education was sufficient to
realize the urgency of drawing initial training policies
for those teachers already working or were going to
work in basic education (MOTA, FILHO E
CASSIANO, 2006).
The democratization of higher education initially
demanded a basic education that boosts the expansion
of higher education and teacher education represented
a key part in this process, so that teacher training has
become a determining factor in the quality offered in
public networks. Obviously, one can not blame the
teachers entirely for the quality of education
provision, but it is undeniable that a well-established
initial training is essential for the classroom.
2.1 Quality Education in the Context of
In this context, the concept of quality in distance
education in Brazil is perceived in the clash of
interests between the neoliberal paradigm and the
relevance and social responsibility in the teacher
education, considering enhancing the cultural,
political and scientific in remote areas of the country.
The data presented in Census 2011 (BRAZIL.
INEP, 2013) and Synopsis of Higher Education
(BRAZIL. INEP, 2012) allow us to make inferences
about the relationship between the expansion of
private higher education and the perception of the
concept of quality as the proposed Bertolin (2007,
2009b) through a reference model in order to observe
the behavior of the cited aspects.
Distance education in Brazil adopted some
pedagogical models in which quality indicators are
perceived as principles that can compromise the
educational process, such as: (a) pedagogical
centrality of the tutor; (b) relationship and ratio
between number of students and for each teacher; (c)
lack of research projects in this field. In most part of
the country, the tutor has academic training at the
undergraduate level and is maintained by private
institutions in part-time work scheme or hourly or
with a public scholarship in federal institutions.
According to LEHER (2010), the expansion of
enrollment in the private sector has not democratized
Brazilian higher education for the courses, mostly, are
really tertiary education, to name the term appearing
in the publications of the World Bank. These
institutions focused on teaching and students do not
have access to the benefits of research, generating
negative impacts on competition in the workplace and
In the public sphere, the democratization of higher
education via distance learning was made through the
implementation of the System UAB, Open University
of Brazil, and has been commonly associated with the
commodification of higher education policies and
targeted training for individualism, as a concept of a
public good. It must be said that there are many ways
to implement distance learning and, given the
continental size of the country, it is important to
reinforce the potential of this mode of education. The
distance education model adopted by UAB focused
on classroom support in determined places with
tutors. This model has limitations and problems, but
we agreed with Dias Sobrinho (2008; 2010; 2012)
that no higher education can be considered having a
good quality if it is not able to contemplate relevance,
social responsibility and social equity.
In general point of view, democratization of
brazilian higher education admits two interpretations:
(1) the model increased enrollments in private
institutions who restrict the knowledge construction
to a training process and (2) Public higher education
offered by UAB occurred in precarious shape, with an
increase of enrollments but it was not accompanied
by an increase of structural and human resources.
The issue of quality has been central in
educational agendas of states ranging from increased
economic competitiveness to improving the quality of
citizenship indicators. What is at stake is the meaning
of the term quality, stress field between those who
believe that the quality of education is only achieved
if oriented to few and those who believe that an
education has to reach more people, seeking to
achieve the citizenship.
In parallel, pragmatism is necessary to realize that
for many young people the expansion of enrollment
has a symbolic value and considering the economic
vulnerability of this people each additional year of
schooling represents the achievement of a better
social position. Anyway, it is clear that public policies
that have expanded and continue to expand
enrollments in brazilian higher education have
resulted in substantial improvements in the living
conditions of young students although in general
terms the structure remains polarized and stratified.
2.2. Quality in Distance Education in
Mode 2 of Knowledge Production
In 1994, Gibbons, Limoges, Nowotny, Schwartzman,
Scott and Trow published the book “The New
Production of Knowledge” which discusses the
dynamics of science and research in contemporary
societies. The preface claims that there is a new
knowledge of the production process in which not
only the way it is produced, but it is organized, are
considered elements of the process. Gibbons et al.
point to two modes of the structure of science and
teaching in higher education institutions: Mode 1
refers to the organization of teaching in structures
with disciplines, that is, in the words of the authors,
knowledge-based disciplines (1994, p.35). Mode 2, in
turn, comprises a different and varied range of
research, which changes the quality control, in which
the focus is on transdisciplinarity and the production
of knowledge is socially distributed. It involves,
therefore, a constant interaction between the actors
throughout the production process and that means a
more socially responsible production. However, this
new mode of production, according to the authors,
will not replace the mode 1. Gibbons and his co-
authors also emphasize that Mode 2 is necessarily
dependent of communication technologies, because
the interactions and interconnections that occur on the
Internet make collaborative relationships and makes
the production of knowledge an increasingly activity
"less self-contained" (p.36). Quality control in this
context is determined by a wide range of criteria and
reflects a socially inclusive view.
