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Evaluation and Accreditation of Higher Education through Multimedia Materials: Validity and Quality*
The number of distance education courses and programs has grown
remarkably in the last few years, particularly those that are
developed online --through the Internet-- and through multimedia
formats, including texts, CD-ROMs, videoconferences, etc. By using
these formats, almost anyone can learn from a domestic or foreign
institution without having to change their place of residence, thereby
facilitating access to both initial and continuing education.
However, in order for this new training tool –created as a result of modern technology and the adoption of an international or transnational educational model— to be effective, criteria must be established to ensure quality so that students are accredited and recognized for the certificates and diplomas they receive for their studies. To do so, objective and uniform information regarding the quality of educational services offered by an institution must be made available. These are essential requirements for evaluation and accreditation.
In this context, it must be understood that universal evaluation is not simply a validation process of one’s own institution, but also recognition of its scope and limitations, both of which need to be defined and explained to society. For this reason, the evaluation process has become a way to make institutions and their processes more transparent and more responsible for the results obtained. Providing users with this type of information in a timely manner is the only mechanism of self-regulation that can facilitate the process of permanently improving the level of quality, particularly in the international sphere.
Nonetheless, the problem of validation and the quality of higher education is more complex, as it requires institutional evaluation as well as the incorporation of accreditation mechanisms that ratify and provide credibility to a university from a source that is external and foreign to their particular interests. For a participant in the distance education system, this means paying special attention to the state of evaluation and accreditation of the course of study that one wishes to take, both in the country of origin and in the country of residence, because only with that information will one be able to have reference to the validity and recognition of these studies on a national level. It should be noted that studies done abroad require local recognition for their validity and, consequently, for their public use. On the other hand, users must also be aware of the validity and recognition of educational offerings of foreign institutions that have franchising agreements with local institutions, since in many cases these programs award degrees or certifications that are only valid in the country of origin.
The national institutions have yet to determine the impact of the use of the technology on the quality of educational processes in this new international education system. In order to advance in this regard, it is recommended that quality be evaluated by using the following criteria: a) methods (channels), materials (message), and content (knowledge); b) teachers; c) students; and d) access to information.
In summary, great progress has been made in the area of providing training opportunities thanks to the incorporation of multimedia formats. It is now crucial to ensure improved quality of these opportunities. The quality of education is a dynamic and continual process that requires strict vigilance in all its components. For this reason, many governments of the region have implemented, or are in the process of designing, an evaluation and accreditation policy for university education. Establishment of an environment of evaluation and accreditation is crucial for improved articulation and dialogue between local and international institutions, which will then set in motion the devices of validation and recognition of titles and certificates. In this sense we are confident that the activities being developed by the Inter-American Agency for Cooperation and Development will help to discover the cooperation mechanisms needed to establish evaluation and accreditation criteria for all of the countries in the Hemisphere.
*The ideas, thoughts, and opinions expressed are not necessarily of the OAS nor of its member states. The opinions expressed are the responsibility of the authors.