الجمعة، 3 مايو 2013

Selected Papers from the 17th Biennial Conference of The Open and Distance Learning Association of Australia

Selected Papers from the 17th Biennial Conference of
The Open and Distance Learning Association of Australia
Adelaide, Australia: November 9 - 11, 2005
Breaking down boundaries:
International experience in open, distance and flexible learning
Selected Papers from the 17th Biennial Conference of
The Open and Distance Learning Association of Australia
Adelaide, Australia: November 9-11, 2005
Breaking down boundaries:
International experience in open, distance and flexible learning
Edited by
Marian Tulloch, Stephen Relf and Philip Uys
Charles Sturt University, Australia
Produced by:
Charles Sturt University
New South Wales, Australia
© Open and Distance Learning Association of Australia, 2006
Printed at Charles Sturt University
ISBN 1 86467 188 2
Preface v
Breaking down boundaries: Global perspectives in open and distance learning
1. Open and distance learning and the developing world
John Daniel
Commonwealth of Learning
2. Organizational and cultural challenges and opportunities in international online
Tony Bates
Tony Bates Associates Ltd, Canada
3. Lessons to be learned from the failure of the UK e-University
Paul Bacsich
Middlesex University, UK
4. The Magic Umu? Open and distance learning in three Pacific Island countries
Kaye Schofield
Kaye Schofield and Associates Pty Ltd, Australia
Breaking down boundaries: Institutional perspectives in open and distance
5. Setting the agenda in open and distance learning
Denise Bradley
University of South Australia, Australia
6. Professional development, graduate study and research
Michael Moore
The American Center for Study of Distance Education, United States of America
7. The teleological brake on ICT in open and distance learning
David Jones, Jo Luck, Jeanne McConachie & P.A. Danaher
Central Queensland University, University of Southern Queensland, Australia
8. Diffusion of innovation professional development in eLearning: The CHS eLearning
Resource case study
Mary Jane Mahony & Helen Wozniak
University of Sydney, Australia
9. National anti-plagiarism strategies: A shared responsibility in transnational university
Sue Moffat & Karen Blackmore
Charles Sturt University, Australia
10. Eroding distinctiveness: blurring the boundaries between on- and off-campus
students by the adoption of learning management systems
Di Challis
Deakin University, Australia
Breaking down boundaries: Building networks and communities
11. Lifelong learning in a network
Wim Jochems & Rob Koper
Open University of the Netherlands
12. Supporting knowledge building with semantic web technologies
Peter Reimann
University of Sydney, Australia
13. Crossing borders between learning and research: Doctoral programs at a distance
Terry D Evans
Deakin University, Australia
14. Exploring pre-existing factors and instructor actions influencing community
development in online settings
Chris Brook & Ron Oliver
Edith Cowan University, Australia
15. From distance teacher education to beginning teaching: What impacts on practice?
Bill Anderson & Mary Simpson
Massey University, New Zealand
16. Promoting communities of practice in transnational higher education
Lee Dunn & Michelle Wallace
Southern Cross University, Australia
Perspectives on student learning: Presence, interaction and animation
17. Intergroup dynamics in site-based distance courses: Inclusion, alienation and the
hierarchy of presence
Denise Paquette-Frenette
Brock University, Canada
18. Online discussions: Improving the quality of the student experience
Helen Wozniak
University of Sydney, Australia
19. Exemplary educators: Creating a community of inquiry online
Beth Perry & Margaret Edwards
Athabasca University, Canada
20. The role of interaction in enhancing achievement and student satisfaction in an
online course: A rubric analysis
Belle Alderman & Stuart Fletcher
University of Canberra, Australia
21. Animations: A key advance for open and distance learning?
Richard K Lowe
Curtin University of Technology, Australia
Breaking down boundaries is a product of the 17th Biennial Conference of the Open and
Distance Learning Association (ODLAA) in Adelaide in November 2005. These origins are
important because although all contributors engage with the role of technology in breaking down
boundaries, their analyses are grounded in many years of theory, research and practice of ODL
which provide what Michael Moore describes as an ‘organising framework’. These practitioners
are well aware of Moore’s ‘multiple conceptual alternatives that underlie the everyday choices
that have to be made in practice’, rather than seeing technology as merely an add-on to face-toface
teaching methods requiring only the acquisition of new technical skills.
The most striking feature of the collection of papers in this book, despite their common theme, is
their diversity of scale. Papers such as those by John Daniel and Tony Bates raise global issues
about learning, development and technology in the twenty-first century. Daniel’s focus on
human freedom and ‘the majority of human kind’ may appear a far cry from detailed analyses of
online learning within single units of study by small groups of privileged Australian tertiary
students (Alderman & Fletcher; Wozniak). Yet every teacher and learner is both part of broad
social, economic and institutional processes and an individual in a specific context, whether the
Indian farmer at a web kiosk (Bates), school students in the Pacific islands (Schofield), the
locally-based teacher supporting students taking an Australian university degree offshore
through a transnational partnership (Dunn & Wallace; Moffatt & Blackmore) or the Australasian
online university student (Anderson & Simpson; Brook & Oliver).
Perhaps more fundamental than distinctions of scale are the competing discourses around the
values underpinning technology-driven educational change. The values of freedom and
empowerment, capacity building, development and sustainability are meaningful at the global,
national, institutional and individual level. As is starkly evident in Paul Bacsich’s analysis of the
demise of UKeU, however, commercial values are also critical drivers. Within a discourse
around branding, market research and the learner as consumer, he concludes that one
contributor to rapid commercial ‘failure’ was the rejection of advice on technology platforms and
blended approaches with a reliance on business expertise rather than university sector
experience of e-learning. The tension of the economic imperatives is also evident in the paper
by Denise Bradley who as Vice Chancellor of an Australian university is charged with ensuring
the financial viability, even survival, of her institution. Governmental constraints on cross
subsidisation of international operations place internationalisation in Australian universities as
trade not aid. The implications of these global for-profit drivers for the operation of international
partnerships are explored in other papers (Dunn & Wallace; Moffatt & Blackmore). However, as
Schofield makes evident, an ‘aid’ rather than trade framework does not ensure the effectiveness
of outcomes for as she says, ‘donors can be part of the problem’.
The advent of global technology has the potential to support learning in two rather different
ways through resource-rich independent learning and through promoting interconnectedness
and collaboration across distance. While the issue of interconnectedness dominates many of
these papers, the widening of access to the resources of a knowledge-based society, whether
via the diffuse complexity of the web or through carefully constructed online learning modules,
also presents new challenges and opportunities within the tradition of independent learning.
Jochems and Koper focus on the power of a network of persons and organisations to create,
share and maintain learning resources, freeing the lifelong learner to make decisions about
pathways of study. The academic independence and integrity of students’ work, an issue of
perennial concern to educational institutions, has taken on new dimensions in the world of the
web and electronic file transfer. Moffatt and Blackmore address the increased complexities of
managing plagiarism across national and cultural boundaries particularly in the context of
commercial partnerships. By contrast, Lowe examines the affordances of a particular type of
technology-supported independent learning. Through a detailed research review, he examines
the perceptual and cognitive challenges of learning from animations identifying the cognitive
support and guidance needed to maximise learning from a particular form of online resource.
Breaking down boundaries
Many contributors focus on the shift that technology enables from the isolation of distance
learners to the connectedness of a learning community, a transition that may be accompanied
by a move from transmission to constructivist pedagogies. Thus Reimann explores knowledge
building as a collaborative endeavour. For Evans, the shift from knowledge transfer to new
knowledge generation opens up an under-explored and under-theorised field in distance
education. He describes how distance doctoral students who are strongly characterised as
independent learners can be supported socially and intellectually in their research by
membership of a ‘community of scholars’. A ‘learning community development model’ underpins
the analysis by Brook and Oliver of the impact of pre-existing factors (presage) and teacher
strategies (process) on the development of communities of learners in online courses. Perry
and Edwards understand students’ concept of effective teachers by exploring how social,
cognitive and teaching presence create ‘communities of inquiry’ which support meaningful
collaborative learning. Anderson and Simpson draw on the concept of ‘community
embeddedness’ to describe trainee teachers linked by technology to fellow students while
remaining part of their local school communities. The paper makes explicit the dual communities
of work and study common to many online distance students engaged in professional
education. For Dunn and Wallace ‘communities of practice’ provide an alternative model of
shared professional engagement for those involved in teaching through transnational
The discourse of community is a positive one. Communities are about cohesion, well-being and
breaking down the boundaries of distance and isolation. But as Paquette-Frenette
demonstrates, social presence can operate hierarchically; interactive class processes may
produce feelings of exclusion among remote learners linked to a main site by synchronous
technology. Through the concept of porosity of boundaries, she shows how learners may be
included or viewed as ‘other’ and how students may create ‘spaces of complicity’ across
distance. Her analysis alerts educators to the unintended social consequences in
interconnected learning. Bradley also employs the concept of the ‘other’ to describe the
positioning of Australian teachers involved in transnational education, again emphasising the
significance of social and institutional power as a barrier in working across boundaries.
How do communities promote learning? Several papers address this issue through analysis of
social presence in an online environment. By asking students to map their stages of online
interactions in one study unit to a model of online learning, Wozniak helps us to understand the
shift from social to higher level cognitive interaction over the course of a session. The facilitative
potential of teachers’ social, cognitive and teaching presence online is taken up by Perry and
Edwards, drawing on students’ narratives of exemplary teachers.
I commenced this overview with Michael Moore’s emphasis on the importance of the organising
frameworks to the practice of distance education. What are some of the framework shifts
emerging in these papers? Schofield offers a new model of transnational partnership that
transforms the relations between donor and partner countries. Other papers explore the
changing nature of collaborative transnational partnerships between institutions (Bates; Bradley;
Dunn & Wallace; Moffatt & Blackmore). Some contributors argue that a change of focus is
needed to bring the student centre stage. In some cases the move is implicit in the detailed
analysis of students’ online learning but both Bradley and Moore explicitly call for a shift of
policy emphasis from academic autonomy to student choice. Ironically, Moore goes on to
suggest the academic can often be positioned as passive and reluctant learners in institutional
staff development programs that do not engage with their needs. The approach to diffusion of
innovation throughout an educational system described by Mahony and Wozniak, however,
does draw on academics’ needs and goals, identifying exemplars of online academic practice
and engaging academic staff ‘on their own turf’. The paper by Jones and colleagues takes up
the issue of the academic perspective by challenging goal-directed, managerial models of
institutional change. Their call for a blend of teleological and ateleological approaches is
another perspective on breaking down boundaries that segment people and processes. When
management is the ‘other’, change can be slow and superficial.
In assessing educational change management the focus needs to be on outcomes. Thus
Schofield emphasises the need to focus on outputs not inputs in evaluating the impact of
programs on the developing nations of the South Pacific and identifies measurable outcomes of
retention, access and achievement. A range of research methods are presented in this
collection for gathering empirical data on the outcomes of change processes. Challis analyses
the impact of breaking down boundaries between off-campus and on-campus study through
provision of online learning resources using institutional level quantitative data. At the level of
unit of study, outcomes have been quantified (Brook & Oliver; Wozniak) and addressed at a
narrative and thematic level (Alderman & Fletcher; Perry & Edwards). All these approaches
assist in answering a fundamental question about the extent to which technology can assist in
breaking down boundaries between nations and individuals, and promote learning and
development, nationally and individually, at a social, intellectual and personal level.
In conclusion, I would like to acknowledge the contribution of the team of staff at CSU who
supported the refereeing and publication side of the ODLAA conference and the production of
this volume. Particular thanks are due to Rachel Crease and Jill Harris who undertook the
lengthy task of proofreading and editing papers. Thanks to Tony Dean, Sue Moffatt, Matthew
Campbell, Pauline Graf and Nona Muldoon who contributed towards the process of refereeing
and paper selection and to Tony O’Neill who produced the cover graphics based on a concept
from Bonnie Relf. I would like to convey my appreciation of the work of my co-editors Philip Uys
and Stephen Relf and of the administrative staff Donna Reedy, Frances Dury and Kate Hunter-
Rose who have greatly assisted in keeping the whole process on track. I would also like to
extend my appreciation to colleagues across the world whose valuable referee feedback has
enhanced the quality of contributions to this volume. Last but not least thanks are due to our
colleagues in ODLAA and the University of South Australia without whose efforts the 17th
ODLAA biennial conference would not have taken place.
Marian Tulloch
May 2006

Breaking down boundaries: Global perspectives in
open and distance learning

Open and distance learning and the developing world
Sir John Daniel
(Keynote address)
It is a great pleasure to be back in Australia. Oddly perhaps, now that it has withdrawn from the
Commonwealth of Learning (COL), Australia receives more visits from the president of COL
than it did before when it contributed to COL and sat on the Board of Governors!
However, to judge by this conference, COL is alive and well in Australia. It appears to be
providing the bookends to this event. COL organised a two-day pre-conference workshop on
Open and Distance Learning as a Tool for Sustainable Development in the Australia-Pacific
Region, and now here is COL’s President giving the final keynote address on Open and
Distance Learning and the Developing World. Meanwhile some of you have taken part in a
strand on development running through the conference.
You’d deduce from this that COL uses the words development and developing a lot – and you’d
be right. In these remarks I shall begin by leading you in a reflection on development and its link
to human freedom. This will give you a deeper understanding of the links between learning and
development on various dimensions. I shall examine how open and distance learning can
strengthen those links. What kind of open and distance learning are we talking about? I’ll talk
about that too because it creates confusion. I hope that these topics provide an appropriate
dessert for the à la carte menu that you’ve had at this conference.
Your overall theme is Breaking Down Boundaries and this gathering is billed as a conference on
the international experience in open, distance and flexible learning. Much of your discourse,
understandably, has been carried out against the hi-tech background of Australia and other
industrialised countries. But there has been some attention to the developing world, particularly
your neighbouring Pacific islands. My aim is to focus your attention yet more sharply on the
situation of the majority of humankind.
I begin by stating the obvious. There is a link between learning and development. By and large
the more that the citizens of a country have learned, the more developed that country is. People
need to learn across a broad front and the categories articulated in the Delors Report - learning
to be, learning to know, and learning to live together - serve to define that breadth.
I used the words ‘by and large’ because the correlation between learning and development is
far from perfect. The United States gets by quite well with a school system that is only an
average performer in international terms. On the other hand, jurisdictions like Cuba, Sri Lanka,
and the Indian state of Kerala are widely admired for their educational attainments but do not
seem able to exploit those attainments to achieve greater prosperity than their more ignorant
neighbours. Note, however, that whilst people in these three places are not noticeably more
prosperous, they do have greater life expectancy and better health than their less educated
So, however enthusiastic we may be about education, we must recognise that although it may
be a necessary condition for development, it is not sufficient. I was in Kerala earlier this year.
People in the state were upset that the next-door state of Tamil Nadu, with a less-educated
populace, had just won the bid to house a major Nokia manufacturing plant. The press
explained that the politics of Kerala were just too complicated.
Breaking down boundaries
This was reinforced when we drove back into Kerala from Tamil Nadu. Just before the border
our driver pulled into a service station and filled up with petrol, rocking the vehicle from side to
side to get every last drop in the tank. I asked him why and he said, ‘You always fill up before
you go into Kerala because you never know when the gas stations will go on strike’.
In the case of Cuba it may be a combination of Marxist economics and the American boycott
that prevents prosperity being commensurate with education. In Sri Lanka the failure of
Sinhalese and Tamils to learn to live together harmoniously may have something to do with a
disappointing economic performance.
It is not my intention, however, to argue by example. Let us examine the concept of
development before looking at the role of learning, and specifically the contribution of open and
distance learning, to development.
What is development?
First then, what is development?
The title of Nobel laureate Amartya Sen’s inspiring book Development as freedom provides the
best starting point. He argues that development and human rights are two sides of the same
coin and he defines development simply as the process of expanding the real freedoms that
people enjoy.
He gives two reasons why freedom is central to the process of development. The first is an
evaluative reason. For Sen the central criterion for the assessment of progress is whether the
freedoms that people have are enhanced. I shall ask what these freedoms are in a moment.
His second reason has to do with making development happen. He argues that it is primarily
through the free agency of people that development is achieved. Free people devote more
energy to the development of their communities and their countries than those who are not free.
So according to Sen, the expansion of freedom is both the primary end and the principal means
of development.
What kinds of freedom? The Millennium Development Goals state these freedoms implicitly.
Freedom from hunger and poverty
First, there is freedom from hunger. You cannot concentrate on much else if you worry
constantly where your next meal is coming from. Hunger is a direct manifestation of poverty.
Taking people out of abject poverty helps to free them from hunger and gives them other
freedoms as well, notably some freedom from being pushed around by others and from having
most of life’s decisions made for them. The freedoms that come with release from abject
poverty, notably the freedom to make more decisions about one’s life, can better be exercised
with some education and training.
The first Millennium Goal is to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, specifically to halve the
proportion of people living on less than a dollar a day and those who suffer from hunger. What
are the critical obstacles to the attainment of this goal?
At COL we consider that fighting hunger and sustaining a liveable environment means
empowering millions of farmers and smallholders and giving the rural people of the developing
world more control over their lives. There is a divide to bridge. Many organisations, including
universities, conduct research on agriculture and try to share the results.
The most difficult gap to cross is the last mile to the individual farmer. This is not just a matter of
packaging information attractively; say through a radio soap opera, and pushing it at the
farmers. Communication must operate in two directions. Farmers must define their own needs.
The outside world must then help them match these needs to real possibilities. This is the
starting point for COL’s programme of Lifelong Learning for Farmers in villages in Tamil Nadu,
India. It works on four principles.
The first is to work with the farmers and villagers to show them that life could be better and to
help them formulate requests for information that could help them improve their rural economy.
Those requests tend to be formulated in a pragmatic and holistic way that does not usually
correspond to the way that the researchers who have the information structure it.
So the second principle is to get organisations, notably universities, to work together in
consortia so that they can respond to the holistic requests from the villagers. In this case we
have a consortium of the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, the Tamil Nadu University of
Veterinary and Animal Science, the Tamil Nadu Open University, and Anna University, which is
very strong in Engineering. Instead of each institution sending its experts into the villages in an
uncoordinated manner, they work together to answer real questions from real people.
Principle three is to use technology, such as the ICT kiosks now present in many Indian
villages, or in Africa, community radio, to speed up and extend the process of information
The fourth and final principle, because the overall aim is to improve the rural economy, is to get
the banks involved and to favour commercially operated ICT kiosks, since the farmers are
happy to pay for information if it is genuinely useful. Our aim in all this is to produce a dynamic
that is not only self-sustaining but self-replicating. The process must be so obviously beneficial
that people copy it spontaneously.
I realise that you might not call this distance education. Let’s just call it technology-mediated
learning. The point is that for most poor countries, development must include the improvement
of the rural economy and helping the millions of farmers and smallholders who are the
backbone of that economy. Here technology stimulates a dialogue that produces and applies
useful information.
Freedom for education
The second freedom is the freedom to have education and training. Education, leading to
various ways of using literacy, gives people greater freedom to communicate and interact with
their environment. Training, leading to diverse skills that are the basis for livelihoods, gives
people greater freedom as economic actors.
The second Millennium Development Goal is to achieve universal primary education so that by
2015 all boys and girls complete primary school. This is the most fundamental of the goals
because, as Amartya Sen argues, development is freedom and education is the royal road to
The major bottleneck to the achievement of universal primary education is the training and
retraining of tens of millions of teachers. In our own parish, the Commonwealth, there are 20
million teachers. Many of them need further training to be effective. Millions of new teachers
must be recruited and trained as countries seek to expand education with a teaching force that
is shrinking through retirement, migration and AIDS. Conventional methods of teacher
education are not up to the scale of the challenge.
Open and distance learning has already proven its effectiveness for training teachers in many
countries. One of the staples of COL’s work is to help universities and teacher training colleges
to become, in the jargon, dual-mode institutions; that is to say institutions that operate both at a
distance and in the classroom. I expect that many of your institutions are engaged in this
The divide we have to bridge is to equip existing teacher training institutions and individual
teacher educators to deploy new methods and to network themselves into professional
communities. One of our projects at COL is the formulation of pan-Commonwealth quality
assurance indicators for teacher education.
Breaking down boundaries
Equal freedom for men and women
The next freedom is equal freedom for men and women. Here one Millennium Development
Goal addresses parity of access. Its aim is to eliminate disparities between boys and girls in
primary and secondary school by this year. The second, even more demanding goal, is to
achieve gender equality, meaning equality of outcomes, by 2015.
In this case, the particular divide that COL and others are working to bridge is the gender gap in
the use of ICTs. We now have a good fix on the barriers that women face in using ICTs and
have worked with UNESCO to make this a prominent issue in the World Summit on the
Information Society coming up at the end of this month.
As in other areas of development, one challenge is a knowledge divide. Using its advanced
expertise in knowledge management, COL maintains a virtual library of resources and
documents on gender equity that has been developed in collaboration with the Forum of African
Women Educationalists. You can find it at www.colfinder.org/dev.
Most universities can be proud of their contribution to gender equity. Many universities, in both
developed and developing countries, have a majority of female students, and this is particularly
true of the open universities. Moreover, in nearly all countries, women out perform men in
higher education.
Indeed, the underperformance of boys is a particular problem in the Commonwealth, notably in
the Caribbean and southern Africa. For this reason COL is working with the Commonwealth
Secretariat to focus some of its gender effort on the boy problem rather than the girl problem.
Freedom from disease
The next freedom is freedom from disease. Three Millennium Development Goals are
concerned with freedom from disease: freedom from dying in infancy; freedom from dying while
giving birth; and freedom from avoidable diseases like AIDS, malaria and polio. Clearly,
freedom from abject poverty is a start towards achieving the health freedoms. We are also
increasingly aware that the freedom to be educated and trained is helpful in attaining the
freedom of better health.
Clearly the achievement of such goals depends on the improvement of health services.
However, achieving the goals also depends on people learning how to avoid disease and keep
themselves and their children healthy. They must have information that they can understand:
not just because it is presented in their own language, but because it is rooted in their culture –
even if it challenges some of the habits of that culture.
The best way to bridge that divide is to equip and train people to produce the information
themselves. We call that Media Empowerment and that is what the Commonwealth of Learning
is doing through its partnership with the World Health Organisation. As well as training local
World Health Organisation representatives to expand the impact of their work by using the
techniques of distance education, COL has, for example, equipped and trained an NGO in
Kwazulu Natal Province of South Africa so that it can make videos to reach much greater
numbers with health information and training, notably about the problem of HIV/AIDS stigma.
Similarly, mobile units with projectors and generators used radio and television to help people in
Sri Lanka avoid the health dangers that arose following the tsunami . On a wider scale COL is
producing open source radio content with messages of importance to poor people about filtering
domestic water and growing food in the cramped conditions of urban poverty.
Freedom from pollution
The next freedom is the freedom to live with a minimum of dirt, smoke and germs. There is a
paradox here. In rich places like Adelaide individual people consume more than their share of
the earth’s resources but live in a nice clean environment with fresh water in the taps, clean air
to breathe, and no piles of garbage to trip over. In developing countries individuals make fewer
demands on resources but often have to live besides heaps of garbage, breathe foul air and
make do with dirty water.
Millennium Goal Seven addresses the question of environmental sustainability directly. Here
COL is helping institutions in India to develop a whole range of specialised courses at all
educational levels in an open and distance learning format. These address directly some of the
crucial issues for environmental sustainability, such as municipal water and waste management
and solid waste management.
Global partnership
The final Millennium Development Goal, number eight, calls for a global partnership to address
various issues, such as trade, good governance, more aid, decent work for youth, affordable
drugs, and better availability of information and communications technology.
It also calls for particular attention to the needs of landlocked and small island developing
states. Such states, which account for two-thirds of Commonwealth countries, are particularly
vulnerable to natural calamities, as we have seen in last year’s tsunami and the recent spate of
hurricanes raging through the Caribbean. These countries usually have a very narrow economic
COL is now implementing an idea of Ministers of Education of these small states, which they
call the Virtual University for Small States of the Commonwealth. The aim is for small states to
work together on technology-based learning materials so that they do not always have to rely on
importing educational resources from larger countries. Think of it as a network rather than a
new institution. I’m sure that once these states feel they have achieved some mastery of the
eWorld they will be very happy to work with larger states.
In the case of all the Millennium Development Goals, COL’s aim, as you have seen, is to help
states use technology to achieve their education and training objectives. The goal is to take
learning to scale.
Political freedoms
I have listed various freedoms, but some important ones are missing
Here is where the Commonwealth comes in. The Millennium Development Goals were the
outcome of the largest meeting of heads of government ever held at the United Nations. Their
Millennium Declaration, which included the Millennium Development Goals, had to be a
consensus document. Since many UN member states are not democracies there could not be a
Millennium Development Goal about political freedoms. Talk of good governance was as close
as they could get to this key issue.
The Commonwealth has no such scruples. Democracy is a condition of membership of the
Commonwealth and countries have to leave the Commonwealth if they cease to be democratic.
Both Nigeria and Pakistan had to leave for this reason but both are now back. Zimbabwe left of
Robert Mugabe’s own accord before it was pushed.
Strengthening democracy and governance is the Commonwealth Secretariat’s most significant
work and when the Commonwealth of Learning talks of development as freedom it gives a
central place to political freedom. Indeed, although the Millennium Development Goals are mute
about democracy, people involved in development attach increasing importance to the role of
democracy in furthering development. This takes us back to Amartya Sen’s view that
development is achieved through the free agency of people.
It is becoming clear that decentralising power, to make people free agents at the local level, is a
powerful driver of development. The drive towards education for all in India started to take off
when the management and funding of schools was decentralised to the local councils – the
Even in democracies, both developing and developed, governments resist giving power to the
people, whether it be through genuine local government or by allowing community radio
stations. However, governments are coming around to the realisation that the risk of
empowering the people has to be taken because it is the surest route to development.
Breaking down boundaries
What kind of development?
What kind of development? What we want, of course, is sustainable development. We can
interpret this in two ways, both important.
The first is development that is sustainable in the environmental sense, namely development
that ensures that the use of resources and the environment today does not restrict their use by
future generations.
The second, more prosaic interpretation of sustainable development is simply development that
continues. I mean development projects that do not peter out when funding is withdrawn. I
mean innovations that do not wither on the vine when the equipment breaks down. Some years
ago development people talked a lot about ‘the culture of maintenance’ and I find that an
important concept. Indeed, I sometimes think that the key determinant of whether a country is
developed or developing is whether equipment and systems are maintained.
The Commonwealth of Learning is a tiny organisation and it is not a funding body. For us it is
very important for the developments that we facilitate to be sustainable in both senses: they
continue after we have gone and do not benefit today’s generation only at the expense of
tomorrow’s generation. Indeed, because we are small and can act in only a limited number of
places, our ambition goes beyond mere sustainability. We want our initiatives to be selfreplicating,
by which I mean that the ideas and processes are so obviously powerful and
successful that others adopt them spontaneously.
These examples all require learning for adaptability. Human adaptability, which is grounded in
continuous learning, is the key to sustainability and self-replication. It is not enough for farmers
to learn to grow a new crop. They must learn to recognise when it is time to diversify from that
crop to something else. It is not enough for people to learn to avoid a single disease; they must
learn a culture of wellness. It is not enough for people to learn to install equipment; they must
learn to maintain it and recognise when it needs replacing. It is not enough for children to learn
the national curriculum; they must learn to learn.
What kind of open and distance learning?
These examples show that the challenge of development, which is the challenge of expanding
the freedoms that people enjoy, is fundamentally a massive challenge of learning. The
challenge is huge. There are four billion people living at the bottom of the world economic
pyramid. Conventional methods of teaching and learning, however flexible and effective they
may be in the right context, simply cannot address the scope and scale of the challenge.
In most areas of life technology has made it possible to address such challenges of scope and
scale. Products and services that were once the preserve of the rich are now so much cheaper
and so much better that they available and attractive to the masses. The huge challenge of
development requires that we now apply technology to learning. That is the reason for COL’s
existence. Our fundamental task is to help countries, institutions and individuals to use
technology as a means of expanding and improving learning.
By technology we do not simply mean electrical and electronic devices with coloured lights. We
mean the whole technological approach that applies knowledge and skills to practical problems
and includes basic organisational principles like division of labour and specialisation.
You could say that COL’s business is technology-mediated learning, but that sounds at best like
jargon and at worst like gobbledegook to most people. Because of this we usually employ the
term for the most successful manifestation of technology-mediated learning, namely open and
distance learning or ODL. COL does not purvey a particular technology but simply tries to help
countries and institutions integrate technology into education and training so as to increase the
scope, scale and quality of learning and teaching.
COL understands, of course, that competition helps to drive the application of technology
forward. However, an important part of our role is to be a catalyst for collaboration. An important
new manifestation of that role is our commitment to Open Educational Resources. We believe
that the combination of accessible and adaptable learning management systems for eLearning
with learning object repositories that make a rich array of re-usable learning objects readily
available is a major advance.
Taking advantage of steadily increasing connectivity, Open Educational Resources have
tremendous potential for the developing world. We are enormously impressed by the speed at
which some African institutions are taking advantage of these new possibilities. This
combination gives a new meaning to the statement that learning is our common wealth. It also
brings closer the day when the central proposition of COL’s founders might become a reality.
That proposition was that: ‘…any learner anywhere in the Commonwealth shall be able to study
any distance teaching programme available from any bona fide college or university in the
Commonwealth’. For the last 18 years that statement has been a dead letter. However, in this
era of open educational resources it could become a reality. The Virtual University for Small
States of the Commonwealth, which Ministers of Education have asked us to create, could be
one way of putting this principle into practice.
It is time to conclude. My subject has been Open and Distance Learning and the Developing
World. What kind of development are we seeking? We want development that increases human
freedom on many dimensions. The condition for developing those freedoms is a massive
increase in human learning. Conventional methods of teaching are not up to the task. COL has
the opportunity and you have the opportunity to help countries and institutions use technologies
in order to rise to the challenge.
Learning is the common wealth of humankind. Our task is both to increase that wealth and to
see that it does not remain the private preserve of favoured individuals or institutions but
becomes indeed the common wealth of humankind.
Breaking down boundaries
Organizational and cultural challenges and
opportunities in international online learning
Tony Bates
(Keynote address)
In Nigeria, over 50 million school-age children are undereducated. Only a handful of
youths have used computers or know how to apply technology tools in their daily lives
for learning and improving their communities. A few schools have one or two computers
that are often not used because they are outdated or the teachers lack the adequate
skills to utilize them. Traditional teaching methodologies of a black board and four walls
are not well suited in this area of education as they tend to be too far removed from
practical reality to effectively instill the requisite technology skills and understanding. In
addition, technology training and courses are not part of the educational curriculum in
the 'early-adopter' stages of primary and secondary school levels, when youth are more
likely to take an interest in learning new technologies (Njideka Ugwuegbu, 2002)
This paper examines the policy issues and challenges in planning and implementing online
learning on an international basis. The most significant issue is that implementing online
learning requires organisational and attitudinal change; in other words, online learning requires
the understanding and support of a wide range of stakeholders if it is to be successfully
implemented. The paper looks at why online learning requires organisational and attitudinal
change, and suggests some strategies for bringing about such change.
National commitment to participate in a knowledge-based
global society
For both social and economic reasons, all students will need computer and communications
technology skills if they are to live successfully in a knowledge-based society. Indeed, it could
be argued that skill in using computer and communications technologies will be as fundamental
to education in the 21st century as was literacy and numeracy in the 20th century.
Knowledge-based economies are those dependent on hi-tech sectors such as computing,
telecommunications and biotechnology, and service industries, such as financial services,
health, education, entertainment, hospitality and tourism. Such industries or employment
sectors require a highly flexible and adaptable work force that can continually change as the
knowledge-base and the external world changes around them. Thus, the new knowledge-based
organisations require not only technology skilled workers with up-to-date and recent knowledge,
but also workers who are constantly learning, in order for commercial companies to survive, or
for public organisations to stay current and effective (Bates, 2001, p.24).
These changes in the workforce and the demand for more flexibility from students and
employers directly influence the kind of learning and hence the kind of teaching now
increasingly in demand from both students and employers in knowledge-based economies. The
Conference Board of Canada has summarised well these skills (1991):
• good communication skills (reading/writing/speaking/listening)
• ability to learn independently
• social skills: ethics; positive attitudes; responsibility
• teamwork
• ability to adapt to changing circumstances
• thinking skills: problem-solving; critical/logical/ numerical thinking
• knowledge navigation: where to get/how to process information
Although these are generic skills, they need to be developed and applied within specific subject
domains, such as engineering, business, health care or telecommunications. The economic
argument for developing skills in computer and communications technologies has been
expressed as follows by Akst and Jensen (2001) of the Carnegie Foundation:
Communities with the tools and skills to compete in the digital economy are at a distinct
advantage over communities that don't. In many ways, the situation in a given community
can build upon itself, for better or for worse. A community with a well-educated,
technology-literate population is more likely to attract and sustain new businesses, and
these new businesses in turn attract more well-educated, technology-literate people into
the area. Conversely, a community that lacks reliable access to technology and the skills
to use it is less likely to attract and sustain new businesses that could potentially serve as
a catalyst to economic prosperity. Simply put, if communities are to remain competitive in
attracting, retaining and developing businesses in today's economy, they must develop
modern telecommunications facilities and cultivate a well-trained workforce to stay viable.
It is not just in the workplace that these skills are needed. Increased access to mobile phones,
computers and the internet, particularly among young people, is leading to strong changes in
social and cultural behaviour. The impact of mobile phone text messaging on the outcomes of
national elections in Spain and Korea in 2004 provides dramatic examples of how young people
are using new technology to impact on the political process. Less dramatically, more and more
people are using the internet to book accommodation, rail or bus tickets, and to send
messages. It should be noted that mobile phones have a higher rate of access than internetbased
computers, and access to mobile phones is expanding more rapidly (53 per cent per
annum on a base of 19 million in India).
Therefore, it is becoming increasingly important to know how and where to find information, how
to compare or integrate different sources of information, how to determine the reliability and
validity of information collected, and how best to use and communicate such information. Thus
in a knowledge-based economy, students need to learn how to use technology to seek,
organise, analyse and apply information appropriately. Online learning is one way to develop
such skills, and since the demand for such skills is global, many institutions have been tempted
to ‘go international’ with their online programming. However, success in international online
programming is not easy and this presentation explores some of the reasons for this.
The state of readiness to implement international online
Before a plan or strategy can be developed for delivering online learning internationally, it is
important to understand the necessary conditions or requirements for the successful
implementation of online learning. A major requirement is to ensure that the programs can be
delivered to the targeted students. This will depend on four factors: the location of the students
to be taught; the available technology infrastructure needed to reach the targeted students; the
availability of appropriate human support staff (local teachers or instructors); and ongoing
funding to ensure that the necessary human and technical infrastructure is sustained and
The easier target group to reach are students in conventional institutions such as universities or
colleges, which therefore suggests a partnership between the supplier of online learning and a
local institution. The ability to reach such students with online learning will depend on two
factors: the network and computer infrastructure on campus; and the external, national internet
infrastructure. The local institution must have sufficient computers connected to the internet for
all students and teachers engaged in the program. The local institution must also have the local
area network capacity to support such a program. In many countries, it cannot always be
Breaking down boundaries
assumed that local institutions will have either the local capacity, or the necessary links to the
internet, to cope with a new program. Furthermore, local teachers as well as learners may need
to be trained in how to use the equipment. Delivery of online learning programs to students in
primary or secondary schools in other countries can be particularly difficult. There may for
instance be only one computer connected to the internet, and that is in the office of the principal
or head teacher. In general, the poorer the community in which the school is located, the fewer
the computers in the school, the older the equipment, and the slower the internet connection, if
one exists at all.
An even more difficult target group to reach are those learners who need to learn ‘out-ofschool’.
In countries such as Australia, South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore, Canada, USA, and
the United Kingdom, where internet access now exceeds 70 per cent of all homes, home
access is not usually a problem. The very poor, though, may never get access at home. In
Canada, only 32 per cent of homes with incomes in the lowest quartile use the internet,
compared with 87 per cent in the highest income quartile (Statistics Canada, 2003). In countries
such as Spain, Italy, Brazil, Mexico, Greece and Turkey, the proportion of all homes with
internet access is as low as 35 per cent. Thus, online courses will reach the homes of only
those who are highly motivated and relatively prosperous. Nevertheless, it is essential to track
regularly home access to the internet, as it can change very quickly, especially among
professionals such as teachers.
In many developing countries, it is only the rich middle class who have home access. Thus
countries such as China and India have a low proportion of the population with home internet
access (between 5 and 7 per cent), but the numbers themselves are very high (nearly 50 million
in China in 2005). In most countries in sub-Saharan Africa less than one in 750 people have any
form of internet access. Nevertheless, general population figures can be dangerously
misleading. It is often those most in need of online learning for developing knowledge-based
skills who are most likely to have internet access, and this may apply to some in even the least
economically advanced countries. The appropriate use of the internet therefore depends on the
nature of the target group as well as general accessibility.
It can be seen from the quotation from Njideka Ugwuegbu at the beginning of this paper that the
technology infrastructure in many countries is inadequate to support online learning. Many
schools will have no or few computers, where they do exist they may be old and not well
maintained, there may be no telephone access to the school, or if there is, long-distance
charges apply and there may in any case be no local internet service provider. Indeed, in some
countries, even the universities have inadequate internet service (see Akst and Jensen, 2001).
Clearly in such circumstances, then, online distance education programs delivered locally will
be out of the question, especially if the aim is to reach out to remote or isolated communities
and/or slums or shanty towns.
Nevertheless, each year in many of the least developed countries, major initiatives are being
implemented to improve access to the internet and to provide computers for schools. Akst and
Jensen (2001) report:
At least 11 African nations have initiated national school-networking programs and most
countries on the continent are seeing more and more of their schools connected to the
internet, demonstrating increasing interest from governments, schools and the private
sector. A continent-wide organization called SchoolNet Africa has also been set up to
enhance teaching and learning by spreading basic information technology skills, as well
as by fostering the development of information resources and projects linking students,
teachers and administrators across Africa and beyond (www. schoolnetafrica.org) … The
signs of progress are unmistakable. Four years ago only 11 African countries had any
internet access at all. Now all 54 of them have permanent connections, and although
some 20 countries have only one internet service provider, hundreds of ISPs are open for
business elsewhere on the continent, many of them in fierce competition with one another
… The result is that, all things considered, a surprising number of Africans are using the
internet. It is difficult to count actual users, but the number of internet dial-up subscriber
accounts is readily available, and it is striking – more than one million to date … But each
computer with an internet or e-mail connection supports an average of three users, a
recent study by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa has found. This
implies a total African user base of around three million, two-thirds of them in South
Africa. That works out to a ratio of one internet user for every 750 people outside South
Africa, compared to a world average of about one for every 35 people. (The ratio in North
America and Europe is about one in three.)
Naidoo (2001) reports on the growing use of community telecentres for providing shared
internet access in even small communities in developing countries. New technologies such as
satellite and wireless can bypass costly and poorly maintained telephone cable services. For
instance, a small VSAT terminal, costing around US$10,000, linked to a set of low-cost
networked wireless transmitters, can provide two-way internet service for schools and
communities along an isolated valley at relatively low cost. Any program considering the use of
international online learning should target its countries carefully and do thorough research to
establish exactly what technology infrastructure is in place (or will be in place in time for the
program), where it reaches, and in particular the most promising access points for the targeted
It should be noted that governments rarely fund or create new technology infrastructure for
online learning alone. More likely, when developing a national strategic plan for a loan or grant
from international agencies, online learning would be considered alongside technology
infrastructure, business opportunities, community development, and educational reform.
Similarly, if a government is considering funding a major online learning initiative for schools, it
will need to consider access and technology infrastructure, as well as teacher training, all as
part of an overall integrated strategy.
Human support for online learning
Even more important than the physical infrastructure are the people required to make the
physical infrastructure work. Bates (2001, pp. 37-38) has argued that there are in fact four levels
of human support required to support effective online learning.
The most obvious level is the technical support people who are needed to ensure that the
networks and equipment are properly installed, operated, updated and maintained. Such staff
can be described as the technology infrastructure support staff. There will almost certainly be a
need for a central help-desk for technical support for any online learning program.
At the second level is the media production and services staff, such as interface designers,
graphics designers, web programmers, or graduate students who do HTML mark-up. They
support the creation and application of educational materials and programs using technology.
These can be described as the educational media support staff. These are more likely to be
located within a central ministry or academic institution responsible for teacher training,
although increasingly in some countries school boards are employing such staff to provide
assistance to local teachers.
At the third level are those that provide educational services and expertise, such as curriculum
design, instructional design, faculty development, project management and program evaluation,
to support the use of technology for teaching. These can be described as the instructional
design support staff. Such staff are still relatively rarely used, but are essential for the design of
effective online learning programs. However, in some countries such staff may not exist at
present. If not, some program of foreign training or recruitment will be necessary.
The fourth level is made up of the professors, instructors, teachers or subject matter experts,
who create content and provide the teaching over the networks and infrastructure. These can
be described as the subject experts.
There is a tendency to focus solely on subject experts for the delivery of online learning
programs, but they will not necessarily have the expertise, interest or time to deal with
technology infrastructure, educational media production, instructional design or project
management. It is important then that before launching an online learning program, an analysis
is made of the local human support staff needed and available for such a program, and gaps
will need to be filled, if possible. One problem in many developing countries is that not only is
there a lack of people with IT, media and instructional design skills, but where they do exist they
Breaking down boundaries
often earn more than teachers, thus adding considerably to the cost of online education.
However, without such staff it may be difficult to develop good quality online learning programs
when they are used, as they need to be.
