Section D: The validation of distance learning proposals


D1. Introduction

This section describes both the validation of Distance Learning (DL) proposals for courses delivered entirely by distance learning (D4), and the validation of a specific module delivered by distance learning (D7).

DL is a mode of delivery where all teaching content, assessment, support and all other functions are provided for students who study (usually part-time) at locations remote from the University; teaching staff and students do not ever meet in the same physical location but may meet and interact 'virtually'. Courses where students and teaching staff meet for the purposes of an induction only and all other aspects of the course are delivered as described above will be classed as DL for the purposes of validation and reporting. Distance Learning differs from Collaborative Learning in that there is no element of collaboration with another institution for the provision of local support.


D2. Responsibilities and requirements

Following consultation with the Distance Learning Unit, all staff responsible for both designing and delivering on-line materials must first meet the University's Digital Literacy training requirement – for details of the training requirements please go to the University’s Teaching and Learning Innovation Park. It is the responsibility of schools via STLC/SAVP to maintain records of staff who meet the training requirements and to check and confirm that all relevant staff meet the training requirements before validation.

These procedures ensure:

  • That full consideration is given to the mechanisms and resources required for delivery of the courses, their academic content and to student support.
  • That both the University and the staff team are provided with an opportunity to evaluate and develop the course in light of experience and in line with developments in the sector to assure the highest quality standards.


D3. Validation proposals for DL courses

The initiative to consider the validation of a DL course must be taken by the School responsible for that subject area following consultation with the Distance Learning Unit. The proposed financial and resource arrangements must be approved by the Dean of the School. Schools should include the DL Unit in discussions when seeking approval from Marketing.

Courses, including a new mode of delivery, must be validated before recruitment can commence.


D4. The validation process for DL courses

All new Distance Learning proposals will need to be added to the validation schedule. Schools should notify Registry via the Distance Learning Unit in order to progress a proposal for an amended or new module, route or course. Schools should notify Registry of proposed course developments by submitting:

  • The Outline Proposal - Key Details Form to its School QA contact for submission to Registry
  • For new courses only: A supporting statement from the Director of Marketing, Communications and Student Recruitment confirming the course has been appropriately researched, does not adversely affect the University's funding position and where relevant meets current visa requirements (this is not required for requests to amend existing courses or for proposed routes through an existing course).

The procedures for validating a Distance Learning proposal are the same as a University validation for a course delivered at the University (see Section B) with the exception the requirements outlined below. Schools should draft these sections in consultation with the DL unit.

The School must evidence to the validation panel that the proposed course can be delivered in a Distance Learning environment, and that it has the resources and expertise to support the course and the students enrolled on the course.

The composition of the validation panel will be as detailed in section B; in addition, the subject specialist external panel member must have experience of distance learning.

In addition to the documentation listed in section B, the course documentation should include:


Rationale for the course

  • A clear rationale for the proposed distance learning course. This should include, where applicable, a clear explanation of any differences between the proposed course and that of other courses within the Department and the School.
  • In the rationale, how the proposed course relates to the University's Teaching and Learning Strategy, clearly identifying the responsibilities of each category of staff.
  • If the course is also delivered in a conventional face-to-face mode, why is it considered important to also deliver the course by distance learning, and, why have the specific delivery methods proposed (e.g. internet or hard copy) been selected.


Admissions policy

  • In the PSD, details of any variations to University-based admission requirements or of any specific mechanisms used to identify applicants where Distance Learning may be appropriate. This may include minimum levels of C&IT proficiency and English language competence.


