The Value of ‘Technology-Enhanced Learning’ (TEL) in Evidencing Compliance with the ‘Student Contract to Educate’ (SCTE) in a New Era of Accountability in Higher Education

  • Annie McCartney

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    This thesis by portfolio with project focus charts a different and practical route to that of a traditional research thesis. The three TEL Projects selected for this research are MCQ assessment (Project 1), Panopto, (Project 2) and Project 3 is a selection of Collaborative Learning Tools (CLT). The main aims of this interdisciplinary research are firstly, to test how well these TEL Tools evidence compliance with key express and implied terms of the SCTE and secondly, to evaluate how well the TEL Tools can transparently track the accountability of three stakeholders (HEI, academic and student) responsible for performing the SCTE and ensuring education is of a ‘high-quality’ however flexibly students choose to learn. In an increasingly litigious sector this thesis also aims to demonstrate the extent to which the TEL Tools and the digital evidence they generate can be used to help avoid, manage and swiftly resolve potentially costly and time-consuming complaints and disputes with students in line with a sensible conflict management approach and adopting less adversarial ADR techniques.

    The research methodology largely adopts a pedagogical action research approach supported by innovative and unique methodology to address the legal research problems. The research methods combine a quantitative and qualitative mixed methods approach in e.g. the form of annual TEL student surveys comprising open and closed questions. A special case study on ‘high-quality’ academic provision was undertaken combining primary and secondary data. A range of semi focus groups were formed to gain quantitative and qualitative data from students, academics and lawyers specialising in professional negligence, dispute resolution and with knowledge of higher education. Highly innovative research was undertaken to test the TEL Tools independently in their ‘LIVE’ environment at local level and to assess the value of the digital evidence generated by the tools in defending against standard mock student complaints and disputes. Careful alignment of epistemic frameworks tracks how knowledge is generated in this thesis and a specially designed knowledge generation timeline captures the knowledge generation models used at various stages of this work.

    Accountability in this thesis centres on the 'local classroom coalface’ where it is argued that the real test of how well it is or is not working needs to be put under the ‘accountability’ microscope in this new era. Vijay Grover (2014) highlights the difficulties in holding actors accountable in education but by focussing on responsibilities at ‘local level’ combined with automated ‘accountability systems’ this can enhance transparency in this environment. The TEL Tools, it is argued, can provide this transparent ‘close up’ digital eye of the activities in this local educational community. The thesis inextricably links accountability with ‘high-quality’ tuition and to that end the obligations (legal and pedagogical) have been forensically deconstructed for the three key stakeholders responsible for the performance and discharge of the SCTE. A RAG accountability liability matrix was specifically designed to rate the liabilities of the three stakeholders from moral (mainly students) with little remedial redress for breach to fully enforceable contractual rights and legal remedies (mainly the HEI). The ongoing debate between ‘standards’ and ‘quality’ in HE is given a construction law twist with a review of recent case law in this industry (but with findings that are applicable to the SCTE) that demonstrates the complexities relating to professional ‘reasonable skill and care’ and ‘fitness for purpose’ standards and the importance of ensuring contractual promises comply with professional indemnity insurance requirements. The surveillance concerns of academics who worry that TEL use can stifle pedagogical innovation, reduce quality and threaten student engagement as well as undermining academic freedom are fully addressed in this research.

    The research findings deliver a largely positive message that the TEL Tools are capable of evidencing compliance with key terms in the SCTE as well as being effective accountability tools in tracking performance of the three stakeholders. The innovative approach in this research aligning chosen pedagogical models and the extent to which individual TEL Tools can scaffold ‘high-quality’ provision and support chosen pedagogy is considered pioneering. However, the difficulties in defining ‘high-quality’ and how it might be measured across the disciplines highlighted a need for further research in this area and for transparent articulation of this elusive phrase in the SCTE. HEIs often make exaggerated promises to provide tuition of ‘excellent’ or ‘outstanding’ quality and the research established a need for transparency in using this term so that students are not misled by marketing content and how courses are advertised. In terms of the TEL Tools and the digital evidence they generate the video footage produced by Project 2 was rated as ‘best evidence’ of the time and could be highly ‘relevant’ and ‘admissible’ evidence in internal, ADR and formal proceedings. Recommendations in this thesis are split between pedagogical and legal and between USW and at wider institutional level. An unequivocal recommendation urges the sector to finally accept that student consumer rights that must be upheld and that a standard form SCTE is now a priority for students paying a ‘high-ticket’ price for their education. Future research should focus on postgraduate and PhD student contracts and VR and AI as the TEL Tools for a new HE digital era.
    Date of Award1 Dec 2020
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorDawn Story (Supervisor) & Clare Kell (Supervisor)

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