Equity issues
Concerns are often expressed that using computers for education increases the digital divide,
enabling those in more developed countries and those with higher incomes in less economically
advanced countires to benefit at the expense of the rest. For instance, UN Secretary General
Kofi Annan (2004) has stated that:
The advent of the internet is considered by some to be as significant in its effect on
society as that of the telephone or even the printing press. While it took the telephone
nearly three-quarters of a century to reach 50 million users, the world wide web achieved
the same feat in only four years. In fact, from the internet's humble beginning in 1981,
when it supported a mere 213 hosts, the individual computer systems used to connect to
the internet, and only a few thousand users, it had grown by 1999 to over 56 million hosts
with more than 190 million users.
These figures are certainly impressive, but a closer look reveals that there are great
disparities in internet access across geographic regions. Today, there are almost as
many hosts in France as in all of Latin America and the Caribbean, and there are more
hosts in Australia, Japan and New Zealand than in all of the other countries in the Asia-
Pacific region combined. Perhaps most telling, there are more hosts in New York than in
all of Africa.
This year's World Telecommunication Day highlights the emergence of this ‘digital divide’.
While people all over the world do access the internet, internet users still account for only
five per cent of the world’s population. Furthermore, 85 per cent of all internet users live
in developed countries where ninety per cent of all internet hosts are located.
The benefits of the internet to developing nations are clear. It can allow businesses to sell
goods and services directly to customers across national boundaries and facilitate the
delivery of basic services, such as health care and education that are unevenly
distributed among the world's population.
Yet, in order for developing countries to reap these benefits, there are some things we
must first ensure. The content of the internet must be available in many different
languages, and not just a privileged few. All nations must have the requisite
infrastructure, most notably telephone lines. The price of internet access must be brought
within the reach of all people.
Knowledge has long been synonymous with power, but with the advent of the internet,
access to knowledge is quickly becoming a requirement for power whether social,
political or economic. In our increasingly interconnected world, we must work together to
see that all people have access to the knowledge the internet has to offer.
Akst and Jensen (2001) report:
Sub-Saharan Africa [excluding South Africa] has by far the least developed infrastructure
in the world. Although encouraging trends have emerged in the last few years, the
differences between development levels in Africa and the rest of the world are especially
wide in the area of information and communications technologies. Computer penetration
is less than 3 per 1,000 people … In some ways, internet use in Africa is not so different
from internet use elsewhere. It is disproportionately white, educated and affluent, and the
‘net is used by some people for the same panoply of ends as in the rest of the world.
The digital divide though can be found within as well as between countries. For instance, in the
United States, a survey in 1999 conducted for the National Center for Educational Statistics
found that teachers in schools with small numbers of students from minority groups or poor
homes were generally more likely to use computers or the internet for a wide range of activities,
including gathering information at school, creating instructional materials at school,
communicating with colleagues at school, and instructing students, than teachers in schools
with large numbers of students from minority groups and poor homes. For example, 57 per cent
of teachers in schools with less than 6 per cent minority enrollments used computers or the
internet for internet research compared with 41 per cent of teachers in schools with 50 per cent
or more minority enrolments (http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2000102,
table 2.4).
In developed countries, home ownership of computers breaks the general trend for domestic
electronic equipment. In general, low-income working families have been relatively early
adopters of technology such as colour and satellite TV, video-cassettes and DVDs, and mobile
phones. With respect to computer technology though, ownership is almost linearly related to
income: the lower the income, the less likely there is to be a computer and internet access
within the home.
However, although poverty and lack of access to the internet are strongly correlated, poverty is
not the only factor that limits access to the internet. Akst and Jensen (2001) report:
poverty probably isn’t the main impediment to internet use … There is general agreement
among those with long experience trying to bring information technology to Africa that the
difficulty is highly regulated telecommunications services, usually appearing in the form of
a moribund state-owned monopoly that is expensive and wary of change – especially of
change embodied by a medium as potentially subversive as the internet. African
governments have the power to alter these circumstances, and, gradually, some are
doing so …
There can also be strong gender differences in access to internet technology. Brisco (2000)
In the US, for the first time in the history of the internet, women are outnumbering men in
internet usage. In Asia, this is not the case. Men represent 78% of all internet users in
Asia, while women account for only 22%.
The appropriateness of online learning will depend very much on the groups being targeted and
the existing national internet infrastructure. If the target groups are mainly in urban schools or
pre-service teachers in universities or colleges in larger cities, online learning is probably a
viable option. If on the other hand the target groups are teachers in remote rural schools or
students in schools with no or unreliable electricity, then online learning is not an appropriate
choice, unless special arrangements can be made to provide low cost or free access to
computers and the internet.
However, caution is needed in jumping to conclusions about computer and internet ownership,
because access is particularly volatile. The number of internet users in Canada who were
female rose from 27 per cent to 51 per cent in one year (1997). The US Department of
Commerce (2002) reported that in the US census conducted on September 2001, 143 million
Americans (about 54 per cent of the population) were using the internet – an increase of 26
million in 13 months. The same report indicated that:
Computers at schools substantially narrow the gap in computer usage rates for children
from high and low income families … Between December 1998 and September 2001,
internet use by individuals in the lowest-income households (those earning less than
$15,000 per year) increased at a 25 per cent annual growth rate. Internet use among
individuals in the highest-income households (those earning $75,000 per year or more)
increased from a higher base but at a much slower 11 per cent annual growth rate.
Between August 2000 and September 2001, internet use among Blacks and Hispanics
increased at annual rates of 33 and 30 per cent, respectively. Whites and Asian American
and Pacific Islanders experienced annual growth rates of approximately 20 per cent
during these same periods.’
Thus it can be seen that low-income families in the USA are beginning to catch up with higher
income groups in terms of internet and computer ownership. There is no guarantee that the
same patterns of access in economically developed countries will also occur over time in less
economically developed countries, but nevertheless the rate of growth in internet and computer
access worldwide remains strong.
It is clear then that any online learning program developer needs to think carefully about how to
deliver the program, where the learners can access the program, and the likely additional
Breaking down boundaries
infrastructure costs needed to ensure and maintain access. This means being focused on the
target group, collecting reliable information about access to computing and the internet for the
particular group targeted, and having some funding to supplement or purchase equipment and
Cultural and language preservation issues
Developing high quality online learning programs requires a high level of skill and substantial
resources. There would therefore appear to be an obvious advantage to buying in programs
from elsewhere, as this is likely to be cheaper than developing programs from scratch at home.
However, most online learning programs have to date been developed in English, and to a
much lesser extent in Chinese or Spanish. In many cases such programs will not meet the
needs of students whose first language is not English (or Spanish or Chinese). Programs from
the British Open University have totally flopped in the USA. Canadians don’t like programs
designed in the United States. And I suspect that Mexicans do not particularly care for distance
education programs from UNED in Spain. Thus even in the same language, distance education
programs need to be adapted to and reflect local cultures.
However, universities and commercial publishers develop online learning programs initially
within their own country, then look around for a market outside. The national curriculum of the
country where the materials were developed will in most cases be different from that of the
importing country, and this is likely to be reflected also in the context, examples and cases
embedded within the online learning materials. Such programs or materials will need
considerable adaptation to local languages, culture and history. What works in a school
environment in Australia may be inappropriate in Vietnam. The cost of adapting imported
material, combined with the hard currency used to buy the materials, often results in a higher
cost than developing from scratch (although the imported materials may provide a framework for
the design of local materials). Furthermore, buying international programming does not help a
country develop its own capacity for online learning. Money that could be spent on developing
local capacity goes out of the country.
It is important to recognise that education is as much about process as it is about product.
Education is about the interaction between students and teachers, as well as access to content.
Nevertheless, databases of digital resources for learning that include print, audio, graphics,
video and multimedia are being made accessible to other users either free or commercially.
One common term for such materials is ‘learning objects’, and there are various attempts to
develop common international standards that will facilitate the quick and easy online search,
access, selection, delivery and, where necessary, financial transactions for the use of such
materials. Online access to free or low-cost learning materials already developed elsewhere can
be extremely valuable, and can lead to huge savings in time and expense in developing
materials from scratch. Even where the object is developed in a foreign language, it may still be
cheaper to change the language and retain the graphics or animation than build an object from
scratch. However, while there is a great deal of research and development happening in the
field of learning objects at the time of writing, purely automated solutions are still at the
conceptual and design stage. Furthermore, there are issues of copyright, intellectual property
and appropriate business models that still need to be resolved.
Thus, rather than wait for fully automated solutions for the search and retrieval of digital
resource materials, it is important to start developing immediately national archives of digital
materials that reflect the culture and language of the country, and that are freely available to
teachers and students. These archives can range from whole curricula online, such as the
programs or courses of an institution, to very small objects, such as a graphic or animation,
which can be accessed over the web and downloaded for use in a particular piece of teaching.
A good example of this approach is Brazil’s Biblioteca Virtual (Virtual Library) developed as part
of the Escola do Futoro project at the Universidade de São Paulo. This provides an archive of
works in Portuguese that can be used in the Brazilian school or university systems (see
http://www.bibvirt.futuro.usp.br/). Indeed, Brazil is leading the world in developing a strategy for
‘freeware’ for educational use.
Consequently, in most countries it will be important to develop at least a national capacity for
the design, production and delivery of online learning materials that reflect national language,
culture and curriculum. In those countries with different cultures and languages within their
borders, a more decentralised policy of local development may be necessary. In contrast, where
several countries have common or overlapping language and culture, they could work together
collaboratively to develop and share digital resources within each of the collaborating countries,
thus offsetting the high cost of developing local digital materials from scratch. However,
consortia are notoriously difficult to manage and sustain.
The importance of developing a national capacity for the design, creation and delivery of online
learning reinforces the need to hire and train people with skills in curriculum design, instructional
design, media production, educational web programming, and ICT technical support skills.
Because people with these skills are not readily available in many countries, partnership or
collaboration with foreign institutions may help institutions to build up such capacities. For
instance, the senior administration at Tec de Monterrey in Mexico was anxious in 1996 to move
more actively into online learning but lacked the skills inhouse to do this on a large scale. Tec
de Monterrey developed a partnership with the University of British Columbia in Canada to
develop initially a joint certificate program on online learning that later developed into a full joint
Masters in Educational Technology that is now offered globally online in both Spanish and
English. This, along with a number of other activities, enabled Tec de Monterrey in 2004 to
move away from a distance education system based heavily on satellite broadcasting to a fully
web-based distance education system.
The advantage of a partnership with a foreign partner is that it allows the local institution access
to skills and expertise in both online learning design and content, while ensuring that the
materials developed meet national language, culture and context. More importantly, it helps
develop local skills in online learning that remain within the country after the partnership or
program ends. However, collaboration with another institution is not easy. It requires hard work,
a common vision, trust, clear lines of decision-making in both institutions, a willingness and
ability to take risks and very good communication between both partners.
Curriculum issues
Perhaps the biggest policy issue is the extent to which curricula should be modified to take
account of the potential advantages of online learning within the school and university systems.
Online learning can deliver a wide variety of approaches to curriculum and teaching methods.
For instance, it can be used for the transmission and comprehension of information, using text,
graphics and animation to enrich the presentation of information, and automated tests,
immediate feedback, and even diagnosis and alternative treatments to compensate for or limit
lack of understanding on the part of students. Such an approach has the added advantage of
not necessarily requiring internet access. As long as students have access to computers, these
curriculum features could all be handled through the low-cost distribution of CD-ROMs. This
also has the advantage of controlling students’ access to knowledge, so that students do not
have access to pornographic sites or other unsuitable materials. This is an approach commony
used in China.
However, as Collis and Moonen have pointed out (2002), using online learning to reinforce
traditional approaches to learning is not the main reason why online learning is promoted so
heavily. A major rationale for online learning is that it allows for communication both inside and
outside the traditional classroom, and freedom to explore a wide variety of learning resources.
This relates back to the skills that need to be developed in a knowledge-based society. Online
learning can be used to develop such skills as knowledge management, networking, team-work,
IT-based communications skills, critical thinking and problem-solving. However, in many
countries such skills would be difficult to achieve within traditional national curricula, which often
have a strong emphasis on national control of content, and a teaching method based on
information transmission and rote learning. Thus if the intent is to bring about a shift in the kinds
of skills students will need in a knowledge-based society, the use of online learning will need to
be accompanied by and integrated with curriculum reform.
Breaking down boundaries
Another issue is the difficulty many students face when taking courses from another country.
There are clear disadvantages of working in another language in online courses, when students
have to contribute towards collaborative assignments or participate in discussion forums with
those for whom English is their own language. It is often difficult for those of us whose first
language is English to comprehend fully the disadvantage this causes for those for whom
English is not their first language. Perhaps the best way for English speakers to understand this
issue is to imagine the situation if, as many commentators believe, China becomes the
predominant economic power in the 21st century. Mandarin would then become the
predominant language of the internet. English speakers would have to learn Mandarin if they
wanted to participate in international programs.
Online courses though also have some advantages over face-to-face teaching for students
working in another language than their own. The asynchronous nature of online teaching allows
students to take their time in composing responses in another language, whereas in classroom
contexts often the conversation moves on before they have crafted an appropriate intervention.
Monterrey Tech deliberately wanted the program delivered in English, since not only would their
students get access to the content of the courses but would have the opportunity to improve
their English in a subject area where English is predominant.
The problem is that providing distance education courses in a foreign language is not just a
technical issue. As well as the actual language, such courses come with alien social and
cultural contexts. Examples are drawn from another culture, idioms often do not transfer
between cultures, and even the style of writing may be alien. For instance, at the University of
British Columbia (UBC) we encouraged course authors to use a chatty, personal and friendly
style of writing, which in some cultures might be interpreted as being of poor academic quality.
There are also cultural differences in the approach to teaching. There is a tendency in ‘western’
courses from the USA, Britain, Canada and Australia to encourage critical thinking skills, debate
and discussion, where students’ views are considered important, and where the views of
teachers can be legitimately challenged and where student dissent is even encouraged. In other
cultures, there is great respect shown by students for the teacher, and it is culturally alien to
challenge the teacher or even express an opinion on a topic. Although more research is
needed, in UBC’s international online courses there appeared to be major differences between
ethnic groups in their willingness to participate in online forums, and these differences seemed
to be independent of skill in conversing in a foreign language.
In many online courses, students who participate actively and work collaboratively through
discussion forums are rewarded through grades. However, grading student’s online
contributions can seriously disadvantage students for whom this is an alien or difficult approach
to take, even for those willing to work in this way. I therefore find myself wondering to what
extent I should impose ‘western’ approaches to learning on students coming from other
cultures, while acknowledging that this ‘new’ or different approach may have attracted them to
the courses in the first place. Indeed, this is why the course is online rather than face-to-face, in
order to develop the skills needed in a knowledge-based society.
One of the major advantages of online courses is the opportunity for course participants to work
collaboratively. However, some students have objected to this. Some object to the principle of
collaborative learning, irrespective of the nationality of the other students; they believe that they
should be assessed solely on their own work, and feel that their grades may be adversely
affected by working with someone who is not as ‘able’ or motivated.
This is a reasonable argument. Not everyone contributes equally. Should one mark solely on
the ‘output’, the final assignment, irrespective of individual contributions? Should one mark the
process as well as the output? Should one for instance split the mark into two, half for the
completed assignment, which is shared by all participants, and half for individual contributions
to the assignment? This would be fairer to students who put in more work, but often
contributions are not made in a manner always accessible to the tutor, such as through direct
emails between students. Also, it increases considerably the tutor workload if all contributions
have to be assessed individually.
These issues are not specific to international courses, but there are other issues that arise once
one ‘goes international’. Some for whom English is a first language have objected that because
of differences in English language fluency, they will have to do more work in correcting English
or expressing the group’s ideas more clearly, and that they always end up ‘writing’ the group
assignment. We found many Chinese students were happier to work collaboratively ‘offline’ in a
private small group, then post a collective response, even when they were not asked to work
collaboratively. Should that be encouraged or discouraged?
However, if one believes that learning to work collaboratively online is an important skill for the
21st century, then it seems reasonable to set this as a goal, and to assess students’ skill in
doing this, provided that students are forewarned before they begin the course that this is
expected of them.
Quality control
Perhaps the major concern in international distance education is whether international students
are receiving the same quality of program, or achieving the same standards, as students taking
a program in conventional ways. For instance, will a student studying a UBC program
internationally be of the same standard as a student graduating from the same program on
campus? Currently, UBC students taking a credit course at a distance sit exactly the same
exam and are marked to exactly the same standards as on-campus students. Indeed, the
degree diploma, while listing the courses taken, does not indicate whether or not the course
was taken as a distance education course.
It is not always possible or realistic to ensure that students studying through another institution
in another country will get exactly the same services and quality as students registered with the
originating institution. For instance, for the certificate program in technology-based distributed
learning, UBC tutor/student ratios were approximately 1:20, while for the Monterrey Tech
students, the tutor/student ratio was as high as 1:60. Furthermore, Monterrey Tech tutors do not
always have the same level of content expertise as the UBC professors who developed the
In discussing the issue of comparable standards, it is important to separate the qualification to
be gained, from the institution developing the distance education program. Under UBC’s original
arrangement with Monterrey Tech, although the courses are designed by UBC, they were
delivered and accredited by Monterrey Tech in Latin America. Thus Monterrey Tech recruited,
tutored, examined and accredited the students, who received a degree from Monterrey Tech,
not UBC. For students who enrolled directly with UBC, UBC staff tutored, examined and
accredited to the same standards as for other equivalent UBC courses. Thus if tutor/student
ratios differed between UBC and Monterrey Tech, or if Monterrey Tech marked assignments to
a different standard, it did not impact on the quality of the UBC qualification, nor did UBC’s
exam marking and tutoring impact directly on Monterrey Tech students.
What then, if any, are the responsibilities of the institution originating a program to the students
taking the program through another institution? First, it has to ensure the integrity of the content
of the program. In other words, while changes may be made by the franchise institution to make
it more suitable for delivery in another country, then the originating institution and in particular
individual contributors to the program should have the right to approve any changes of a
substantive nature if their names are used to promote the program.
Second, an institution offering a program from another institution has the duty to ensure that it
comes up to its own standards. Even in joint programs where the program material is developed
to acceptable standards in all participating institutions, there may be differences in the quality of
the delivery service. If, for instance, UBC students were to take courses offered by another
institution, it should ensure that its students receive as good a service from the other institution
as they would receive from UBC.
The advantage then of a franchise arrangement is that it not only ensures local tutoring and
adaptation, but also offers a firewall, so that each institution can assess students to its own
standards. However, students in the receiving institution do not end up with the same
qualification as students registering with the originating institution. In fact, this arrangement
worked so well that UBC and Tec de Monterrey ended up offering a joint degree program,
where students graduated with a diploma from both institutions. This was a result of the trust
built up through the franchise arrangement.
Breaking down boundaries
Is the world waiting for your course?
It is tempting to think that after carefully designing an online course, there is a huge demand
worldwide to take the course. In fact, this is a fallacy. First of all, the institution is likely to put up
substantial barriers to students taking your course, such as national high school qualifications or
English language requirements which even many students from your own country would fail.
However, let us assume that somehow foreign students can step over these non-trivial hurdles;
will they still enrol in your courses?
Probably not in huge numbers. At UBC, in their original partnership with Tec de Monterrey,
there were two versions of the program, one in English offered by UBC and one in Spanish
offered by Tec de Monterrey. In UBC’s first offering of the program, approximately 20 per cent of
the 180 enrolments were local (within the city or suburbs), another 24 per cent came from the
rest of the province/state, and another 23 per cent came from the rest of Canada. Only 33 per
cent enrolled through UBC were international (although Mexican students enrolled through Tec
de Monterrey to take the Spanish version of the program far exceeded in number the total
number of students enrolled through UBC). Even within the 33 per cent enrolled internationally,
many of the students had a strong connection with UBC. For instance, some were Canadians
working abroad, or students whose parents had studied at UBC. Brand name and cultural
identity diminish the further away the student lives from the institution.
Nevertheless, the international students were important. The international perspectives brought
by the students to the program was much appreciated by both the Canadian and the foreign
students, and the foreign students made the difference between offering the program at a profit
or a loss.
Main barriers to implementation of online learning
This paper has looked at a number of issues that need to be considered at a policy level when
implementing online learning internationally. The four main barriers are likely to be lack of
physical infrastructure, the resistance of people and institutions to change, lack of skilled people
locally in the field of online learning, and failure to adapt materials and approaches to local
The physical infrastructure requirements for the successful implementation of online learning
are demanding. Easy access to computers, accessible, reliable and cheap internet service, and
blanket-coverage telecommunications are all important requirements for the successful
implementation of online learning. In many countries, it will be difficult to meet such
requirements at present, although certain areas of online learning, such as for full-time,
campus-based post-secondary students, may be easier than other areas, such as remote, ruralbased
school programs. Furthermore, the physical infrastructure in many countries is rapidly
improving. Thus the timing of the introduction of online learning is critical, and will vary from
country to country. What may not work today may well be feasible next year; what works in
Thailand today may well work in Cambodia in five years’ time.
The second major barrier to online learning is resistance to change. The fear of many teachers
due to their lack of skills in using technology is a major barrier, as is resistance from unions
fearful of technology replacing teachers, and professional accrediting bodies who are not well
informed about the potential and experience of using online learning. Quality is not an issue
exclusive to online learning, but often higher standards are sought for online learning than for
face-to-face teaching. These fears can be overcome by good communication, consultation and
the full involvement of stakeholders in decision-making about the use of online learning.
Another barrier is the lack of local people with the necessary skills of curriculum and
instructional design, media production, web programming and technical support. Without such
people, the development of relevant national curricula and materials for online learning will be
difficult. This is one barrier that will require ongoing funding from local governments and/or aid
agencies if it is to be removed.
Lastly, there are major disadvantages in importing programs from outside a country, especially
on a commercial basis: lack of cultural adaptation, a drain of precious hard currency, and a
failure to develop local skills and experience in online learning. Some of these disadvantages
can be overcome by long-term partnerships with foreign institutions and by a long-term
commitment by external development agencies to develop local capacity in online learning.
In conclusion, there will be situations where online learning will not at the present time be a
suitable strategy for international education. However, in many cases, careful attention to policy
and implementation issues will enable what may seem initially insuperable barriers to be
overcome. Online learning therefore can be a major instrument in many countries for improving
the quality and reach of their educational offerings.
This chapter draws on material previously published in Bates, A. (2005). ‘Policy issues and
challenges in planning and implementing E-Learning in teacher education’ in Resta, P. (Ed.),
Teacher development in an E-Learning age: A policy and planning guide. Paris: UNESCO. The
author thanks UNESCO for permission to re-produce some of this chapter.
Akst, D. & Jensen, M. (2001). Africa goes online, New York: Carnegie Corporation of New York.
Annan, Kofi (2004). Let's commit ourselves to bridging the divide, New York: United Nations.
Bates, A. (2001). National strategies for e-learning in post-secondary education and training,
Paris: UNESCO/International Institute for Educational Planning.
Brisco, R. (2000). Turning analog women into a digital workforce. Melbourne: World Economic
Forum (http://www.totheweb.com/digitaldivide.html)
Collis, B., & Moonen, J. (2002). Flexible learning in a digital world: Experiences and
expectations. London: Kogan Page.
Conference Board of Canada. (1991). Employability skill profile: The critical skills required of the
Canadian workforce. Ottawa, Ont.: Conference Board of Canada.
Naidoo, V. (2001). The changing venues for learning. In G. Farrell (Ed.), The Changing Faces of
Virtual Education. Vancouver, B.C.: Commonwealth of Learning.
Statistics Canada. (2003). Overview: Access and use of information and communications
technology, Ottawa: Statistics Canada Housing, Family and Social Statistics Division.
Ugwuegbu N. (2002). Owerri Digital Village: A grassroots approach to empowering Nigerian
youth and their communities, Owerri, Nigeria: Youth for Technology Foundation.
United States Department of Commerce. (2002). A nation online: How Americans are
expanding their use of the internet, Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Commerce,
Economics and Statistics Administration, National Telecommunications and Information
Administration. (http://www.ntia.doc.gov/ntiahome/dn/Nation_Online.pdf)
United States National Center for Education Statistics. (2000). Teachers' tools for the 21st
century: A report on teachers' use of technology. Washington, DC: US Department of
Education. (http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2000102)
Breaking down boundaries
Lessons to be learned from the failure of the
UK e-University
Paul Bacsich
The UK’s attempt to develop a global e-university ended in public failure in 2004. The
main focus of this paper is to exploit the failure as a case study to update the literature
on ‘critical success factors’ for virtual universities and so provide lessons for euniversities
worldwide. However, since much of the public comment was superficial or
ill-informed, it is also inevitably in part a critique of the public view. Although several
alleged reasons for failure were incorrect or specific to the era, some of the real reasons
still have much relevance to the worldwide scene.
A brief history of UKeU
The UK e-University was first proposed by the UK Secretary of State for Education in February
2000, as a vehicle to deliver online the best of UK higher education across the world. He asked
the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) to take the lead. By August 2000,
key studies on business model, tools and markets had already been done. By July 2001, many
follow-up studies were complete and the operating company UK eUniversities Worldwide
Limited (UKeU for short) had been incorporated with an Interim Management Team. By March
2002, a chairman and CEO were in post and the Framework Agreement had been signed with
Sun Microsystems for development of the e-learning platform. By March 2003, two courses had
been launched with a dozen more following in September 2003. By January 2004, some twentyfive
courses were recruiting students.
However, in September 2003, HEFCE had become unhappy with progress, and commissioned
PA Consulting to carry out a Business Review of UKeU. As a result of this review and other
consultations, in February 2004 HEFCE announced that they would ‘restructure’ UKeU, which
duly closed in July 2004. Thus, the overall concept of a ‘UK e-University’ lasted four-and-a-half
years, while the operational phase lasted just over two. Even by the standards of e-learning
burn-outs, this was fast.
What went wrong?
The failure was extensively discussed in the press and analysed later by the Education and
Skills Select Committee (2005a) of the House of Commons. Its key conclusions are in Select
Committee (2005b):
the UKeU project failed largely because it took a supply-driven rather than a demand-led
approach to a very ambitious venture in an emerging market. Sufficient market research
into the level or nature of consumer demand was not undertaken, and the project failed to
form effective partnerships with private sector investors.
Some experts observed that two years of operation was not long enough to judge a dot-com.
The vice chancellor of Middlesex University (who run a Global Campus offering blended
learning) pointed out in Guardian (2004): ‘The honest reason? It hasn’t been given long
enough.’ Business experts pointed to the difficult conditions for internet start-ups compared with
the heady days of 2000. Technocrats dwelt on the large sums that had been poured by UKeU
into an e-learning platform which to general agreement lacked functionality, performance and
reliability. Marketing experts pointed out the dangers of drawing conclusions from the US
market for higher education and applying them to the global market.
HEFCE’s view was that universities were now more interested in ‘blended’ learning to meet the
diverse needs of students. This conclusion had its origins in the consultative exercise (HEFCE,
2004) that HEFCE used to refine their e-learning strategy. It was supported by UK gurus, such
as Professor Steve Molyneux, Director of the Learning Lab. To Computing (2005), he said: ‘I will
always be a strong advocate for elearning, but am wary of those initiatives that try to replace,
rather than supplement, the face-to-face learning option.’
Insider information
Few staff who worked for UKeU were, or are, prepared to comment. However, one of the few
(not the author) that did had his views taken into account by Garrett (2004). This paper focused
on five points. Apart from the first, these are still germane.
1. Timing – just before the dot-com crash.
2. Focus – wholly e-learning rather than blended.
3. Brand confusion.
4. Platform issues to do with the costs and risks of developing a new platform.
5. Impatience of government.
It is argued later that the last four are not the only factors of general interest.
The literature on critical success factors
The author has since the late 1990s been researching the area of critical success factors for
virtual universities, with extensive case study work and literature review. (His initial impetus
came from Joanne Curry, via her workshops on business models for e-learning.) The following
distillation of the author’s earlier views is taken from Bacsich (2001):
6. ‘If a consortium … has high binding energy – then it is more likely to succeed. Binding
energy can be generated in many ways.’
7. ‘The best guarantee of high binding energy is homogeneity or managed diversity (e.g., the
OU-BBC partnership). The greater the diversity, the more power there may be to surmount
obstacles, yet the greater challenge in mobilising resources.’
8. ‘In particular, consortia will work better if they are ‘stratified’, i.e., take in universities at a
similar level in the rank order.’
9. ‘Linguistic diversity is a particular problem, although it may be the cultural baggage coming
along with the linguistic.’
It will be argued that the first three of these affected UKeU but are of general interest also.
High binding energy
UKeU appeared to have this. It was one organisation. It had a forceful CEO who exercised
strong control over it, and a staff who were loyal to an extreme (many working long hours).
However, there were concerns (Bacsich, 2005) about the unsuitability of the building for a
postmodern organisation, and evidence of a ‘mismatch between those with more of a businessorientated
vision for UKeU and those more interested in the academic aspects and the potential
educational innovation’ (Conole, Carusi & De Laat, 2005).
More significantly, many would argue that the binding energy criterion should be applied also to
the loose consortium of universities around UKeU who were the academic partners. Over the
last few years, the coherence of UK academia has largely broken down, with separate
subgroups jockeying for position with government. On that basis UKeU did not score much
better than other consortia.
Breaking down boundaries
Homogeneity or managed diversity
The internal structure of UKeU was remarkably homogeneous compared with the lack of
homogeneity across the UK university sector. However, the powerhouse of the operation was
the Sun-UKeU joint venture. This was by its nature not homogeneous and the evidence is that
the diversity was not in reality managed. This clash of culture and mission remains a live issue
for e-universities who want to partner with companies.
The original vision of UKeU was that it would deal with the ‘best of UK higher education’,
perhaps fewer than six organisations. This vision did not last long – a wide range of universities
became partners of UKeU. While many of them were prestigious at home, rather fewer were
well regarded in overseas markets (where reputations tend to lag some years behind UK
The stratification criterion is one of the most dangerous to break. Universitas 21 and the
Worldwide Universities Network have made great strides in collaborative research and elearning.
Both of these have rigid stratification in terms of the uniformity of type (not only brand
level) of institution involved. It has been noted in several quarters, however, that the Global
University Alliance, with a much more varied membership, has not been so successful.
Linguistic diversity
This was one area in which UKeU had no problems. All teaching was in English. The downside
was of course that this restricted the market.
The Garrett diagnosis and the Select Committee critique
For conciseness these are bundled together as the two main deeper analyses published so far.
Timing covers three issues:
• A start-up just before the dot-com crash.
• The impatience of government.
• The failure in its life to form effective partnerships with private sector investors.
The dot-com crash certainly had an effect on sentiment but this, even if true (and there is
evidence that its effect was over-rated), was a factor ‘of its time’ and not relevant now.
Regarding the impatience of government, evidence around the world is that government
agencies can be very impatient. The apparent haste with which HEFCE closed down UKeU is
surpassed by the way the UK Department of Health closed down the NHS University before it
had even offered any courses. Nor is it just a UK issue, as is obvious from the rapid e-learning
policy changes in British Columbia around TechBC and OLA, or in the Netherlands around the
Dutch OU. In some ways shareholders are more patient, perhaps because it is their own money
locked up in a company. This is a warning to those who think that being a public e-university
protects one from problems.
Regarding partnerships with private sector investors, this was one of the basic tasks given to
UKeU. In brief, it failed utterly. The partnership with Sun was not effective and in reality confined
to technology. There were two other failed attempts to form effective partnerships, both of a
marketing nature: including one in 2003 involving a large consultancy company. Some would
question whether partnering activity was in fact a distraction from core business; arguing that as
and when the operation was successful, commercial partners would have appeared. However,
the partnering mission was politically necessary in the UK politics of the early 2000s, with its
heavy focus on public-private partnerships. Perhaps other countries will be more pragmatic –
but the lure of private sector funds is tempting to many governments, who tend to forget the
This covers three issues that continue to affect e-universities:
• Pure or blended e-learning.
• Supply-driven or demand-led approach.
• What is ‘sufficient market research’?
UKeU took the view from its operational start in 2001 that it would offer only pure e-learning. It
was not until autumn 2003 that any courses were launched which were blended. This focus flew
in the face of the advice from the specialist consultants, several of whom were experienced in
these issues. In particular, Bacsich et al. (2004), written in 2000, had recommended a gradualist
move to pure e-learning:
One can expect to reduce the proportion of face-to-face teaching in the e-University as
technology advances and social conditions change .. In the first three years of operation,
face-to-face tutorials (1 hour in length) should also be offered via a network of learning
centres; this policy to be reviewed at the end of that period.
It is not the focus of this paper to analyse why the advice was not taken. In a sense, whatever
consultants had recommended, the market should have decided. Fielden et al. (2004), written in
2000, noted that the e-University should: ‘Vary the scale of virtuality in its products; some
offerings may be suitable for 100 per cent virtual delivery, while others may need face-to-face
support, text-books, or direct teaching of different kinds.’ But Fielden’s team was not involved in
the later discussions about setting up UKeU. By the time UKeU realised that blended learning
was required by the market, it was too late.
More generally, to what extent was UKeU supply-driven rather than demand-led? Was
‘sufficient’ market research done? This may shed light on what market research should be done
by other e-universities.
The Select Committee (2005a) notes in paragraph 35 that: ‘there was a distinct lack of
marketing and use of market research’ (our italics). It carefully does not state that there was a
distinct lack of market research. However, later (paragraph 44) it notes rather inconsistently:
‘UKeU did not undertake any market research or give sufficient emphasis on marketing’ (our
italics). What are the facts?
Prior to UKeU becoming operational, there were two main phases of market research. The first
was the study done in early 2000 by Fielden et al. (2004), with a follow-up in summer 2000 to
produce figures for specific countries. All this was fed into the business model and initial plans.
The second phase was the ‘Impact of the Internet’ studies commissioned by HEFCE in spring
2001 – however, these were not quantitative market research but a mixture of competitor
analysis and thematic ‘country’ studies.
In March 2002, when UKeU was fully operational, further market research was set in motion.
Market entry studies on each main target country (Hong Kong, Singapore, etc) reported in
autumn 2002. A country study was commissioned on Japan (a gap in the earlier HEFCE
studies), but this was qualitative only. In early 2003, a systematic study by Curbishley (2005)
reported, which involved interviews with a cross-section of UK universities and the British
Council HQ and Singapore office. A magisterial report on pricing was produced by Ngo (2005).
As well as market research, several competitor analysis studies were commissioned in spring
2003, including a study by Bristow (2005) of Phoenix, which closed another gap in the earlier
HEFCE studies.
In summary, the market research now published in the e-University Compendium and the UKeU
Reports appears to the author to be the most comprehensive recent market research on euniversity
e-learning done in recent years – and there is more in the archives. (See Bacsich,
2004a and 2005 for entry points to this material.) Yet it was still insufficient. On this basis, the
author suspects that there are many e-universities whose market research needs to be
So what were the main problems with the market research, despite its volume? Again, timing is
a key factor. It seems unarguable that in an era of rapid change the delay was too long between
the 2000 pre-UKeU market research and the 2002/2003 UKeU quantitative market research,
Breaking down boundaries
and that the HEFCE studies of 2001 did not fill this gap because they were too general, too
unfocused to UKeU and too incomplete. Quantitative market research and systematic
competitor research should have reported in early (not late) 2002 after it was realised that the
2000 material was too out of date and the HEFCE studies too general to be useful in realistic
target-setting. Bacsich (2004b) has more on this, especially the gaps in the HEFCE material.
There were also weaknesses in the use made of market research. The Director of Sales and
Marketing was not on the Board of UKeU – a strange omission given his CV and subsequent
career. Bacsich (2005) notes the ‘functional silo’ issues that affected the flow of information
within UKeU. Worse, when the author arrived in March 2003 at UkeU, it was evident that the
2000 and 2001 market research (whatever its demerits) was unknown to UKeU senior
managers – most when alerted seized on it avidly.
Thus even in an organisation with such strong business rhetoric, there were failures of market
research and status issues over marketing more typical of a traditional university. If that can
affect UKeU it is likely to affect other e-universities of a less commercial nature.
Though seemingly a monolith, UKeU suffered from a variety of branding issues relevant to euniversity
consortia, plus national–regional branding clashes, a live issue in many
Commonwealth countries. Garrett (2004) observed:
Confusion existed between the mainstream UK education brand emphasising the three
elements of tradition, place, and quality and marketing by UKeU that promised ‘the best
of UK higher education with online convenience’ without being able to utilize these
elements ... convenience is not a strong part of the image of UK higher education abroad.
Since UKeU as a newcomer was not well known overseas, and most partner institutions of
UKeU were actually in a similar situation, there was no reputation for UKeU to leverage on.
However, for the few UKeU partners who were offering e-learning overseas and were to some
extent known, it was unclear what was the added value of UKeU.
In terms of national brand coherence, since the funding for UKeU came only from England,
there was no incentive for Scottish universities to join in. Furthermore, Scotland has its own euniversity,
the Interactive University, thus UKeU could not claim to be ‘The UK e-University’.
Even the full name was not well chosen, as Bacsich (2004a) and the Select Committee
document. The author’s own experience was that that outside the UK ‘UKeU’ was often
confused with ‘UKOU’ – not helpful.
Like others both before and after, UKeU decided to develop a brand-new learning environment
(platform) rather than use one of the existing widely-used commercial products. However, this
strategy completely flew in the face of the recommendations of both the business consultants
and the specialist consultants.
Thompson (2004), in a paper written in late 2001 as a reflection on the business plans of 2000,
did not even cite platform specifics as one of the critical success factors for UKeU. Second, the
specialist consultants (Bacsich & Davies, 2004) advised:
All technical input and much exemplar input suggests that an e-University can start now
[presenter’s italics], including with an initial LMS [learning management system].
Whatever the reasons for UKeU ignoring such advice, by summer 2003 inside UKeU the
confidence in the brand-new platform was beginning to seep away (outside agencies had
already made their negative views clear). In fact, the UKeU CEO had earlier quietly
commissioned some competitor research on platforms in order to re-check the earlier
assumptions, and by September 2003, UKeU was indeed offering blended learning and courses
using both WebCT and Blackboard. But this came at major cost to brand integrity, as Bacsich
(2005) notes:
[this] made it intellectually impossible to justify the ‘third generation’ rhetoric of the
brochures concerning the UKeU Learning Environment. Around the world, many large
distance e-learning HEI programmes (Capella, Hong Kong OU, Ulster, Middlesex, etc)
now use WebCT and quite a lot also use Blackboard …
A new synthesis
So how does one draw out a new synthesis from earlier research work and the fate of UKeU
that would provide guidance for future e-universities – and maybe prevent some current ones
spiralling down to destruction?
One cannot now focus only on private-sector operations. The failure of many private players
and of several public-private operations (linked to the culture shift against this ‘third way’)
means that there is renewed interest in public-sector operations. Thus a new synthesis must try
to cover both ends of the spectrum.
Recommendations mainly for private-sector organisations
Eight more criteria to add to the classical list of four critical success factors are the following.
Links are given to the earlier work.
1. Understanding and leveraging the brand is crucial.
2. The right market research, and the willingness to act on it, is crucial.
3. ‘Time to market’ must be kept short.
4. Cost of marketing must be kept low.
5. Realism about differentiators is necessary: ‘quality’ is not a differentiator; price is; platform
functionality is not.
6. An e-university must be a university and a company – doing that well is hard; it affects every
7. Good management and staff are essential – ensuring them is hard.
8. (For English-language organisations) it is not really an ‘English-speaking world’.
The first two have been discussed; brief notes follow on the others.
Time to market
This is the operational aspect of the general theme of timing. Once an e-university is set up, its
‘sponsors’ (government, shareholders, etc) can become impatient soon (because of elections,
changes of key ministers, etc). Thus nothing can be allowed to get in the way of launch. The
best cannot be the enemy of the good.
Cost of marketing must be kept low
In a non dot-com way, UKeU offered a weightless product that was sold by ‘weighty’ techniques
– Bacsich (2005) documents the panoply of local business managers and international partners.
However, a purely weightless approach is suspect – there are sound political and regulatory
arguments at present for in-country presence, and the problem is actually worse for blended
learning (a fact which its advocates often ignore). The implications are that in-country presence
must be carefully organised, with a bias towards the most ‘fruitful’ countries, and carefully
managed within these countries.
There is little evidence from the years of evaluation literature that students (in contrast to
academics) value specific platform features for their own sake. A number of leading players in
distance e-learning (private and public, including the Open University) deploy somewhat
minimal systems or one of the commercial mainstream platforms, without apparent detriment to
their business. The consultants to UKeU (as noted above) did not regard the platform as a
differentiator. Future e-universities should bear this in mind.
Similar considerations apply to quality. Unless a provider can turn quality into a benchmark to
get it adopted by the press and influence student choice, it is foolish to start a reputation battle
in this area.
Breaking down boundaries
An e-university must be a university and a company
This is a key special case of the general critical success factor of ‘homogeneity or managed
diversity’. Maintaining this balance is essential but tricky, and is an area where UKeU did not
manage it well. Aspects of this are reviewed in Bacsich (2005) and Conole et al. (2005). The
issues below are the ones most relevant to future e-universities.
• Only one of the internal Board Directors of UKeU (including the CEO) had had recent
university senior-level experience. The overall ‘tone’ of UKeU was non-university, sometimes
defiantly so, and yet also rather unknowing in detail of how universities work. Bringing in a
CEO from business is common with governments faced with e-universities in trouble.
• The Learning Programmes department (which was the main department liaising with partner
universities) had very few university staff – this probably contributed to the lack of trust
between UKeU and universities. UKeU had a thorough approach to contracts, but as argued
in Kelly (2004), this may have been because it had to compensate for this lack of trust.
• Sales and Marketing had no university staff at all – this probably led to a lack of
understanding of the subtle ways in which universities ‘sell’ courses.