In this context, HASE and KANYON (2000)
claim that the actual concept of autonomous and free
learning feeds on humanistic theory from the theory
of complexity and suggests an ontological basis for
the dynamic approaches for learning and ability to
handle the change.
The whole evaluation process entails checking
previously established indicators. To evaluate the
quality of a distance learning course implies the
definition of quality. This is the great challenge for
higher education institutions when offering courses in
distance learning.
Government competent bodies focus primarily in
indicators related to infrastructure issues of the
education institutions such as the faculty, the
administrative and financial management. In addition
to these issues, it is asked how the programs are being
implemented, if these programs promote changes and
if these changes are perceived by the participants in
their professional and personal lives.
When working in course planning and production
we need to consider two locus: (a) the course itself
and (b) the apprentice. The evaluation of a course is
always based on theoretical and philosophical
assumptions underlying the understanding of
teaching-learning process and the knowledge
construction. As stated by Azevedo and Sathler
(2008), the evaluation can not be isolated and
restricted to the limits and measures of school
performance and nor be perceived as bureaucratic
control instrument. One must realize the different
possibilities that permeate the evaluative action as
well as its uses in the context of distance education,
its influence in teaching activities, the role in
educational policy-making and its social commitment
besides the objectives to be achieved.
The act of evaluating as emphasized by Cardinet
(1990 cited Bonniol and Vial, 2001, p.107), "is one of
the essential procedures of the entire management
activity" to the extent that composes the core process
regulation of a system, which presupposes read
reality through observation, a confrontation with the
goals previously established and do the corrective
action. In other words, it is a feedback mechanism
that begins with the strategic planning of the course,
followed by a decision-making about teaching and
evaluative devices, ending with possible course
corrections. Throughout the course, this feedback
should be strengthened through formative
assessment, understood as a process in which not only
seeks to rectify mistakes but understand their
occurrences and causes that enable consistent
pedagogical actions.
One of the main characteristics of formative
assessment is the simultaneity of the course delivery.
It happens from observation and collection of data
about the object that is being evaluated. Thus, we
understand formative assessment as a permanent and
inclusive process, which requires flexibility to carry
out necessary adjustments to achieve the desired
quality. Formative assessment interfere in the
process, being considered as a regulatory evaluation
since it allows stakeholders adjust their strategies.
The essence of formative assessment is the presence
of feedback.
As pointed out by Carlini and Ramos (2009),
"evaluate a course is to diagnose the performance of
each of its components - teachers, students, support
staff, teaching materials, teaching project, virtual
environment" in order to verify the contribution and
fitness to achieve the proposed objectives.
The research group “Evaluation and cooperation
in distance education”, group in which we are
attached with, has, over the years, established quality
indicators for courses in order to promote the
expected quality of the courses offered. We consider
that it is essential that the institution has an evaluation
methodology to achieve excellence in its processes
and ongoing projects. Rethinking the indicators used
in the evaluation of distance learning courses was the
starting point of this research and we wanted to listen
to what the students consider quality in distance
The study was conducted based on what the students
(who are actually teachers of public education)
thought about quality in distance learning courses.
They were participants of an postgraduate course and
we sent a digital questionnaire available to all
participants and we obtained 2,124 responses,
representing 68.67% of the students enrolled at the
4.1 Procedures for Data Analysis
The quality was seen as a set of factors in different
perspectives and ranges, which aimed to meet the
student of the distance mode in a range of
possibilities. Quality for the development of
assessment tools were defined based on indicators
found in the literature and discussed the following
basic factors: pedagogical mediation, usability,
instructional design, virtual learning environment,
teaching materials, content and pedagogical
architectures and was consisted of four open
questions and 25 closed. Open questions sought the
following evidence:
• How Pedagogical Mediation held throughout the
course contributed to their academic performance?
• How the final work orientation contributed to
your writing?
• Highlight of three (3) major improvements for a
next course.
• a space for a free review of the course was
offered asking about its objectives, the content,
pedagogical strategies, dynamics or any other
relevant topic.