Delivery and support of the course

  • A description of the student materials being provided, whether they are being developed in-house or bought in, how they will be updated and of the legal issues (in particular those of copyright) which have been considered.
  • A detailed description of the means of delivery of the teaching and library materials, and, any implications for potential students in terms of requirements for access to IT equipment, specific software or other resources or facilities. This must also include any proposed arrangements for access to library material through other institutions. Where relevant, the implications of delivering teaching materials and assessment across time zones should be considered and evidenced.
  • Detail of the arrangements for providing students with feedback, including through what medium (e.g. on-line, e-mail) and arrangements for follow-up support.
  • Clearly defined arrangements by which students will be able to communicate with University staff.
  • If student collaborative learning will be a feature of the course, a statement on how it will be achieved, including a description of facilities such as electronic discussion groups, live chat rooms and group work.
  • Details on the specific technical support proposed for staff and/or students. If no technical support will be provided for students then this must be made clear, especially if the course is being delivered online.
  • With the CVs of academic staff members involved in the delivery, confirmation from the School that staff meet the University’s training requirements (see D2) and include details of any proposed staff development in relation to developing distance learning materials or systems
  • In the resource statement, details of the anticipated time academic staff are likely to need to support delivery of the course and develop course materials. This may include any explanations on why academic members of staff will have their timetables credited with teaching hours.
  • Details of any Departmental/School requirements for hardware and software.
  • A statement of the requirement for technical and administrative support staff to be involved in the course.
  • A draft student handbook, which should include detailed explanations of what students can expect from the course, what support they will receive, and of progression and assessment criteria. If the course or aspects of the course are being delivered online, the draft handbook should state the minimum hardware and software requirements that students will need. If the course is only delivered online, then guidance must also be provided on what to do if internet access is lost.
  • A draft induction programme.


Assessment and quality assurance

  • Clearly defined arrangements for quality assurance and external examiners.
  • A description of the means of assessment where these might be different from an onsite course, and, any specific arrangements which are proposed because of the Distance Learning delivery.
  • The monitoring mechanisms proposed that ensure the expected level of student support is being provided.
  • The monitoring mechanisms proposed to record students' progress and identify students experiencing difficulties, including the arrangements for gathering student feedback on their learning experience.

The initial approval for a Distance Learning course shall be for a maximum period of five years.


D5. Annual evaluation

The annual evaluation report should conform to the standard University template and include discussion of any issues arising from Distance Learning delivery. The report will be considered by the School delivering the course at its annual evaluation meeting.


D6. Revalidation

Revalidation is a mechanism used by the Senate to review and assess the quality of University courses. The University’s Teaching and Learning Committee is responsible for ensuring that each approved Distance Learning course is subject to re-validation at least once every five years.

The course team will submit documentation to be scrutinised at a revalidation event held at the University which will be organised by the Registry on behalf of the University’s Teaching and Learning Committee. The membership of the approval panel will be as defined in Section B.

Revalidation of Distance Learning courses will concentrate on the following:

  • Evidence of continuing demand.
  • Appropriateness of delivery medium and learning resources.
  • Feedback from students.
  • Consideration of annual evaluation reports.
  • Student progression and achievement statistics.
  • Procedures for quality assurance.
  • Rationale for the School’s continuing involvement.

The documentation submitted to the panel should focus on issues listed above and should incorporate critical appraisal where appropriate.

The revalidation event will consist of discussions between the panel and representatives of the course team.

The Assistant Registrar or nominee will prepare a report of the event. The report will be noted by the University’s Teaching and Learning Committee.


D7. Validation of individual modules to be delivered on a distance learning basis

The School must secure confirmation from the Director of Registry or their nominee that the extent of distance learning delivery proposed does not require the course in its entirety to be subject to a full distance learning validation event.

The School must appoint an independent external reviewer (subject to the requirements on conflicts of interest outlined in Section B) with appropriate subject expertise and experience in distance learning models to look at the module, its learning materials and its assessment. The nomination of the reviewer must be approved by the Director of Registry or their nominee in advance of any involvement in the validation.

The reviewer should submit a written report on the proposal for consideration by the SAVP. The report should cover:

  • Is the module coherent in terms of its content and aims?
  • Do the proposed e-learning processes/arrangements comply with the QAA Code of Practice and University regulations?
  • Is the proposed assessment appropriate, inclusive, and secure?
  • Are the mechanisms for students to express their views and share experiences with others sufficient and accessible?

The written report and the full set of learning and assessment materials must be submitted for approval by the SAVP.

It is the responsibility of the SAVP to check and confirm that staff designing or delivering modules meet the training requirements of the Digital Literacies for Staff grid.