New e-universities should ensure that staff from traditional universities are used where
appropriate, rather than a rhetoric of ‘business good, universities bad’ being applied to
recruitment. However, an additional problem was that UKeU had a corporate pension scheme
which ‘could not (by 2002) compare with the final-salary schemes ... used for UK HEI staff …’
(Bacsich, 2005). This discouraged key middle-level people from universities applying for jobs at
Good management and staff are essential and should be valued
Despite being wholly dependent on e-learning know-how, UKeU appointed few staff with good
knowledge of e-learning. The Select Committee notes that: ‘UKeU did not have anyone with elearning
expertise in a senior management position’. That was also true at middle management
and lower levels (with the notable exception of the Learning Technology and Special Projects
departments). In particular, on a senior management team of around ten, there were only two
people with good knowledge of e-learning – which led to many discussions starting from first
There were several personnel changes in the top managers and key staff within UKeU and
consultant teams advising UKeU. This led to a lack of continuity of know-how and a drift of
expertise from the core organisation to consultants and ex-employees. A small but growing
number of good staff began to leave from August 2003 (Bacsich, 2005). Some other euniversities
have suffered similar problems.
It is not really an ‘English-speaking world’
English skills may seem to be prevalent across the world, but at the levels required for university
study they are much less prevalent than many university staff believe.
Recommendations mainly for public-sector organisations
There are three further recommendations, one general and two technical:
• There still must be a ‘business model’ even if not a commercial one.
• Open source is part of an answer – but no one is yet ‘betting the farm’ on it.
• Interoperability is getting closer but is not there.
Business model
What this criterion means in essence is that the so-called private sector criteria should be read
(and appropriately re-interpreted) by public-sector e-universities, rather than being ignored as
irrelevant. There are considerable differences between public-sector e-universities in this
regard, even within Europe.
Open source is part of an answer – but no one is yet ‘betting the farm’ on it
There is currently great interest especially in the public sector in the use of open source
solutions for e-learning. In the past, many of the agencies and experts promoting this were
rather far from the sharp end of large-scale operational services. However, this is changing –
many have noted the recent decision by Athabasca University to ‘bet the farm’ on Moodle.
Nevertheless, there is still much detailed and rather dull work to be done to ensure that open
source solutions are treated ‘fairly’ and realistically, in particular within procurements.
Interoperability is getting closer but not there yet
Ensuring full interoperability between different e-learning systems remains an elusive goal:
many of the supposed ‘minor details’ of implementation differences take much effort to resolve.
Slater (2005) notes:
industry work on national issues has recently slowed dramatically with standards bodies
making less headway and software teams downsized ... industry is waiting for more
uptake before investing further.
The last phrase in the above quotation is a natural point on which to end this revised analysis of
critical success factors for e-universities.
Note on methodology
The general approach to this evaluation is ethnographic, supported by documentary analysis.
No specific interviews or questionnaires were used. The evaluator was also a participant in the
organisation, thus had the added difficulty of maintaining ‘evaluator’s distance’. However, he
had it in mind from 2002 to ‘write the history of the e-university’, so that his files are particularly
comprehensive, and UKeU was a complex, rapidly evolving organisation largely hidden from
outsiders, making it hard for an external evaluator to ‘lock on’.
A good general introduction to evaluation methodologies can be found in Oliver (2000).
However, there are few exemplars for evaluation of a failed e-university – normally the company
files are dissipated or locked up indefinitely in an archive, and former staff will not comment on
Copyright © 2005 Bacsich, P. The author assigns to ODLAA and educational non-profit institutions a
nonexclusive license to use this document for personal use and in courses of instruction provided that the
article is used in full and this copyright statement is reproduced. The author also grants to ODLAA a
nonexclusive license to publish this document in electronic or print form within ODLAA publications and/or
the world wide web. Any other usage is prohibited without the express permission of the author.
Bacsich, P. (2001). Towards a virtual campus observatory for Latin America, Montevideo:
Bacsich, P. (2004a). Editor’s preface to the e-university compendium. In The e-University
Compendium Volume One, Higher Education Academy, 2004. Available online at
Bacsich, P. (2004b). Introduction to the ‘Impact of the internet’ case studies. In The e-University
Compendium Volume One, Higher Education Academy, 2004. Available online at
Bacsich, P. (2005). UKeU overview. In The UKeU Reports Round One, Higher Education
Academy, 2005. Available online at www.heacademy.ac.uk/documents/r01-ukeu.doc
Bacsich, P. & Davies, D. (2004). Presentation 4. In Learning materials & environments seminar,
appendix to chapter nineteen. In The e-University Compendium Volume One, Higher
Education Academy, 2004. Available online at
Breaking down boundaries
Bacsich, P., Mason, R,. Lefrere, P. & Bates, P. (2004). The e-tools (1) report: Pedagogic,
assessment and tutoring tools (learning platforms). In The e-University Compendium Volume
One, Higher Education Academy, 2004. Available online at
www.heacademy.ac.uk/learningandteaching/eUniCompendium_chap16.DOC (accessed 30
September 2005).
Bristow, S.F. (2005). University of Phoenix Online. In The UKeU Reports Round One, Higher
Education Academy, 2005. Available online at www.heacademy.ac.uk/documents/r08-
Computing. (2005). Lessons to be learned from failure of UKeU. In Computing, 20 January
2005. Available online at www.vnunet.com/computing/analysis/2076018/lessons-learnedfailure-
Conole, G., Carusi, A. & De Laat, M. (2005). Learning from the UKeU experience. Paper
presented at the ICE Conference, Higham, February 2005. Available online at
Curbishley, S. (2005). International students in UK higher education. In The UKeU Reports
Round One, Higher Education Academy, 2005. Available online at
Fielden, J., Middlehurst, R., Schofield, A., Rist, R., Bjarnason, S., Garrett, R., Maxwell, J. &
Abercromby, K. (2004). A study on market issues for the proposed e-university. In The e-
University Compendium Volume One, Higher Education Academy, 2004. Available online at
Guardian. (2004). The online revolution, mark II. The Guardian, 13 April 2004. Available online
at education.guardian.co.uk/elearning/story/0,10577,1190470,00.html
Garrett, R. (2004).The real story behind the failure of UK eUniversity. Educause Quarterly, 27 4,
2004. Available online at www.educause.edu/apps/eq/eqm04/eqm0440.asp?bhcp=1
HEFCE. (2004). HEFCE e-learning strategy: Consultation responses and next steps. Circular
letter number 09/2004, 12 May 2004. Available online at
Kelly, M. (2004). Partnership with UKeU. Presentation to the conference Financial
considerations for e-learning projects, CIPFA, Birmingham, March 2004.
Ngo, S.K. (2005). Pricing survey and analysis of online degree and MBA courses. In The UKeU
Reports Round One, Higher Education Academy, 2005. Available from the British Council to
authorised enquirers. A shortened version is publicly available online at
Oliver, M. (2000). An introduction to the evaluation of learning technology. Educational
Technology & Society 3 (4) 20–30. Available online at
Select Committee (Education and Skills). (2005a). UK e-University. The House of Commons, 3
March 2005. Available online at
Select Committee (Education and Skills), (2005b). Flyer for UK e-University. Available online at
Slater, J. (2005). Spent force or revolution in progress? eLearning after the eUniversity. Higher
Education Policy Institute, 2005. Available online at
Thompson, Q. (2004). Overview of the e-university concept. In The e-University Compendium
Volume One, Higher Education Academy, 2004. Available online at
The author gratefully acknowledges the support of HEFCE and the Higher Education Academy
for the selection, editing and publication of key documents from the UKeU archives, on which
some of this analysis is based.
Breaking down boundaries
The Magic Umu? Open and distance learning in three
Pacific Island countries
Kaye Schofield
There are many delegates who have a far greater expertise than I have in open and distance
learning, in Pacific issues, and in the development field, so I do not pretend to offer a technical
or academic perspective. Rather, my interest lies in sharing with you some observations based
on my work over the past eight years in the field of flexible learning in Australia, and in
development work in Samoa, PNG and Kiribati, in and beyond the education and training
sector. It is a very personal perspective.
The ideas I want to canvass are all based on the assumption that open and distance learning
can make a contribution to improved educational outcomes for small Pacific Island countries
such as Samoa and Kiribati and to fragile states such as PNG. By improved educational
outcomes I mean real outcomes that improve a nation’s sustainability –access, retention, and
achievement at all levels of education and training. But there is a caveat. The ability of open and
distance learning to contribute to better results depends on a deep understanding that:
1. Context is everything;
2. Diagnosing the problem is the essential starting point;
3. Education and training specialists need to focus on capacity development; and
4. Donors can be part of the problem as well as part of the solution.
1. Context is everything
Looking at a map of the Pacific region, we see many tiny islands in a seemingly boundless
ocean stretching eastwards from Australia through the Melanesian arc to Micronesia and across
the international dateline to Polynesia, and from New Zealand northwards and across the
equator to the Marshall Islands.
When we talk about the Pacific, we are talking about some 16 sovereign nations, each with its
distinct culture, language, history, political institutions and social and economic challenges.
Excluding Australia and New Zealand, we are talking about 8 million people in countries which
vary in size from Niue - roughly the size of Coober Pedy in SA - to PNG, with around the same
population as Denmark.
When we talk about the Pacific, we are talking about countries that are highly homogenous
such as Samoa, and highly heterogenous such as PNG. We are talking about the provision of
services to two islands in Samoa and to 33 islands in Kiribati.
We are talking about countries where all people share a single language, and PNG which has
more than 800 distinct languages and is one of the most socio-linguistically diverse nations on
earth. We are talking about countries where the highest point is a few metres above sea level
and others with almost impassable mountains where the only way into a school is a 14-hour
walk from the closest landing strip.
We are talking about countries that are relatively well governed, and countries where
governance is very weak indeed.
We are talking about countries in which the position of women varies significantly. For instance,
in PNG there is a very significant gap between the relatively equitable educational performance
of girls in matrilineal societies and the much lower performance in most patrilineal societies,
particularly those in the Highlands Region (notably Southern Highlands and Enga). The illiteracy
rate among women is estimated at around 60 per cent. However in Samoa, while there are 4%
more boys enrolled in primary school, this was reversed at secondary level with 4% more girls
enrolled than boys, leading to growing concerns about the under-achievement of boys relative
to girls.
This great diversity is not always appreciated when we use an aggregating term such as ‘the
Pacific’. This leads to the obvious conclusion – one size does not fit all.
At the same time, we cannot be blind to the many commonalities which are highlighted in
papers by O’Keefe et al (2004), Duncan & Gilling (2004) and Morris & Stewart (2004).
Economic performance across Pacific Island Countries and PNG is generally poor. Research by
Dollar and Kraay (2001) suggests that per capita income growth rates have to be above 2% for
poverty to be reduced. On this basis, only Cook Islands (6.5%) and Samoa (3.1%) have made
inroads into poverty reduction over the past decade. In the Marshall Islands, the Federated
States of Micronesia, Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu, per capita growth has been negative.
Many are highly reliant on remittances and foreign aid. Government debt is growing.
Health indicators are slipping. The group of Melanesian countries are vulnerable to HIV arising
from socio-cultural factors such as high levels of sexual partnering, gender inequalities, high
rates of sexual assault, and low literacy levels. PNG is now losing at least one teacher a week
from the workforce due to HIV/AIDS related illness and deaths. Other Pacific Island countries
are experiencing as yet low level, nascent epidemics driven largely by sexual transmission. In
Kiribati for example, concerns are expressed about seafarers and their partners (including sex
workers) who are at risk.
Gaps between service delivery to the rich and the poor and between urban and rural areas are
widening. Youth unemployment is high in many countries and is likely to worsen. And rapid
migration to urban areas is producing fringe settlements which pose significant environmental
and law and order problems and there are signs of increasing social problems in several
countries related to high youth unemployment, and the breakdown of traditional support
With respect to the education Millennium Development Goals, PNG, FSM, Nauru, and Solomon
Islands are some way from achieving universal primary enrolment. Low levels of retention
(grades 1 to 5) in Fiji, FSM, PNG and Samoa are of concern. Research undertaken by the
World Bank in 2004 suggests that in English language tests for Year 4 students, several
countries had around 40% of students at risk of failure, and even worse performance levels
were reported at Year 6.
When I was in Kiribati early this year [early 2005], this came home sharply when the University
of the South Pacific (USP) was unable to accept many school graduates from Kiribati because
of low performance levels. Studies also suggest high levels of inequality in access to education
services, most pronounced at the secondary levels. In Vanuatu, for example, less than 20% of
children in the poorest fifth of the population attend secondary schools. In Kiribati, Palau, FSM,
Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) and Samoa, less than 50% of poor children attend
secondary schools. If current trends continue, the goal of education for all is not likely to be
The emerging consensus is that regional cooperation and integration is the key to sustainability
in a globalising world – a consensus which has emerged more clearly in the aftermath of
September 11 and growing regional security fears. Pacific leaders have developed the Pacific
Plan to create stronger and deeper links between the sovereign countries of the region, having
already identified the sectors where the region could gain the most from sharing resources of
governance and aligning policies.
The aim of the Pacific Plan is to ‘enhance and stimulate economic growth, sustainable
development, good governance and security for Pacific countries through regionalism.’ These
priorities represent the collective will of Pacific leaders, and we must put our support for
education in their context - sustainable development.
This then raises a key challenge for those working to support the development of education in
the Pacific – how to get the right balance between national, regional and global contexts and, in
the case of PNG, sub-national or provincial contexts and in the case of Kiribati, the Outer
Islands. Practical questions arise from this.
Breaking down boundaries
• Is there a regional approach to bilingual education and can open and distance learning
assist here?
• Should texts produced in PNG be used in Kiribati schools?
• Should each country prepare its own curriculum statements or can some of them be
developed regionally? How do we make a judgement?
• Should Australians or New Zealanders be commissioned to write mathematics texts for
• Should radio broadcasts be shared across the region?
• Of what relevance is ‘world’s best practice’ in Pacific settings?
2. Diagnosing the problem is the essential starting point
Rigorous problem analysis must be the starting point for any effort to improve education in the
Pacific. But time and again open and distance learning is put forward as a solution, without a
clear analysis of the problem it is supposed to solve. I suggest that too many educators see
inputs as the core problem – inadequate curriculum, limited teacher education and pre-service,
poor infrastructure, insufficient and irrelevant or outdated teaching and learning materials, high
teacher-pupil ratios etc.
I believe that the core educational problem is low educational outcomes – access, retention,
and achievement, especially for the poor - and we need to understand how these vary
significantly, both within a country and regionally, in order to develop workable solutions. If this
is THE problem - and you may wish to dispute it - then our challenge in each instance is to trace
the problem back to its root cause
Some argue that the cause in the Pacific is lack of funding on education. Yet the World Bank
has found that ‘public spending on health and education are at par or above those for countries
at the same level of development’ and states are devoting more than a quarter of their public
funds to health and education spending (World Bank, 2004). The more relevant questions are:
where is that money directed, and how much of it actually gets to schools?
Some would argue that the basic problem is poor educational management and it is true that in
many cases, the processes, systems and accountability of educational Ministries in the Pacific
are still relatively weak.
But I would track the problem back further. One must ask: how do indigenous social structures
(such as gender inequities), economic governance and political governance impact on
educational outcomes? By locating educational problems in this much wider setting, it is clear
that the causes of poor educational performance frequently lie outside the education and
training system itself. This is not to say that educational initiatives have to take on the whole
spectrum of causal factors, but from my observation they do need to be more mindful of the
wider political, social and economic contexts, and be far more strategic in responding to them. If
we arrive at a clear statement of the problem, we are better able to identify solutions on a caseby-
case basis.
Education and training, and open and distance learning more specifically, is a means rather
than an end. Education in the Pacific is not about self-actualisation of individuals, important as
that may be to educators brought up on a liberal humanist view of education. Rather, education
in the Pacific is about nation-building and the imperative of national and cultural sustainability.
We need to acknowledge this and find better ways to support it through education and training. I
would like to see rigorous efforts to create a link between the adoption of open and distance
learning and improved access, retention and achievement. There is little use in expensive
proposals for the use of new technologies when the full educational potential of old technologies
such as radio broadcasting has never been realised. And it is pointless spending millions of
dollars on providing new learning materials if there is inadequate thought given to how they
might be securely stored.
3. Education and training specialists need to focus their
practise on capacity-development
For the immediate future, there will be a continuing need for external specialist assistance in
open and distance learning throughout the Pacific. But simply using more foreign specialists will
not ensure that open and distance learning can fulfil its potential as a contributor to improved
education outcomes. What is needed is a strong focus on capacity development by which
people, organisations and society as a whole develop the capabilities and motivation needed to
undertake sustained and self-generating performance improvement. It is both a process and an
objective, and it applies equally to institutions, individuals and communities.
Capacity development is not just more training courses and inappropriately termed ‘skills
transfer’. There are some core principles of capacity development that are especially relevant.
1. Local ownership
Demand-driven assistance works best. It is often difficult for the people of many Pacific
countries to refuse offers of external assistance, and their confidence in challenging the
conclusions of external experts is often limited. In my experience, local acceptance of external
advice is generally reflected in participation in meaningful discussions and a clear commitment
to implementation, whereas opposition to external advice is generally reflected in limited
dialogue with specialists and half-hearted implementation. In short, as anywhere, people vote
with their hearts and hands, not with their lips.
This means that any proposals for open and distance learning need to be worked through
thoroughly with a broad range of stakeholders - not just the power elites in national
bureaucracies but people on the frontline of service delivery, including teachers, students and
school committees. In addition, central agencies and civil society or non-state actors need to be
actively engaged if the demand for educational improvement is to grow organically.
2. Build on what already exists
Most Pacific countries now have a national development strategy which identifies key priorities,
and human resource development figures prominently in all of them. While not perfect in terms
of clear prioritisation, monitoring or expenditure frameworks, they must be the foundations for all
subsequent work.
Most Pacific countries have or are in the process of developing long-range (5-10 year)
Education Plans. Samoa for example has systematically pursued a 10 year plan and is now
finalising its second ten year plan to 2014. Many have very good education and training policies
which have not been implemented for lack of ownership, leadership, financial or human
resources or infrastructure.
In each of the three countries I have worked there are excellent people doing really remarkable
things in education under very difficult circumstances. Building on local efforts to solve
problems, and discussing them with a view to learning from them or scaling them up to address
national priorities, will yield more sustainable solutions. Our efforts in education and training
should start here, rather than trying to apply Australian priorities or perspectives, or introducing
yesterday’s best practice.
Building on what exists nationally needs to also take account of what already exists regionally,
and more so in open and distance learning because of set-up and maintenance costs. The
Pacific Plan includes a range of actions intended to improve education and training through
regional initiatives.
These include the following actions:
• Harmonise approaches in the education sector including: upgrading secondary curricula
and examination systems (including for vocational training); standardising a regional leaving
certificate; coordinating support for basic education through the Forum Basic Education
Action Plan (FBEAP), and using the Pacific Regional Initiatives for the Delivery of basic
Education (PRIDE) as a model.
Breaking down boundaries
• Investigate the potential for expanding regional technical and vocational education training
(TVET) programs to take advantage of opportunities in health care, seafaring,
hospitality/tourism, peacekeeping, etc, and for enhancing and standardising regional
training programs.
• Deliver specific studies and scholarships on regionalism, pro-poor economic growth, peace
and conflict, traditional structures, leadership, gender-specific indicators, and cultural policy
to support regional cooperation and integration.
The Pacific Plan also includes the implementation of a regional digital strategy for improving
information and communication technology, to be submitted for approval in 2006. This strategy
will include liberalisation and market friendly regulation; a central pool of specialists; training and
access to distance learning; information and telecommunications security; audio broadcasting;
communication strategy; and equity.
Rather than going down a parallel path, external support should swing in behind these regional
initiatives, while taking account of specific national priorities and issues.
3. Patience and consistency
While we do need to carefully track the relationship between open and distance learning and
improved access, retention and achievement, it is not realistic to expect a country such as PNG
to have the capacity to achieve universal basic education in a decade. Capacity development is
no quick fix – it needs to be seen as a process of long-term and even generational change.
Even when planning short-term initiatives, we need to have long-term goals in mind. And we
need to avoid U-turns. We need to be consistent in our approach. We need to set a course
based on a clear diagnosis of the problem and clear outcomes to be achieved, and then work
towards them over time. This is not to say we should develop blue-prints, but we should have
clear mud-maps which all stakeholders understand and follow.
4. Expectations must be realistic
We should avoid the danger of over-selling open and distance learning. After all, it is simply one
of many factors likely to result in improved learning outcomes. It is better to set modest goals
and achieve them than to have grand plans which disappoint and disillusion. What can open
and distance learning actually deliver? Of itself it cannot deliver better access, improved
retention or higher achievement for all. This means that open and distance learning specialists
need to more fulsomely integrate their contribution into wider reform efforts.
5. Incentives matter
We would also do well to acquire a better understanding of the incentive systems that affect the
performance of education and training generally and open and distance learning specifically,
and be aware that they are locally defined and culturally specific. What prompts the introduction
of open and distance learning into national and regional plans? Under what circumstances do
governments allocate funds to support open and distance learning initiatives? Who might resist
open and distance learning and why? Whose interests are served by an open and distance
learning proposal? Is the incentive to introduce open and distance learning the same as the
incentive to maintain it? Why are radio masts and transmitters allowed to fall into disrepair?
This is not the usual way we consider open and distance learning but it is an essential part of a
capacity development approach.
4. Donors can be part of the problem as well as part of the
Time does not permit me to canvass the many examples of where donor assistance has made
a valuable contribution to open and distance learning in the Pacific, but they include USPNet,
the EU and COL initiatives in PNG, and ADB-supported initiatives in Samoa. However, much
donor support has been totally inappropriate to the context, it has ignored the fundamental
principles of capacity development, or it has used aid for open and distance learning as a geopolitical
While the debate around the effectiveness of aid to the Pacific is extremely robust, we can
reasonably conclude that the results of donor investment in the Pacific have been disappointing.
The causes of this are complex, and have much to do with economic and political governance
of Pacific Island countries and PNG. A recent background paper for the Pacific Plan (Pacific
Plan papers, 2005) estimates that poor governance in Papua New Guinea (PNG), Fiji Islands,
Solomon Islands, and Nauru has resulted in nearly US$75 billion in forgone income in those
countries since independence. But poor results also have much to do with the way donors
behave and the arrangements they use to package and deliver aid.
In the countries I have worked in, various donors have supported open and distance learning in
ways that are not compatible with the local cultures and such initiatives have lead to fraught
relationships. Some donors have provided new technologies which have fallen into disuse when
donor funds have ceased, because they were not sustainable. Other donors have pushed
technologies produced by their own national companies without due regard for the existing
technology frameworks of the recipient country.
And there is much worse. http://www.AidHarmonization.org reports that ‘Donors fund more than
60,000 aid projects around the world. …developing countries receive as many as 800 new
projects a year, host more than 1,000 missions to monitor the work, and have to present 2,400
quarterly reports on progress.’
OECD/DAC figures show an extraordinary proliferation of projects in education between 1997
and 2003. Although the figures are inflated by small French projects, there have been no less
than 109 education sector projects in this period in Vanuatu, 70 in Samoa, 50 in Tonga, and 46
in Kiribati. The burden donors place on Pacific countries is excessive.
One of the big breakthroughs in recent years has been the international consensus on how to
make aid more effective. Starting with the Millennium Declaration of 2000, we now have the
2005 Paris Declaration adopted at the Second High Level Forum on Harmonisation and
Alignment for Aid Effectiveness, which committed to a set of mutual Partnership Commitments
and Indicators of Progress in relation to ownership, alignment, harmonisation and managing of
results, endorsed by 147 Heads of State and Government at the Millennium Summit of the
United Nations General Assembly.
Gradually, donors are reviewing their practices within this framework and looking for new ways
of working. During 2005, Australia, NZ, EU and ADB worked together and with partner
governments in new ways in PNG, Kiribati and Samoa. A new spirit is abroad. The challenge for
open and distance learning is to be an integral part of that process.
Asian Development Bank (2003) Information and Communication Technology for Development
in the Pacific: The role of information and communication technology (ICT) in fostering
poverty reduction efforts and socioeconomic development in the Pacific region, Manila
Dollar, D., & Kraay, A. (2001). Growth is Good for the Poor, Policy Research Working Paper
2587, World Bank, Washington, DC.
Duncan, R., & Gilling, J. (2005). Pacific Island Countries. In Core Group recommendations
report for a White Paper on Australia’s Aid Program. Canberra: Australian Government.
Available online at http://www.ausaid.gov.au/hottopics/whitepaper/companion_report.pdf
Jütting, Johannes (2003). Institutions and Development: a Critical review, OECD Development
Centre, Working Paper No. 210, July 2003, DEV/DOC(2003)08
Morris, A., & Stewart, R. (2005). Papua New Guinea. In Core Group recommendations report
for a White Paper on Australia’s Aid Program. Canberra: Australian Government. Available
online at http://www.ausaid.gov.au/hottopics/whitepaper/companion_report.pdf
O’Keeffe, A., Godwin, J., & Moodie, R. (2005). HIV/AIDS in the Asia Pacific Region. In Core
Group recommendations report for a White Paper on Australia’s Aid Program. Canberra:
Australian Government. Available online at
Breaking down boundaries
Pacific Plan Background Papers, Final Draft, Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, September
2005. Available online at
Breaking down boundaries: Institutional perspectives
in open and distance learning

Setting the agenda in open and distance learning
Professor Denise Bradley AO
(Keynote address)
I would like to welcome you all to the conference and to Adelaide. I hope you find the
conference stimulating and also take time to enjoy some of the good things the city has to offer.
This is the third time the University of South Australia has organised a conference in association
with ODLAA and those of you who have returned are particularly welcome.
I think I should give you some indication of the context from which I am speaking this morning. I
am Vice Chancellor of a University that has a long history in dual-mode distance education. (We
were one of the eight National Distance Education Centres in Australia.) We have both learned
from that history and had to recast it for the 21st century, as we have moved from distance
education for some to flexible delivery for all. We have a major commitment to the intelligent use
of technologies to support student learning and we are one of Australia’s largest providers of
transnational education. By this I mean we use a range of teaching strategies, including many
derived from our distance education past, to deliver programs to around 7000 students who
study in groups in partner institutions in 8 countries.
I am also extremely conscious, in my role as President of the Board of IDP Education Australia
– the major recruitment body for Australia’s International students - that the international context
of educational delivery is changing. This presents institutions at all levels – universities,
vocational education providers, and schools - with many challenges of an educational,
commercial, and ethical kind. It also suggests that we need to think again about the capabilities
of staff, particularly academic staff, who work in this changed environment. I will take this up
later in the paper.
I have chosen to reflect briefly on each of the four sub-themes around which other keynote
speeches and the parallel sessions have been planned: (a) transnational education and
development, (b) excellence in teaching and learning, (c) use of ICTs in open and distance
learning (ODL), and (d) professional development in ODL. Underlying much of what I will say is
my experience that the first sub theme – transnational education - has had transforming effects
on all aspects of the teaching and learning environment and, indeed, on institutional culture.
Perhaps this is because teaching international students in your own country poses many
exciting challenges but you are in your own environment. The student is the ‘other’. But when
you teach groups of students in their own countries the teacher becomes the ‘other’. From our
experience at UniSA over more than a decade, the impact of this form of delivery on the
institution’s culture, operating procedures and systems is quite profound.
Transnational education and development
In addressing the first conference theme - transnational education and development, I am
conscious that Sir John Daniel will be specifically addressing issues of support for developing
nations and so I will tailor my remarks to only one or two issues. These are ones which concern
me a great deal as Vice Chancellor of UniSA.
All of us who work in education are conscious of the pressures on educational providers as
demand increases, technology changes and students position themselves as ‘customers’. The
international literature suggests these pressures cut across national borders and oblige
everyone – both educational administrators and teaching staff – to consider whether traditional
work practices and teaching methodologies still serve us well. The questions about how much
Breaking down boundaries
and what we need to change are significant even if an institution teaches only on campus, but
are more acute and more immediate if it delivers off campus or offshore.
For institutions which are operating transnationally the pressures include:
1. the scale of projected demand for cross border education over the next two decades and
how to respond appropriately
2. increasing competition from new players – both new providers and new countries entering
the education ‘business’
3. changing patterns of student demand
4. the globalising impact of technological developments
5. the necessity to develop scaleable teaching models
6. the importance of addressing more systematically the possibilities of disaggregated delivery
7. finding more effective ways to work with partners
8. cross cultural issues and the dangers for countries like Australia of Anglophone-centric
assumptions, and
9. the tension between education as aid and education as trade.
This last point is worth elaborating. This is an issue everywhere and is closely related to
government-driven moves towards a greater component of user-pays in the funding of
education. For many institutions, what used to be service to the international community is now
a key element of income. Of course, this cannot be separated from the effects of massive
increases in the numbers of people seeking an international education experience either
onshore or at home through transnational education. I’d like to make two comments about this
First, those who work in educational institutions like mine are facing a conflict of values,
between self-interest (or even organisational survival) and meeting the broader needs of our
global community. Governments play a critical role here. The legislative requirement, for
example, here in Australia, that the costs of educating international students not be cross
subsidised by local students constrains delivery of our programs to the wealthier citizens of
developing countries and severely limits any capacity to support those in greatest need, unless
governments – ours or others – are prepared to subsidise such students . While we offer
scholarships to poorer students the numbers available are very small and have a marginal
impact on need.
Second, many of the transnational initiatives that have proliferated over the last fifteen years in
Australia have been driven by well-meaning and entrepreneurially-minded staff, drawing on the
experience of resource-based delivery that characterised distance education. And technology
has facilitated this. We can deliver study resources more rapidly and engage with remote
students more readily than at any time in our past. Within our institutions generally, the
mechanics of delivery and the business case for transnational initiatives have received
attention. But we have not spent enough time on considering how and how far we should be
internationalising the curriculum; nor have we drawn effectively on what distance education
taught us about responsiveness to the context in which students were learning, the importance
of approaching student support systematically and using data about our students to inform our
teaching practices.
In Australia at least we have largely been driven by the need to respond to often overwhelming
demand and a bewildering number of opportunities. To some extent we have worked out how to
deliver and for what price and then have found ourselves chasing the educational questions.
I think there is a challenge for you here. Has the distance education community seriously
addressed the implications and impact of this major and transforming development in
international education? Is enough research being done that relates the theory and practice of
distance education to this new situation? I suspect John Daniel will pose similar questions to
Excellence in teaching and learning (in ODL)
There are a number of matters I want to raise with you about excellence in teaching and
learning, your second theme.
The first involves the rise of the quality movement and international trends to accountability. You
would all be aware of the various national initiatives to assure quality of educational provision.
And you probably have some sense of the demands on individuals and institutions that have
followed from the creation of national quality assurance systems.
It does seem to me that there is a real tension between quality assurance (for external
stakeholders) and quality improvement at institutional level. One could argue that the quality
agencies emphasise the former to the detriment of the latter. We should be investigating more
systematically whether such agencies focus on the right things, and if the processes of
responding to them within institutions are so demanding that more directly useful (useful to
improving practice that is) activities fall by the wayside.
My own view is that innovation in teaching and learning is harder to foster and nurture in an
institution which is subject to regular audit of its teaching and learning approaches. By its very
nature, innovation is risky and failure is inevitable some of the time. One of the effects of an
audit regime is that you want to show success not failure. Perhaps, too, the compliance
requirements of such regimes consume too much time and energy of those who would wish to
learn more about the impact of their teaching and improve it?
My second point relates in part to this. I think as institutions grow larger and more complex; we
deliver the same program to groups on multiple sites; and technology changes our practices we
have to accept the necessity of finding institutional solutions to assuring ourselves and our
stakeholders that we are delivering consistent outcomes. We cannot rely only on traditional
devolved models of assuring quality internally or the professionalism of the individual teacher to
do this. I am not suggesting either of these things are unimportant or unnecessary but in the
new environment they are only part of the answer. We must balance individual teacher
judgement and professionalism with institutional knowledge about and responsibility for the
student experience.
In the past, distance education had a deserved reputation for quality because of the systems
put in place to produce study resources, manage administration and support students. Now,
there are many signs that the PC and the enthusiastic amateur will take us back to cottage
industry approaches, with all the attendant inefficiencies and, in particular, lack of accountability
they involve. This is very real in mixed mode institutions in particular, but also for more
traditional institutions that see technology as the pathway to wider student recruitment at home
and abroad. We are all struggling with this issue as the context in which we operate changes so
Third, I want to consider the implications of the move by governments to use external indicators
to identify (and provide the basis of rewards for) excellence. There is quite a lot one might say
about this, not least the desire of those who control our futures to reduce such complex issues
as quality to a small number of quantitative indicators, but what I want to raise here is the failure
of these to account reasonably for the experience of students at a distance. That is, those
whose learning milieu is substantially different from the on-campus experience, or even the incountry
experience. If we have learned anything from our distance education involvements, it is
that students are not all of a kind. How much more is this complicated when educational
delivery is mediated through offshore partners, a heavy reliance on technology, the crosscultural
interface, and where the learner operates in a second language?
As a final point in this section, I want to turn to the tension between institutional requirements for
appropriate treatment of student and the maintenance of the privatised nature of the teaching
and learning transaction between teacher and student. Distance education exacerbates this
tendency to define teaching and learning as an essentially private transaction because of the
frequent isolation of the distance learner and the heavy reliance on a one-to-one relationship
with a tutor or lecturer.
Breaking down boundaries
But there are costs and tensions. To take a practical example, my university has a commitment
to a three week turn-around time on assignments submitted by distance students. This seems a
reasonable undertaking to give students who need feedback on their submitted work if they are
to reflect on their performance and seek to improve upon it. We publicise our commitment and it
becomes one indicator of the quality of our service provision. Each breach of this commitment
serves our students poorly and reflects badly on our institutional reputation. Yet there are
members of our academic staff who see this as an unreasonable intrusion on their autonomy or
a policy commitment that is optional - to be ignored if inconvenient (to them, of course, the
student’s need for timely feedback is not considered).
While the individual educator’s commitment to excellence is vital, I do not believe that quality
considerations are solely the prerogative of the individual educator. We want all our teachers to
share a commitment to quality provision, to gather data about the impact of their teaching, to
reflect on this and make improvements. But it does seem to me that there is also an institutional
obligation to set levels of expectation about staff member’s performance. Most institutions do
this, although how well they achieve committed compliance is another matter. Such resistance
to institutional expectations is often characterised as a tension between academic autonomy
and managerialism. I consider such a position superficial and its orientation teacher - rather
than student – centred.
Use of technologies in open and distance learning
The application of new technologies to open and distance education – indeed, to all forms of
delivery – is now relatively commonplace, but are we getting any advantage from these
developments? By this I mean, are we adding to the opportunities for students, improving the
quality of their experience, or achieving savings in time or other resources? Carol Twigg argues
that when the results of applying technology to teaching and learning achieve outcomes that are
‘just as good as’ earlier approaches, then our performance is simply not acceptable. As
someone who is responsible for resource management I agree. Yet recent large scale reviews
suggest this is all we are achieving. It is time for us to see more research which is not simply an
account of whether or how we use technologies in teaching, but which addresses questions
about how we do this and whether the cost of what we do is reflected in improved outcomes.
While there have been real gains in applying technology to ODL – overcoming the logistical
problems of delivering packages of study resources in a timely manner, for example - too often
our approach to using technology is simply to bolt it on to existing practice. There has been
almost no reconceptualisation of the teaching and learning relationship in the light of the
opportunities that the technology affords. There is often no consideration either of potential
changes in work practices, or of methodologies that exploit the capacity of the technology and
allow us to engage with students in new ways.
Perhaps it’s time to focus less on the magical promises of the IT vendors and more on giving
serious attention as scholars and practitioners to more intelligent and cost effective use of the
new technologies in teaching and learning. Too often still I see demonstrations of gee whiz
technologies which show what we can do differently, but not very often can their proponents
answer a question about how this product will improve learning. Just because it’s new doesn’t
mean it’s better!
I want to finish this section by borrowing from Carol Twigg again and asking whether we need to
turn our teaching and learning assumptions on their head. She makes the point that our
teaching models have been predicated on considerable autonomy for teachers and a relatively
constrained experience for students. Should we be seeking to reverse that pattern? To do so is
truly revolutionary and may be impossible in Western universities for historical and cultural
reasons but I have no doubt that private providers and institutions from cultural contexts where
the freedom of the individual academic is less well established may find such a transition easier.
Professional development
There are major questions about our practices in recruitment, induction and professional
development of academic staff in particular and I believe those of us responsible for employing
academic and professional staff in the rapidly changing context of international education face
some very serious challenges about finding new approaches to attracting, retaining and
developing staff. While there are no doubt particular issues about appropriate provision for open
and distance educators (and I am aware Michael Moore is delivering a keynote address on the
issue) there are some overarching issues that are worth mentioning here, I believe.
The first issue that is consuming my attention at present is not professional development but
recruitment of academic staff in particular. Should we consider changes to conventional
recruitment practices? In higher education we direct our attention to a restricted range of issues
- qualifications, publications and evidence that applicants are not disastrous teachers (usually in
the classroom). We pay little attention to attributes like capacity to change, cultural sensitivity,
innovativeness and capacity to work with others.
And yet, it’s precisely attributes like these which we would identify as critical at present. We
want our staff - academic and professional - to be flexible, responsive, culturally appropriate
and able to work harmoniously with their colleagues. We also want our academic leaders to
demonstrate their leadership not just in their international publications but also within our
institutions, nurturing their more junior colleagues, enabling them to build their careers, and
assisting the institution to respond effectively and strategically to the changing international
I think universities have been very bad at recruitment. As a result, much of our formal
professional development is directed to filling gaps or fixing problems rather than building
people’s capacity to meet both institutional and individual needs.
Aside from the more general issues I have raised above there are some particular ones we all
face at present. They are how to reward good teaching as well as reward research performance
- how can we do both in an international environment which provides disproportionate reward
for research performance; certification of higher education teachers - compulsory or not?; and,
IT literacy and competence in academics - how much should be their responsibility and how
much the institution’s?
For those working in open and distance education I suspect there may be an emerging issue
about technological capacity. How many of more recent recruits have any depth of educational
background? In the rush to recruit people who are competent in the new technologies have we
acquired people who are technologists only with no deep understanding of or commitment to
fostering effective student learning?
I have ranged far and wide this morning, talking largely about some of the issues which, as the
Vice Chancellor of a University concerned to be innovative, international in orientation and
intelligent in its use of technologies, seem to take up a lot of my time and thoughts. What I have
is many questions. I wish you well in working together over the next few days to identify some
answers to these and other questions posed by later speakers.
Twigg, C. (2002). Improving quality and reducing costs – Designs for effective learning using
information technology. Report, The Observatory on Borderless Higher Education,
International Strategic Information Service, London, September.
Twigg, C. (2003). Improving learning and reducing costs: New models for online learning.
Educause Review, 38(5), 28-38. http://www.educause.edu/pub/er/erm03/erm035.asp
Breaking down boundaries
Professional development, graduate study and
Michael G Moore
(Keynote address)
A definition
To begin the discussion I will define professional development as: ‘planned learning
experiences designed by an organisation for its employees or members, the intention of which
is the advancement of knowledge and skill that pertain to their employment or professional
With the help of my graduate student, I did some research to try to find some empirical data,
beginning with a literature search. Documents searched included the four main distance
education journals, several related journals, and several databases, namely: the US 1998
National Center for Education Statistics' report, the ERIC database, the American Journal of
Distance Education, Journal of Distance Education, Distance Education, Adult Education
Quarterly, Journal of Applied Communications, Adult Basic Education, Educational Technology
Research and Development, The Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration,
Educational Technology & Society. We found many casual references to professional
development in articles about the role of faculty and faculty motivation, among other things.
However, we found very few reports about the subject based on empirical data.
Second, I selected twenty different distance education institutions representing all regions of the
world, and my graduate student distributed a questionnaire asking for information about
professional development, and graduate study and research. We reviewed websites for
information about others, most of what we found being of a promotional nature.
Determining professional development needs
Several authors have tried to classify training needs. I have not found any better presentation
than that of the Commonwealth of Learning’s (COL) 1990 ‘Perspectives on Distance Education:
Report of a Round Table on Training Distance Educators.
That document is organised into chapters on the need for training in the domains of:
1. policy, planning and management;
2. instructional design and course development;
3. application of new technology;
4. using externally produced materials.1
Recommendations in subsequent documents are a little different. What is different is whereas
the COL document assumes that needs are based on the different roles of administrators,
designers, technologists and student support personnel, when we rely on the more recent
literature, especially what is published in the US, we quickly run into the less clear
understanding that most authors have about distance education itself. Compared with the COL
authors, for example, we find that what professional development is needed is directed at ‘Jack
of all trades’ distance educators, or what Bates calls the ‘Lone Ranger’ distance educator.
Under this approach members of the university faculty are expected to take individual personal
responsibility for design and delivery or their own programs with some technical support, and
thus the training problem becomes, how to provide them with the knowledge, attitudes and skills
to pull off this enormously difficult task.
In this context, one study (Clay, 1999) posited that becoming a distance educator in a dual
mode system is an act of adopting an innovation, for which there are different training needs,
based on four stages of adoption. At a stage of early awareness the university teachers need to
be given information; as they go on to seriously consider taking up the innovation, they need to
test techniques and procedures in a protected environment. As they move into adoption they
need support from peers and assistance from specialists. Finally, when they become
practitioners, rather than just innovators, they might look for various forms of in-service training
and the opportunity to develop deeper knowledge by attending conferences, receiving journals,
and to learn through acting as mentor for others.
Cutting across these changes occurring as the teacher moves from awareness to
professionalism, other literature (e.g., Valdez 1989, Dillon & Walsh, 1992) suggests that faculty
members exhibit three types of needs:
1. Needs about self, e.g., ‘what do I have to learn to keep my position in this institution and my
identity as an educator, including my workload and income?’