In other articles we presented results of
quantitative research that pointed to the reliability of
the data collection instrument. It was possible to
realize an equal distribution among the items showing
a self-assessment of student. Interestingly, since
almost 50% believes it can improve its commitment
to the course and about 98% believes that the
knowledge acquired throughout the course has
improved their professional performance. Regarding
the students' opinions about the performance of the
pedagogical mediator, we found an approval of the
way in which mediators developed their work. The
complexity of the pedagogical mediator performance
in distance learning courses represents a bridge
between the learner and the tutor and contributes to
the possibility for the learner to reach its objectives
When designing the mediation as a global guiding
action, the role of the mediator should prioritize the
development and the enhancement of skills and
competencies that promote the dialogue of students
with the study materials, with the teachers-authors,
fostering study practices characterized by the
binomial autonomy-cooperation. Students also
pointed to the importance of the mediator coupled
with the students’ commitment. Finally, the
quantitative research showed that the teaching should
work the contents to provide a link from education to
social practice, understood as a starting point and
arrival of the educational work. Exercises should be
privileged choosing subjects taken from reality, as
integrative axes for pedagogical work and the link
between theory and practice.
With regard to the qualitative research, we found
through the results achieved by content analysis four
categorizations distributed in the following classes:
- Class 1: Improvement of the professional
student achievement, composed of the responses of
those who identified the participation of educational
mediator as important for their professional
- Class 2 and Class 3: Support in relation to
questions and assistance in carrying out the activities
and forums, respectively. Classes 2 and 3 are related
to the tutor's practice, that is, its dynamic function of
the discussions in the forum, learning assessment,
correction and feedback of their activities, a bridge
between the students and the contents of disciplines,
among others.
- Class 4: Permanency and succcess on the
course, highlighting the importance of educational
mediator for this result and, more emphatically, as
critical to the retention and graduation.
These data confirmed and reaffirmed the answers
to quantitative analysis. We pointed out in others
papers that the pedagogical mediator and the student
do not have a static situation, forming a mediator-
student dyad in the context of cooperation throughout
the course towards a professional qualification and
change of meaning which can be produced from this
4.2 Quality from the Perspective of
The analysis of the discursive question concerning the
request of free comments from respondents was
performed using the software ALCESTE - Analyse
Lexicale par Contexte d’un Ensemblement de
Segment de Texte , which verifies the co-occurrence
of words in the statements that constitute the corpus
of the research in order to organize and summarize
the information considered most relevant. To perform
the analysis of the responses were used successives
descendants classifications in the text units found by
Alceste software. In order to achieve a stability in the
classes founded, the context units vary in size
slightly. The comparison between the classifications
allows the extraction the intersection classes between
the classifications made, so that the found classes
represent the ideas of the dominant themes in the
responses of the students. These classes consist of text
units configured from the KHI2 the association
between classes.
The primary forms reveal what was found in the
text analyzed by the software where 75,013 different
words were analysed showing the initial connection
units. These units, when segmented, form the text
units or elemental context units. 98.97% of the text
available for content analysis were analyzed,
resulting in five classes as shown in Figure 1.
The last tree downward rating shows the
distribution of grades and their implications. The
upward classification highlights the words and the
association between classes. There is a dendrogram
by two arrays: Classes of 1 to 5 and Class 2, 3 and 4,
showing a close-way between them.
Figure 1: Dendrogram of classes found.
According to Class 1, which associated the largest
number of responses (30%), some subjects have been
highlighted: delivery of activities, time associated
with this delivery, stability of the learning
environment and, finally, monitoring provided by the
mediator. We named the Class 1 as related to
teaching practices throughout the course.
We can notice in the individual's statement #422
that the issue of a stable and informative learning
environment was crucial for the achievement of
The course was very good for me but I have a very
intense daily schedule and it was difficult, but I
managed. I think if the environment had a space to warn
about the student activities it will be good. I didn’t find
it. Sometimes I did not know what I had done and sent
and I often could not see my works after sent it.
(Khi2=21 Ind_422 Gen_F Turma_RS04).
Note the review #1361 in relation to the position
of the mediator and the issue of affection.
(...) sometimes, I was wondering how to keep the class
calm without losing the affection of students (Khi2 = 17
Ind_1361 Gen_F Turma_AM04).
The same applies to the # 270, which stands out
as an important aspect collaboration between peers
and the mediator.
(...) I never felt alone, when I had doubts and discuss it
with the mediator and the companions of the class, we
created a very good link, intensely live every moment
and life relationships (Khi2 = 14 Ind_270 Gen_F
The good evaluation of the course, highlighted in
the statements related to Class 1, is reinforced in
Class 5, which refers to thank for the opportunity to
be part of the course.
Class 2, which we named "The knowledge
society Vision", is related to the change that occurs in
teacher education towards a society permeated by
technology. This change lies in the use of technology
in the classroom and in activities that students take in
their professional life, that is, in Educational
Technology Centers of states or municipalities, as the
students were teachers of public schools.