2. Task needs, e.g., ‘what do I have to learn in order to be a competent distance education
teacher? What are the necessary design and teaching skills?’
3. Impact needs, e.g., ‘what do I have to learn in order to manage the impact of distance
teaching on my students, my institution, my profession, and perhaps, society in general?’
These conjectures can perhaps be illustrated from one of the few empirical research projects
we have identified.
In a 2002 study of faculty in fourteen US Land Grant universities, Irani and Telg (2002) reported
that faculty felt a need for:
1. training in the tasks of instruction and tasks of planning and developing pedagogically sound
2. informing about the institutional policies that would affect them in the new role, such as the
policy on time release for course planning, financial incentives, and recognition in the tenure
and promotion process.
What is provided
In the USA, The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) (1998) reported that about 60
per cent of higher education institutions provide training for distance education faculty. NCES
has a rather vague understanding of distance education and what it means by training is not
clear, nor is the validity of the data being reported by institutions. Nevertheless, that is what the
report states.
In some dual mode institutions and most single mode institutions, some form of training is a
compulsory prerequisite for distance teaching. In major American dual mode universities such
as those studied by Irani (2003), neither initial or continuing professional development is
compulsory. According to the NCES, of the institutions in its survey:
1. 25 per cent offered training in using technology,
2. 13 per cent offered training in curriculum development, and
3. 17 per cent in distance teaching methods.
In the fourteen land-grant institutions studied by Irani and Telg's (2002), training consisted of:
1. instructional design methods,
2. training on the use of particular technologies, and
3. training on the use of specific software.
Breaking down boundaries
Sherry and Morse (1995) also reported a focus on technology, the rationale being that if faculty
were comfortable with the technology, ‘they will be able to focus on the learners rather than on
the technology itself.’
It is clear that underlying this statement is the assumption that pervades most American thinking
about distance education, which is that what is happening in teaching at a distance is not
essentially different from face-to-face classroom teaching, with the consequence that the key
need in training is how to do those same activities through the computer.
This compares quite dramatically with the separation of design, teaching and management
responsibilities in the COL document with its consequent differentiation of different training
curricula for different specialists.
Training methods
In all the documents we examined there is general conformity about methods used and
recommended for training, and are what one would expect.
Typical of the methods recommended by various contributors to the COL report was Janet
Jenkins’ suggested ‘training modes and strategies’ which she divided between formal and
informal methods and in the former listed:
1. Organised training sessions: seminars, workshops and short courses ranging from a few
hours to several weeks
2. Self-study: using training packages devised or approved for in-house use
3. Study for professional qualifications provided by the institution (using distance or face-to-face
mode of study (COL, 1990, p.61)
A decade later, the most common faculty training programs that Irani and Telg (2002) found in
the fourteen US universities consisted of:
1. two- to four-hour workshops;
2. short, multiple sessions held once a week over many weeks;
3. one-on-one sessions at the faculty member’s discretion.
In a later study, Irani (2003) concluded that ‘faculty would like training sessions that occur
occasionally and are held over several weeks or are self-directed. Moreover, faculty members
not on the main university campus overwhelmingly said that they would prefer a self-paced
training program, delivered by CD-ROM, the Web, or videotape.
Clay (1999) reported eight training methods and suggested that to meet different learning styles
and training needs, a program should be designed to include ‘at least four types of the following
1. group sessions;
2. one-on-one lab sessions;
3. web-based tutorials;
4. printed materials;
5. listservs;
6. mentorships;
7. monthly discussion sessions among peers;
8. observation of other distance courses.
Who does the training?
Few American dual mode institutions have invested in setting up more than token training
departments or invested in the development of trainers specifically competent to assist faculty
develop distance education skills. In Irani and Telg's (2002) study, multiple small programs were
offered by different colleges and units across the university with no central coordination.
Further, two thirds of the fourteen land-grant universities indicated there were no professional
trainers and that faculty training was conducted as an ancilliary activity by staff instructional
Graduate study and research
As noted before, Jenkins included ‘study for professional qualifications’ as the ultimate
professional development method. In the same COL document, Prebble summarised his
chapter by listing as the first of five training methods: ‘University level courses in distance
education, preferably offered by distance education means’ (1990, p.23).
Why graduate study as professional development?
One of the most meaningful statements I came across in reviewing the limited volume of
literature on the subject of professional development was the following statement by Janet
Jenkins in that same 1990 COL report:
I had no special training for distance education and I have been trying to analyse what I
missed … I made plenty of mistakes which might have been avoided if I had received
training but these were not serious and I got on reasonably well. Looking back however I
can see a major shortcoming. I was working without a frame of reference. I had no
concept of distance education , and without an organising framework my work lacked a
clear direction and was less effective than it could have been (1990, p.57).
In my opinion, it is that organising framework, that confidence that comes from knowing the
depth and the breadth of the field, knowing what is known and what is unknown, knowing the
multiple conceptual alternatives that underlie the everyday choices that have to be made in
practice, that is the invaluable value-added by professional development through post-graduate
At that time of the COL Roundtable, a mere fifteen years ago, there were in fact very few
university courses that Prebble had in mind, and even fewer post-graduate degrees or
certificates that would be directly relevant to potential or actual senior managers of distance
education programs. Those he actually mentioned were the Graduate Diploma in Distance
Education offered by South Australia College of Advanced Education, Massey University’s
Diploma in Education (Distance Education), University of London Diploma and Master’s degree
in Distance Education, based, as I recall, on the courses developed in cooperation with the
International Extension College.
In the United States, I began what I am fairly sure was the first graduate program – at Penn
State in 1986, teaching a three course sequence both in the classroom and at a distance,
linking the two by means of audio teleconferencing, occasional video conferencing, and
computer conferencing, beginning with Bitnet on 2400 baud modems, and providing an unusual
international flavour by linking students in three cities in Finland and three cities in Mexico, later
also Estonia. In 1996, Penn State set up its World Campus where it offers the postgraduate
Certificate in Distance Education online, based on the content of my international certificate
Dissertations 2000–2004
When we feel discouraged, if we do, it is as well to step back and see what incredible progress
we have made in this field in the short period of twenty or thirty years, or even since that COL
conference of 1990. See for example the following result of a search on doctoral dissertation
1. distance and learning: 171 dissertations
2. distance and education: 233 dissertations
3. web and learning: 140 dissertations
4. web and education: 98 dissertations
Breaking down boundaries
Graduate study as professional development
For every graduate student, study is a form of professional development, requiring very serious
In the US at least and I think it would be a very safe guess, in Australia and the South Pacific
too, the post-graduate student of distance education is an adult who has practiced for some
years in an educational profession or some other employment and decided to give up full time
employment in order to study for a higher degree, or to give up leisure and other time in order to
study on a part-time basis. Today we have in the program where I teach, together with four
other full time faculty and a number of part-time instructors, some fifty doctoral residential
students, 75 per cent of whom are part-time in study and some 200 students online, all taking a
course or two at a time to acquire a Master’s over a period of between three and five years.
Seldom if ever nowadays is graduate study a form of liberal education, undertaken for love of
learning along, and certainly graduate study of distance education is only motivated by an
interest in preparing oneself for professional practice, or for advancing knowledge of the field. A
web search of the twenty or more graduate programs in distance education in North America
shows that the great majority fold their courses within a degree or certificate in educational
technology. By contrast our Penn State courses are carried within a program of study of adult
education, and the Certificate requires courses in adult education as well as instructional
systems to complement the three courses in distance education. These are: Introduction to
distance education; course design and development in distance education; research and
evaluation in distance education. So we take a very self-consciously broad view about distance
education to ground our graduates in knowledge about issues of adult learning theory and
issues of education in society. Indeed the overall focus of our adult education program is now
on issues of globalisation and distance education is studied within that context.
Our study of technology is limited to its pedagogical attributes, though of course students
become fairly proficient as they learn to use technology as a tool for their learning and teaching
of courses taught at a distance. The introductory course is offered each of three semesters a
year and usually with two sections. The more advanced courses are offered once a year, and
usually with two sections, each section being capped at sixteen students. We have one full
professor, four Associates, two Assistants, one post-doctoral fellow and four or five teaching
assistants. With some faculty teaching only one half of their load online, we offer ten to fifteen
courses a semester, about forty a year, and at an average of fifteen students paying $1300 per
course the income to our small program is in the region of three to four million dollars a year.
And a huge part of this is added productivity, additional to the continued residential instruction.
Examples of graduate study of distance education
Univ. of Maryland University College
Six Certificates in Distance Education
Master of Distance Education
Deakin University
Graduate Certificate of Professional Education and Training
Master of Professional Education and Training
Master of Arts—Education
D.Ed and PhD
Massey University
Postgraduate Certificate in Education (Distance and Online Education)
Postgraduate Diploma in Education (Distance and Online Education)
Master of Education (Distance and Online Education)
PhD and Ed.D.
Athabasca University
Advanced Graduate Diploma in Distance Education
Masters of Distance Education
Doctoral program in DE approved and awaiting government approval
Indira Gandhi National Open University
Postgraduate Diploma in Distance Education
M.A. in Distance Education
Graduate student research
At the centre of all graduate study is the process of acquiring a working knowledge of the
research in the field, and acquiring the ability to contributing to it through research, either
theoretical or applied.
In my program the ultimate taught course in our field is Research and Evaluation in distance
education. Students in residence or online are provided a structured introduction to the research
in the main domains of:
1. history and theory;
2. course and program design;
3. instruction; policy, management and administration; and
4. global issues.
They then produce a miniature research proposal. In many cases these eventually mature into
full blown Masters theses or Doctoral dissertations. To illustrate, the following topics were
presented as preliminary proposals in last Spring’s online class.
Student research papers in Research course 532, Spring 2004
Cooperative Learning in Online Courses at the University Level
Technology in Distance Education: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Why Do Faculty Participate in Distance Education?
Distance Education for Successful Aging
Distance Learning in the Armed Forces
The Impact of Online Interaction
Quality Indicators for Distance Learning: Benchmarks for Success
Distance Learning Programs: Differentiating Assessment From Evaluation
Women in Distance Education Administration: Gender Issues at the top
Collaborative Learning in The Online Distance Education Environment
Continuing Professional Education in Distributed Learning Environment
Learning Styles and Course Design in Distance Education
Safe-guarding against Academic Dishonesty in Online Education Programs
The Influence of Learning Style Preferences in a Distance Learning
Designing an Orientation for Distance Education Students
Avatars in Collaborative Virtual Environment to Support Interaction
Listening to People: An Eagle Feather in Distance Education’s Cap
How is Learner Support Incorporated in Distance Learning Programs?
How do tutors’ expectations affect learner anxiety?
Institutional policies on faculty participation in agricultural online education
Interactivity and Its Continued Importance in Online Distance Learning
Exploring the Social Construct of Gender in Distance Education
Breaking down boundaries
Aligning Institutional Policies with Faculty Expectations
Practices That Foster Group Development
Graduate study is not without problems
The main problems facing our graduate study in distance education are those that face distance
education generally in every dual mode university.
They are problems arising from lack of understanding on the part of faculty steeped in the
traditional methods of university teaching, and problems caused by administrative systems that
were set up to deal with different kinds of students and different delivery methods.
Examples of problems in our graduate program
1. When I first taught my courses in distance education by teleconference, the reason for
inventing the Certificate in Distance Education was that the faculty and the administration in
the Graduate School insisted that credit at graduate level could not be awarded for nonresidential
study. Today that position has eroded, and a Master’s degree is awarded for
study at a distance. The same faculty and administrators now insist that courses may not be
taken for the Doctorate at a distance. The effect is a requirement on students to be in
residence in rural Pennsylvania that is completely unrelated to learning outcomes, but
merely consistent with traditional practice. The same courses taken in residence are also
offered at a distance in the Masters degree, and can even be transferred towards the
Doctorate when the student arrives in residence. But if they do not take them before being in
residence they cannot be taken at a distance while in residence.
After some five years of this nonsense, administrators at lower levels are beginning to
recognise the problem, if for no other reason than the negative impact on instructor loads,
since instructors have to teach the same course face-to-face as well as online, with minimal
numbers in classroom.
2. Although our World Campus graduate students are distributed around the country (not many
are overseas), faculty resist appointing instructors off-campus. Income generated by
teaching at a distance is invested in short term appointments of junior faculty whose main
attribute is that they can be physically present on campus, i.e. a ‘real’ professor. Money is
also used to support on-campus graduate students, whose duties include teaching graduate
courses on-line in preference to distributing the role among a larger number of better experts
whose perceived weakness is their geographic location of residence.
3. Calculating teaching loads on the basis of conventional class numbers, the administration
requires unrealistically large online teaching loads though much better than in most other
similar institutions. The result is stress for faculty (though the short-term and graduate
students are in no position to complain), and loss of quality of instruction as faculty find ways
of self-preservation.
I, for example, have reduced the number of one-on-one interactions in favour of composite,
class statements and have reduced the number of formally evaluated assignments even
though I consider this a retrograde practice. I have to add that recent developments in this
area have been favourable, with the acceptance of the need for lower numbers, and I should
also say that our work-load compares favourably with most other institutions.
4. Administration failure to understand the imperative of investment in course design and
development. In spite of talk about team design, the bulk of design work falls on the
individual professor who receives time off on an hour-for-hour basis for the initial design of
the course. It is then taught for twelve iterations (and counting) over four years or more.
Given the inexperience of faculty in the course design process and minimal supporting
resources, the result is sub-standard quality production values, minimal audio and video
components, leaving a heavy bias towards ad-hoc spontaneous teacher inputs of
content in interactive phase.
This leads not only to variability of quality but to the likelihood of eventual instructor burn-out
and student dissatisfaction.
5. There is systematic weakness in evaluation, both of teaching and learning. Traditional
evaluation methods primarily end of semester. Student satisfaction questionnaires are
questionable enough in traditional teaching, but are quite inadequate for evaluating the
effectiveness of distance teaching products and instructor performance where student
support as well as program improvement is entirely dependent on performance measured by
products. In our unsystematic evaluation, student performance is evaluated according to
standards and procedures that vary from course to course, dependent on the knowledge and
whim of the instructor.
There is no overall, systematic monitoring of performance of the student as there is no
monitoring of instructor and course performance.
Again, the root explanation, one aspect of the lack of awareness of the faculty that there should
be any difference in teaching at a distance, is the unquestioned adherence to the traditional
‘master teacher’ view of the independent instructor fully autonomous in his/her classroom.
Research: Opinions without comment!
The increased volume of research is not entirely good news because a lot of it is not very good.
Much research has only local evaluation value but is not generalisable. Most is data-collecting
without regard to what is already known i.e. theory, and thus fail to add to knowledge
systematically. Students (and a new generation of faculty) are intimidated by quantitative
methods, resulting in a superfluity of so-called ‘case studies’. Case study methodology is often
weak also.
While it is important to have connections to other areas of knowledge, such as organisational
theory, general learning theory, and communications theory among other things, it is also
essential that researchers know the theory of distance education. Many electronic learning
enthusiasts believe they are working tabula rasa.
One area of particular importance that is most under-researched is policy. Students have to be
advised how to discriminate among authoritative journals, authors. Free online journals are easy
to access but many carry second rate content.
The need for graduate programs of study of both theory and research method remains acute.
Professional Development: Six institutional case studies
As mentioned earlier, as part of our preparation for this conference, we attempted to gather
information from representative major DE institutions around the world. The six cases are:
1. Pennsylvania State University
2. University of Maryland University College
3. Deakin University
4. Massey University
5. Athabasca University
6. Indira Gandhi National Open University
What we see in the selected cases are distance teaching institutions, both single and dual mode
that have graduate programs alongside their delivery of distance education programs. These
provide a foundation in the theory of distance education and opportunity to learn and practice
research. And stimulating the research of the students as well as stimulated by it, the professors
in those graduate programs deliver a steady output of research, scholarship and publication.
In all these cases we also see the institutions report that the professional development of their
faculty is important and that workshops, distance learning courses, and one-on-one mentoring
are provided by the institution for that purpose.
Breaking down boundaries
A point of view and invitation to discuss
How successful is institutionally provided professional development? Now I am going to be
provocative. In making the following assertion, I might be completely wrong, or quite likely it
does not apply to all institutions and everyone here. But this is a subject I hope you will talk
Again, in the absence of research data, I am going to be anecdotal, and say that in my personal
experience and based on what I observe in everyday life, the second of these activities, that is
institutionally provided faculty development is generally not successful. It fails to do what it
purports to do, namely to meet the real professional development needs of most of its faculty,
most of the time. Indeed in some institutions it is a sham and apart from serving as window
dressing for the administration’s good intentions, is a waste of money.
I say this because my observation is that when given a choice, the overwhelming majority of
faculty vote with their feet in ignoring the invitations offered by the institution to participate in
such events. The only professional development events at which a significant attendance is
guaranteed are in institutions where attendance is compelled, as a condition of service, or
where it is the result of bribery, as when payment is offered for attendance. Institutionally
provided professional development in the eyes of most faculty is perceived as irrelevant, or if
not irrelevant, has having very low priority in the demand on their time, particularly as compared
to the priority they give to academic research. The most popular professional development
activity is the just-in-time one-on-one help that faculty sometimes call for when they are unable
to manage part of the delivery platform. Next is a sketchy look at the online tutorial. Workshops
are poorly attended.
The challenge is the mis-alignment between professional development needs as perceived by
the institution and the needs felt by individual faculty members themselves.
A change of perspective
And this calls for a re-consideration of the concept of professional development. Let me take
you back and remind you of my earlier definition of professional development. Previously I
defined professional development as:
planned learning experiences provided by an organisation for its employees or members,
the intention of which is the advancement of knowledge and skill that pertain to their
employment or professional competence.
Clearly something is missing from this definition. The problem with the definition is that it is
provider-centred. What is missing is the perspective of the professionals themselves. This
suggests a slightly different way of defining professional development, a more person-centred
Professional development consists of planned learning experiences designed by, or in
collaboration with, individuals that have the intention of advancing knowledge and skills to
be used in their employment.
In this sense, making the decision and making the sacrifice to attend Graduate School is the
most advanced form of professional development. I suggest the reason graduate study is so
vibrant and productive is that it is a very rewarding form of self development for both students
as well as providing on-going professional self-development for those who work with them as
faculty. The reason these same faculty members rarely if ever turn out for training activities
provided by the institution is because there is no perceived personal professional development
need being met.
There are only two possible alternative solutions to the problem of the general failure of
institutionally provided professional development programs. Either they be greatly improved or
they be abandoned, and the money be spent in a different way to achieve the same objective.
Improvement is going to cost more money. An alternative way of spending it would cost no little
more and would give better return on the investment.
Steps to improving programs
Improving programs would require, at least:
1. establishment of a professionally staffed training department with a proper system for
planning and delivering, not ad hoc on the side;
2. establishing a high level institutional policy and strategy regarding professional development
and ensuring faculty know what it is;
3. the absolute requirement is some way of regularly and systematically polling faculty to
ascertain their perceived learning and training needs - as contrasted with second guessing
by administrators - to provide the basis for deciding programs to be developed and offered.
There should be better monitoring of the quality of what is offered but not as much in terms of
the presentations and activities themselves, but in terms of the extent to which they meet
perceived learning needs and their impact on institutional and individual performance.
Alternative: a policy of self-development
But if personal professional development as exemplified by those who engage in graduate
study, development driven by internal motivators is a good model, could it not be applied to
professional development more widely?
Perhaps we can argue that university administration should be relieved of the responsibility of
trying to second guess what its employees need for their professional development, and instead
stimulate and support self-managed professional development to the full. If giving up a job or
leisure time to undertake graduate study is professional development at its best, professional
development is also attending a conference, subscribing to a journal or asking colleagues to
discuss their success in conducting an online chat session.
Administration therefore could adopt a policy by which funds now spent on planning and
providing for faculty were instead dedicated to systematically:
1. funding conference attendance;
2. providing time release for practice-oriented research;
3. providing funds for internships at other institutions, domestic and foreign;
4. monitoring results of personal professional development;
5. rewarding development efforts with recognitions and promotions and monetarily; and
6. for some employees, supporting extended periods of study leave including post-graduate
study of distance education.
The price to the faculty of such self-management of institutional funding channelled to their selfdevelopment
has to be accountability for that funding, of which currently there is very little. I
suggest that each employee might be provided money in a personal professional development
account and is required to prepare an annual personal professional program. In exchange for
funding for that, the faculty member has to meet agreed performance criteria based on the
professional development program, with measures planned and taken at short, medium and
long term intervals. I would suggest that participation in professional development is a condition
of service, similar to participation in the institution’s health care scheme.
Is a well designed, well managed and well monitored personal professional development
account likely to pay better dividends than the ‘provided input’ strategy generally used at
present? I think it could be so.
Questions for discussion
So among the questions I invite you to consider are:
1. What are your good and what are your bad memories of professional development?
2. Does your institution’s professional development program meet your personal professional
development needs?
3. What would a high quality institutional professional development program look like?
Breaking down boundaries
4. What is or might be the role of graduate study and research in your institution?
5. And, finally: what is your reaction to my suggestion that the institution gives up the attempt to
meet faculty professional development needs as a provider, and instead develops a system
of personally managed professional development accounts?
Let the debate begin.
1. Two important sources came to light after writing this: Lockwood & Latchem 2004 and Tait
Commonwealth of Learning. (1990). Perspectives on Distance Education: Report of a Round
Table on Training Distance Educators. Vancouver.
Clay, M. (1999). Development of training and support programs for distance education
instructors. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 2(3).
http://www.westga.edu/~distance/clay23html .
Dillon, C. & Walsh, S. (1992). Faculty: the neglected resource in distance education. American
Journal of Distance Education, 6(3), 5-21
Irani, T. (2003). University of Florida's distance education faculty training program: A case
study. NACTA journal. Available at:
Irani, T., & Telg, R. (2001). Planning for the New Wave: Assessing Current Faculty Distance
Education Training and Development Needs. Journal of Applied Communications, 85(4).
Irani, T., & Telg, R. (2002). Building It So They Will Come: Assessing Universities’ Distance
Education Faculty Training and Development Programs. Journal of Distance Education,
17(1). Available at: http://cade.athabascau.ca/vol17.1/irani.html
Lockwood, F., & Latchem, C. (2004). Staff development needs and provision in Commonwealth
countries: findings from a Commonwealth of learning training impact study. Distance
Education, 25(2), 159-173.
National Center for Education Statistics. (1998). Distance education in higher education
institutions. Available from the World Wide Web at
Sherry, L., & Morse, R. (1995). An assessment of training needs in the use of distance
education for instruction. International Journal of Educational Telecommunications, 1(1), 5-
22. Available at: http://carbon.cudenver.edu/~lsherry/pubs/needs/index.html
Tait, J. (2002). "From Competence to Excellence": a systems view of staff development for parttime
tutors at-a-distance. Open Learning, 17(2), 153-166.
Telg, R.W. (1995). Adapting prior television production experience for distance education
instructional design. Journal of Applied Communications, 79(4), 1-16.
Valdez, G. (1989). Mind over machine: lessons learned from staff development efforts.
Educational Technology, (29), 36-38
Jones, Luck, McConachie & Danaher
The teleological brake on ICTs in open and distance
David Jones, Jo Luck, Jeanne McConachie and P. A. Danaher
This paper uses the distinction between teleological and ateleological design processes
to analyse projects intended to improve the use of ICTs within an institution delivering
both on-campus and distance education. The paper demonstrates how the continuing
acceptance of teleological development and of its associated naive understandings of
organisations and information systems are placing a brake on the ongoing adoption of
and innovation with ICTs in open and distance learning.
While the importance of information and communication technologies (ICTs) and elearning in
promoting open, distance and flexible education in contemporary universities cannot be denied
(deFreitas & Oliver, 2005), the effectiveness of those ICTs is sometimes hampered by a
powerful set of boundaries. These boundaries allocate the work required to design and
implement the ICTs to artificially separated groups of workers and formally segmented elements
of a linear and rationalist process. A key limitation of these boundaries is that they fail to engage
with the complexity, flexibility and fluidity of university provision of open and distance learning, in
Australia and internationally.
These artificial and often stultifying boundaries are closely associated with an approach to
organisational change that is concerned with setting and achieving objectives and with being
purpose driven or teleological (Introna, 1996). Management concepts such as creating a
corporate vision, setting goals and strategic planning are based on the notion of problemsolving,
where a problem is defined as the difference between the status quo and the desired
state (as defined by the goals). The aim is therefore to search continually for problems and to
generate actions as solutions. Many, if not most, universities follow, or at least profess to follow,
a purpose-driven approach to setting strategic directions (McConachie et al., 2005). Despite its
prevalence and its status as the dominant discourse in most contemporary change
management, the teleological approach seems not to have provided the returns required by
organisations seeking to maximise value from ICTs (McConachie et al., 2005).
By contrast, the ateleological approach to design (Introna, 1996) sets aside the boundaries
between people and processes identified above. Instead, it highlights a whole-of-organisation
engagement with the particular development at hand, tempered by local adaptation and
decentralised design management.
An analogy involving how to plan an overseas trip can provide a more concrete example of the
differences between teleological and ateleological design. The extreme teleological approach to
such a trip involves taking a package tour. Such a tour has a fixed, upfront plan designed by a
group of experts, with little or no knowledge of the individual traveller, to appeal to a broad
cross-section of people. The extreme ateleological approach involves the traveller not having a
fixed plan. Instead, the traveller combines deep knowledge of her personal interests with a
growing contextual knowledge of the destination to make unique choices that best suit her
preferences and quickly modifies her journey in response to unexpected events.
While the terms ‘teleological’ and ‘ateleological’ may be new, the fundamental ideas on which
they are based can be seen in a number of other works. Within the software development area,
similar work includes agile development practices (Highsmith & Cockburn, 2001) and there are
Breaking down boundaries
also strong resonances between the ateleological approach and the rhetoric – if not the reality –
of post-Fordist approaches to distance education (Watkins, 1997).
Despite these glimpses of other possible ways of structuring work in contemporary
organisations, the boundaries underpinning the teleological approach are remarkably resistant
to challenge and change. One reason for their resilience is the pervasive impact of corporate
managerialism and economic rationalism in those organisations. Thus, as universities are
subject to less public funding and investment but more accountability and control, the prospects
of ateleological processes seem to recede, except in isolated pockets that succeed in evading
the searchlights of surveillance.
The paper starts by providing a more detailed description of the differences between
teleological and ateleological design processes. It does this by combining the nine attributes of
a design process identified by Introna (1996) with descriptions of three projects from Central
Queensland University (CQU), which sought to develop the use of ICTs in teaching and
learning. Based on this analysis, the paper then identifies a number of implications for the use
of ICTs in open and distance learning, clustered around possible ways of using an ateleological
approach to break down some of the ineffective and inefficient boundaries underpinning the
teleological brake on maximising the potential of that use.
The nine attributes of the design process
Introna (1996) identifies nine attributes of a design process (summarised in Table 1) and uses
these to distinguish between extreme teleological and ateleological design processes. This
section seeks to describe and illustrate these nine attributes by examining the design processes
adopted by three projects at CQU. These projects sought to encourage the use of ICTs to
support teaching and learning; however, they used design processes at opposite ends of the
teleological/ateleological spectrum.
Table 1: Teleological and ateleological development systems (Introna, 1996, p. 26)
Attributes of the design
Teleological development Ateleological development
Ultimate purpose Goal/purpose Wholeness/harmony
Intermediate goals Effectiveness/efficiency Equilibrium/homeostasis
Design focus Ends/result Means/process
Designers Explicit designer Member/part
Design scope Part Whole
Design process Creative problem-solving Local adaptation, reflection and
Design problems Complexity and conflict Time
Design management Centralised Decentralised
Design control Direct intervention in line with a
master plan
Indirect via rules and regulators
The first project, chronologically, is labelled Webfuse. Webfuse commenced in 1996 as a
project to develop an integrated online learning environment for CQU's Department of
Mathematics and Computing (Jones & Buchanan, 1996). After an organisational restructure,
Webfuse became the core information system for CQU's Faculty of Informatics and
Communication (Infocom). As of early 2005, more than 18,000 CQU students and 1000 CQU
staff have made use of Webfuse services.
Jones, Luck, McConachie & Danaher
CQU Online is the name given to the report from the Online Strategic Planning Group to CQU's
vice-chancellor in June 1999 (Central Queensland University, 1999). The group was formed to
examine issues associated with online teaching and learning, identify existing online initiatives,
establish a process by which this expertise could be reused and develop a process for the
progression of online developments at CQU. Adoption of the recommendations of this report
has been limited with little long-term influence on CQU's use of ICTs in learning and teaching.
Around the same time, 1999, a survey and a limited evaluation of learning management
software led to the choice of WebCT for use in trials and eventual central funding and support
(Sturgess & Nouwens, 2004). In early 2002, the University undertook an evaluation of course
management systems that would be appropriate for its use because the licence for WebCT was
due for renewal. After the evaluation of four potential course management systems (CMSs),
Blackboard was chosen as the replacement CMS and was in full operation by March 2004.
Ultimate purpose
The ultimate purpose of teleological development is to achieve some goal or purpose. It
encapsulates the classical notion of problem-solving, where the problem is how to overcome the
difference between the current state and the stated goal. Once the purpose has been defined,
the system conforms to the behaviour required to achieve the purpose (Introna, 1996). Any
action not seen to contribute to achievement of the stated purpose is seen as inefficient and not
effective. Teleological development is based on the idea of modernism where human rationality
and methods of inquiry can achieve their ultimate purpose of discovering and identifying
universal truths (Baskerville, Travis & Truex, 1992).
The CQU Online project was intended to be just such an inquiry with its purpose being as
In line with the Vice-Chancellor's brief, this document covers reasons for going online,
current online activities, as well as directions for and management of future online
development at CQU. (Central Queensland University, 1999, p. 5.)
This ultimate purpose was developed by the Online Strategic Planning Group. This group of
eight senior CQU staff drew on the work of two taskforces to develop a set of recommendations
that would become the ‘purpose’ of online development at CQU. Beyond identifying that
ultimate purpose, the report had little or no effect on practice at CQU. Some of the
recommendations were mentioned within the context of a small number of projects, but the
recommendations were not widely known or accepted.
Around the same time, another group of staff commenced investigation into the adoption of a
CMS. The stated purpose of this group was to establish a means to enable teaching staff to
develop and manage online courses with little professional support (Sturgess & Nouwens,
2004). This work led to the adoption of WebCT.
By contrast, an ateleological design process’s ultimate purpose is to maintain the wholeness
and harmony of the system. Each change must be meaningful; it must reflect actual human
events (Introna, 1996). This is a different type of purpose; the goal is unachievable, which
implies that design and development are inextricably linked in an ongoing enterprise (Introna,
Webfuse commenced as a teleological process intent on providing ‘a set of tools, systems,
procedures and documentation that allows any and all parts of the learning experience to occur
using some form of computer mediated communications’ (Jones & Buchanan, 1996, n.p.).
Limited usage of Webfuse led to the adoption of a more ateleological design process. This new
process emphasised adoption, appropriation of innovation and evolution and ‘being adopterbased
and focusing on the human, social and interpersonal aspects of innovation diffusion’
(Jones & Lynch, 1999, n.p.).
Breaking down boundaries
Intermediate goals
A teleological design process is successful if it moves towards the specified ultimate purpose in
an efficient and effective way. Any approach which seeks to move away from the ultimate
purpose is considered to be bad, to be inefficient and/or ineffective. This choice between good
and bad leads to conflict, and consequently the organisation must spend a significant amount of
time to address the conflict that is generated (Introna, 1996).
By late 2001, CQU effectively had two online course development platforms: Webfuse, funded
and used by staff from one of CQU's faculties, and WebCT, centrally funded and used
predominantly by staff from other faculties. This duplication led to contention between the staff
supporting the various systems. For example, an email distributed to all CQU staff, with the
subject line ‘Full adoption of WebCT’, included a range of statistics intended to demonstrate the
importance of WebCT to CQU. Table 2 summarises those statistics and provides similar
statistics from Webfuse. In addition, Paulsen (2002), after a visit to the University in 2002,
reports that CQU's only CMS was WebCT.
Table 2: Webfuse and WebCT usage statistics in 2002
Statistic WebCT Webfuse
Course sites 42
+ 40 under development
+ 66 under development
Staff maintaining course sites 40 99
Students using facilities 5000 3655*
Support staff 3 3
* This number represents only those students using the small number of Webfuse services requiring authentication.
The intermediate goals of ateleological design are to maintain equilibrium and homeostasis.
Change does happen, but it is small-scale change that contributes to and enhances the current
understanding of the organisation rather than radical change that may interrupt and cause
disconnections (Introna, 1996).
Since 1999, the Webfuse development methodology selected and designed changes based on
an evaluation of how well each innovation maximised relative advantage, maximised
compatibility with current practice, and minimised complexity. It is important to note that this
evaluation was one based on the perspective of the potential adopters of the innovation rather
than the perceptions of the development team. This emphasis meant each innovation was
based on a modification or an extension rather than on a replacement of an existing information
Design focus
The teleological design process involves continual problem-solving as the distance between the
current state and the ultimate purpose closes. Throughout this process, the focus is on reducing
the distance to the ultimate purpose. The traditional, dominant view of ICT development focuses
on an artefact that is developed, built and then deployed for a long period of stable use (Truex,
Baskerville & Klein, 1999). The CQU staff supporting WebCT were employed in the standard
roles of technical support, staff training and helpdesk. There was no local ability to modify
WebCT significantly in response to local needs.
In ateleological design there are no ends on which to focus. Instead, the focus is on the means:
the ongoing process by which the organisation uses small-scale change to respond continually
to local needs. The focus with Webfuse was the ongoing modification of the system in response
to requirements. While the staff employed to support Webfuse also undertook technical support,
staff training and helpdesk roles, a major responsibility was to modify the system based on the
knowledge gained while performing those roles.
Jones, Luck, McConachie & Danaher
In a teleological design process there is a small group of individuals who are responsible for
identifying the one right solution to problems. In the development of ICTs in open and distance
learning, this generally involves instructional design and computing professionals. For a
teleological design process to work, these designers must be able to manipulate directly the
system’s behaviour and must be able to determine the correct goal (Introna, 1996). In an
ateleological design process the members of the organisation, the users, take on responsibility
for design. It assumes that members of the organisation draw on their local knowledge to
identify changes that are meaningful to their context.
Initially, the complexities and costs of ICT meant that specialised knowledge was required to
develop computer applications. It has, however, become apparent that it is impossible for
systems designers to capture all conceivable systems requirements, and that the need has
developed for systems that can be tailored by users (Patel, 2003), a task that has been made
increasingly easy with the advent of end-user development tools.
Of the 35 people involved in the development of the CQU Online report, no more than four had
any significant experience of online delivery. Only 20 per cent of the participants were, at that
stage, teaching regularly. No students were consulted as to their needs. More than 60 per cent
of the participants were in senior management or were technical support staff. The designers in
this process were not the end users.
By contrast, a key non-functional requirement of the Webfuse system is to enable, where
possible, all users to modify, adapt, or opt out of the system based on their preferences. The
work performed by those users that choose any of these options is closely monitored with the
intent of identifying good ideas that can inform the default system. The users can influence the
design of the system.
Design scope
Teleological design encapsulates a traditional view of problem-solving that draws on logical
decomposition. This is where large problems are broken down into smaller and smaller
problems until arriving at sub-problems that are individually solvable, but still contribute to the
ultimate purpose. Each sub-problem then has a solution designed and the solutions are joined
back together. This focus leads to the loss of emphasis on the whole problem and results in the
organisation concentrating on parts of the problem (Introna, 1996). A teleological design does,
however, seek to retain an emphasis on the entire system so that each proposed change is
evaluated in terms of its influence on the entire organisation.
The ultimate purpose behind CQU's adoption of WebCT was to enable teaching staff to develop
and manage online courses with little professional support (Sturgess & Nouwens, 2004).
Through problem solving, it was decided that WebCT was the solution that would allow eventual
convergence on the ultimate purpose. Once that decision was made, the design scope of the
responsible staff became how to use WebCT most effectively. The fact that staff within one
faculty found it easier to develop and manage online courses with Webfuse became less
important than the fact that they were not using WebCT.
This limited design scope had ramifications beyond WebCT. Members of the organisation were,
for some time, aware that changes to WebCT would, in the long-term, make it inappropriate for
CQU. The evaluation of replacement systems, however, did not commence until very late as
there was no single person or group responsible for making the decision to change. When the
evaluation did commence, its scope was limited to the choice of a replacement CMS. There was
no questioning of whether or not there were more appropriate solutions.
Design process
Traditional information systems development (ISD) is an example of a teleological design
process. As such, it relies heavily on a design process based on rational, predictable problemsolving.
Traditional ISD includes lengthy periods of analysis and design, prior to implementation,
in order to ensure long periods of low volatility and minimal maintenance until, eventually, it is
Breaking down boundaries
necessary to develop a replacement system (Truex, Baskerville & Klein, 1999). This process
requires a context that is relatively stable and predictable (Introna, 1996). This does not fit well
with the pace of change faced by many, contemporary organisations owing to the rapid
development of technology and global markets.
Ateleological design is built around a process of reflection, learning and local adaptation. The
changes made in ateleological design are small, many and meaningful to the individuals in the
local contexts. Large-scale systems development projects represent the bold strategic stroke,
which is seldom brilliant in its effect, while incremental change can lead to organisational
excellence through the accumulated effect of many minor improvements non-synchronously
effected by many people (Baskerville, Travis & Truex, 1992).
As an outcome of an evaluation, CQU replaced WebCT after almost four years of use. This
change required a significant investment of funds in terms of converting course materials and
retraining staff and students. It also meant that the knowledge and expertise around the use of
WebCT became redundant to the organisation. Since 1996, Webfuse has undergone
continuous redevelopment through the application of small steps driven by changes in
requirements and context.
Design problems
Teleological design, with its emphasis on large, transformative change, must deal with the
issues of complexity and conflict. Large change is difficult to implement, understand and gain
consensus about.
Ateleological design involves small, local changes made by decentralised, local designers. It
rejects the notion of centralised designers whose sole intent is to achieve some ultimate
purpose in as efficient a manner as possible. An ateleological design process may take a
considerably greater amount of time than a teleological process to implement a specific change.
It is, however, more likely to achieve change that is meaningful to the organisation as a whole.
Design management
Management decisions in a teleological design process are made by either the small group of
designers or their managers. Once WebCT was implemented at CQU, the only decisions made
by academic staff using WebCT were how they would use the available tools. Decisions about
how to provide appropriate technology and support and CQU's policy around WebCT were set
by staff from CQU's information technology division, distance education division and, in some
cases, chancellery. Staff members without direct knowledge of local conditions were making
decisions about the direction of the system.
In ateleological design, individual users have a level of control over the direction and type of
changes made, and management is decentralised. In such a process, those people with direct
knowledge of local conditions are making the decisions. For much of its life cycle, Webfuse has
not been ‘managed’ by any senior manager. Instead, the Webfuse development team has been
responsible for management decisions. While more teleological than ateleological, this
approach has some advantages, in that, the development team reside within the faculty and
provide training and helpdesk support and most have studied and taught courses within the
faculty. This experience provides them with improved local knowledge, particularly when they
have to understand the staff and requirements only of a single faculty.
Design control
Teleological design uses a master plan that outlines the specific steps being used to achieve
the ultimate purpose. This master plan is used to control the design process. Only those
practices and changes that fit with the master plan are allowed. With WebCT, the various
policies and practices around how WebCT was to operate at CQU become the master plan.
Ateleological design does not have a master plan. The only ultimate goal in ateleological design
is maintaining a system's wholeness and harmony. In this context, control is provided by a set of
rules and regulators. Each proposed change is evaluated against these rules and regulators in
Jones, Luck, McConachie & Danaher
order to determine if it is successful. The regulators for Webfuse were drawn from diffusion
theory (Rogers, 1995). Each proposed change is evaluated to determine how much relative
advantage, compatibility with existing practice and complexity are involved.
Implications and conclusions
Ultimately, teleological and ateleological approaches represent different worldviews and
divergent ways of understanding information systems, organisational change and human
behaviour. At one level, the authors of this paper assert the superiority of the ateleological
approach in promoting ICTs in open and distance learning, and the teleological approach’s
function as a brake on ICTs in open and distance learning. At another level, there are potentially
risky extremes inherent in both approaches that must be avoided if organisations and systems
are to be functional rather than dysfunctional.
In terms of the first half of this argument, teleological design is claimed to be possible only in the
presence of the following three conditions (Introna, 1996):
1. The system's behaviour must be relatively stable and predictable.
2. The designer(s) is/are able to manipulate the system’s behaviour directly.
3. The designer(s) is/are able to determine accurately the goals or criteria for success.
Clearly none of these conditions can – and possibly should – be met in contemporary
organisations, whether universities or other kinds of enterprises. It follows, therefore, that
teleological design processes are acting as a brake on the development of ICTs in open and
distance education, because they are striving to operate in an environment that does not exist
and not engaging with the environment that does exist. This situation results in organisations
adopting much the same approaches regardless of local context, thereby limiting the
possibilities of innovation using ICTs and rendering open and distance learning inflexible rather
than flexible. It is hardly surprising, then, that there is strong evidence that the ongoing use of
teleological design processes severely limits an institution’s capacity to respond effectively to
organisational information requirements (Baskerville, Travis & Truex, 1992).
For example, Sausner (2005) reports on four best-case implementations of CMSs at universities
in the United States. Each of these cases was nominated by the vendor of the CMS and
appears to have taken a teleological approach to development. The best faculty adoption rate
quoted is 55 per cent. As of mid-2005, Webfuse, using an ateleological approach, has a faculty
adoption rate of greater than 90 per cent.
In relation to the second half of the argument elaborated above, while ateleological design may
be more appropriate, there are potential problems to consider. One is that the information
systems development field, in terms of both training and practice, is dominated by teleological
processes (Baskerville, Travis & Truex, 1992). Consequently, while the ongoing development of
new technology and new development methodologies are making it possible to adopt an
ateleological design process, finding staff, and even more so management, who understand this
approach, is difficult. Without this level of understanding and the associated ‘top-down’ support
from managers, individuals and groups committed to an ateleological approach will be driven
underground or else will spend their time justifying themselves, rather than doing the necessary
work. Furthermore, and from a different perspective, an extreme ateleological approach might
lead to organisational anarchy with no overarching plan for bringing together localised energies
and initiatives.
It follows from this that what contemporary universities need is the most productive elements of
both teleological and ateleological approaches to the eight elements of the design process
identified by Introna (1996). Such a synthesis is crucial to addressing the plethora of issues
competing for the attention of university decision-makers, whether in Australia or internationally.
Those issues range from promoting international and transnational education to engaging
productively with the benefits of globalisation while minimising its defects to encouraging and
facilitating innovation and quality in substance. Enhancing the effectiveness of ICTs and
professional development in open and distance learning should not merely be in rhetorical
terms. Despite the diversity of assumptions and interests underpinning this broad range of
Breaking down boundaries
issues, each of them cannot be understood, let alone taken up strategically, with either a
teleological or an ateological approach in isolation. It is the combination of the two approaches
that is necessary to ensure an appropriate articulation of multiple perspectives within an efficient
and sufficiently resourced framework.
This synthesis of teleological and ateleological approaches was to a large degree evident in the
development of Webfuse, and would have enabled the positive potential of CQU Online and the
move from WebCT to Blackboard to be realised to a much greater extent than was actually the
case. The most effective means of breaking down unhelpful boundaries segmenting people and
processes lies in navigating pathways between these two approaches if the brake on ICTs and
open and distance learning is to be transformed into an accelerator.
Copyright © 2005 Jones, D., Luck, J., McConachie, J. & Danaher, P.A. The authors assign to ODLAA
and educational non-profit institutions a nonexclusive license to use this document for personal use and in
courses of instruction provided that the article is used in full and this copyright statement is reproduced.
The authors also grant to ODLAA a nonexclusive license to publish this document in electronic or print
form within ODLAA publications and/or the world wide web. Any other usage is prohibited without the
express permission of the authors.
Baskerville, R., Travis, J., & Truex, D. (1992). Systems without method: The impact of new
technologies on information systems development projects. In K. E. Kendall (Ed.), The
impact of computer supported technologies on information systems development (pp. 241-
251). Amsterdam, The Netherlands: North-Holland.
Central Queensland University. (1999). CQU online: Report to the Vice-Chancellor and
President by the online strategic planning group. Rockhampton, Qld.
deFreitas, S., & Oliver, M. (2005). Does e-learning policy drive change in higher education? A
case study relating models of organisational change to e-learning implementation. Journal of
Higher Education Policy and Management, 27(1), 81-95.
Highsmith, J., & Cockburn, A. (2001). Agile software development: Business of innovation. IEEE
Computer, 34(9), 120-122.
Introna, L. (1996). Notes on ateleological information systems development. Information
Technology & People, 9(4), 20-39.
Jones, D., & Buchanan, R. (1996). The design of an integrated online learning environment.
Paper presented at ASCILITE'96, Adelaide, SA.
Jones, D., & Lynch, T. (1999). A model for the design of web-based systems that supports
adoption, appropriation and evolution. Paper presented at the First ICSE Workshop on Web
Engineering, Los Angeles, CA.
McConachie, J., Danaher, P. A., Luck, J. T., & Jones, D. (2005). Central Queensland
University's course management systems: Accelerator or brake in engaging change?
International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 6(1). Retrieved July 7,
2005, from http://www.irodl.org/content/v6.1/mcconachie.html
Patel, N. (2003). Deferred systems design: Countering the primacy of reflective IS development
with action-based information systems. In N. Patel (Ed.), Adaptive evolutionary information
systems. (pp. 1-28). Hershey, PA: Idea Group Inc.
Paulsen, M. F. (2002). Online education systems in Scandinavian and Australian universities: A
comparative study. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 3(2).
Retrieved July 10, 2005, from http://www.irrodl.org/content/v3.2/paulsen.html
Rogers, E. (1995). Diffusion of innovations (4th ed.). New York: The Free Press.
Sausner, R. (2005). Course management: Ready for prime time? University Business.
Retrieved September 26, 2005, from http://universitybusiness.com/page.cfm?p=791
Sturgess, P., & Nouwens, F. (2004). Evaluation of online learning management systems.
Turkish Online Journal of Distance Education, 5(3). Retrieved July 11, 2005, from
Jones, Luck, McConachie & Danaher
Truex, D., Baskerville, R., & Klein, H. (1999). Growing systems in emergent organizations.
Communications of the ACM, 42(8), 117-123.
Watkins, P. (1997). Differing views of post-Fordism: Implications for distance education.
European Journal of Distance Education, 1, 49-64.
Breaking down boundaries
Diffusion of innovation and professional development
in eLearning: The CHS eLearning resource case study
Mary Jane Mahony and Helen Wozniak
Large universities with little distance education experience now face mainstreaming
‘elearning’. One challenge is supporting university teachers to change their practices.
We describe the ‘CHS eLearning Resource and Staff Support Project’ at the University
of Sydney, which delivered an online suite of elearning strategy examples relevant to
health disciplines/professions and a window of opportunity for direct personal
consultation on educational and technical development. Rogers’ theory on diffusion of
innovations is used to critically reflect on this strategic project. We conclude that
Rogers’ work could be used both in planning at the commencement of an elearning
professional development project and as an evaluative tool.
What was once often a point for debate – the convergence of conventional and distance
education – is now a reality. Conventional classroom-based and distance education have
collided in the realm of elearning (Muirhead, 2005). The challenge now is to support university
teachers in the new blended environment characterised by elements of both conventional
classroom and distance learning. Our paper is a critically reflective case study of one strategic
project to deliver such support.
Elearning in university teaching is still generally considered an educational innovation rather
than the use of teaching and learning strategies embedded in university culture and practice. An
institutional strategic plan is essential but only the first step. Uptake of an educational innovation
is about personal and, often, institutional change, whether desired or required.
While there is a growing literature based on descriptive case studies of the implementation of
elearning strategies (e.g., Steeples & Jones, 2002), we observe that only a fraction use an
explicit theoretical framework to examine the experience. This is not surprising as a recent wider
study of published educational research concluded that more explicit theoretical engagement is
needed (Tight, 2004). To contribute to redressing this imbalance, we consider Everett Rogers’
diffusion of innovations theory (2003) as a framework for examining uptake of elearning
strategies in universities. We do this in the form of a case study of one institutional professional
development strategy to support university teachers in the health sciences in considering, and
then implementing, a range of elearning strategies in an Australian research-intensive
Rogers and diffusion of innovations
Everett Rogers is one of the world’s most recognised researchers in the field of innovation
studies. He carried out his seminal work more than fifty years ago and it has since been
reproduced and extended through his own efforts and that of many other innovation researchers
in many domains. Rogers most recently reviewed and synthesised that work in the fifth edition
of his book Diffusion of innovations (2003). (While references in this paper will draw on the fifth
edition, the key principles used here are also found in the previous editions.) We chose to use
Rogers’ work in this case study because of this substantial research base and wide use, as
uptake of elearning comprises individual, community and institutional change.
Mahony & Wozniak
The core of Rogers’ work lies in his statement: ‘Diffusion is the process by which (1) an
innovation (2) is communicated through certain channels (3) over time (4) among the members
of a social system’ (p.11). In this section we briefly consider the theoretical aspects of these four
Rogers describes an innovation as ‘an idea, practice, or object that is perceived as new by an
individual or other unit of adoption’ (p.12). He notes that an innovation does not have to be
‘“objectively” new’ but rather perceived as new. Further, he says that ‘“Newness” of an
innovation may be expressed in terms of knowledge, persuasion, or a decision to adopt’ (p.12).
Any innovation is a cluster of attributes. Briefly summarising from Rogers (pp.15-16), research
demonstrates the following as the five most important attributes impacting on rate of adoption of
an innovation:
• Relative advantage: the degree to which an innovation is perceived as better than the idea it
• Compatibility: the degree to which an innovation is perceived as being consistent with the
existing values, past experiences and needs of potential adopters.
• Complexity: the degree to which an innovation is perceived as difficult to understand and
• Trialability: the degree to which an innovation may be experimented with on a limited basis.
• Observability: the degree to which the results of an innovation are visible to others.
Communication channels
There are many different means, or channels, by which a message about an innovation is
communicated. Rogers has long identified two categories of these channels: mass media and
interpersonal. More recently he has tentatively added interactive communication via the internet.
His overall view is that diffusion is ‘a very social process that involves interpersonal
communication relationships’ (p.19), and that decisions to take up an innovation are usually not
made on the basis of rational evaluation of research-based evidence but rather on the basis of
experience of near-peers who have taken up the innovation.
Rogers considers the time dimension at the level of the individual and the system in three
dimensions: the innovation-decision process, innovativeness and adopter categories, and rate
of adoption (pp.20-23). A strength of his framework is that time is part of it.
A social system
Rogers describes a social system as ‘a set of interrelated units that are engaged in joint
problem solving to accomplish a common goal’ (p.23). This very broad definition can be applied
at many levels. While much of the research on diffusion of innovation has been community
based (common applications being in agriculture and health), the definition can also be applied
to organisations and organisational units.
The relationship between development of university teachers
and the diffusion of innovation
Adoption of an innovation such as elearning in any large organisation needs to ensure that the
rate of adoption is facilitated among all the classical groups described by Rogers from early
innovators and adopters, to the early and late majorities and the laggards. Work conducted by
Moore in the early 1990s identified the chasm that exists between the early adopters and the
latter groups (1991). Others have examined this concept (Geoghegan, 1995; Anderson,
Varnhagen & Campbell, 1998) in relation to instructional technology and confirmed this large
Breaking down boundaries
gap between these groups concluding that ‘comprehensive adoption strategies cannot be based
on support of early adopters, but must be designed to appeal to the mainstream faculty’ (p.94).
Addressing the factors described above (relative advantage, compatibility, complexity, trialability
and observability) is important for increasing the rate of adoption of innovation and can help to
bridge the gap between the early adopters and the mainstream majority (Donovan, 1999 cited in
Wilson & Stacey 2004). Considering these elements is essential when designing academic
development activities encouraging the adoption of new learning technologies across the wider
institution, according to Wilson and Stacey (2004). They designed a staged process to match
the needs of academic staff to the content and approach of staff development. The case study
presented in this paper draws on the above theory to describe one project that aims to address
the chasm identified by others.
The case study: The eLearning Resource Centre and Staff
Support Project
The University of Sydney is a very large (47,000 students in 2004) research-intensive Australian
university spread across ten formally recognised campuses and several additional teaching
hospitals in metropolitan Sydney and rural New South Wales. The student experience,
particularly for undergraduate students, is conceptualised as a rich campus-based experience
making use of the strengths of a blended learning environment where ‘blended’ acknowledges
an increasing use of elearning strategies both to improve support of student learning and to
respond to student needs for greater flexibility in the time and place of their studies.
Postgraduate coursework programs are becoming more flexibly designed to meet the needs of
busy professionals – there is an increasing range of course delivery models, with many drawing
heavily on distance education frameworks and encompassing use of elearning strategies.
Following a university-wide review (University of Sydney Academic Board, 2003), the University
established strategic and operational plans aimed at mainstreaming support for the use of
information and communication technologies (ICT) in teaching and learning (University of
Sydney, 2004a, b). Aspects relevant to this case study include the establishment of a central
unit, the Flexible Online Learning Team (FOLT), to provide specialist expertise in educational
design, web development and project management to strategic elearning projects and the
devolution of identifying and commissioning such projects to the university’s three colleges (see
www.usyd.edu.au/elearning/ for more detail).
This case study reports on one of the first strategic development projects conducted by the
College of Health Sciences (CHS), the CHS eLearning Resource Centre & Staff Support
Project. For the purposes of this paper, the project commenced in June 2004 (initial project
conceptualisation) and concluded in March 2005 (production of website, launch, period of inoffice
staff support). Preliminary evaluation data will be reported where relevant.
The project
The project had two components. First, it responded to a widely expressed need in the College
of Health Sciences for examples of online teaching within the health sciences by providing an
online site to showcase good practice examples of teaching and learning in the health sciences
using elearning techniques. Second, it provided staff support by making available the FOLT
expertise mentioned above to university teachers ‘on their own turf’ rather than by
telephone/email from the central helpdesk or in professional development workshops. This
option provided an educational design extension service by allowing opportunities for the
academics to reflect on their current teaching practices and seek advice from the educational
developers from FOLT. These dual components were designed to target the first three levels of
need identified by Wilson and Stacey (2004), that is, beginners, advanced beginners and those
ready to explore and experiment though they may still have limited skills. It also assisted in the
staging process which Wilson and Stacey consider important for diffusion of innovation in local
Mahony & Wozniak
Materials on the website now provide exemplar materials along with comments by the early
adopters and designers of the materials in the areas of:
• Learning through professional practice
• Learning using a scenario or case study
• Learning through interaction
• Learning by critical use of the literature
• Learning foundational knowledge
• Learning to teach and learn online
Focus groups with academic staff helped the project group identify these six key teaching and
learning components in health science education. The exemplar materials provide the ‘story’
behind the elearning development from the eyes of the university teacher who developed the
example. This includes user-friendly commentary on the pedagogical and technical aspects of
the example through a description of the context of the example, or problem that provided the
impetus for using elearning techniques, as well as the solution that was developed. The
experience of the university teacher involved is also described to illustrate what aspects of the
example worked, and what further issues arose. Twenty-one different examples were collected
from within the University of Sydney with a further four from other institutions as well as a series
of links to outside websites with further examples (see figure 1 for an illustration).
Exemplar of examples within a category
Figure 1
Although developed specifically as a CHS strategic elearning project, the online resource is
made available through an institutional bookmark on the university’s learning management
system (WebCT) and consequently is available to anyone in the university with access to the
WebCT development server.
Our evaluation of the innovation in the light of Rogers’ attributes of an innovation is summarised
as follows. Each of the five attributes is considered in two dimensions: the elearning resource as
a whole and the individual examples within it. (The staff support consultation aspect is not
included due to its ephemeral nature.)
Breaking down boundaries
Relative advantage: (Does the resource provide a better method than the current practice?)
• The examples were put into the online environment to increase accessibility by eliminating
time and space constraints – the comparator would be seminar or workshop presentation of
the examples. Access is now theoretically universal and availability of the materials is
persistent, unlike events offered at a point in time. The site is also expected to grow.
• The stories told with most of the examples make the case for relative advantage as seen by
the designers and users, for example, achieving a positive effect on workload (in one
example the university teacher has been able to replace several small group face-to-face
case discussion tutorials with one online asynchronous discussion that is open to all
students to share their cases thus reducing the timetabled commitments of the lecturer and
shifting some of the teaching-learning responsibilities to the students.
Compatibility: (Does the resource/example reflect existing needs?)
• The target audience was that large group which Rogers terms the early majority and the late
majority, the ‘much larger, effectively unengaged, mainstream faculty population’
(Geoghegan, 1995, p.3). We presumed that, although these university teachers may not be
particularly committed to elearning strategies, they would be comfortable with web
• Presentation of the examples in the six topic categories was specifically designed to align in
rhetoric and example with existing teaching practices and clearly state the situation and the
solution that was achieved through a wide variety of elearning techniques, all achievable
through the use of the tools readily available in WebCT.
Complexity: (Does the resource/example make teaching and learning easier or at least not
more complex?)
• We found that placing the resource inside WebCT delivered a troubling complexity. As
implemented in our university, an individual request to set up a WebCT profile must be made
for each person without access to WebCT; our target audience included many in this
situation. For the first month, a guest log-in was available to ease the bureaucratic barriers –
this was counterproductive to other aspects of the project, however, as it eliminated any
possibility of identifying the guest users and further evaluating the impact of the resource on
their teaching and learning practices.
• Every attempt was made to present the resource and its examples in a user-friendly manner
including avoiding use of educational jargon. A common simple structure was used for each
example across the six areas (Lever, 2005).
Trialability: (Can the resource/example be used alongside current practice?)
• The guest log-in was established to foster visits from less committed or skilled members of
the university.
• The examples sit in a ‘show-and-tell’ presentation, using screen captures as illustration.
Visitors are only able to try out the online activities described in a small number of examples
by entering the WebCT site from which the example was drawn.
Observability: (Is the resource/example available to all?)
• The primary purpose of the online resource was to support knowledge and skill building. The
resource, however, also supports the observability attribute generally in two regards: it
primarily uses examples from within the university and every staff member with WebCT
access can use it.
The communication channels
A key aspect of this project was an iterative two-way flow in the communication channels from
project conception to conclusion, thus integrating top-down and bottom-up approaches in this
change project. The project was selected as one of the inaugural strategic development projects
because in early discussions about possible strategic projects every faculty representative in
the College of Health Sciences (five faculties) agreed that examples were an expressed need
among their colleagues.
Mahony & Wozniak
Once the project was confirmed, numerous strategies were used to collect examples and some
of these also became communication channels. The project commenced with a series of focus
groups with both experienced and inexperienced users of elearning to assist in making explicit
the issues that staff currently have related to the design or use of elearning techniques. As the
project progressed, the number of communication channels increased. Table 1 summarises the
channels used, categorised according to Rogers’ three classifiers. Rogers seems unsure
whether to use the internet as a third classification (pp.215-216) – we concur with that
uncertainty as internet use cuts across the two established categories but use it here to
highlight this important aspect of communication.
The ‘shopping list’ of channels presented in table 1 suggests individual teachers in our
university were well exposed to the possibilities of the innovation. It is more difficult to quantify
that experience. The ubiquity of ‘all-staff’ emails suggests that every teacher received at least
one announcement of the online resource and workshops.
Table 1: Communications channels used in the project
Mass media
• Printed bookmarks: distributed in many ways
• Faculty all-staff email messages
• Link on Faculty Teaching & Learning web pages (only some faculties)
• Link on Faculty home pages (only some faculties)
• Institutional link on WebCT page once launched online
• Focus groups held at the commencement of the project
• Faculty Associate Deans (Teaching & Learning)
• Faculty Associate Directors (Information & Communication Technologies in Teaching & Learning)
• Faculty Teaching & Learning Committees: meetings, meeting documents
• Two formal launches on two campuses – example contributors received commendation certificates at
the launches
• Mentioned at workshops conducted by FOLT across the university
• College Information & Communication Technologies in Teaching & Learning Group (chair plus
representative of each faculty): meetings, email discussion lists, WebCT site (CHS)
• Faculty Teaching & Learning Committee members
• ‘Near peers’ to project team members and staff providing examples
• Other informal collegial discussion (e.g. hallway, staff room conversations)
For the purpose of our work, the measurement of time would best be related to the overall
uptake by a group of individuals or organisational units (from none to all). As indicated earlier,
however, we have specifically bounded this report to the timeframe of the development and limit
our goal to awareness-knowledge. The online resource supports independent knowledge
building while the ‘window of opportunity’ consultation offered advice and support where and
when it was needed in keeping with Wilson and Stacey’s views that ‘staff development for
change and diffusion of innovation needs to be delivered ’just in time‘, and be grounded in
specific local contexts’ (2004, p.41).
Considering adoption beyond awareness-knowledge was investigated in several ways including
an analysis of the backend data available within WebCT as well as telephone interviews with a
selected number of staff who accessed the site asking about the impact of the site on their
Breaking down boundaries
current and future teaching and learning practices. Further evaluative analysis is beyond the
scope of this paper.
The social system
As indicated above, the University of Sydney is a very large research-intensive university. For
the purpose of this analysis, the common goal is excellence in teaching. In addition to the
normal organisational structures, there are differences in teaching focus: from foundational first
year subjects taught across many courses to senior undergraduate and postgraduate subjects
with discipline/profession specific focus. Finally, there are diverse geographic locations – for
example, the faculties of CHS are not only located on four formal campuses but also include
staff (and students) located at a number of metropolitan and rural clinical schools which also
adds to the normal complexity of the university social system. Thus, the local environment for,
say, a university teacher in pharmacy located in the middle of the university’s major campus
differs from that of a university teacher in occupational therapy located on a metropolitan
satellite campus, which again differs from the situation at the University Department of Rural
Health at Broken Hill.
At the time of writing, we consider the eLearning Resource Centre & Staff Support Project to be
a success within its limited timeline. Project objectives were achieved, on time, and close to
budget. Promotion of the online resource was received enthusiastically by staff and has
continued steady use. Using Rogers’ framework to reflect on the project to date has, however,
enabled us to identify the following for consideration in regard to future elearning strategic
projects when the goal is for ‘innovation’ to achieve a level of uptake which could be described
as ‘embedded’. While noting that for this study we have considered ‘embedded’ at the level of
awareness-knowledge due to the limitations of time, a more appropriate indicator of ‘embedded’
would be reporting an informed decision to use or not use elearning strategies to support
learning in a unit of study.
The innovation
Use of Rogers’ framework in our reflective case study has highlighted aspects of the innovation
which were under-addressed. Most lacking were strategies for making a very strong and visible
case for relative advantage. Additionally, trialability was not well considered. The staff support
program was held during December-January (the timeslot available), traditionally a quiet period
at the university and only half the hours available for the staff support were utilised. Both
aspects have direct impact on the engagement of potential users.
Communication channels
Analysis of the communication channels used (table 1) indicated broad use of all Rogers’
classes. Anecdotal feedback on communication in our university generally is that getting
messages ‘heard’ through the broader channels is difficult in an environment of perceived
information overload. What also remains unclear is how much informal interpersonal
communication has occurred, or could be further prompted. This aspect links to consideration of
the social system. On reflection, more could have been done to draw on what Rogers highlights
as diffusion of an innovation through the experience of ‘near peers’, and this might require a
suite of strategies tailored to department, program or discipline-specific communities. This is an
area which requires more consideration for institution-wide elearning change strategies.
It is not easy to determine in such a large organisation who has ‘heard’ all the messages, much
less acted on them.
Mahony & Wozniak
The social system
Selected staff who had accessed the site were contacted as part of the evaluation process.
Only one-third could be considered as part of the early and late majority described earlier. It
was not a goal of the project to identify what the optimal dissemination strategy in our social
system should be; however, more needs to be done to engage those of the early and late
majority. Our case study has highlighted this important dimension and raised the question of
level (taking a hierarchical view) or location. In this project, communication and availability of
resources (i.e., online resources and workshops) were broadly based. Was this too diffuse or
just right?
Rogers’ theory of the diffusion of innovation provides a useful framework for examining the
introduction of elearning strategies to university populations. In this paper we used it to analyse
a case study of a specific institutional strategic elearning innovation project and then to derive
lessons for future elearning strategic development. The results of the analysis suggest that
Rogers’ theoretical framework can be of value in planning as well as monitoring and evaluating
the introduction of elearning strategies to universities.
Copyright © 2005 Mahony, M.J. & Wozniak, H. The authors assign to ODLAA and educational non-profit
institutions a nonexclusive license to use this document for personal use and in courses of instruction
provided that the article is used in full and this copyright statement is reproduced. The authors also grant
to ODLAA a nonexclusive license to publish this document in electronic or print form within ODLAA
publications and/or the world wide web. Any other usage is prohibited without the express permission of
the authors.
Anderson, T., Varnhagen, S., & Campbell, K. (1998). Faculty adoption of teaching and learning
technologies: Contrasting earlier adopters and mainstream faculty. The Canadian Journal of
Higher Education, 28(2, 3), 71-98.
Geoghegan, W. (1995). Stuck at the barricades: Can information technology really enter the
mainstream of teaching and learning? Change, 27(2), 22-30.
Lever, T. (2005). Mapping diversity in higher education teaching through a socially grounded
typology. Higher education in a changing world, HERDSA Conference, 3-6 July, 2005,
Moore, G. (1991). Crossing the chasm. New York: Harper Business.
Muirhead, B. (2005). A Canadian perspective on the uncertain future of distance education.
Distance Education, 26(2), 239-254.
Rogers, E. M. (2003). Diffusion of innovations, (5th ed.), New York: Free Press.
Steeples, C. & Jones, C. (Eds.). (2002). Networked learning: Perspectives and issues. London:
Tight, M. (2004). Research into higher education: An a-theoretical community, Higher Education
Research & Development, 23(4), 395-411.
University of Sydney Academic Board. (2003). Information and communication technology in
teaching and learning at the University of Sydney (Internal report). University of Sydney.
Retrieved March 15 2005 from http://www.usyd.edu.au/ab/QA&ICTFinalReport.pdf
University of Sydney. (2004a). ICT in Teaching and Learning Strategy. Retrieved April 13 2005
from http://www.usyd.edu.au/quality/teaching/docs/ict_in_tandl_strategy_2004_ver2.pdf
University of Sydney. (2004b). ICT in Teaching and Learning Action Plan. Retrieved April 13
2005 from
Breaking down boundaries
Wilson, G. & Stacey, E. (2004). Online interaction impacts on learning: Teaching the teachers to
teach online, Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 20(1), 33-48.
The CHS eLearning Resource and Staff Support Project is part of the University of Sydney’s
Information and Communication Technology in Teaching and Learning Initiative, under the
auspices of the Pro Vice Chancellor (Learning & Teaching). We gratefully acknowledge all staff
who contributed their work.
Moffatt & Blackmore
National anti plagiarism strategies: A shared
responsibility in transnational university partnerships
Sue Moffatt and Karen L Blackmore
Over the past ten years Australian Universities have engaged in transnational
partnerships with overseas institutions using a variety of different delivery methods.
With these partnership arrangements, traditional problems with student plagiarism can
occur; however, the international nature of arrangements can also give rise to additional
problems. In 2002, the Centre for the Study of Higher Education (CSHE) at the
University of Melbourne was commissioned by the Australian Universities Teaching
Committee AUTC to produce a booklet entitled ‘Assessing learning in Australian
universities’ which included a section entitled ‘Minimising plagiarism’. In this paper we
address the question of how the responsibility for implementing anti-plagiarism
strategies should be shared in transnational partnerships, and identify and discuss the
associated difficulties. We review the experiences of dealing with student plagiarism in
a course offered at Charles Sturt University, and consider the four-part strategy
recommended in the CSHE booklet in the context of this subject delivery. We find that
while the responsibility for some of the strategies lies solely with either the university or
the transnational partner, other are clearly shared. Key difficulties discussed include
resourcing strategy implementation at partner institutions and instilling and fostering
shared commitment.
Over the past ten years, Australian universities, including Charles Sturt University (CSU) have
engaged in transnational partnerships using a variety of different delivery methods. The
Australian Government (2005) defines transnational education as ‘the delivery and/or
assessment of programs/courses by an accredited Australian provider in a country other than
Australia, where delivery includes a face-to-face component’. The face-to-face component
‘includes a physical presence of instructors offshore, either directly by the Australian provider, or
indirectly through a formal agreement with a local institution/organisation’ (Australian
Government, 2005). This paper has adopted the government’s definition of transnational
education and training with the exception of partnerships in Sydney and Holmesglen that are
seen as ‘transnational’ because the enrolled students all come from overseas and are taught by
commercial institutions which are not a part of CSU. This definition is distinctly different to the
concept of international education, which is taken here to refer to the commercial provision of
on-shore international higher education by the Australian university staff (Marginson, 2001).
CSU has transnational partnerships in many disciplines but this paper will focus on the
Information Technology (IT) discipline, with subjects taught in both Bachelor and Master of IT
courses as well as a Master of Business Administration. These courses are delivered at partner
institutions in Sydney, Victoria, London, Malaysia and China. We will focus on CSU’s
involvement over the past five years, since the authors’ experience with transnational education
commenced in 2000.
Like many other Australian universities, CSU had, over the years, been concerned about
plagiarism issues and these issues were highlighted with the growth in the number of
transnational students (Figure 1). In 2004, the CSU Academic Senate established a Plagiarism
Management Working Party which became a Standing Committee on Plagiarism under the CSU
Breaking down boundaries
Learning and Teaching Committee in 2005. One of the authors of this paper has been a
member of this committee since its inception and has had experience making decisions related
to transnational plagiarism issues since 2000.
CSU Transnational Student Enrolments 2000-2004
2000 2001 2002 2003 2004
No. of Students
CSU transnational student enrolment figures for the years 2000 to 2004, showing an increase in enrolment
numbers over this period (Sourced from Office of Planning and Audit, Charles Sturt University (2005)
‘Pocket Statistics’ Total Number of Enrolments by Location (Administrative Campus) for Gar Corp (China),
Holmesglen (Victoria), I.R.I.(Malaysia), LSC (London), and Study Group (Sydney) transnational partner
Figure 1
In 2002, the Centre for the Study of Higher Education (CSHE) at the University of Melbourne
was commissioned by the AUTC to produce a booklet entitled ‘Assessing Learning in Australian
Universities’ (James, McInnis & Devlin, 2002) which included a section entitled ‘Minimising
Plagiarism’. James, McInnis and Devlin state that plagiarism in higher education takes many
forms. They specifically list five forms which are ‘more common’. Only two of these forms are
relevant to this paper, that is:
Downloading information, text, computer code, artwork, graphics or other material from
the internet and presenting it as one’s own without acknowledgement; [and]
Quoting or paraphrasing material from a source without acknowledgement (James,
McInnis & Devlin, 2002).
The other forms of plagiarism mentioned by James, McInnis and Devlin involve submitting work
completed by another person, cheating in examinations, handing in the same work more than
once and plagiarism related to group work. These forms are not considered within this paper.
With transnational partnership arrangements, traditional student plagiarism situations can occur;
however, the international nature of arrangements can give rise to additional problems. In this
paper, we address the question of how the responsibility for implementing anti-plagiarism
strategies should be shared in transnational partnerships, and identify and discuss the
associated difficulties.
The analysis presented in this paper is based on experiences that the authors have had at CSU
while delivering Information Technology (IT) subjects. The education-delivery model that exists
for these partners has CSU providing the learning materials in the form of subject outlines,
study guides, readings etc, and the subjects being taught by lecturers employed by the partner.
Moffatt & Blackmore
CSU moderates both the assignments and exams to ensure that CSU standards are being
adhered to. The students graduate with a CSU degree.
The moderation process can result in partners using assessment items that are identical to
CSU’s, or they write their own which are then approved by the CSU subject convenor. Final
grades are recommended by the partners but only approved after a moderation process that
involves checking a sample of marked assignments and exams at the end of each session. This
process can result in a time delay before possible identification of plagiarism by CSU
This research employs an instrumental case study approach (Stake, 1995) using a single case.
This approach is useful for providing a general understanding of a phenomenon. The authors’
experiences represent both direct and participant observations. While this approach provides a
depth of information which is particularly useful in the study of plagiarism issues in transnational
partnerships, the potential bias of the authors, as active participants, is noted. Thus, the paper
is subjective in that it is based upon the authors’ own experiences and viewpoints.
The aim of the paper is to consider the anti plagiarism strategies recommended by James,
McInnis and Devlin (2002), which have been endorsed by the CSU Academic Senate to be
promoted to academic staff of the university as good practice (Charles Sturt University, 2004,
AS 04/88). The consideration of the strategies will generalise to recommendations that CSU
and all transnational/Australian partnerships can consider.
CSU has taken an educative rather than punitive approach to plagiarism (Charles Sturt
University 2004, AS 04/85), encouraging avoidance rather than dealing with misconduct. The
most effective methods of minimising plagiarism are seen to be ‘proactive’ rather than ‘reactive’.
They involve educating students to understand university expectations regarding academic
integrity and the use by academic staff of approaches to assessment, which minimise
plagiarism. Thus our recommendations share this emphasis.
Anti-plagiarism strategies
In the CSHE booklet (James, McInnis & Devlin, 2002), Universities and academics are
recommended to focus efforts at addressing plagiarism around four main strategies. The
strategies are interpreted here to represent over-arching principles. The first principle advocates
a collaborative approach, among all levels within the university, to recognising and countering
plagiarism. This principle provides a framework for considering the three other main principles
(Figure 2). These three principles form a three-point plan that aims to ‘make expectations clear
to students; design assessment to minimise opportunities for plagiarism; and visibly monitor,
detect and respond to incidences of plagiarism’ (James, McInnis & Devlin, 2002).
Collaborative Approach to
Minimising Plagiarism
Monitor and
to Minimise
Students to
Four main recommended principles for addressing plagiarism (James, McInnis & Devlin, 2002)
Figure 2
Breaking down boundaries
Following these principles, thirty-six specific strategies for minimising plagiarism are presented
by James, McInnis and Devlin. These strategies are gathered from a range of sources.
Recognition of the propensity for some of the suggested strategies to add significantly to
academic workload, and the relevance on adoption to dependence on the local context is
Considering these issues, specific questions arise, such as:
• Is it possible for transnational partners to take responsibility for these strategies or should
they be controlled by the Australian institution which has to guarantee the quality control to
the Federal government and, for equity reasons, should provide the same opportunities to
all students that it governs?
• What if academics at Australian institutions are not willing or capable of adopting them?
Where does that leave the transnational partner?
• If the transnational institutions are willing to implement these strategies, either alone or in
partnership, what are the implications?
In this paper, the authors consider thirty-four of the thirty-six strategies. Strategies that suggest
the inclusion of group or team work to minimise plagiarism are not considered.1 We focus on
shared responsibility and the issues associated with their implementation in transnational
partnership arrangements. This includes those strategies that:
• are considered the responsibility of the Australian institution, and largely out of the
partner(s) control;
• have aspects that could be seen as a shared responsibility. In principle, these strategies
would not be difficult for transnational partners to implement if they wished to do so; and
• would require an investment by the partners in staff time and new procedures.
Each of the strategies for minimising plagiarism was considered and classified according to the
perceived level of shared responsibility (low, medium or high) and the ease with which the
strategy could be implemented (easy, moderate or hard). A summary of this analysis is shown
in Figure 3. Brief summaries of each of the strategies is provided in the appendix.
Level of Shared Responsibility
Low High
Ease of Implementation
Analysis of Strategies for Minimising Plagiarism in
the Context of Transnational Partnerships
1 2
3 4 5
16 17 18 19
22 23
29 30 31
32 33
Analysis of CSHE strategies for minimising plagiarism
Figure 3
Moffatt & Blackmore
Educate students to avoid plagiarism
The first six strategies come under the heading ‘Teach students about authorship conventions
and about how to avoid plagiarism’ (James, McInnis & Devlin, 2002). All these strategies fit in
Figure 3 in the area of a high level of shared responsibility, though strategies 1 and 2 appear
easy for any transnational academic staff member to implement as long as they were committed
to reducing plagiarism. Strategies 3-5 require time and expertise while 6 would need extra
assessment with associated time and cost issues. However, they cannot be assumed to be
easy for transnational partners to implement because cultural issues associated with
international students and learning models complicate the implementation of some of these
strategies in transnational partnerships.
Level of Shared Responsibility
Low High
Ease of Implementation
Educate Students to Avoid Plagiarism
1 2
3 4 5
Analysis of CSHE strategies aimed at the education of students to minimise plagiarism
Figure 4
A number of factors are seen to contribute to plagiarism. These have been identified as
including poor time-management skills (Cohen, 2003), lack of effective deterrence (Zobel &
Hamilton, 2002), financial pressures (Cohen, 2003), lack of integration in university social life
(Caruana, Ramaseshan & Ewing, 2000), poor spoken and written English skills (Cohen, 2003;
Myers, 1998), and differences in learning cultures (Zobel & Hamilton, 2002). While all of these
can be seen to apply in various degrees to most student cohorts, issues associated with English
as a second language (ESL) and different learning cultures are emphasised in many of our
transnational partnerships. Indeed, referencing and plagiarism have been identified as among
the most significant challenges facing international students undertaking report-writing tasks
(Baskett, Collings & Preston, 2004) .
In addition, although no specific evidence or support was found in the literature, it is
hypothesised that academics from other learning cultures may have difficulty themselves in
defining plagiarism. In their own experiences at CSU, the authors have discovered a range of
attitudes among the Australian academics; some would rate the same piece of work as ‘poor
referencing’ while others would initiate student misconduct regulations. It is therefore not
unreasonable to assume a range of values at transnational partner’s institutions which may be
Breaking down boundaries
aggravated by different learning cultures. CSU’s approach to plagiarism, and the strategies
recommended to educate both students and staff about plagiarism, may need to be extended to
include staff delivering courses at partner institutions.
It is recognised that providing students with material to learn about how to correctly reference is
insufficient, and integrating practical assessment tasks aimed at developing these skills is
required (Cohen, 2003). Another strategy includes the running of workshops which are
voluntary and do not form a component of a student’s assessable work (Counsell, 2003). Both
these strategies require expertise, time and commitment by both staff and students.
At CSU, the responsibility for defining and encouraging avoidance of plagiarism has been taken
up by Student Services, who have created a learning skills website which includes an online
guide to avoiding plagiarism (Charles Sturt University, 2005). The material on the website is
also provided in booklet form. A copy of this booklet was given to every commencing oncampus
and distance student in 2005. Logistical issues prevented distribution to the
transnational students in 2005, but after discussion about its design in relation to ESL students,
there has been a suggestion that another booklet be written specifically for these students,
perhaps in their first language.
Additionally, academic staff at CSU are encouraged to have an ‘expert’ learning skills advisor or
librarian give guest lectures to their on-campus students in order to have them explain
plagiarism and referencing issues.
Unless transnational partners are willing to invest in similar experts (and many of these partners
are commercial concerns), it is more difficult for them to educate their students about plagiarism
and how to avoid it. Integrating writing skill development tasks into coursework is an approach
which has proved successful (Baskett, Collings & Preston, 2004), however, the provision of
learning skills advisors to implement such initiatives in transnational partnerships raises
resourcing issues. In this situation, it is arguably the responsibility of the Australian institution to
provide online and printed materials, but should they go so far as to provide visiting learning
skills staff? One transnational partner has recently invested in reducing plagiarism and
employed a specialist English skills advisor who, in part, will explain Australian university
assessment demands in terms of plagiarism and referencing.
Design assessments to minimise plagiarism
Strategies 7 to 14 and 20 are designed to ‘Counter plagiarism through the design of
assessment tasks’ (James, McInnis & Devlin, 2002).
At CSU, the design of assessment tasks is by default the responsibility of its academics, though
the transnational staff can create assessment items with the approval of the Australian subject
convenor. Therefore, strategies 7 to 14 and 20 would either need to be adopted at CSU on
behalf of its transnational partners, as well as for local students, or CSU staff would need to
cooperate with the needs of transnational staff to create different assessment items.
Some of the strategies recommended by James, McInnis and Devlin (2002) may not suit the
pedagogy of all cohorts at CSU so local staff may be reluctant to implement them. Strategy 7
recommends not using the same essay question year after year. This strategy could reduce
plagiarism between cohorts but logic indicates that it will not necessarily reduce it within one
cohort. Postgraduate distance students at CSU benefit from the opportunity to write an essay on
a topic of their own choosing, thus making it most relevant to their own work circumstances. The
transnational partner worried about plagiarism under these circumstances could pick a different
topic for their students each year in order to satisfy strategy 7. Strategy 20 requires fewer than
three assessment items but this is the CSU standard and to change current practice would
require change by both partners.
In principle, strategies 8 and 10 are the easiest to implement since they are both low on shared
responsibility and they simply require academic staff to follow quality assessment practices.
Strategies 9, 11 and 14 are harder to implement (see Figure 3) in that they require assessment
items to be tailored to recent events or introduce a different case study. This gives the
transnational partners an opportunity to design assessment items for their students that are
more relevant to their cultural context but also require extra time and effort.
Moffatt & Blackmore
The next two strategies in this section are 12 and 13, which require both a high level of shared
responsibility and would be more costly and difficult to implement due to the need for
specialised classroom learning and individual assessment. Strategies 15 to 19 have even
higher implementation costs because they require in-class procedures such as presentations
that allow individual students to display their first-hand knowledge. All of these strategies, if
adopted, would be the responsibility of the transnational academics and would require
considerable amounts of extra class time and effort. Some of the transnational partners rely on
blocks of teaching time over weekends and time is critical simply for transmitting information.
Level of Shared Responsibility
Low High
Ease of Implementation
Design Assessments to Minimise Plagiarism
16 17 18 19
Moderate 20
Analysis of CSHE strategies aimed at the design of assessments to minimise plagiarism
Figure 5
Visibly monitor and detect plagiarism
The next set of strategies, from 21 to 36, covers the issues of visibly monitoring, detecting and
responding to incidences of plagiarism. All of these strategies involve medium to high levels of
shared responsibility between the university and the transnational partner, however, the majority
fall within the easy to moderate levels in terms of difficulty of implementation (Figure 6).
Strategies 21 to 26 appear under the heading ‘Ask students for evidence that they have not
plagiarised’ (James, McInnis & Devlin, 2002). Strategy 21, which involves including the source
(e.g. site of the library and call number of sources, internet site and date accessed of sources)
is considered the easiest to implement. Strategies 22, 23, 24 and 26 involve submitting various
pieces of evidence of information sources either prior to or accompanying assessment items.
While the level of shared responsibility remains the same as strategy 21, the ease of
implementation increases to a medium level due to the necessity for transnational partners to
ensure both the collection of this material, as well as checking its validity. Strategy 25 suggests
resubmission of assessment items where requirements for providing evidence of sources have
not been met. The shorter teaching timeframes often in place in transnational partner
institutions complicate the adoption of this strategy.
Breaking down boundaries
Level of Shared Responsibility
Low High
Ease of Implementation
Visibly Monitor and Detect Plagiarism
22 23
29 30 31
32 33
Analysis of CSHE strategies aimed at visible monitoring and detection to minimise plagiarism
Figure 6
These strategies, whilst generally punitive in nature, place emphasis on students to be
responsible for monitoring and ensuring against plagiarism, by providing evidence. The
educative approach to plagiarism taken by CSU complicates the adoption of these strategies in
transnational partnerships as, to the knowledge of the authors, none of these strategies have
yet been adopted by CSU in the IT area.