The course was essential to my academic training and
performance in technologies applyed in education. It
gave me a vision of my role as multiplier in the training
of teachers regarding the pedagogical use of various
media in our schools and in the improvement in the
teaching-learning process. (Khi2 = 32 Ind_618 Gen_M
(...) Before the transformation that is happening in our
society, we can consider that we are live discussion
times that allow us to reflect on the information and
communication technologies in the context of distance
education (Khi2 = 31 Ind_1073 Gen_M Turma_SP07).
The technologies ongoing education provided me with
a unique learning regarding the use of ICT in schools.
Moreover, it enabled me to review ideas and
educational strategies, accompanied by a new
educational view (Khi2 = 29 Ind_1437 Gen_F
(...) The way of working with projects. Even I have
suggested to the next show our school boards the title:
Professor in the digital age. Based on this theme we will
develop our action plan (Khi2 = 24 Ind_549 Gen_F
Class 3, which appears grouped with the Class 2,
refers to the use of technology in the classroom and
the improvement of didactic situations in the
classroom with the use of technology. The students
statements in this class pointed to the teachers
training and the possibility of modifying their
teaching in the classroom. The # 350 explains the
change in its attitude in the classroom, while the #
1350 highlights the possibility of change in the
methods used, showing the questioning methodology
is good for the class.
(...) Everyone should go through this experience to
grow professionally and modify their attitudes and
methodologies (Khi2 = 21 Ind_350 Gen_F
It is a very rich current knowledge and as unique
opportunity in the professional life of teachers,
contributing to a rethink in pedagogical practice (Khi2
= 16 Ind_1350 Gen_F Turma_CE05).
(...) I consider very productive this course, with its
structure that greatly contributed to my teaching
practice, because I learned and experienced situations
that I already dominate and it makes me think about it.
(Khi2 = 26 Ind_399 Gen_F Turma_PR03).
(...) Really liked the course, I think it helped me in my
professional and personal trajectory. I learned a lot and
I want to pass this knowledge to my students and does
not keep them to myself (Khi2 = 17 Ind_1887 Gen_F
In Class 4, related Classes 2 and 3, students
pointed to the content and its presentation, using
various situations and educational structures and
emphasizing the importance of these elements in your
professional life. We name this class as a “Teaching
and Methodology”.
(...) The contents of the courses were great and easy to
understand. The strategies and the dynamics
contributed greatly to my education (Khi2 = 59
Ind_1971 Gen_F Turma_AP04).
(...) The content addressed were always very good.
Dynamic and used teaching strategies were extremely
important for the development of the course and for
their understanding (Khi2 = 42 Ind_543 Gen_F
(...) The content and goals of each discipline are clear,
easy to understand. The dynamics used in activities are
very interesting (Khi2 = 41 Ind_1967 Gen_F
Important to note that the five classes found by
analysis, (1) Teaching practices, (2) The Knowledge
Society Vision, (3) The use of technology in the
classroom, (4) Teaching and Methodology (5) Thanks
to the staff course, show a concern for students
beyond the course held.
We did not present in this paper the coordinated or in
correspondence factor analysis. The important thing
here was to verify as of the content analysis how
classes are formed from the responses of the students,
so that we could understand what emerged as ongoing
quality concept for students in distance learning
courses. We emphasized the question about the
course, its objectives, the discipline content,
pedagogical strategies, dynamics, or any other topic
that the student consider as relevant. We look for
upward rating because this shows a complementary
results and aid in the representation of local relations
between the forms of the same class. We can observe
this classification the Khi2 of each word within the
class helping us to name it since the nomination of
the class comes the concept of quality in the view of
the students. So what can be considered as quality of
a distance learning course on students' view? If we
return to the beginning of this article where one takes
the quality as a set of factors in different perspectives
and ranges from the paradigm of relevance and social
responsibility, there are some factors in the free issue
analysis, namely: teaching strategies, objectives,
syllabus and its dinamics.
However, the pedagogical strategies need
activities that can be defined as vehicles used by
teachers to work the concepts. This will allow the
student to live the experiences necessary for self
transformation. One of the pedagogical mediator role
is use pedagogical strategies in order to help the group
find their rhythm of interaction and work, his style
and personality in the learning community.
Important to realize that the five classes indicate
the course applicability, the professional
development, the engagement in obtaining the
necessary skills to meet the demand of public
policies. Therefore, the quality of a course can only
be determined in a given context and analyzed from
the perspective of different actors involved in the
process. This paper presented the perspective of
students, public school teachers, and seeked to show
the concept of quality linked to the context where the
course occurs.
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