Strategies 29 to 36 primarily focus on the detection of student plagiarism. The ease with which
students can access vast stores of text via the internet has placed increasing focus on methods
for monitoring and detecting plagiarism. Additionally, this group of strategies also emphasises
the need for academics to become familiar with the resources that may be used for plagiarism,
and to respond quickly and decisively to cases of plagiarism.
Strategies 29 to 31 come under the heading ‘Become familiar with resources that may be used
for plagiarism’. They primarily involve raising the awareness of academics at both CSU and
transnational partnerships of the common sources students may use to plagiarise from. These
strategies are all clearly areas of joint responsibility and appear relatively easy to implement.
Particularly relevant for the IT discipline are the many websites with code for a large range of
elementary programming problems. Awareness of these sites, for CSU academics when setting
assessment items and partner academics when receiving submitted student assignments, is
Strategies 32 to 35 deal specifically with the use of detection software and other deterrents.
Recent research has focused on evaluating a range of automatic plagiarism detection tools.
While some have shown the use of automatic detection software to be useful in detecting
instances of plagiarism (Zobel & Hamilton, 2002), others report varying success and issues
(Royce, 2003). At CSU, a pilot study of the Turnitin® (Turnitin) plagiarism screening tool was
conducted by the Faculty of Commerce for the University’s Working Party on Plagiarism
Management (Charles Sturt University, 2005). The study identified no instances of ‘reportable’
plagiarism in the sample of fifty assignments assessed. A key issue identified in the report was
the need for experience and training in the use of the software in order for benefits to be
realised. Given the resourcing issues highlighted in an internal acceptance of the technology,
Moffatt & Blackmore
these would seem exacerbated and perhaps unrealistic in transnational partnership
arrangements. However, one of the authors has found that using Google to detect overt
plagiarism, while time consuming, is very effective and could easily be adopted by transnational
Finally, strategy 36 suggests academics ‘respond quickly to incidents of plagiarism’. Given that
lecturers at partner institutions take on the academic teaching role, this strategy is probably the
one that transnational partners need to take most responsibility for. To facilitate the
implementation of this strategy, transnational academics must be willing and able to initiate
CSU’s student misconduct regulations immediately. As the determination of grades through
moderation processes is often not done until months after a potential incidence of plagiarism,
clear delineation of responsibility with regard to plagiarism monitoring, detection and
implementation of misconduct regulations versus grade allocation is required.
We find that while the responsibility for some of the strategies lies solely with either the
University or the transnational partner, for others the responsibility is clearly shared.
Additionally, the level of shared responsibility for the implementation of anti-plagiarism
strategies in transnational partnership arrangement is not necessary correlated with the ease or
difficulty of implementation.
A number of strategies which have high levels of shared responsibility and are seen to be easy
to implement should be investigated for implementation. In particular, the following
recommendations are made:
• Educate students to avoid plagiarism: An educative climate towards plagiarism should be
encouraged at partner institutions. Simple strategies, such as warning students of
information security practices while using computing facilities, should be implemented
(Strategies 1 to 2).
• Design assessments to minimise plagiarism: The University should consider those
strategies which would either need to be adopted at CSU on behalf of its transnational
partners, as well as for local students; or CSU staff would need to cooperate with the needs
of transnational staff to create different assessment items (Strategies 7 to 14 and 20).
• Visibly monitor and detect plagiarism: Staff at both the University and transnational partner
institution should be assisted in becoming familiar with resources that may be used for
plagiarism by students, and for plagiarism detection (Strategies 29 to 31).
Much of the published research regarding cultural issues as a cause of plagiarism in
International student cohorts involves students living away from home. This is not the case in
many of CSU’s partnership arrangements. Research should be undertaken to identify the
causes of plagiarism in these arrangements. While some of the strategies are relatively simple
to implement, others are more difficult and raise a number of issues, especially in relation to
cost and time. Prioritisation of these strategies requires an understanding of the nature of
plagiarism in these situations. Where cultural issues dominate, an educative approach is
appropriate and strategies aligned to this approach should be prioritised for implementation.
However, other causes of plagiarism among students studying at partner institutions may be
better addressed using punitive approaches. Thus, while recommendations are made in this
paper based on the shared responsibility and ease of implementation of plagiarism strategies,
the need for further research to understand the causes of plagiarism in these situations is
1 James, McInnis & Devlin (2002) list five ‘more common’ forms of plagiarism. Only those that
deal with not acknowledging sources are considered in this paper. Those forms of plagiarism
that involve submitting work completed by another person, cheating in examinations,
Breaking down boundaries
handing in the same work more than once and plagiarism related to group work are not
considered, and thus strategies dealing specifically with these issues are not relevant.
Copyright © 2005 Moffatt, S. & Blackmore, K.L. The authors assign to ODLAA and educational nonprofit
institutions a nonexclusive license to use this document for personal use and in courses of instruction
provided that the article is used in full and this copyright statement is reproduced. The authors also grant
to ODLAA a nonexclusive license to publish this document in electronic or print form within ODLAA
publications and/or the world wide web. Any other usage is prohibited without the express permission of
the authors.
Australian Government. (2005). A national quality strategy for Australian transnational education
and training: A discussion paper. Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra.
Baskett, J., Collings, P. & Preston, H. (2004). Plagiarism or support? What should be the focus
for our changing graduate coursework cohort? R. Carmichael, (Ed.), in Proceedings of the
Australian Universities Quality Forum: Quality in a Time of Change. 7-9 July 2004, Adelaide,
Australia. pp. 85-88.
Caruana, A., Ramaseshan, B. & Ewing, M. T. (2000). The effect of anomie on academic
dishonesty among university students. The International Journal of Educational Management,
14(1), pp. 23.
Charles Sturt University. (2005). Avoiding plagiarism. Viewed 24 June 2005,
Charles Sturt University. (2004). Minutes of the meeting of the Academic Senate held 29 July
2004, Item AS 04/88. Viewed 21 June 2005 <http://www.csu.edu.au/acad_sec/agendas.html>.
Charles Sturt University. (2004). Minutes of the meeting of the Academic Senate held 29 July
2004. Item AS 04/85.Viewed 21 June 2005 < http://www.csu.edu.au/acad_sec/agendas.html>.
Cohen, J. (2003). Addressing inadvertent plagiarism: a practical strategy to help non English
speaking background (NESB) students. In H. Marsden, M. Hicks & A. Bundy (Eds.),
Proceedings of the first Australasian Educational Integrity Conference. 21-22 November 2003,
University of South Australia, Adelaide, South Australia, pp. 26-31.
Counsell, J. (2003). Plagiarism and international students. In H. Marsden, M. Hicks & A. Bundy
(Eds.), Proceedings of the first Australasian Educational Integrity Conference. 21-22 November
2003, University of South Australia, Adelaide, South Australia, pp. 97-104.
James, R., McInnis, C. & Devlin M. (2002). Assessing Learning In Australian Universities.
Centre for the Study of Higher Education, University of Melbourne.
Marginson, S. W. (2001). The global market in foreign higher education: the case of Australia. In
Association for Studies in Higher Education (ASHE) 26th Annual Conference, 15-18 November,
2001. Richmond Virginia. <http://www.utwente.nl/cheps/documenten/SusuMarginson.pdf>
Myers, S. (1998). Questioning Author(ity): ESL/EFL, Science, and Teaching about Plagiarism.
Teaching English As a Second or Foreign Language, 3(2).
Office of Planning and Audit, Charles Sturt University. (2005). Viewed 22 June 2005.
Royce, J. (2003). Has turnitin.com got it all wrapped up? Teacher Librarian, 30(4), pp. 26.
Stake, R. (1995). The art of case study research. Sage Publications, Newbury Park, CA.
Turnitin. (2005). Viewed 24 June 2005, <http://www.turnitin.com/static/home.html>
Zobel, J. & Hamilton, M. (2002). Managing student plagiarism in large academic departments.
Australian Universities Review, 45(2), pp. 23-30.
Moffatt & Blackmore
APPENDIX – Summary of anti plagiarism strategies
Strategy Summary
Level of
Ease of
1 Create environment of student involvement and interest High Easy
2 Educate and warn about risk situations such as copying files High Easy
3 Teach the skills of summarising and paraphrasing High Moderate
4 Teach the skills of critical analysis and building an argument. High Moderate
5 Teach the skills of referencing and citation. High Moderate
Include demonstration of skills developed in assessments in miniassignments
High Hard
7 Avoid assessment re-use Medium Moderate
Avoid assignments that ask students to collect, describe and present
Low Easy
Randomise questions and answers for electronic
Low Moderate
Ensure assessment tasks relate to the specific content and focus of
the subject
Low Easy
11 Set the assignment specification on a unique or recent event Low Moderate
Use essay/assignment topics that integrate theory and examples or
use personal experience
High Hard
13 Use assignments that integrate class specific activities High Hard
14 Use alternatives to the standard essay, such as case studies Low Moderate
15 Assess work produced in class High Hard
16 Use timed open book essays for assessment High Hard
17 Viva (i.e. orally examine) a random selection of the students High Hard
Request students make presentations based on their written
High Hard
Require students to submit essay outlines and/or non-final versions
of assignments
High Hard
20 Minimise over assessment Medium Moderate
21 Request correct referencing Medium Easy
22 Request photocopies of references Medium Moderate
23 Collect an annotated bibliography before the submission is due Medium Moderate
24 Insist on evidence for significant claims Medium Moderate
Return assignments to students to redo if requirements for providing
evidence of sources are not met.
High Hard
26 Use/include a meta-essay or meta-assignment Medium Moderate
27 Use group work or syndicates High Moderate
Breaking down boundaries
28 Assign group tasks but to submit individual assignments High Moderate
29 Be familiar with available resources for assignments High Easy
30 Use a search engine to help find the sites students are likely to find High Easy
Demonstrate to your students your awareness of electronic
resources available to them
High Easy
32 Require all students to submit essays and assignments electronically High Hard
Archive electronic student essays and assignments to enable later
High Hard
34 Use deterrence penalties High Moderate
Require cover sheet defining plagiarism and requiring the student's
High Easy
36 Do something about blatant examples of plagiarism immediately High Moderate
Eroding distinctiveness: Blurring the boundaries
between on- and off-campus students by the adoption
of learning management systems
Di Challis
Learning management systems (LMS) have been widely adopted in the tertiary sector
and Deakin University is no exception. What is more exceptional is Deakin’s policy that,
from the start of 2004, every unit being taught at Deakin University is required to
establish a Deakin Studies Online [DSO] site and there must be at least one fully online
unit for each program. This paper reports on the findings of an online survey of teaching
and learning using DSO that was conducted in 2004 and repeated in 2005. This study
provides some compelling evidence that the traditional distinctiveness of on- and offcampus
study is eroded when all students study online.
University LMS, policy and procedures
In the past ten years learning management systems [LMS] have had such widespread and rapid
adoption they have become almost ubiquitous in many parts of the world with recent estimates
suggesting that in many countries about three quarters of institutions have an LMS (Coates,
2005). In a recent survey undertaken by the American Society for Training & Development
(2005) 81.7% of the 153 responses indicated their organisation used a LMS. Deakin
University’s learning management system is WebCTVista, repackaged as Deakin Studies
Online (DSO).
From January 2004 each unit offered by Deakin University has at least a basic online presence
using its LMS. In practical terms this means that a Deakin Studies online (DSO) site is
established that normally includes the unit guide, a ‘resources area’ where an electronic version
of the readings (where appropriate) and other resources are placed, and the opportunity for the
teaching staff to communicate with students through a noticeboard. All students in units that do
not meet face-to-face at least once a week will have facilitated online interaction. The unit chair
must be prepared to report to their unit community through the DSO site established for their
unit. Extended online units are characterised by additional resources, more advanced and
diverse communication strategies and embedded pedagogies.
At the same time, and of particular relevance to this paper, every program taught is required to
have at least one wholly online unit which has all teaching resources and teaching undertaken
online including:
• All content (either commercial print-based textbooks or commercial e-texts may be used as
supplementary material)
• All communication and interaction with students
• Assignment submission and feedback
Breaking down boundaries
• At least one session each week of interactive communication (synchronous, asynchronous,
or both) between teacher and students
• Resources such as video and audio which are provided on CD-ROMs for off-campus
students where appropriate.
(Deakin University, 2003)
LMS [DSO] survey
From the purchase of WebCTVista and its introduction to the university community as DSO in
2003, seeking feedback from users was seen as essential. This was done in several ways, but
the main instrument has been a university-wide online questionnaire and these are the data
used to inform this paper. Following a pilot in 2003, essentially the same questionnaire has
been used in 2004 and 2005. Although both staff and students were surveyed, this paper
concerns the responses from students: 2,887 in 2004 and 2,526 in 2005, making the total
respondent sample 5,413. Because the focus of this paper is the contended similarity between
the responses of on- and off-campus students, the statistical data reported below separate the
two years to show pattern of response.
The first section of the survey dealt with demographics, the next with support, and then 15
questions asked students to rate the importance of various teaching/learning aspects of DSO
and their satisfaction with each. The final set of questions asked for responses to three key
propositions regarding the learning experience:
• The use of DSO enhanced my learning experience
• I felt adequately supported by those teaching my units to use DSO effectively
• I felt adequately supported technically to use DSO effectively.
The survey ended with an invitation to provide written feedback. In 2004, 1,180 students chose
to comment with 70,236 words of text. In 2005, 948 comments were received with 76,489 words
of text.
The University’s survey tool allows data to be readily interrogated across specified variables,
such as gender, mode of study, campus, faculty, level of study. To inform this discussion, the
key variables selected were mode of study and campus. The paper also draws on the
responses to the three propositions stated above and to six of the fifteen questions regarding
teaching/learning aspects of DSO which were selected because they are core components of
the learning experience: accessing course materials, online discussions, assignment
submission and feedback. Each aspect had two questions. Where importance and satisfaction
are rated side by side the University’s survey tool imposes a scale with 1 (Low) and 7 (High) in
contrast to the 1 (Low) to 5 (High) scale used elsewhere.
While this broadly based survey does not capture the differences between an online experience
in different units – although this is highlighted in a large proportion of the open ended comments
– it does provide a broad picture of how DSO is being received by students. Being open in midyear
(from just before the end of semester one to the second week of semester two) it comes at
a time when respondents have experienced at least one semester of DSO, although (as could
be expected) increasingly experience is growing with over 50% of student responses this year
indicating they have used DSO for at least 3 semesters.
Although it needs to be recognised that the sample is not random in that students chose to
complete the survey, the sample size and the fact that all campuses, disciplines and modes of
study are represented give some confidence that this is a reliable indicator of student
perceptions of learning using Deakin’s LMS in 2004/5.
Blurring the boundaries between on- and off-campus learning
In his book Why distance learning? Berg (2002, p.xvi) suggests that the main elements of
distance learning are:
• physical separation (complete or more than 50% reduced contact time) between teacher and
• administration by an education organization;
• frequent use of various media, including print, video, film, computer, and audio;
• communication between student and teacher, synchronous or asynchronous;
• often an administrative focus on the non-traditional learner.
By introducing and implementing the online technologies policy with the procedures quoted
above, Deakin University essentially provided an identical learning experience for on- and offcampus
students. In practice, even the one stated area of distinctiveness (the use of CD-ROMs
for off-campus students) disappeared as integrating multimedia provided on CD-ROM with DSO
became common practice for all students. That it clearly meets the criteria Berg identifies is
compelling evidence that what we have traditionally associated with the distance learner is now
at least part of the experience of those who could come on-campus to experience face-to-face
higher education.
Rapid advances mean technology is increasingly pervasive in all aspects of life - including how
one learns - and this, in turn, puts pressure on educators to use technology. Consequentially, as
Bates (2000) claims:
Because such technologies are valuable both on and off campus, it is natural then to see
a convergence between distance education and face-to-face teaching. While there are
still differences, it is now much easier to move between the two previous solitudes.
Perraton (2004, pp.15-16) points to evidence of convergence between distance and
conventional education speculating that as e-learning develops on any significant scale it ‘may
therefore bring down the barriers between different modes of teaching’. He recognises that in
this way distance education is ‘becoming part of the mainstream educational system’. Both
modes are affected as the boundaries between them are blurred. Weigel (2005), for instance,
acknowledges the early association between the LMS and distance learning but explicitly links
these systems with face-to-face teaching when he refers to their ‘uncritical acceptance of the
traditional features of the classroom model’. Roberts (2003) similarly refers to both modes when
he states that, as the Open University (UK) discovered nearly by accident, the Internet
challenges traditional distance teaching as much as it does the traditional classroom.
While challenging both and offering enhancements to both (see below), online education offers
increased flexibility to all students. While distance students have long valued the emancipation
from time and place constraints, their school-leaver on-campus counterparts are increasingly
reliant on such flexibility as they accommodate highly mobile lifestyles with complexities such as
meeting employment commitments that were earlier associated with mature age distance
learners. The most recent statistics of Deakin’s first year cohort (Deakin University, December,
2004) reported (p.4) that for on-campus students the age profile ‘was heavily weighted towards
the 19 and under age group’ while most off-campus students were over 30. The same report
(p.6) indicates that, even at first year, 62% of on-campus students indicated they were currently
working (90% of the off-campus cohort) and, of those not working, half were looking for work. A
national study of the first year experience (Krause et al, 2005) stated that the last decade has
seen a progressive decline in both the days and number of hours full-time students spend on
campus with a significant rise in the proportion of students committed to paid employment. The
impact of work on tertiary study has been well documented by McInnes & Hartley (2002). The
point here is that although there are differences in age and the type of work undertaken by onand
off-campus students, typical students in both groups are seeking flexibility in when they
learn and this is arguably best catered for online.
Breaking down boundaries
The situation regarding on- and off-campus students is made complex because a significant
number of students who identify their primary status as a student as off-campus, indicate also
that they attend either a Deakin campus in Victoria or one overseas. This, in itself, is a definite
blurring of boundaries and its extent is worth noting. In the most recent survey, half of those
(488 of 966) who described their primary status as a student as off-campus, indicated they
attended a campus with most of them (442) indicating a Victorian campus and the rest (46)
overseas. The situation was similar in 2004. A less ambiguous grouping - ‘none of these’ (ie no
Victorian or overseas campus) - clearly identifies off-campus students who attend no campus
and it is this cohort that has been identified for statistical comparison. To these, for the sake of
this exercise (and in accord with the University’s statistical reporting), have been added all
overseas/offshore students.
Students, themselves, recognise the similarity of the experience for both on- and off-campus
DSO allows all students access to the same material. It no longer matters whether you
are an on-campus student or an off-campus student, we all benefit. (Student response,
June 7, 2005)
DSO is a great learning environment for both on and off campus students. (Student
response, June 23, 2005)
Even though I am an off-campus student, the use of DSO made me feel like an ‘oncampus’
student. (Student response, June 28, 2005)
That is not to say that all students were happy with this seemingly merged situation:
As a full-time on-campus student, I feel like an off-campus student. All I’m ever told is ‘go
to DSO’. That pisses me off. (Student response, June 9, 2004)
[DSO is] not focused enough for off-campus students in terms of details that may be
explained in lectures, not transferred to DSO notes. (Student response, June 5, 2004)
The higher education learning experience
What is the essential learning experience for tertiary students? Arguably, one would list
engaging with the literature and discourse of the discipline through interaction with academic
teaching staff, peers and text as key elements. This translates in the face-to-face on-campus
environment as the lecture, the tutorial or laboratory/practical class. When the face-to-face
component is removed, and the experience is online, it could reasonably be premised that oncampus
students would be less satisfied as they no longer have the personal immediacy of
customary face-to-face teaching/learning. Conversely, it could be premised that off-campus
students will be more satisfied because their teaching/learning experience is likely to be
enhanced through the increased functionality of a learning management system and the offer of
increased opportunities for interaction with texts as learning resources and with mentors and
peers through online discussion. Such enhancements as receiving audiostreamed lectures and
having complex data presented visually with animation present a demonstrably different
learning experience from printed readings.
From the telling summary data of level of satisfaction with DSO (see Table 2 below), it is
immediately apparent that mode of study is not (of itself) a critical determinant. The response
from all students is markedly similar with the most recent data revealing just a 0.13% difference
in the satisfaction index. Moreover, the converse of the premise suggested above is – even if to
a very small extent – the case. Off-campus students are less satisfied than on-campus
students, with the margin reduced in 2005.
Table 1: Level of satisfaction on 1 [Low] -7 [High] scale and as % (satisfaction index)
2004 2005
On-campus 4.17 59.59% 4.56 65.06%
Off-campus 3.94 56.19% 4.55 64.93%
Note: In surveys run using Deakin’s survey tool, the following explanation is provided by the Planning
Office for the ‘calculation of an accurate Satisfaction Index’.
In order to provide a consistent overall outcome from customer satisfaction surveys, an agreed
method for the calculation of ‘satisfaction’ has been established. With the use of both importance
and satisfaction measures within surveys, it is possible if a 7 point scale is used for divisions to
produce a satisfaction index that takes account of importance weighting factors.
Weighting: To calculate the Weighting Factors add up all the importance scores and then express
each one as a % of the total.
Satisfaction Index: To calculate the Satisfaction Index each satisfaction score is multiplied by its
corresponding weighting factor to produce weighted scores. The weighted average is found by
adding up the weighted scores.
In regard to the actual learning experience, the key survey question was the overall proposition
that ‘the use of DSO enhanced my learning experience’. The pattern of the responses for the
two cohorts in each year is close to identical as can be seen very clearly when graphed, even
though the actual responses do show difference over the two years: see Graph 1. Although it
could be reasonably surmised that off-campus students, who do not have the same face-to-face
options as their on-campus counterparts and so are more reliant on such technologies, would
be far more positive in their view, this is not the case. In 2004, more on-campus students gave a
‘5/5’ rating (16% compared with 14%) and a ‘4/5’ rating (30% compared with 27%) and,
although this slight trend was reversed the following year at ‘4’ (32% compared with 36%), the
response is almost identical where high levels of satisfaction are recorded (25% and 26% for
‘5/5’ respectively).
2004 2005
1 2 3 4 5
1 2 3 4 5
The use of DSO enhanced my learning experience [in %] 1=Low; 5=High
Graph 1
Coupled with this were two other questions regarding support by those teaching the unit and
technical support: see Graphs 2 and 3 below.
Breaking down boundaries
The written comments from both surveys provided compelling evidence that the key to the
success (or otherwise) of learning with an LMS was how it was supported both academically
and technically. Although the quantitative data (See Graphs 2 and 3) indicate progress and
improvement, often this support was highly variable. Here, the situation for distance students
who have fewer options for contact and who are often in areas with restricted and expensive
internet access, would suggest they are more vulnerable as well as more reliant on the system.
As one student put it ‘As an off-campus student studying online from Thailand … DSO is my
whole point of reference with the university and of huge importance to me’ (Student comment,
June 14, 2005). It is not surprising that the greatest area of variance is in technical support (See
Graph 3) as one would expect the substantively metropolitan profile of on-campus students to
be a predictor of more ready access to technical expertise, but even this variance is not
overwhelming with the most pronounced variance being 9% for one category, the neutral ‘3’ in
2004. Again it is the similarity of the pattern of responses from both on- and off-campus
students that remains the dominant impression.
2004 2005
1 2 3 4 5
1 2 3 4 5
I felt adequately supported by those teaching my units to use DSO effectively [in %] 1=Low;
Graph 2
2004 2005
1 2 3 4 5
1 2 3 4 5
I felt adequately supported technically to use DSO effectively [in %] 1=Low; 5=High
Graph 3
Three core aspects of higher education learning
Accessing course material
In its traditional sense, delivery of the course material for on-campus students is through the
face-to-face lecture with access to additional resources through the library. Deakin, with its long
history of distance education, introduced the Study Guide to all students when it moved into a
mixed mode learning environment with the amalgamations with essentially on-campus colleges
of advanced education. Within DSO the print Study Guide is now online and the print reader
that formed the basis of much distance education is being replaced by a series of URLs,
supplemented (as deemed appropriate) by print textbooks and, increasingly, CD-ROMs and
audio streamed lectures.
Two survey questions asked students how important accessing basic course material was using
DSO. Their responses (See Table 2) indicate that this aspect was the most important aspect of
their learning and the patterns of response are markedly similar when the cohorts are
disaggregated. A noteworthy difference is the higher percentage of on-campus students who
ranked accessing course material as extremely important in both years, again the converse of
what had originally been premised and reinforcing the conclusion that on-campus students are
seeking such learning online.
Table 2: Accessing unit guides & information/accessing course notes. [1=Low; 7=High]
Mode Year Importance Satisfaction 7/7 # [in %]
On-campus 2004 6.0/6.5 4.8/4.7 53.2%/69.8%
Off-campus 2004 6.0/6.2 4.5/4.2 51.1%/52.5%
On-campus 2005 6.4/6.6 5.2/5.0 60.3%/71.5%
Off-campus 2005 6.3/6.4 5.1/5.0 60.8%/60.6%
Note: # 7/7 here, and in the tables below, refers to those who gave the highest possible ranking to the
importance of each aspect.
The written feedback sent a strong message that to access such material efficiently a
broadband connection was imperative for all students:
I can see the potential for DSO, but for an off-campus student on a dial-up connection, it
is extremely slow and gets in the way of learning. It becomes a time waster, taking too
long to load for the most trivial of tasks. (Student response, June 2, 2004)
Basically as a dial up internet user DSO was/is a nightmare! seeing the difference with
broadband is amazing! so much quicker! actually able to access lecture notes, etc & NOT
have to go on to campus to print them out there, then put them on the "share" drive to
finally access them at home. So I guess I have NO CHOICE eh? Next semester I have to
go to broadband as this semester with DSO has been a continuing headache. (Student
response, June 16, 2005)
Breaking down boundaries
The tutorial/seminar has (with the lecture) characterised much university teaching. Having the
opportunity to interact with mentors and peers and discuss perceived significant aspects of the
course as well as to gain assistance and support are seen as very important. In this regard oncampus
students generally have weekly face-to-face encounters in seminars and tutorials and
their off-campus counterparts who used to forfeit interaction with peers unless they had
telephone tutorials now, with the advent of computers, have the opportunity of online
discussion. Again, although there is a discernible trend that off-campus students (as one would
expect) value this opportunity more highly, the difference is not as marked as one may have
surmised: see Table 3. Both groups rate reading other’s contributions as more important for
their learning than making their own contribution, with this being most pronounced for offcampus
students in 2005. It is of interest that this learning function facilitated through DSO is
not seen as important as we had anticipated and is the least important of the three aspects
being considered here: see Table 3.
Table 3: Contributing to discussions online /reading online contributions to discussions [1=Low;
Mode Year Importance Satisfaction 7/7 # [in %]
On-campus 2004 5.0/5.5 4.3/4.7 20.6%/28.5%
Off-campus 2004 5.3/5.5 4.3/4.6 28.45%/29.05%
On-campus 2005 5.0/5.5 4.7/5.0 21.0%/31.2%
Off-campus 2005 5.3/5.7 4.7/5.0 32.0%/40.0%
Student comment revealed considerable concern when lecturers were not active members of
discussions ⎯
Our lecturers did not communicate effectively through DSO. I believe it is an excellent
forum for discussion and initially they responded to one or two messages but largely the
silence was deafening. This has been extremely frustrating. (Student response, June 7,
and also irritation with the perceived lack functionality of DSO that made the discussions
cumbersome ⎯
I find that DSO is poorly designed in the way discussion threads are able to be viewed,
and there are CONSTANT misunderstandings and mistakes made by users who are just
coming to grips with it. This often makes discussions very hard to follow, as they often
take no logical or chronological sequence. (Student response, June 8, 2005)
While there were some comments that the situation was exacerbated for off-campus students
because it is the only contact, this is not the case where the unit was taught wholly online. The
vast majority of comments reflected a shared experience with difference in reaction being
attributable not to mode of study but essentially to how discussions were managed and
integrated into the learning experience.
Submission of assignments and receipt of feedback
It could reasonably be surmised that off-campus students would especially rate submission of
assignments online as more important than would their on-campus counterparts for two main
reasons: the extra time allowed for completion when conventional mail does not have to be
factored in and the convenience for those who cannot drop an assignment into the assignment
box on-campus. As one student explained:
For students studying off campus the use of the DSO is critical in submitting
assignments. … In my case and living in Brisbane I lose 3 days of work through mailing
assignments which were predominantly due on a Monday. This meant a mail out on
Saturday. Living with the email should allow distance students to always email their
assignments irrespective of location, state based or overseas. … Being allowed to email
assignments is a fundamental part of distance education. (Student response, June 28,
Analysis of the data over the two years indicates this is something that all students regard as
very important with a very small range of 6.2 to 6.4 of 7: see Table 8 below. While off-campus
students were more likely to consider online assignment submission and feedback were
extremely important (7/7) again the difference is not as great as one may have surmised: see
Table 4. The convenience of the greater immediacy of online submission and feedback are
desired by most students and technical problems have led to much lower scores in the level of
satisfaction and a plethora of student complaints – again reinforcing how important this aspect
is to all students.
Table 4: Online submission of assignments and online receipt of feedback on assignments in
terms of importance & satisfaction [1=Low; 7=High]
Mode Year Importance Satisfaction 7/7 # [in %]
On-campus 2004 6.2/6.3 4.2/3.5 52.3%/52.4%
Off-campus 2004 6.3/6.3 3.8/3.5 54.8%/58.0%
On-campus 2005 6.3/6.4 4.5/3.8 53.9%/54.6%
Off-campus 2005 6.3/6.4 4.7/3.9 61.0%/60.3%
While the distinctiveness of distance education is inevitably eroded once its salient
characteristics become part of the mainstream, as occurred here, this does not necessarily
translate into an erosion of the significance of their role. Commentators, such as Neave (1999,
pp.ix-x), claim that “what was once heralded as the daring experiment in distance teaching
universities has now become the template: the referential vision against which even wellestablished
universities now seek, in varying degrees of accommodation, to align themselves”.
No longer cast as ‘one particular form of peripheral provision in higher education’, they now
‘occupy a strategic position at the very centre of current thinking’. In the non-western world,
Gnanam and Stella (2005) write that the emergence of information and communications
technologies has led to the concept of open and distance learning “as the panacea for the
growth, cost reduction, and quality of higher education in India” to the extent that “some people
even seem to imagine that the new systems will replace traditional campus-based education”.
As Moore (1983, p.156) identified decades ago, there is a transactional separation between
learner and teacher in all educational situations but in face-to-face teaching the interactive (as
compared with the preparation) stage of teaching has a shared physical presence. The
introduction of flexible resource-based learning through an LMS means on-campus teaching
becomes more distant in transactional terms. With the online enhancements to traditional print-
Breaking down boundaries
based learning, off-campus teaching is characterised to a greater extent by the proximity of
interaction associated with face-to-face education. As discussed above, this change to teaching
is accompanied by changes to the profile of the tertiary learner that mean on-campus students
are increasingly seeking and valuing the kinds of flexibility that have traditionally been
associated with their off-campus counterparts.
Where, as in the situation described above, there is a requirement for all students - irrespective
of their mode of study - to participate in online teaching and learning through an LMS,
customary boundaries are indeed blurred. What this study reveals is a high level of
convergence between the responses of on- and off-campus students. The pattern, while
changing over the two years in terms of level of satisfaction, remains markedly constant as far
as the similarity between the two cohorts is concerned. This is not only in a generalised sense
at the macro level but also in detail in terms of such key indicators as ranking and responses to
questions at the micro level. It is recognised that this is but one study of the experience of one
university, but it does provide evidence to support speculation, such as that from Perraton
(2004) quoted above, that e-learning on a significant scale will bring down the barriers between
different modes of teaching.
American Society for Training & Development. (2005). LMS Survey results. In Learning Circuits.
Retrieved July 2, 2005, from http://wwww.learningcircuits.org/2005/jun2005/LMS_survey.htm
Bates, A. (2000). Distance Education in Dual Mode Higher Education Institutions: Challenges
and Changes. Retrieved June 8, 2005, from
Berg, G. (2002). Why Distance Learning?: Higher education administrative practices, Westport:
Oryx Press.
Coates, H. (2005). Leveraging LMSs to Enhance Campus-Based Student Engagement,
EDUCAUSEQuarterly, 28 (1). Retrieved July 6, 2005, from
Deakin University. (2003). Online Technologies in Courses and Units – Procedure. Retrieved
July 14, 2005, from
Deakin University. (2004). First Year at Deakin Survey Report: Off-campus 2004. Geelong:
Planning Office, internal document.
Gnanam, A. & Stella, A. (2005). Myths and Realities of Distance Education in India,
International Higher Education, 38. Retrieved July 7, 2005, from
Krause, K., Hartley R., James, R. & McInnis, C. (2005). The first year experience in Australian
universities: Findings from a decade of national studies. Canberra: DEST.
McInnis, C. & Hartley, R. (2002). Managing study and work: The impact of full-time study and
paid work on the undergraduate experience in Australian universities. Canberra: DEST.
Moore, M. (1983). The individual adult learner. In M. Tight (Ed.), Adult Learning and Education,
London: Croom Helm.
Neave, G. (1999). Forward. In S. Guri-Rosenblit, Distance and Campus Universities: Tensions
and Interactions (pp.ix-xii). International Association of Universities and Elsevier Science Ltd,
London: Pergamon.
Perraton, H. (2004). Aims and purpose. In H. Perraton & H. Lentell (Eds.), Policy for Open and
Distance Learning (pp.9-41). London: The Commonwealth of Learning & Routledge Falmer.
Roberts, G. (2003). From a Distance: Distance Learning at a Campus-Based University,
Teaching Forum, 51, 48-50.
Weigel, V. (2005). From Course Management to Curricular Capabilities: A Capabilities
Approach for the Next-Generation CMS, EDUCAUSE Review, 40 (3). Retrieved July 6,
2005, from http://www.educause.edu/apps/er/ermo05/erm0533.asp?bhcp=1
Breaking down boundaries: Building networks and

Lifelong learning in a network
Wim Jochems and Rob Koper
In our knowledge-based society, learning will no longer exclusively be tied to the
traditional educational institutions, but becomes lifelong. E-learning has enabled the
establishment of networks of distributed collaborating learners, teachers and
institutions. Lifelong learning in a network is quite different, because the student doesn’t
belong to one institute and the roles of persons are no longer fixed. At the Open
University of the Netherlands, we are developing a set of models (a 'learning network'),
technologies and open specifications in order to support networked learning. It will be
related to the MSc-program we are developing in collaboration with Sydney University
and Florida State University.
The need for better provision for lifelong learning in society is broadly recognised and is
expressed in national and international policy documents. For example, the Commission of the
European Communities (2000) states in its memorandum on lifelong learning: ‘Lifelong Learning
is no longer just one aspect of education and training; it must become the guiding principle for
provision and participation across the full continuum of learning contexts.’ Lifelong learning will
ultimately provide a major service catering for the needs and demands of industry and society
as a whole (Tuijnman, 1992; Ragget, 1996; Schuetze, 2000). The concept of lifelong learning
refers to the activities people perform throughout their life to improve their knowledge, skills and
competence in a particular field, given some personal, societal or employment related motives
(Aspin & Chapman, 2000; Field, 2001; Griffin, 1999).
To achieve these aims of lifelong learning, educational institutions and other organisations must
offer facilities that meet the needs of learners at various levels of competence throughout their
lives. People must be able to use lifelong learning facilities to upgrade their knowledge, skills
and competence in a discipline as required. They can also contribute to the facilities by sharing
knowledge and supporting other learners. Lifelong learners are not merely the consumers of
learning content, but can also produce learning content that is of use for other learners (Fischer
& Ostwald, 2002).
The use of ICT (information and communication technologies) networks is crucial for the
realisation of the lifelong learning agenda, especially the establishment of so-called learning
networks for lifelong learning (Koper & Sloep, 2003). A learning network for lifelong learning is a
network of distributed persons and organisations who create, share, support and study learning
resources ('units of learning') in a specific knowledge domain. These networks support the
seamless, ubiquitous access to learning facilities at work, at home and in schools and
The requirements placed on learning technologies to support lifelong learning differ
considerably from those placed on technologies to support particular fragments of a learning
lifetime. The time scales involved in lifelong learning, together with its multi-institutional and
episodic nature are not reflected in today’s mainstream learning technologies and their
associated architectures.
In this paper, we start by focusing on specific characteristics of lifelong learning that have to be
taken into account. Four main issues will be described which have implications for the design of
networks for lifelong learning. Next, we provide a formal representation of a learning network,
Breaking down boundaries
including a short description of the main concepts, and we give a few words to several pilot
implementations that have been created and experimented with. Then, we will discuss how a
learning network might be developed, taking as an example the master program we are
developing in collaboration with Sydney University and Florida State University. Finally, we
present some conclusions and discuss some problems with respect to learning within a learning
Learning networks for lifelong learning
There are several specific characteristics of lifelong learning that have to be taken into account
when developing ICT networks for lifelong learners. The major characteristics of lifelong
learning are already contained in the phrase itself: it is ‘lifelong’ (from cradle to grave) and puts
‘learning’ (and not instruction) centre-stage. Knowledge and competences grow during life in
different fields, and learning facilities should provide the possibility to support the lifelong
building of knowledge and competencies at different levels of proficiency in a given field. This
has several implications, which we now explore.
First of all, putting the learner centre-stage means that the learner is responsible for his or her
own learning processes and not a teacher or an institute (see also Shuell, 1992; Longworth,
2003). Lifelong learners are self-directed (Brockett & Hiemstra, 1991; Candy, 1991), and can
perform different learning activities in different contexts at the same time. For instance, on the
same day a person can have a job-related training course at work, learn a new language in the
evening from a teacher in the neighbourhood, read texts and search the internet for information.
For learners to be self-directed, they must be in a position to oversee what is available and
determine how this matches their needs, preferences, prior-knowledge and current situation.
One of the basic requirements is to be able to search for adequate learning facilities and to plan
adequate learning paths to these and other facilities.
Second, learners are typically engaged in a variety of formal and informal learning activities
during their lifetime. This implies that the provision of lifelong learning facilities cannot be a task
for a single institute, but has to be seen as the collection of learning facilities that are provided
worldwide by different providers in a specific field and over time. Lifelong learners need a single
point of mobile access to the distributed information about the offerings and, to avoid overload,
learners should be supported in selecting the most suitable solution given their needs, priorknowledge
and current situation. Ideally, information about learning facilities should be
amenable to automatic processing, thereby facilitating learning brokerages (Hämäläinen,
Whinston & Vishik, 1996; Whelan, 1998) able to intermediate between learners and learning
providers to identify the most appropriate steps to be taken at any point in a learning lifetime.
Third, the participants in an learning network in any given field have different levels of
competence, varying from novices to experts, from practitioners to researchers and developers.
Traditionally, the heterogeneity of students has been reduced as far as possible by providing
clear entry requirements and using cohorts of groups that are considered homogeneous. In
lifelong learning, the door is opened to exploiting the heterogeneity of learners by setting up
learning communities in which novices collaborate with more experienced people. Such an
approach is described by Lave and Wenger (1991), where novices are positioned in a more
peripheral role and experts in a more central role when jointly solving a problem.
Fourth, it is necessary to maintain a record of an individual’s growth in competency in a
persistent and standard way to ensure that learners can search for new learning facilities that fit
and extend their current knowledge. One approach currently receiving much interest is the
definition and use of portable e-portfolios. These portfolios are owned by the learners
themselves and are used and updated over a lifetime, across informal and formal education and
training (Mason, Peglar & Weller, 2004; Treuer & Jenson, 2003).
To meet these requirements, educational institutions and other learning providers must offer
flexible lifelong learning facilities that meet the needs of learners at various levels of
competence throughout their lives. People must be able to use lifelong learning facilities to
upgrade their knowledge, skills and competence in a discipline as required. They can also
contribute to the facilities by sharing knowledge and supporting other learners. We call these
Jochems & Koper
network facilities for lifelong learners learning networks (see Koper et al., 2005; Koper & Sloep,
2003). These networks support seamless, ubiquitous access to learning facilities at work, at
home and in schools and universities. Learning resources from providers such as schools,
companies, libraries and the learners themselves can be made available from a single point of
access and learners can be helped in performing tasks more efficiently through support from
software agents (Jennings & Wooldridge, 1996). The use of ICT networks implies the
development of new ways of organising learning facilities that go beyond course and programcentric
models and envision a learner-centred, learner-controlled model of distributed lifelong
Representation of a learning network
We can represent the formal structure of a learning network (Figure 1) as a graph in disciplinary
domain D, with activity nodes as its nodes {a1, …, ai}. The nodes of the graph represent the
available learning events, called activity nodes. An activity node can be anything that is
available to support learning, such as a course, a workshop, a conference, a lesson, an internet
learning resource, etc. Providers and learners can create new activity nodes, can adapt existing
activity nodes or can delete activity nodes. In a learning network, activity nodes are described
with their metadata (title, objective, etc.) together with a link or reference to the actual activity
A learning network typically represents a large and ever-changing set of activity nodes that
provide learning opportunities for lifelong learners (‘actors’) from different providers, at different
levels of expertise within the specific disciplinary domain.
position and target learning route
Learning network in domain D with activity nodes {a1–a13}
Figure 1
When using the learning network, actors travel from activity node to activity node. The path of
activity nodes completed sequentially over time by an individual actor is called a learning track.
A track represents the actual behaviour of actors. Paths through a learning network that are
planned beforehand are called routes (see Figure 1). In traditional education, teachers or
instructional designers are responsible for this route planning (e.g., curriculum planning). In
lifelong learning, a different approach may be followed. Learning tracks can be shared between
the participants in a learning network. This can be a single track or an analysis of the
Breaking down boundaries
aggregated, collective tracks from a set of participants to determine the most successful routes.
This data is expected to help actors ‘navigate’ in the learning network.
Another concept in a learning network is the learner’s position in the learning network (in
Figure 1, the set {a4, a8, a10}). This is defined as the set of activity nodes marked as completed
in the learning network, based on the actor’s portfolio. This does not necessarily mean that the
actor completed the concrete activity nodes, but covers situations in which the objectives
associated with the activity nodes are already met by the actor (e.g., as a result of exemptions
arising from previous study or work experience).
A target is any set of activity nodes that is sufficient to reach a particular level of competence or
expertise in the domain (in Figure 1 the set {a1, …, a8}). These targets and connected
competency levels may be self-defined (e.g., step-by-step) or are predefined in the network.
When creating a learning network conforming to a predefined competency framework (e.g.,
European Language Levels/CEFRL, 2001), it is a requirement that every activity node indicates
its prerequisites and learning objectives in terms of the framework.
A target can be associated with one or more formal assessments to certify knowledge or a
competency. This can either involve an additional, specific kind of activity node, or can be
integrated into one or more activity nodes. The difference between the set of target nodes and
the set of position nodes defines the set of activity nodes that a learner has to perform to reach
the target. Figure 1 shows this to-do list as the set {a1, a2, a3, a5, a6, a7}. Given this list, a
sequence of learning steps can be established, by deciding on the order in which the activity
nodes are taken (e.g., first a3, then a1 and a5 simultaneously, then a2 and a7 simultaneously,
and finally a6; see Figure 1). This decision can be based on the tracks of other successful and
comparable learners in the learning network. A learner can also follow a more exploratory route
or can change routes on demand. Ultimately this will also create a track that can be shared.
First implementations
Several pilot implementations have been created and experimented with. The results of some
are published in journals (e.g., Koper et al., 2005, Hummel et al., 2005). The first
implementation was in the peer-to-peer system Groove (http://groove.net). The platform was
arranged as a learning network and used for the (experimental) professional training of elearning
experts. The results are reported in Koper et al. (2005). The second implementation
has been done for the project Learning Networks for Learning Design (LN4LD), that aimed to
set up a learning network for professionals interested in e-learning standards, more specifically
the IMS learning design specification (LD, 2003; an open standard to represent units of learning
in an interoperable and machine interpretable way). This implementation has been reported in
Koper & Tattersall (2004). At the moment we run a third implementation for the EU UNFOLD
project (2005) that is a slightly changed version of the second one (the portal has been replaced
by a joint UNFOLD portal).
The central question of all pilot implementations is twofold. First, to ensure that the architecture
is implementable and second, to examine whether the resulting learning network meets its
functional requirements. The first question can be answered positively – we were able to set up
an infrastructure (the last ones completely based on open source components). It is too early to
evaluate the results of the second aim. This will be done in future publications.
Developing a learning network: From distributed learning to
distributed education
The situation we are in today is still a traditional one: lifelong learning is provided by educational
institutes, mainly in the open and distance learning context. Besides, within the open and
distance learning context, the focus is still on providing a standard curriculum, e.g., a masters
program, an almost completely prescribed sequence of courses to be taken, supply oriented,
with limited flexibility in terms of alternative learning routes and hardly taking into account past
performances of learners. Therefore, an interesting question is how to migrate from this
traditional approach to a more network-based way of lifelong learning. In this section we would
Jochems & Koper
like to sketch a route that could be followed by open and distance learning institutes to arrive at
lifelong learning in a network. The example will be the MSc-program that is co-constructed by
the Centre for Research on Computer-Supported Learning and Cognition in the School of
Development and Learning of Sydney University, the Department of Instructional Systems and
the Learning Systems Institute of Florida State University and the Educational Technology
Expertise Centre of the Open University of the Netherlands (OUNL). This could become a
learning network in the field of educational sciences, but is yet far from that. We will take the
perspective of the OUNL, the originator of the program.
The MSc-program ‘Active learning’ is very recently developed at the OUNL, based on an
integrated e-learning approach (Jochems, Van Merriënboer & Koper, 2004). Students who enter
this program are lifelong learners; their ages range from 25 to 60 years, they all have a job in
education (teacher or trainer, educational advisor or counsellor, educational policymaker or
developer, etc.), they are part-time students with a limited amount of time available for their
study because of a job and family, they are not so much interested in educational theories, but
want to focus on competencies that are useful for their job, they are very familiar with
educational practice and a lot of educational problems and want to become better equipped in
tackling those problems. Developing such a program is time-consuming and expensive. In order
to reduce costs and time-to-market we looked for partners who would like to cooperate by
sharing and exchanging instructional materials or by co-developing courses, taking into account
the specific expertises of the institutes involved. In this way, Sydney University and Florida
State University became interested. Although this initiative was mainly taken for practical
reasons, very soon the idea of a learning network was introduced as a long term perspective.
The first step towards a learning network in our approach is exchanging materials and students:
in essence making resources (learning activities) available for students of the three institutes
involved leading to some kind of a joint community, but in the traditional sense of education.
The network can be enlarged by adding learning activities, developed by one of the participating
partners, but could also grow by allowing new partners to join and to add their learning
resources and students. A new partner, of course, should have added value in one respect or
another, for example, high quality resources in another field of expertise, etc. This situation is
still one of distributed learning within ‘traditional’ open and distance learning, because each of
the institutes involved is still responsible for the program, a more or less prescribed sequence of
courses offered with specified test and assessment procedures.
The next step is a joint set of learning resources, to be used by students who enter via one of
the participating institutes. In this situation, students are allowed to take – within certain
restrictions – the learning resources they like in order to arrive at a degree. This is traditional
because it is still the institute that is organising education and that is setting all kinds of
constraints. It is more or less the situation of a joint degree having advantages like a better offer
to the students (richer choice, higher quality, lower price), but it is still not networked learning.
The third step is to create a real learning network for lifelong learners in the sense of a vast
collection of learning opportunities that allows learners to travel the route they prefer. This is the
model of the lifelong learner who takes a specific learning activity depending on the needs
perceived and then might consider taking another learning activity. The costs depend on the
services the learner wants which might include personal coaching, assessment, navigation and
routing support, etc. In line with the description of a learning network provided earlier, this
network should have four characteristics.
• It is not a program, but a vast collection of learning resources (formal and informal). For this
reason it seems unlikely that networked learning will play an important role in traditional,
face-to-face higher education, because this is still focusing on programs. Open and distance
learning seems to provide a better starting point.
• It is self-directed which means that the learner is responsible for the learning and not the
institute. But the learner might need support, assistance, guidance, etc. which could be
provided by higher education institutes. So it is up to the student to decide how to learn and
to decide what kind of assistance he or she needs.
Breaking down boundaries
• Learners are learning in rapidly changing communities that also can vary with respect to
expertise. Moving from one learning activity to another one in a network means participating
in new learning communities which is the opposite of classroom-based learning.
• Finally, the learner should keep a record of his or her learning results and not the institute.
A vast collection of learning resources can also be used in the traditional manner in terms of a
program. The advantage is that institutes by sharing resources can reduce their costs and at the
same time offer a richer choice to their students. Lifelong learning in a network, however, asks
for a rather radical switch, because a combination seems not possible.
Conclusion and discussion
We have presented a framework for the design of a distributed network to support future lifelong
learning based on self-organisation principles and technologies such as learning design, agents
and ICT networks. In order to explore how to implement the requirements, we created a
simulation program, built pilot implementations and used these in practice. The study of learning
networks is still in its exploratory phase. A great deal of future research and development work
remains to be done to refine the framework, improve the implementation and evaluate the
effectiveness and usability of the facilities in practice. We will perform further work in feedback
for navigation, learner positioning, calculation of learning routes based on positions and targets,
suitable reward systems and the use of software agents.
We have speculated on the way we might arrive at a real learning network, starting from a
traditional higher education position. An open issue, however, is whether we are able to create
effective learning opportunities in a distributed setting. Research at our institute has shown that
learning in distributed communities might be problematic from a number of perspectives. From a
social point of view a distributed learning environment might be rather poor, indicating that
creating a sound social climate as a basis for effective collaboration is difficult and asks for
additional measures (Kreijns, Kirschner & Jochems, 2003). We also found that coordination of
group work is much more difficult in a distributed setting as compared to face-to-face
collaboration. Although measures can be taken by introducing functional roles (Strijbos et al.,
2004) and by providing reflection cues stimulating learners to reflect on their working processes
and collaboration (Dewiyanti, Brand-Gruwel & Jochems, in press), the effect of these measures
on group performance is modest. Therefore, not only coaching and guidance seem important
for succesful learning in an network, but also adequate support for effective collaboration in
distributed communities.
Copyright © 2005 Jochems, W. & Koper, R. The authors assign to ODLAA and educational non-profit
institutions a nonexclusive license to use this document for personal use and in courses of instruction
provided that the article is used in full and this copyright statement is reproduced. The authors also grant
to ODLAA a nonexclusive license to publish this document in electronic or print form within ODLAA
publications and/or the world wide web. Any other usage is prohibited without the express permission of
the authors.
Aspin, D. N., & Chapman, J. D. (2000). Lifelong learning: concepts and conceptions.
International Journal of Lifelong Education, 19(1), 2-19.
Brockett, R. G., & Hiemstra, R. (1991). Self-direction in Adult Learning: perspectives on theory,
research and practice. London: Routledge.
Candy, P. C. (1991). Self-direction for Lifelong Learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Dewiyanti, S., Brand-Gruwel, S., & Jochems, W. (in press). Fostering students positive
interaction in a CSCL-environment through reflection. Small Group Research.
Field, J. (2001). Lifelong education. International Journal of Lifelong Education, 20(1/2), 3-15.
Jochems & Koper
Fischer, G., & Ostwald, J. (2002). Transcending the information given: Designing learning
environments for informed participation. Paper presented at the ICCE 2002 International
Conference on Computers in Education, Auckland, New Zealand.
Griffin, C. (1999). Lifelong learning and social democracy. International Journal of Lifelong
Education, 18(5), 329-342.
Groove. (2005). Software available at http://groove.net
Hämäläinen M., Whinston, A. B., & Vishik, S. (1996). Electronic Markets for Learning: Education
Brokerages on the Internet. Communications of the ACM, 39(6), 51-58.
Hummel, H., Tattersall, C., Burgos, D., Brouns, F., Kurvers, H., & Koper, R. (2005). Facilitating
participation: From the EML website to the Learning Network for Learning Design. Interactive
Learning Environments, 13, 55-69.
Jennings, N. R., & Wooldridge, M. J. (1996). Software Agents. IEE Review, January, 17-20.
Jochems, W., Van Merriënboer, J., & Koper, R. (Eds.) (2004). Integrated E-learning;
implications for pedagogy, technology, and organisation. London, UK: RoutledgeFalmer.
Kreijns, K., Kirschner, P. A., & Jochems, W. (2003). Identifying the pitfalls for social interaction
in computer-supported collaborative learning environments; a review of the research.
Computers in Human Behavior, 19(3), 335-353.
Koper, E. J. R., & Sloep, P. (2003). Learning Networks: connecting people, organisations,
autonomous agents and learning resources to establish the emergence of effective lifelong
learning. Heerlen: Open University of the Netherlands. Retrieved from
Koper, R., & Tattersall, C. (2004). New directions for lifelong learning using network
technologies. British Journal of Educational Technology, 35(6), 689-700.
Koper, R., Giesbers, B., Van Rosmalen, P., Sloep, P., Van Bruggen, J., Tattersall, C., Vogten,
H., & Brouns, F. (2005). Self-organised distributed networks for lifelong learning: theory and
design. Interactive Learning Environments, 13, 71-92.
Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
LD. (2003). IMS Learning Design. Information Model, Best Practice and Implementation Guide,
XML Binding, Schemas. Version 1.0 Final Specification IMS Global Learning Consortium,
Inc. Retrieved May 26, 2004 from http://www.imsglobal.org/content/learningdesign/
Longworth, N. (2003). Lifelong Learning in Action: Transforming Education in the 21st Century.
London: Kogan Page.
Mason, R., Peglar, C., & Weller, M. (2004). E-Portfolio: an assessment tool for online courses.
British Journal of Educational Technology, 35(6), 717-728.
Ragget, P. (1996). The learning society, challenges and trends. London: Routledge.
Shuell, T. J. (1992). Designing instructional computing systems for meaningful learning. In M.
Jones & P. H. Winne (Eds.), Adaptive Learning Environments (19-54). Berlin: Springer-
Schuetze, H. G. S. M. (2000). Higher education and lifelong learners, international perspectives
on change. London: RoutledgeFalmer.
Strijbos, J. W., Martens, R. L., Jochems, W. M. G., & Broers, N. J. (2004). The effect of
functional roles on group efficiency: using multilevel modeling and content analysis to
investigate computer-supported collaboration in small groups. Small Group Research, 35,
Treuer, P., & Jenson, J. D. (2003). Electronic portfolios need standards to survive. EDUCAUSE
Quarterly, 2, 34-42.
Tuijnman, A., van der Kamp, M. (1992). Learning across the lifespan: Theories, research,
policies. Oxford: Pergamon Press.
UNFOLD (2005). Project website available at: http://www.unfold-project.net
Breaking down boundaries
Whelan, R. (1998). Future directions of research and development in European educational
technologies. Paper presented at the EdTech'98 (Planning for Progress, Partnership and
Profit) Conference, Perth, Australia.
Supporting knowledge building with semantic web
Peter Reimann
This paper is based on the assumption that knowledge-building pedagogy, as
developed by Bereiter and Scardamalia, provides a good answer to the question of
‘How can we educate people to become knowledge producers and innovators?’ After
discussing the relevance for higher education and for open and distance learning, the
kind of activities students have to engage in for knowledge building are elaborated.
Since computer-based tools are an important enabler for these activities, the focus of
the paper is on introducing and comparing a number of software tools that have been
used to support knowledge building. Going beyond existent approaches, it is suggested
that semantic web technologies should be used by students for purposes of knowledge
building because they constitute a powerful class of tools for producing truly shareable
knowledge. An example is provided on how to use web ontology engineering to engage
students in thinking deeply about conceptual artefacts, in this case about learning
Towards a knowledge-building pedagogy
How can we develop citizens who not only possess up-to-date knowledge but also are able to
participate in the creation of new knowledge as part of their lives? This is the formidable new
challenge for educators (Scardamalia & Bereiter, 2003).
Given that knowledge creation and innovation have become so important for personal careers
and the wealth of nations (Drucker, 1985) and that increasing numbers of people are involved in
‘knowledge work’ (Gibbons et al., 1994), there is astonishingly little reflection on methods for
developing the capacity for knowledge creation and advancement by means of education. In the
school sector, and I would claim in the open and distance learning (O&DL) sector as well, the
discourse is all about acquiring knowledge and skills, but not about innovating knowledge and
skills. Even e-learning, which has been heralded as the form of education best suited to the
demands of today’s information workers and tomorrow’s knowledge workers, seems to remain
caught up in mainly logistical problems, and has so far not resulted in qualitatively new forms of
teaching and learning. The only discipline that seems to deal directly with the issue is
knowledge management. But this is an area that has had little to no effect on education and
where the focus seems to be more on the management of existing knowledge, with
comparatively little research on knowledge production (but see Norris et al., 2003). In this
paper, I will introduce an approach to supporting knowledge building in the context of a Masters
program taught at a research-intensive university. Arguably, this is a setting where knowledge
building should be very much at the forefront of students’ activities.
Over the last two decades, Carl Bereiter and Marlene Scardamalia have developed a
pedagogical approach that aims at educating students to be producers of knowledge
(Scardamalia & Bereiter, 1994; 2003). Their definition of knowledge building shows how this
notion is different from individual learning:
Knowledge building may be defined as the production and continual improvement of
ideas of value to a community, through means that increase the likelihood that what the
community accomplishes will be greater than the sum of individual contributions and part
of broader cultural efforts’ (Scardamalia & Bereiter, 2003).
Breaking down boundaries
Knowledge building (KB) occurs throughout a knowledge society – it is not limited to education.
For instance, the definition could, with some modifications, describe innovation processes in
companies. As a pedagogical model, however, KB has, thus far, been mainly practiced in
schools. Bereiter and Scardamalia make a useful distinction between two modes of working
with knowledge.
• Belief mode: is concerned with what we and other people believe or ought to believe; we
respond to ideas by agreeing or disagreeing, asking for evidence (for and against).
• Design mode: is concerned with the usefulness of ideas, with their adequacy, improvability
and developmental potential.
Scardamalia and Bereiter (2003) argue that good educational programs do a good job of
equipping students to think in belief mode but that school is not much concerned with design
mode ‘as far as ideas are concerned’ (p.56). (Schools, of course, do a lot of design projects but
these tend to be concerned with things: with physical artefacts rather than conceptual artefacts.)
Working in design mode with ideas – with conceptual artefacts – involves questions of idea
improvement. How do we improve upon an idea? How do we improve upon a theory, a
taxonomy, a systems model, etc.? In short, how do we build knowledge? The productive
engagement in knowledge-building activity needs an appropriate combination of pedagogy and
technology. The tools need to afford efficient and effective collaboration around the
improvement of ideas, and this activity needs to be stimulated by well-designed tasks that
reflect an understanding of why this is a useful way to approach learning. One cannot come to
understand the ‘Knowledge Age’ without participating in the advancement of knowledge – the
improvement of ideas.
The aspiration is not to turn young students into early career scientists, but to put students onto
a developmental trajectory to become knowledge producers. In a typical KB class, students
would work on a topic (such as plate tectonics) over days and weeks, being engaged under the
guidance of a teacher in a transformative dialogue that places high value on innovative
contributions and on building on peers’ contributions.
Clearly, the question of how to put learners onto a trajectory to become knowledge builders and
innovators is at least as relevant for adult education as it is for school education. But, by and
large, there seems to be little systematic effort invested in further developing this notion in the
O&DL arena and for adult and higher education in general. One can find thousands of courses
on self-directed learning, and many on how to become an entrepreneur or a knowledge
manager, but very few that aim at the core – at creating knowledge. Yet, the O&DL sector in
particular, and organisations of higher education in general, are better prepared than other
educational areas to adapt a KB approach, not only because of the relevance for adult learners,
but also because established pedagogies for adult learning are more compatible with KB than
the conventional classroom culture. What would need to be modified, however, is the focus on
(individual) learning, which is not fully appropriate for KB. It would also seem worthwhile to
further develop the obvious relations with knowledge management and the community of
practice approach.
In the remainder of the paper, the activities that together comprise KB are elaborated. As these
activities are, to a certain extent, dependent on the kind of software tools used, we illustrate KB
activities around three types of tools: dedicated KB tools, wikis, and semantic web technologies.
While doing so, the main advantages and disadvantages of the various tool categories will be
Dedicated knowledge-building software
Scardamalia and Bereiter were instrumental in designing dedicated tools for knowledge
building. Their earlier work used a knowledge-building collaborative database system and went
under the title of CSILE (computer supported intentional learning environments). More recently,
the tools being used are referred to as the KnowledgeForum system (Scardamalia et al., 1994;
Bereiter & Scardamalia, 2003). The main point to make here is that the tools being used are
configured around the idea of collaboration around the improvement of ideas that matter to the
students who are engaged in the knowledge-building work. The tools therefore go beyond
support for discussion and argumentation – the classic domain of bulletin boards, etc. – and
facilitate progressive discourse (discourse that ‘gets somewhere, advances on a problem,
produces a conceptual artefact’ – Bereiter & Scardamalia, 2003, p.66). The typical bulletin
board is based on a message-passing model which works well enough for stating opinions and
asking questions. It is reasonably well-suited to working with ideas in belief mode but provides
insufficient support for working in design mode on the improvement of conceptual artefacts
(ideas). Rather than comment on what others have said, at some lower level of detail,
knowledge building needs to afford possibilities like rewriting what others have said;
summarising and subsuming other ideas in a synthesis; linking ideas and evidence in complex
ways. All these things may be possible in a bulletin board environment, but they are not readily
afforded by it. Hence, the current version of KnowledgeForum combines the features of a
bulletin board (see Figure 1a) with specific scaffolds that help students to build on the
contributions of others (Figure 1b).
KnowledgeForum can be seen as a hypermedia tool with specific affordances for KB. The basic
activities and affordances comprise:
• Individual and collaborative authoring of ‘notes’ and links between notes. Notes can be any
multimedia object, but are typically text and pictures.
• Multiple ‘views’ on a hypermedia base: Selections of notes and relations make up a specific
• Notes have a common, but customisable, structure (see Figure 1b).
• Annotation and reference links can be added to each note.
• Support for the link type ‘builds-on’, which indicates that the built-on note is accepted and
that a student uses this information to develop an idea further.
• Support for the link type ‘rise above’, which means that a number of notes are treated as a
single unit on which one can build.
• Specific scaffolds in form of text prompts (‘My theory …’, ‘I need to understand …’, ‘A better
theory …’).
Within this environment, KB activities take the form of creating new notes, modifying existing
notes, creating links between notes, creating views and organising notes. Students typically
start with an empty knowledge base and are not only in charge of creating notes and links, but
are also responsible for the organisation of the notes, and for the structure of the knowledge
KnowledgeForum is free of charge when used for research purposes, but in principle it is a
commercial product. FLE3 (http://fle3.uiah.fi/) is a less ‘faithful’ implementation of CSILE logic
for the web, built on top of the ZOPE web application framework. FLE3 has been implemented
with design goals that are partially different from CSILE. In particular, it is supposed to support
collaborative design rather than only collaborative writing. FLE3 is free and open-source.
The main strength of KnowledgeForum and similar software is clearly the close relation with
genuine KB activities, expressed, in particular, through the various affordances and scaffolds.
This characteristic is, at the same time, the main disadvantage; these dedicated tools are not
widely known and used, and while compatible with some WWW standards, are in many ways
Breaking down boundaries
KnowledgeForum™ combines the features of a Bulletin Board (1a) with specific prompts for building on
the ideas of others (1b)
Figure 1
different from how people go about creating and editing documents. This, in addition to the fact
that KnowledgeForum is neither free nor open source, implies a number of risks for teachers
who would like to introduce their students to KB.
Knowledge building with wikis
Looking beyond dedicated KB environments, there is no shortage of tools that can, in principle,
be used to support KB activities (for example, any of the commercial knowledge management
tools, such as Lotus Notes™). Moreover, knowledge is produced and documented on the
internet in many other forms, and most of the tools employed there are free. Discussion boards,
web logs (blogs) and wikis are available on many public sites and intranets to enable people to
exchange information and opinions as well as to solve problems. Of particular interest for
collaborative knowledge building are wikis. For lack of space, I can only shortly introduce the
notion of wikis as a knowledge-building tool here. Wikis, as invented by Ward Cunningham
(Leuf & Cunningham, 2001), are web-based tools that allow groups of people to rapidly and
easily create densely linked hypermedia sites. Wikis make full use of HTML and other web
(server) technologies, and are therefore completely integrated with the WWW. One does not run
the risk of investing effort (and perhaps money) into a niche technology. A prime example for
knowledge building with such tools is the wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org), a collaboratively
constructed encyclopaedia. While wikis make collaborative authoring and linking very easy, they
do not come with the specific scaffolds that are typical to dedicated KB tools. In my experience,
having used wiki technology in my teaching over a number of years now, students very much
appreciate and use the content construction features of wikis, but they need to be motivated
and guided to use the technology for cooperation and co-authoring. The notion of a jointly
constructed and (potentially widely) shared knowledge resource does not come naturally.
Knowledge building with semantic web technologies
As the widespread use of discussion boards, blogs, wikis, but also email, Word and PowerPoint
documents tell us, written natural language (i.e., text) is by far the most frequently used
representational notation for capturing and distributing knowledge. Natural language texts,
however, suffer from undefined semantics. In order to understand what a word refers to and
what a sentence, paragraph or document is about, one has to comprehend the context in which
the text has been produced and its relationship to other parts and pieces of text. So far, only
humans are able to accomplish this kind of sense-making reliably, and only if they share
sufficient background knowledge. If the web is indeed to become a knowledge medium, and not
just a gigantic text and multimedia repository, then the meaning of web documents (their
semantics) must be explicitly represented. Thus, the notion of the ‘semantic web’ was
introduced by Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the WWW. A version of the web that has clear
semantics would also allow software programs (so-called ‘web agents’) to make more clever
use of the information contained in web pages and databases, leading to a whole new class of
web services (Daconta et al., 2003). The semantic web is also intensively discussed among
instructional designers and e-learning practitioners, mainly in the context of learning object
design and e-learning standards (Anderson & Whitelock, 2004).
From the KB perspective we are taking here, the important question is: How can we turn
semantic web technologies into a ‘mind tool’ (Jonassen, 1996) for students, a tool with which to
work and share knowledge? Most of the discourse on the educational use of the semantic web
so far, has focused on aspects of knowledge (re)presentation, whereas a KB perspective
suggests a focus on constructing knowledge. On the following pages, I illustrate how a specific
component from the semantic web tool set, namely web ontologies, can be employed to engage
students in KB activities, in working with conceptual artefacts, with representations of ideas,
concepts and theories.
Web ontologies as conceptual artefacts
By web ontology we mean the explicit description of a domain, capturing a domain's concepts,
properties and attributes of concepts, constraints on properties and attributes, and (optionally) a
description of individual entities. An ontology in this sense defines a common vocabulary and a
shared understanding. Ontologies should help to make domain assumptions explicit. And they
are pivotal for separating domain knowledge from operational knowledge; this separation is a
core requirement for the re-use of knowledge. Ontologies are also used in education as the
basis for the creation of learning objects and for standards that are required for interoperability
and reuse. The vision of the semantic web and smart web agents depends crucially on explicit
and agreed upon domain ontologies. However, these are not the applications for ontologies we
are interested in here. The intended application we are interested in is to use ontology-building
activities as part of a knowledge-building endeavour. I argue that constructing a web ontology
means to construct a conceptual artefact in the sense of Bereiter (2002); it means to be
engaged in the design and improvement of conceptual tools. This will become clearer by
looking at what it means to build an ontology (for a domain).
Building an ontology (‘ontology engineering’) means that the terms in the domain are defined
(concepts are identified, their properties and attributes specified, and the constraints of the
values that attributes can take are defined) and the relationships (typically hierarchical) between
the concepts are specified. There is no single correct solution to building a domain ontology.
Quite to the contrary for each domain a large number of ontologies can be constructed. This is
the case because different ontologies serve different purposes. For instance, an ontology for
Breaking down boundaries
automobiles will look different when constructed for the purpose of repair and maintenance than
when constructed for the purpose of advising customers on the best brand and type for their
Building an ontology requires the use of a language (which can itself be seen as a metaontology)
and a software tool to express specific ontologies in that language. Languages that
can be used to express ontologies are being actively developed (for instance, the emerging
W3C standard web ontology language (OWL)). Ontologies for the semantic web can be
constructed using tools such as Protégé (http://protege.stanford.edu/). Freely available
ontologies can be found on the Ontolingua site
(http://www.ksl.stanford.edu/software/ontolingua) and in the DAML ontology library
(http://www.daml.org/ontologies/), and are typically expressed in XML syntax.
It should be clear from the description of ontologies that they are pivotal for knowledge sharing
on the web. Ontologies, once constructed, provide explicit semantics for an area of interest. The
real power of ontologies, however, can only be exploited when as many people and
organisations as possible agree on a particular ontology, or at least agree on how alternative
ontologies can be translated into each other. Then humans can express their knowledge about
a domain in a common language with clear semantics, and software programs such as web
agents can reliably make use of that information. For instance, it is a valuable KB activity to
construct topic maps (a technology that addresses the issue of characterising and categorising
documents, and sections of documents, on the web with respect to their content in terms of the
topic); it is of much more value, however, if the vocabulary used in Topic Maps is shared among
many people, so that the knowledge resources can be scaled to very large maps. Like
information sharing, knowledge sharing greatly profits from having standards.
Ontologies and knowledge building: An example
Having at least informally introduced ontology engineering, how can this approach be used to
engage students in knowledge building – in constructing and improving conceptual artefacts?
Students should be introduced to ontology engineering, I claim, in order to contribute to truly
shareable and re-usable knowledge resources. I would also argue that even if students don’t
succeed in all cases in building well-formed and agreed-upon ontologies, being engaged in
ontology building is a valuable learning activity because it invites students to think very carefully
about concepts and their interrelations. More so than writing text, and even more than
constructing concept maps. Rather than arguing for this point in the abstract, let me introduce
an example of knowledge building by ontology engineering.
This example is contextualised in a Masters program on learning theory and instructional
design. In one of their projects, students had to work on an ontology engineering task. The
learning goals for this project were primarily to learn about learning theories, and second to
become familiar with basic web ontology concepts. The task was situated in learning-objects
engineering and introduced to students in the following manner:
It will be your task to develop an ontology that can be used to talk meaningfully about the
pedagogical and psychological rationale of learning objects. Users of the resource should
be able to search for learning objects according to pedagogical and psychological criteria
in addition to curriculum and technical descriptors (both of which you do not have to worry
about). You will have to decide on a small set of competency questions the ontology will
support. Examples for competency questions in this domain are: What pedagogical
characteristics do I have to consider when selecting a learning object? Which learning
theories and which instructional strategies are well aligned with a behavioural approach
to teaching? I want to change attitudes as well as knowledge. Which learning theories
and pedagogical strategies are suitable?
Students were then introduced to a very simple graphical ontology language that builds on
Protégé™. In order to build a simple ontology collaboratively, students used a synchronous
collaboration platform consisting of a chat tool and a shared whiteboard tool. The starting point
for their work was a website that contained short descriptions of about twenty learning theories:
The TIP database (http://tip.psychology.org/) contains a rather large set of learning
theories. Obviously, many of these theories are not independent of each other. We want
you to collectively construct a classification system for this list of theories, to construct an
ontology for the domain. This ontology should help to identify the relations between the
theories in a systematic fashion and help to provide the basis for supporting the
competency questions. By ‘collectively’, we mean that you will do this in a team, and that
the team should agree on the proposed solution. If there are non-resolved
disagreements, they should be documented. The team aspect is important because
ontologies should reflect a joint understanding.
Students worked on this project for two weeks, in a blend of synchronous group sessions with
and without face-to-face contact, and asynchronous individual work. Figure 2 shows a snapshot
of their work some hours into the task.
Snapshot of an ontology developed by students a couple of hours into the project. The picture also shows
the chat window (under the graph) and the chat history (on the right). Students were encouraged to start
their chat contributions with specific sentence opener templates as displayed in the lower right corner.
Figure 2
My students (so far there has only been one trial of this approach with a small group of
students) found the project challenging. While they were familiar with tasks that required them
to sort theories into various groups or clusters, this ontology engineering task forced them to
think about objects that were not given to them. These revolved around meta-theories that could
be organised into a concept ‘tree’ with the learning theories making up the leaves of this tree.
These meta-theories had to be defined by specifying properties and (constraints on) values. But
what kind of properties and values are meaningful for describing learning theories? Having
defined some meta-theories (classes), which learning theories (instances) do the meta-theories
account for? What do we do with the instances that do not fit into any of the class descriptions?
These were the kinds of questions with which students had to grapple and come to a joint
solution – pure ‘knowledge work’, or so I would argue.
Breaking down boundaries
Knowledge-building pedagogy is an area of high relevance because it addresses the challenge
of how to educate for knowledge production and innovation. The foundations of this approach
are well elaborated and are the subject of intensive and ongoing empirical research, mainly in
the school sector. The focus of this paper has been on the internet-based tools currently
available to support knowledge building in teams and communities. I provided a short overview
of tools available and suggested a way forward by illustrating how knowledge building can profit
from making use of concepts, methods and tools developed for the semantic web. Our main
argument is that in order to live up to the idea of knowledge building, which is inherently about
sharing and a culture of collaborative improvement, one should not use tools which result in
artefacts that have weak semantics and/or use propriety formats. Instead, learners should be
supported in their knowledge-building activities by tools that result in artefacts that have clear,
shared semantics and that adhere to open standards. This also opens up new ways for
assessment, and for closer ties between e-learning, computer-supported collaborative learning,
and knowledge management. Future research should work on helping us to better understand
these intersections as well as to better understand the individual and organisational learning
effects of knowledge production activities.
Copyright © 2005 Reimann, P. The author assigns to ODLAA and educational non-profit institutions a
nonexclusive license to use this document for personal use and in courses of instruction provided that the
article is used in full and this copyright statement is reproduced. The author also grants to ODLAA a
nonexclusive license to publish this document in electronic or print form within ODLAA publications and/or
the world wide web. Any other usage is prohibited without the express permission of the author.
Anderson, T., & Whitelock, D. (2004). The educational semantic web (jime special issue;
available at www-jime.Open.Ac.Uk/2004/1/). Journal of Interactive Media in Education, 1.
Bereiter, C. (2002). Education and mind in the knowledge age. Mahwah, NL: Erlbaum.
Bereiter, C., & Scardamalia, M. (2003). Learning to work creatively with knowledge. In E. de
Corte, N. Entwistle & J. J. G. van Merrienboer (Eds.), Powerful learning environments:
Unravelling basic components and dimensions, (55-68). Oxford: Pergamon/Elsevier.
Daconta, M.C., Obrst, L.J., & Smith, K.T. (2003). The semantic web. New York: Wiley.
Drucker, P. (1985). Innovation and entrepreneurship. New York: Harper and Row.
Gibbons, M., Limoges, C., Nowotny, H., Schwartzman, S., Scott, P. & Trow, M. (1994). The new
production of knowledge: The dynamics of science and research in contemporary societies.
London: Sage.
Jonassen, D. (1996). Computers in the classroom: Mind tools for critical thinking. New Jersey:
Prentice Hall.
Leuf, B. & Cunningham, W. (2001). The wiki way. Prentice Hall.
Norris, D.M., Mason, J., Robson, R., Lefrere, P. & Collier, G. (2003). A revolution in knowledge
sharing. EDUCAUSE review, 15-26.
Scardamalia, M. & Bereiter, C. (1994). The CSILE project: Trying to bring the classroom into
world 3. In K. McGilly (Ed.), Classroom lessons: Integrating cognitive theory and classroom
practice, (201-228). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Scardamalia, M. & Bereiter, C. (2003). Knowledge building. In J.W. Guthrie (Ed.), Encyclopedia
of education, (2nd ed.). New York: Macmillan Reference.
Crossing boundaries between learning and research:
Doctoral programs at a distance
Terry Evans
Australian distance education, from school to university contexts, typically concerns
teaching people the knowledge, values and skills that constitute their chosen courses of
study; whereas doctoral courses principally concern candidates learning how to
produce – through producing – significant original new knowledge. This paper considers
the history and contemporary practices of Australian off-campus doctoral education and
argues that these are at the forefront internationally. It is argued that understanding the
provision of quality doctoral education at a distance requires a form of conceptual
boundary crossing by policymakers, distance educators, and (especially) doctoral
education practitioners, in order to develop and/or enhance future practices.
This paper springs from my work in distance education over twenty-five years and in the
management and conduct of doctoral education for more than a decade. A brief review of the
literature on distance education shows that doctorates have rarely been a topic. Likewise, the
more recent literature on doctoral education shows that distance education has rarely been a
topic, although there is more often mention of the use of the media that distance education
uses: print, telephone, videoconferencing and online media. This paper demonstrates the
importance of distance education to doctoral education in Australia and it argues that this is
something that has been largely invisible or unrecognised for its importance within Australian
educational provision. It is also significant that internationally, even amongst other nations with
long histories of distance education, Australia is unusual in this regard.
Some of the argument and data in this paper arises from research and scholarship on doctoral
education that I have undertaken with colleagues over the past few years, some of which has
been funded by the Australian Research Council and Deakin University1. I am fusing this with
my current and previous work on distance education, which may be more familiar to ODLAA
members. Recently Davis, Hickey and I argued a case at the RIDE04 (Research in Distance
Education 2004) conference for research that focused on particular aspects of doctoral studies
(Evans, Davis & Hickey, 2005) such as mediating supervision, ensuring quality and standards
and creating doctoral communities at a distance. This paper extends this theme into areas of
distance education policy and practice.
Off-campus doctoral education
In Australia, forms of distance education have been used for schooling, college and university
education since the beginning of the twentieth century (Bolton, 1986). It has grown and
developed over the past century as the needs, contexts and media have changed (Evans &
Nation, 2003). In these respects, Australia was joined by other nations, for example, the USA,
Canada and New Zealand. In the case of doctoral education, there is relatively little literature on
the subject from within the distance education community. Yet, Pearson and Ford show that
from outside of distance education there has been a good deal of de facto distance education
practised in doctoral education (Pearson, 1999; Pearson & Ford, 1997). This has occurred from
the start of PhD programs in Australia in the 1940s. For example, many candidates undertook
Breaking down boundaries
their library work, fieldwork, writing etc. ‘off-campus’ (even overseas), although they were not
formally enrolled as ‘external students’. Some were formally located in other institutions, such
as the military, or in overseas universities, galleries etc. (Evans & Tregenza, 2004).
The first doctoral program formally offered at a distance appears to be the Doctor of Education
(EdD) program at Nova University in the USA in the early 1970s. However, in contrast to
Australian doctorates at the time, which were typically based entirely on research, the Nova
program was based substantially on coursework. Distance programs such as Nova’s were seen
as very problematic within the educational community, and attracted sustained negative
criticism (see White, 1980). However, Nova’s EdD programs have survived (see
http://www.schoolofed.nova.edu/home.htm), although, as is discussed below, doctorates at a
distance (and other courses) are still viewed with suspicion in many nations.
In Australia, Deakin University, the University of New England (UNE) and the University of
Queensland were the first to offer Masters degrees by coursework programs at a distance
(Bynner, 1986). Although, as noted above, some doctoral candidates may be de facto distance
education candidates for some or all of their candidature, locating the first instance of the formal
offer of external doctoral enrolment to candidates is less easy to determine. Certainly, Deakin
University offered external doctoral study from early in its life in the late 1970s. However, it is
possible that UNE or the Universities of Queensland or Western Australia did so before this.2
A key matter concerned with off-campus enrolment was whether the university permitted parttime
study or not. The University of Melbourne (the first Australian university to award a PhD, in
1948) did so from the outset (Evans & Tregenza, 2004). Monash, however, did not do so until
the mid-1970s, a decade after its inception.3 Being part time or full time is probably more
significant than being on-campus or off-campus. Barnacle and Usher (2003) and Evans (2002)
have explored the particularities and contexts of part-time doctoral study in Australia, and those
in distance education would recognise the comparisons with research on distance education
(part-time) students.
Table 1: External doctoral enrolments in Australia, selected institutions 1989, 1996, 2004
(source: DEST)
University 1989 1996 2001 2004
Adelaide 8 44 70 48
Charles Sturt n/a 61 184 168
Curtin 0 0 261 425
Deakin 42 259 346 309
Monash 0 0 72 127
Murdoch 9 28 20 40
QUT n/a 15 47 79
Tasmania 7 0 5 5
UNE 77 196 226 230
UniSA n/a 27 243 115
USQ n/a 18 69 62
UWA 10 0 0 0
Table 1 shows the external doctoral enrolments in Australia. The institutions selected are those
with the greatest numbers of students in one or more of the selected years (2004 is the latest
year for which data are available). The first selected year, 1989, corresponds to the end of the
pre-Dawkins period of universities. By the early 1990s, Colleges of Advanced Education (CAEs)
were translated into new or reformed universities, therefore these would have been well
established by the next selected year: 1996. Charles Sturt, Curtin, QUT and the University of
South Australia (UniSA) were CAEs not universities in 1989, and therefore could not have
enrolled doctoral students at that time. The following selected year, 2002, marked the
commencement of the Research Training Scheme (RTS). The RTS represented a reduction in
the total number of government-funded domestic places and the application of a formula to
allocate new research student places based significantly (50 per cent) on the numbers of
completions (graduations) of previous candidates. This led some universities to endeavour to
predict and select ‘successful’ candidates at the time of application for a place; often part-time
students were seen as more risky because they had higher drop-out rates (no surprise to
distance educators here). However, those part-time students who complete do so on average
with less candidature time than full-time students. Because external students are mostly part
time and more likely not to complete, some universities have shied away from enrolling them
and given preference to on-campus, full-time students (although this is more expensive in terms
of infrastructure costs, see Evans, 2002). Therefore, 2001 represents the last year before the
RTS was introduced and 2004 is the latest year where its effect can be measured on the
available data. (The full effect is expected to take until about 2007.)
The enrolment figures in Table 1 show that the major universities in off-campus doctoral study
in 1989 were Deakin and UNE. These two universities remained major providers of off-campus
doctoral education throughout the entire period, although Deakin expanded its enrolments at a
greater rate which was probably due to its large increase in size as a consequence of the
Victoria College amalgamation in the early 1990s. It is notable that Adelaide University and
Monash University are the only Group of Eight (Go8) universities currently involved in offcampus
doctoral study, and yet two other Go8 members, University of Western Australia (UWA)
and the University of Queensland, were noted for their external studies in earlier times, and
UWA had a modest number in 1989. Three members of the Australian Technology Network
(ATN) universities have developed significant profiles: Curtin University, Queensland University
of Technology (QUT) and UniSA. Yet RMIT, which was an important external studies provider in
Victoria, has lagged behind (it had 21 external candidates in 2001 and 51 in 2004) and,
therefore, is not tabulated here. The University of Tasmania has had a consistent, but tiny,
involvement in its state since 1989. It is clear that there is some reduction in numbers in 2004
for five of the institutions.
The national external doctoral enrolments totals for the above years are as follows: 173 (1989),
730 (1996), 2270 (2001) and 2454 (2004). These figures show that there was a rapid growth
until 2001, and then a more modest increase to 2004. The aforementioned effects of the RTS
toward reducing domestic doctoral places and part-time/external enrolments in particular are
mediated by the increase in the number of international candidates. The RTS is for domestic
students only: Australian and New Zealand citizens, and Australian permanent residents. In
recent years, there has been a marked increase in the numbers of international off-campus
doctoral candidates; these mask what may well have been a reduction or levelling-off in
domestic enrolments by 2004.
Doctoral studies in Education at Deakin University
At this point, I shall consider a specific instance of the development of doctoral education at a
distance. In this case, the Faculty of Education at Deakin University has endeavoured to foster
off-campus doctoral education as an explicitly valued aspect of its practice. The Faculty (then
School) of Education was at the forefront of offering PhDs at a distance in the University: its first
doctoral graduates were in 1984. There are currently about 145 candidates enrolled in doctoral
programs in the Faculty. About 85 per cent are off-campus and part time, and many candidates
live overseas: including North America, Europe, the Middle-East, Asia, Papua New Guinea and
New Zealand. Most of the doctoral candidates are mid-career professionals who work full-time
Breaking down boundaries
in the education or training sectors. Many undertake research within their own workplaces as
part of their doctoral studies.
As is commonly the case in Australian universities, doctoral candidates must conduct research
and scholarship under the supervision of a principal and an associate supervisor. The doctoral
supervisory relationship shapes as a potentially intensive, but somewhat isolated experience,
especially, but not exclusively, for distance students. However, we have worked to use typical
distance education means to build a doctoral community within the Faculty that involves the
students in various forms of collaborative work. The strategies involved are far from innovative
for experienced distance education practitioners; indeed they reflect aspects of what has long
been seen as good practice in distance education: intensive residential schools (see Morgan &
Thorpe, 1993), telephone tutoring (see Thompson (now Challis), 1990) and online collaborative
learning (Stacey, 1999). However, deploying these approaches in doctoral education, as we
have been doing for about fifteen years, remains ‘progressive’ in this field.4
As Daniel and Marquis (1979) argued more than a quarter of a century ago, good distance
education is about ‘getting the mixture right’ between interaction and independence. This is
particularly the case in doctoral education where the candidate has to pursue individual original
scholarship (lots of solitary reading, thinking, analysis and writing) and communicate this to, and
even become inducted into, a scholarly community. Therefore, from the outset our distance
education doctoral pedagogy had to involve a ‘mix’ of interaction and independence, face-toface
and through communications media. However, again like all good distance education
practice, access and equity needed to be considered carefully in establishing the ‘rules’ of
doctoral study. For example, for more than 25 years we have required doctoral candidates to
attend their doctoral confirmation colloquium. At the colloquium a candidate discusses their
substantial (50–55 pages) doctoral proposal with a panel of five academics, including their
supervisors. This occurs about one third of the way through candidature and represents a
significant engagement and ‘rite of passage’ for all doctoral students. Although attendance is
compulsory for the candidate, occasionally a panel member may participate by teleconference
or videoconference. The requirement to attend the colloquium – this is the only formal
attendance requirement during candidature – does create an access barrier. However, the
benefits of attending in person are seen to outweigh the difficulties involved. In particular,
reading the body language of panel members and the intensive ‘de-briefing’ with the
supervisors are important qualitative components that cannot be experienced as well through
communications media, and the occasional candidate who requires counselling about an
unsuccessful outcome can be better handled responsibly face-to-face.
Often residential schools have been recognised as a highly valued experience for those
distance students who attend (Morgan & Thorpe, 1993; Moodie & Nation, 1993). As a means of
providing educative experiences, networking and supervisory contact, since 1994, the Faculty
has offered an annual residential summer school in February for doctoral students on its
Geelong campus. Since 2000, a residential winter school has been provided in New Zealand to
cater for the significant number of students there (about 25) and any other students who wish to
attend: in particular, northern hemisphere international students using their summer break to
attend. All candidates, on-campus and off-campus, are encouraged to attend these events, but
they are not compulsory. Typically, about 65 candidates attend the summer school and about
25 attend the winter school.
Over the past fifteen years, the internet has been used increasingly to provide support and
resources for doctoral students. In the early years, due to access concerns, these were
optional. Since 2002, it has been mandatory for candidates to have access to and make use of
the internet for their doctoral work. A range of listservs and web pages are used to promote
communication between candidates and supervisors, in both social and academic forums.
However, the most substantial development in these respects occurred in 2002 with the
introduction of an online seminar program called Doctoral Studies in Education (DSE)
(http://education.deakin.edu.au/dse). This program supports the candidate (and supervisor)
around a sequence of core seminars that are required of all candidates. There are also optional
research issues seminars (on methodology, research practices etc.) and occasional seminars
(research presentations by guests, staff and candidates). The seminars are ‘located’ within the
discussion or tutorial ‘spaces’ of normal forms of online education software (we have used First
Class, WebCT and, now, Moodle). They are asynchronous discussions facilitated by a staff
member over a six-week period (occasional seminars are usually shorter). The core seminars
focus on ‘generic skills and knowledge’, such as identifying and reviewing literature, doctoral
proposal writing, research ethics, etc. In addition, they also provide an induction into doctoral
study and help to ensure that all doctoral graduates are familiar with online media for study,
research and communication.
We are moving to require all final year doctoral candidates to convene their own seminar on an
aspect of their PhD research. This will provide an opportunity to present online – a new skill for
most and one we think all doctoral graduates should possess – and to share their ideas and
findings with others. The doctoral convenor will also benefit from having comments from the
participants that may help them refine their thesis in some way. Additionally, they will provide a
role model to new doctoral students participating in the seminar.
The Doctoral Studies in Education site also provides candidates with access to information
about other candidates, staff, research activities, research groups, publications, ethics, funding
and conference opportunities etc. In 2004, we extended our connections to include our doctoral
graduates through the Faculty of Education Doctoral Alumni Network (FEDAN). Here, a monthly
newsletter is circulated to all Alumni members containing information about research and
training related activities, as well as profiles and information from previous and current
candidates. There are also FEDAN events at summer and winter schools and at major research
conferences locally and overseas. FEDAN can be seen as another subset of the Faculty’s
doctoral networking activities, which has both online and ‘real’ presences.
Distance educators are likely to recognise that the DSE represents a particular blend of fairly
conventional educational practices that have been deployed in distance education. However,
the use of residential schools has become less common in distance education as the pressure
on costs and staff and students’ time has increased. Doctoral educators are likely to recognise
that this blend is innovative in doctoral education, especially before 2002, and that most
doctoral students would not be able to engage with such a range of educational practices,
although, as noted previously, the Research Training Scheme has encouraged developments in
this direction.
Boundary crossing
Government policy (especially Kemp, 1999a, 1999b) on ‘research training’ – as research
degrees, such as doctorates and masters, are known – discusses matters of doctoral education
in terms that assume that candidates are young, full time and should embark on an appropriate
career when they graduate. Part-time students comprise about 45 per cent of the total number
of doctoral candidates in Australia. It is surprising, therefore, with the aforementioned
government policies emphasising the importance of new knowledge and innovation to the
Australian economic and social wellbeing, that those candidates who mostly conduct research
in their workplaces or on projects of professional relevance are treated as marginal. Of course,
distance educators have long been used to seeing their practices marginalised, partly due to
dealing with (‘invisible’, off-campus) part-time students (see Smith & Kelly’s collection, 1987, for
an almost thirty-year-old Australian perspective). Doctoral educators have still to grasp the
matter, although the work on professional doctorates (which have their own difficulties, see
Evans, Macauley, Pearson & Tregenza, 2004) has often considered matters of the professional
and workplace contexts of candidates (see Green, Maxwell & Shanahan, 2001).
It is, therefore, not surprising that distance education is rarely overtly considered in the doctoral
education policy or scholarly literature, and for that matter, as noted previously, doctoral
education is not often considered in the distance education literature. In effect, the boundaries
have rarely been crossed from either side. The intention of this paper, and its presentation at
the ODLAA conference, is to argue that there is an important element of distance education
practice buried in the external enrolments of doctoral students in many Australian universities
since 1989. Indeed, the DEST enrolment figures show that every Australian university has
enrolled external doctoral students at some time between 1989 and 2004. The University of
Technology, Sydney, has had the smallest external enrolments (14) over the fewest years (2)
Breaking down boundaries
during this period. (The Australian Defence Academy had 12 external enrolments and the
Australian Maritime College had nine external enrolments, both over four years during this
period). Some universities, especially Deakin and UNE, have enrolled significant numbers of
external doctoral students each year since 1989. We have also seen other universities, such as
UniSA and Curtin, expand their external doctoral enrolments strongly over the past few years.
It is my contention that doctoral education could benefit with more distance educators,
especially those with research and doctoral education experience, crossing the boundaries into
doctoral education with a view to enhancing and researching doctoral practices at a distance.
When crossing the boundaries, it is necessary to understand the particular nature of doctoral
scholarship and research, and not merely attempt to transplant existing coursework
undergraduate or postgraduate approaches. In particular, as has been illustrated through the
Deakin Faculty of Education experience, it is likely that effective practices will be those that
develop communities of doctoral scholars through collaborative learning, and through the
presentation and critique of doctoral work (Barnacle, 2004; Evans, 1997, 1998). From this
experience, although this may not suit all circumstances, which includes doctoral students
scattered around the world, a mixture of distance education media and strategies together with
face-to-face encounters seems to work well. However, it seems clear that there is scope for
more creativity, and for more research, to explore new approaches to doctoral study at a
1. I would like to acknowledge the contribution that work with colleagues has made to my
thinking on this matter. Pete Macauley (Deakin), Margot Pearson (ANU) and Karen
Tregenza (Deakin) have been longstanding collaborators of mine on research and
scholarship in doctoral education. Pete undertook his PhD with me on an aspect of distance
education and doctoral education (Macauley, 2001). Heather Davis (Deakin), Chris Hickey
(Deakin), Barbara Kamler (Deakin), Alan Lawson (Queensland), Tom Maxwell (UNE), Erica
McWilliam (QUT) and Peter Taylor (Bond/QUT) are important colleagues in some of this
work. More recently, another of my doctoral candidates, Kevin Ryland, has been influential
through his research on part-time doctoral candidature in Australia.
2. I would appreciate any information on this if people have such (tevans@deakin.edu.au).
3. I recall this as an early part-time PhD candidate at Monash in 1975.
4. The University of Melbourne recently had an article in the Australian Higher Education
Supplement (8/6/05) on its new online group work for doctoral students. It was portrayed as
innovative – it was for doctoral studies in a sandstone university – but it was nothing of the
kind for people in online and distance education.
Copyright © 2005 Evans, T. The author assigns to ODLAA a nonexclusive license to use this document
for personal use and in courses of instruction provided that the article is used in full and this copyright
statement is reproduced. The author also grants to ODLAA a nonexclusive license to publish this
document in electronic or print form within ODLAA publications and/or the world wide web. Any other
usage is prohibited without the express permission of the author.
Barnacle, R. (2004). A critical ethic in a knowledge economy: Research degree candidates in
the workplace. Studies in Continuing Education, 26(3), 355-367.
Barnacle, R. & Usher, R. (2003). Assessing the quality of research training: The case of parttime
candidates in full-time professional work. Higher Education Research & Development,
22, 345-358.
Bolton, G. (1986). The opportunity of distance. Distance Education, 7(1), 5-22.
Bynner, J. (1986). Masters teaching in Education by distance methods. Distance Education, 7
(1), 23-37.
Daniel, J.S. & Marquis, C. (1979). Interaction and independence: Getting the mixture right.
Teaching at a Distance, 14, 29-44.
Evans, T.D. (1997). Flexible doctoral research: Emerging issues in professional doctorate
programs. Studies in Continuing Education, 19(2), 174-182.
Evans, T.D. (1998). Research as independent learning: Emerging issues in supervising
postgraduate researchers in their professional contexts. In C. Rust (Ed.) Improving student
learning: Improving students as learners, (pp.377-384). Oxford: Oxford Centre for Staff and
Learning Development, Oxford Brookes University.
Evans, T.D. (2002). Part-time research students: Are they producing knowledge where it
counts? Higher Education and Research and Development, 21(2), 155-165.
Evans, T.D., Davis, H. & Hickey, C. (2005). Research issues arising from doctoral education at
a distance. In T.D. Evans, P.J. Smith & E.A. Stacey (Eds.), Research in Distance
Education 6, Geelong: Deakin University.
Evans, T.D., Macauley, P., Pearson, M. & Tregenza, K. (2004). Why do a 'prof doc' when you
can do a PhD? Fifth International Conference on Professional Doctorates, Deakin University,
November, 2004. Geelong: Deakin University.
Evans, T.D. & Nation, D.E. (2003). Globalisation and the reinvention of distance education. In
M.G. Moore & W. Anderson (Eds.), The handbook of distance education (2nd ed.), (pp.767-
782). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Evans, T.D. & Tregenza, K. (2004). Some characteristics of early Australian PhD theses.
Australian Association for Research in Education Conference, November, 2004. Melbourne:
University of Melbourne.
Green, B., Maxwell, T.W. & Shanahan, P. (Eds.). (2001). Doctoral education and professional
practice: The next generation. Armidale: Kardoorair Press.
Kemp, D. (1999a). Knowledge and Innovation: A policy statement on research and research
training. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia.
Kemp, D. (1999b). New knowledge, New opportunities: A discussion paper on higher education
research and research training. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia.
Macauley, P. (2001). Doctoral research and scholarly communication: Candidates, supervisors
and information literacy. PhD thesis. Geelong: Deakin University.
Moodie, G. & Nation, D.E. (1993). Reforming a system of distance education. In T.D. Evans &
D.E. Nation (Eds.), Reforming open and distance education, (pp.130-149). London: Kogan
Morgan, A.R. & Thorpe, M. (1993). Residential schools in open and distance education: Quality
time for quality learning? In T.D. Evans & D.E. Nation (Eds.), Reforming open and distance
education, (pp.72-87). London: Kogan Page.
Pearson, M. (1999). The changing environment for doctoral education in Australia: Implications
for quality management, improvement and innovation. Higher Education Research and
Development, 18(3), pp.269-288.
Pearson, M. & Ford, L. (1997). Open and flexible PhD study and research, Canberra:
Department of Employment, Education, Training and Youth Affairs Evaluation and
Investigations Program.
Smith, P. & Kelly, M. (Eds.). (1987). Distance education and the mainstream. London: Croom
Stacey, E.A. (1999). Collaborative learning in an online environment. Journal of Distance
Education, 14(2), 14-33.
Thompson (now Challis), D. (1990). If it's good for you, do you have to swallow it? Some
reflections on interaction and independence from research into teletutorials. In T.D. Evans
(Ed.), Research in distance education 1, (pp.219-229). Geelong: Deakin University.
White, M. (1980). Graduate degrees by external studies: The Nova University programme in
Florida. Distance Education, 1(2) 189-197.
Breaking down boundaries
Exploring pre-existing factors and instructor actions
influencing community development in online settings
Chris Brook and Ron Oliver
This paper presents an exploration of the community experience in online settings
where the development of a learning community was a key instructional aim. The
inquiry used the Learning Community Development Model (Brook & Oliver, 2003) to
guide the study and measured the individuals’ community experience using the Sense
of Community Index (Chavis et al., 1986). The paper reports the findings of a multi-case
study that investigated the interrelationship between pre-existing factors and teaching
and learning strategies in the process of community development in an online setting.
Many scholars assert that the social phenomenon of community might be put to good use in the
support of online learning (e.g. Hiltz, 1998). This assertion is well supported by theories of
learning that highlight the importance of social interactions in the construction of knowledge
(Dewey, 1929; Vygotsky, 1978). Further support is found in the works of scholars who explore
the community construct. Benefits associated with community membership include an increase
in intellectual and social capital (Stewart, 1997) including the norms of reciprocity (Putnam,
2000), the satisfaction obtained through membership (Lott & Lott, 1965), and the phenomenon
whereby the whole is in some way greater than the sum of its parts (Hawley, 1950). These
characteristics afford members clear advantage over non members, but it remains unclear in
what ways they might be purposefully developed in online settings (Bonk & Wisher, 2000).
Understanding community
Sense of community has been represented as a four-dimensional framework comprising the
elements of membership, influence, fulfilment of needs and shared emotional connection
(McMillan & Chavis, 1986), although these elements might be present at varying levels in
different community settings (McMillan, 1996). The community experience can be measured
using the Sense of Community Index (SCI) (Chavis et al., 1986), a measurement tool that has
been shown to have validity across contexts (Chipuer & Pretty, 1999). However, it is not clear in
what ways the experience of each of these discrete elements might be promoted in online
The Learning Community Development Model
Following an expansive review of contemporary literature, Brook and Oliver (2003) developed
the Learning Community Development Model (LCDM). The model describes three components
in the process of community development in online settings: those that exist prior to any
instructor actions, identified as presage factors; instructor actions, identified as process teaching
and learning strategies; and various outcomes including sense of community, identified as the
product. Figure 1 shows the three components of the LCDM.
Brook & Oliver
The Learning Community Development Model (Brook & Oliver, 2003)
Figure 1
The implied interrelationship between the presage, process and product components of the
model lead the researchers to an exploration of the question: In what ways do presage and
process factors influence community development in online courses seeking to establish a
sense of community among learners?
Two factors influenced the methodology adopted for this inquiry. The first was the context
specific nature of the community experience (Hill, 1996) and the second was the desire to
ensure congruence between the goals of the researcher and those of the practitioner (Reeves,
1999, 2000). In accordance with these influencing factors, a grounded theory (Strauss, 1987)
approach was chosen because of the inductive nature of generating theory from close contact
with the empirical world (Patton, 1990). In the tradition of grounded theory, data collection
strategies were embedded in the experiences, actions and behaviours of the actors involved
requiring a case study approach to the inquiry (Willig, 2001). This approach accounted for the
context specific nature of the community experience providing for the generation of theory from
the actions of expert practitioners. Instrumental cases that considered exemplar models (Willig,
2001) were selected for this study. Five cases were selected on a replication logic arguing that
each case would produce similar results (Burns, 1996) while utilising a range of strategies in
order to achieve these.
The selection of data collection methods was guided by the nature of case study research that
requires a certain level of triangulation (Willig, 2001) and the context specific nature of the
community experience (Hill, 1996). Data collection methods included: interviews, observations,
questionnaires and the Sense of Community Index (Chavis et al., 1986). These methods
allowed participants to describe their experience, allowed for an objective interpretation of the
experience and provided a way to quantify the community experience.
a. Interviews: Instructor interviews were used to account for the forms of engagement and
activity the instructors adopted to promote community development. Interview methods were
sensitive to the instructor’s understanding and interpretation of the forms of engagement and
activity employed (Willig, 2001) and were conducted in the early and latter stages of course
b. Observations: Potential incongruence between what the interviewee says and what actually
happens was explored through the inclusion of an observational data collection strategy (Becker
& Blanch, 1970). Observations were made of all asynchronous discussion board interactions
throughout the various courses.
Breaking down boundaries
c. Questionnaire: A demographic questionnaire was employed to collect data on individual
student characteristics that appeared likely to influence community development including
cultural influence, communication patterns and perceptions of self as connected or separate.
Participating students were asked to complete the questionnaire at the beginning of the various
d. Sense of Community Index: The SCI was the principal source of data gathered to facilitate
exploration of the community experience. Respondents were required to rate their experience of
the four discrete elements of sense of community on a five point scale (1 = low & 5 = high).
These ratings were then combined to provide the individual’s total sense of community
experience (4 = minimum and 20 = maximum). The index was completed at the beginning of the
course, to establish the early sense of community experience, and toward the end to ascertain
any variation.
The reporting begins with an overview of the course, including presage and process factors that
appeared to influence community development. This is followed by an investigation of
participant responses to the SCI. The paper concludes with a presentation of the overall
Case study 1: Alexander’s course
In his course, Alexander was delivering a teaching and learning skills program for higher
education instructors working in the university setting. The course operated over a five-week
period and included twenty-seven participating students.
Presage factors: At the system level, there was limited technical support to ensure the
availability of the learning management system (LMS), and as a consequence, the LMS was
unavailable for lengthy periods. At the context level, Alexander, as a novice instructor,
experienced difficulties in the application of appropriate pedagogic practices in the online setting
resulting in an excessive pace of learning activities. Student factors that influenced the nature of
engagement included attitudes of perfectionism, a reluctance to meet time requirements and a
heterogeneous cohort. Many of these presage factors presented limitations to community
development in this setting.
Process teaching and learning strategies: Investigation of the reason and context
established by the instructor revealed that a sense of advantage motivated individuals to
engage in collaborative activity. All students were seen to take advantage of the opportunity to
manage their learning experience through engaging in collaborative activity. All reports required
as an outcome of group activity were completed and many students reported that learning
activities that reflected the lived-in world motivated their participation.
All students took advantage of the opportunity to utilise communication tools of their choosing
and many reported the benefit of this approach in enabling communication. Manipulating the
cohort to develop small group and whole class settings was seen to reduce the risk associated
with communication in public forums for some students, while ensuring critical mass required for
a satisfactory group experience. However, the pace of learning was a commonly cited
impediment to meaningful interactions with students perceiving a lost opportunity to engage in
critical discussions.
The technical training provided to students at the beginning of the course assisted 97 per cent
of the students to engage in early online interactions. Peer support networks were active and
there was ample evidence of knowledge sharing. Student written communication adhered to
social norms and there was little evidence that students were discomforted by communications.
Group activities were managed by the students, requiring them to engage in self regulatory
Alexander used a warm, friendly and accepting tone in written communication that transferred to
student behaviours. His timely contributions to discursive activity were seen to motivate
continued student participation.
Brook & Oliver
An overview of the conditions seen to influence community development in this setting is
presented in table 1. A positive or negative symbol is used to describe an instance where
predominant factors were seen to be either positive of negative.
Table 1: Conditions influencing community development
Instructor Presage Process
System Learning
Student Reason &
Enabling Supporting Moderating
Alexander - - - + - + - + +
Table 1 shows that conditions in Alexander’s course were predominantly unsupportive of
community development. Instructor actions, however, were generally supportive.
The student responses to the SCI indicate that in many instances the students’ perceived sense
of community altered as a consequence of course participation. Table 2 shows that of the eight
respondents, six perceived an increased sense of community and two indicated that this sense
was reduced. This suggests that process factors tended to overcome many of the limiting
aspects of presage factors present in this setting. However, this was not the case for all
students, suggesting factors that suppressed the community experience for some individuals
continued throughout the course. Valerie, who reported the largest reduction in sense of
community (-1.33), claimed divergent achievement expectations among learners as contributing
to her sense of isolation. Natalie, who also reported a reduced sense of community (-0.67),
expressed frustration when the LMS was unavailable. In addition, many students identified that
the pace of learning limited their opportunity to engage in meaningful interactions.
Table 2: Results of the sense of community index (Alexander’s course)
Student Sense of community
1st 2nd Diff.
Bridgett 14.33 15.33 +1.00
Maurice 12.33 13.33 +1.00
Marianne 9.66 12.66 +3.00
Yvonne 11.66 13.00 +1.34
Jim 6.00 7.33 +1.33
Valerie 6.66 5.33 -1.33
Brenda 9.66 11.33 +1.67
Natalie 11.00 10.33 -0.67
Average 10.16 11.08 +0.92
In this setting it appears that at the presage component of the model, community development
would have been enhanced in the event that the system provided adequate technical support to
ensure the availability of the LMS and provided training for instructors. It also appears that if
students had more consistent expectations of achievement, community development would
have been further supported. In the process component of the model, it appears that if the
instructor had established a more suitable pace of learning and made more direct contributions
to discursive activity, community development would have been enhanced.
Breaking down boundaries
Case study 2: Philip’s course
The course in which Philip participated was an undergraduate education program for students
studying how to teach in online settings. The course operated over a twelve-week period,
included twelve students and was delivered exclusively in the online setting.
Presage factors: Students in Philip’s course cited competition as a factor that suppressed their
willingness to engage in knowledge-sharing activities. At the context level, Philip, as a practised
instructor, had pre-existing pedagogic beliefs that limited his participation in learning activities, a
factor that suppressed students’ enthusiasm for engaging in this setting. At the student level,
there were notable differences in the students’ expectation of roles and responsibilities in online
settings and actualities, specifically in the area of instructor participation, which served to
frustrate some students. Despite the competitive setting, individual goal orientation and
divergence between expected roles and responsibilities and actualities, conditions in this setting
appeared reasonably well suited for community development.
Process factors: Student motivation to engage in collaborative activity came from the
advantage received for doing so and the authentic nature of learning activities. Rotated
membership in small group settings ensured that active students shared the burden of nonparticipating
students. The use of small group and whole class settings resulted in an increased
opportunity for all students to contribute in meaningful ways and the provision of a meeting
schedule resulted in an appropriate pace of learning. However, many students perceived that
restricted use of computer-mediated communication (CMC) technologies did not meet their
communication needs.
Stating technical expectations and requirements was a useful strategy in preparing students for
learning in online settings. In addition, raising student awareness of the protocols for
communicating in written forms appeared to support engagement. Many students were seen to
undertake various roles and responsibilities and regulate their own learning experience.
Many students responded well to the warm and friendly tone of communication established by
the instructor and mirrored this behaviour. However, many students cited the level of instructor
participation in discursive activity as a limiting aspect of this course.
An overview of the conditions seen to influence community development in this setting is
presented in table 3.
Table 3: Conditions influencing community development
Instructor Presage Process
System Learning
Student Reason &
Enabling Supporting Moderating
Philip + + + + + + - + -
Interestingly, Philip’s course was characterised by presage factors that appeared appropriate for
community development. However, there were several process factors that were unsupportive.
Table 4 shows student responses to the sense of community index and indicates variations.
Brook & Oliver
Table 4: Results of the sense of community index (Philip’s course)
Student Sense of community
1st 2nd Diff.
Angela 12.00 14.00 +2.00
Kathleen 13.33 14.00 +0 .67
Mary Liz 14.33 13.66 -0.67
Miriam 15.33 13.66 -1.67
Average 13.74 13.83 +0.09
Data presented in table 4 reveals that two students indicated an increased sense of community
and two indicated a reduction in their sense of community. It is noteworthy that while Angela
experienced a relatively strong increase in her sense of community (+2.00), Miriam reported a
negative influence at almost the same level (-1.67). This polarity of experience suggests that
instructor actions tended to overcome limiting aspects of presage factors for some participants
but not others. Interestingly, Angela was seen to experience a dysfunctional group and Philip
took action to allow her to seek membership in a more active setting. This action appeared to
meet Angela’s learning needs. In contrast, Miriam sought to utilise alternate CMC tools and
Philip took action to enforce the restriction on CMC technologies. This action appeared not to
meet Miriam’s communication needs. The SCI suggests that while two students experienced a
reduced sense of community, two others experienced an increased community experience.
This outcome suggests that if the instructor had been more engaged in discursive activity and
allowed unrestricted access to CMC technologies, conditions supporting community
development would have been enhanced.
Case study 3: Cathleen’s course
Cathleen was the instructor in a post-graduate program for professional teachers studying
special education. The course operated over a twelve-week period and involved forty-four
Presage factors: Many students were aggrieved that technical problems were not resolved
quickly and expressed feelings of frustration and annoyance. The minimal resources made
available to the instructor and a poor instructor technical skill set compounded issues
associated with technical problems. It was common for students to experience delayed access
to online interactions as a consequence of poor internal communication systems, contributing to
feelings of isolation. The minimal resources provided to the instructor resulted in the reluctance
of the instructor to engage in discursive activity as an active group member. In addition,
individual students appeared unprepared to share knowledge in what they perceived to be a
competitive setting. Students’ inexperience in learning in online settings left them ill prepared for
the online learning experience.
In light of these presage factors, this setting did not appear supportive of community
Process factors: Advantage received for participating in collaborative activity motivated
student participation. Many students took the opportunity to share knowledge and
understanding derived from their workplace. Reports required as an outcome of group activity
were produced and there was scant evidence that individuals had not contributed in appropriate
Students took advantage of the opportunity to use communication tools of their choosing. The
planned meeting schedule ensured an appropriate pace of learning and fostered a sense of
continuance among participants. There was strong evidence that students were comfortable in
communicating online and were prepared to undertake various roles and responsibilities.
Breaking down boundaries
The tone of communication throughout the course mirrored the warm and welcoming tone
established by Cathleen. There was little evidence that students were dissatisfied with
Cathleen’s contributions, despite these being largely didactic in nature. Many students took
advantage of the opportunity to engage in non-course related discussion through the social
discussion forum.
An overview of the conditions seen to influence community development in this setting is
presented in table 5.
Table 5: Conditions influencing community development
Instructor Presage Process
System Learning
Student Reason &
Enabling Supporting Moderating
Cathleen - - + + - + + - +
Presage factors in this setting were largely unsupportive of community development, however
instructor actions were largely supportive. Completion of the SCI was voluntary, and thirteen of
the available forty-four students chose to respond to the index. Table 6 shows student
responses to the SCI at the beginning and end of the course and indicates variation in the
community experience.
Table 6: Results of the sense of community index (Cathleen’s course)
Student Sense of community
1st 2nd Diff.
Melanie 7.33 8.33 +1.00
Louise 9.00 9.66 +0.66
Lisa 10.00 10.66 +0.66
Jennifer 11.00 12.00 +1.00
Wendy 11.33 13.66 +1.33
Janine 12.00 11.00 -1.00
Karin 12.33 12.00 -0.33
Ludmilla 11.66 12.66 -1.00
Tony 11.00 11.00 even
Tania 12.33 12.00 -0.67
Samantha 13.33 13.66 +0.33
Bridget 11.66 12.33 +0.67
Anonymous 12.00 12.33 +0.33
Average 11.15 11.65 +0.48
The data reveals that, overall, students reported a marginally increased sense of community. Of
the thirteen responses, eight reported an increased sense of community, four reported a
reduced sense of community and one reported that the sense of community remained static.
These responses suggest that process teaching and learning strategies overcame limiting
aspects of presage factors for some participants, but not others.
Brook & Oliver
It appears that if the instructor had developed a stronger technical skill set and provided
technical support to students, conditions supporting community development would have been
enhanced. In addition, it appears that if the instructor had facilitated more timely access to early
online interactions, feelings counterproductive to community development would have been
Case study 4: Jim’s course
Jim taught a postgraduate education program for students studying the principles of online
instruction. The course operated over a twelve-week period and included nine students.
Presage factors: System factors seen to influence community development included poor
internal communication systems resulting in delayed student access to the learning setting. In
addition, assessment policies promoted a competitive setting resulting in some individuals being
reluctant to share knowledge, and security systems were complex, contributing to delayed
online interactions for some students. At the cohort level, the number of enrolments was low
and, at the student level, there were several individuals who were unwilling to engage in
collaborative activity. Despite several limiting presage factors, conditions in this setting
appeared suited to community development.
Process factors: The benefits provided for participation were well suited to the needs of
individual students, resulting in high levels of participation. Although two students expressed
dissatisfaction with the nature of the learning activities, the majority were satisfied that the
authentic nature of the learning activities supported knowledge sharing. All reports required as
an outcome of group activity were received, indicating that students engaged in some form of
collaborative activity.
One student expressed dissatisfaction with the available communication tools. This, however,
was an isolated incident with all others taking advantage of the opportunity to use
communication tools of their choosing. The regular meeting schedule established by the
instructor appeared useful, with many students citing this as a factor that sustained their
participation. Some students cited small group and whole class settings as factors that
encouraged a sense of togetherness, providing the opportunity for experienced individuals to
mentor others.
In one instance, a technical difficulty appeared to result in a student withdrawing from the
course. However, this was the only instance. The majority of students were active in discursive
activity and there was little evidence that any students were discomforted by the nature of online
Student communications mirrored the warm and welcoming tone established by the instructor.
The leadership role was shared among participants, although the timely contributions made by
the instructor were valued.
An overview of conditions seen to influence community development in this setting is presented
in table 7.
Table 7: Conditions influencing community development
Instructor Presage Process
System Learning
Student Reason &
Enabling Supporting Moderating
Jim + + + + + + + + +
Jim’s course was characterised by a setting where all presage and process factors were
supportive of community development. Eight of the nine students participating in this setting
volunteered to complete the SCI. Table 8 shows student responses to the sense of community
index at the beginning and end of the course and indicates the variation at the completion.
Breaking down boundaries
Table 8: Results of the sense of community index (Jim’s course)
Student Sense of community
1st 2nd Diff.
Clare 6.66 9.33 +3.00
Michael 7.33 7.33 even
Katherine 9.66 10.33 +0.67
John 10.66 11.66 +1.00
Athina 11.33 13.33 +2.00
Rodney 13.33 15.00 +2.00
Megan 15.33 16.00 +1.67
Katrina 14.00 17.00 +3.00
Average 11.03 12.49 +1.46
The student experience of sense of community appeared to increase as a consequence of
participating in this setting, although this increase was not consistent for all students. Clare and
Katrina, who reported the greatest increase in sense of community (+3.00), exemplify this
outcome, while Michael, who reported one of the lower sense of community experiences (7.3),
revealed no change in his community experience. Data analysis reveals that Michael was
aggrieved at the nature of collaborative activity encouraged by the instructor and described a
feeling of coercion to take part in what he perceived to be meaningless ways. In contrast, Clare,
who recorded one of the greatest increases in the sense of community experience (+3.00), was
critical of the voluntary nature of participation in discursive activity. However, it appears that this
eventuality did not impact negatively on her sense of community experience.
It appears that had the instructor made minor modifications to the nature of collaborative
activities, the participant sense of community experience would have been stronger.
Case study 5: Elaine’s course
Elaine presented a professional development program for registered training authorities (RTO’s)
working in the field of vocational education and training (VET) in principles of online teaching.
The course was intended to operate over a six-month period with an initial active component of
five weeks and included seven students. The course did not progress beyond the initial fiveweek
Presage factors: The absence of student participation in Elaine’s course was noticeable. While
this is likely to be the result of a combination of factors, the instructor noted that the obvious
competition between participants served to suppress knowledge sharing. The instructor’s
apparent lack of preparation for course delivery is also likely to be the result of multiple factors,
one of which appeared to be that course delivery was additional to her usual workload. Other
factors that were influential in this setting include the absence of a course outline, an
inexperienced instructor with little training for the role of online instructor and limited experience
in the application of appropriate pedagogic practices. An extremely small cohort comprising
students with a preference for the pursuit of individual goals and an apparent unwillingness to
undertake the leadership role further complicated course delivery.
In this setting presage factors reveal conditions that appear not to be well suited to community
Process factors: There was scant evidence that instructor action motivated students to engage
in collaborative activity. Although students were given unrestricted access to communication
tools, they preferred to communicate on a one-to-one basis with the instructor via the telephone.
The students were unprepared to direct their own learning experience, preferring to take
leadership from the instructor. The strong leadership role undertaken by the instructor was seen
Brook & Oliver
to promote passive behaviours among learners. There was little evidence that students were
discomforted by online communication, although their rate of participation was extremely low.
Those students who contributed to discursive activity adopted a warm and welcoming tone
similar to that of the instructor.
An overview of the conditions seen to influence community development in this setting is
presented in table 9.
Table 9: Conditions influencing community development
Instructor Presage Process
System Learning
Student Reason &
Enabling Supporting Moderating
Elaine - - - - - - - - +
Elaine’s course was characterised by presage and process factors being largely unsupportive of
community development. Of the seven participating students in this setting only two volunteered
to compete the SCI. Table 10 shows student responses to the sense of community index at the
beginning and end of the course and indicates variation.
These responses suggest that conditions in this setting were not supportive of community
development. Despite respondents indicating a reduced sense of community experience, there
was little evidence that students were aggrieved with actions taken by the instructor. However,
data analysis suggested that the instructor dominated discursive activity and tended to adopt a
didactic approach to instruction. The aggregated sense of community index does not indicate in
what ways these factors influenced community development, but it does suggest that the
influence was negative.
Table 10: Results of the sense of community index (Elaine’s course)
Student Sense of community
1st 2nd Diff.
Meredith 7.00 5.00 -2.00
Robin 11.66 7.66 -4.00
Average 9.33 6.33 -3.00
This finding suggests that the actions taken by the instructor failed to promote a sense of
community experience for the participants in this setting. It appears that if the instructor had
taken intentional action to establish a reason and context for communication, enabling,
supporting and moderating communication, the participant sense of community experience
would have been stronger.
Exploring the links between presage, process and sense of
The study has revealed that some settings are characterised by conditions ripe for community
development, while others are not. This inquiry also revealed that many instructor actions were
seen to support community development, while others were not. Trends in the data suggest a
correlation between instructor actions described in the process component of the model and the
participant sense of community experience. Participants reported an increased experience of
sense of community in settings where the instructor demonstrated strong actions in each of the
process elements of the Learning Community Development Model. In contrast, participants
Breaking down boundaries
reported only a marginal increase or a reduced community experience in settings characterised
by weak instructor actions in one or more of the process elements. This finding suggests that
those instructors who develop strong practices in each of the process elements of the Learning
Community Development Model are likely to support community development and overcome
limitations presented by presage factors. This suggests that under certain conditions, process
factors are more influential in community development than presage factors.
Copyright © 2005 Brook, C. & Oliver, R. The authors assign to ODLAA and educational non-profit
institutions a nonexclusive license to use this document for personal use and in courses of instruction
provided that the article is used in full and this copyright statement is reproduced. The authors also grant
to ODLAA a nonexclusive license to publish this document in electronic or print form within ODLAA
publications and/or the world wide web. Any other usage is prohibited without the express permission of
the authors.
Becker, H., & Blanch, G. (1970). Participant observation and interviewing: A comparison. In W.
J. Filstead (Ed.), Qualitative methodology. Chicago: Markham.
Bonk, C.J., & Wisher, R.A. (2000). Applying collaborative and e-learning tools to military
distance learning: A research framework. Retrieved July 2 2002 from
Brook, C., & Oliver, R. (2003 b). Online learning communities: Investigating a design framework.
Australian Journal of Educational Technology, 19(2), 139-160.
Burns, R.B. (1996). Introduction to research methods. South Melbourne, Australia: Addison
Wesley Longman Australia.
Chavis, D.M., Hogge, J., McMillan, D., & Wandersman, A. (1986). Sense of community through
Brunswick's lens: A first look. Journal of Community Psychology, 14, 24-40.
Chipuer, H.M., & Pretty, G.M.H. (1999). A review of the sense of community index: Current
uses, factor structure, reliability and further development. Journal of Community Psychology,
27(6), 643-658.
Dewey, J. (1929). The sources of a science of education. New York: Liveright.
Hawley, A.H. (1950). Human ecology: A theory of community structure. New York: The Ronald
Press Company.
Hill, J.L. (1996). Psychological sense of community: Suggestions for future research. Journal of
Community Psychology, 24(4), 431-437.
Hiltz, S.R. (1998). Collaborative learning in asynchronous learning environments: Building
learning communities. Paper presented at the WebNet 98 world conference of the WWW,
internet and intranet proceedings, Orlando, Florida.
Lott, A.J., & Lott, B.E. (1965). Group cohesiveness as interpersonal attraction: A review of
relationships with antecedents and variables. Psychological Bulletin, 64, 259-309.
McMillan, D.W. (1996). Sense of community. The Journal of Community Psychology, 24(4),
McMillan, D.W., & Chavis, D.M. (1986). Sense of community: A definition and theory. Journal of
Community Psychology, 14, 6-23.
Patton, M.Q. (1990). Qualitative evaluation and research methods. Newbery Park, California:
Sage Publications.
Putnam, R.D. (2000). Bowling alone. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Reeves, T. (1999). A research agenda for interactive learning in the new millennium. Retrieved
July 29 2001 from http://it.coe.uga.edu/~treeves/EM99Key.html
Reeves, T. (2000). Enhancing the worth of instructional technology research through 'design
experiments’ and other development research strategies. Paper presented at the
International perspectives on instructional technology research for the 21st century, New
Orleans, LA, USA.
Brook & Oliver
Stewart, T.A. (1997). Intellectual capital. New York: Doubleday/Currency.
Strauss, A.L. (1987). Qualitative analysis for social scientists. New York: Cambridge University
Vygotsky, L.S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes (M.
Cole, V. John-Steiner, S. Scribner & E. Souberman, Trans.). Cambridge, MA: Harvard
University Press.
Willig, C. (2001). Introducing qualitative research in psychology adventures in theory and
method. Buckingham: Open University Press.
Breaking down boundaries
From distance teacher education to beginning
teaching: What impacts on practice?
Bill Anderson and Mary Simpson
Graduates of a distance teacher education program, interviewed individually or in focus
groups, were asked to explore characteristics of their study as distance students and to
discuss the impact of those characteristics on their preparation for and practice of initial
teaching. Analysis of interviews revealed three major themes – self-management skills,
community embeddedness and mode of program delivery. The distance environment
had several positive impacts but it also created limitations to be overcome in the first
year of teaching. Examples are provided of how participants saw these advantages and
limitations evidenced in their teaching.
Delivering pre-service teacher education programs to students who are at a distance is
becoming more common as teacher education providers recognise the needs of students who
cannot access on-campus courses. Computer-mediated technology is providing new ways of
working with such distance students and enriching their experience. The impact of distance
delivery on a beginning teacher’s preparedness to teach has not been well explored. This paper
reports on part of a study that sought to determine whether and, if so, how, features of studying
at a distance had an impact on students’ practice as beginning teachers.
Background and framework for the study
Distance delivered pre-service teacher education programs are a relatively new phenomenon in
New Zealand. Such programs only graduated their first teachers at the beginning of this
century. The creators of these programs drew on distance education research and evaluation to
argue that program graduates would attain the same standards as the many students who
graduated from face-to-face courses. There is consensus among distance educators that
distance delivered teacher education has a good record and is increasingly able to meet the
needs of teacher education students, and the schools in which those students will teach.
Perraton (1997) says that distance education has established its legitimacy in delivering teacher
education at a distance, and Moore and Thompson (1997) provide numerous examples of the
effectiveness of distance delivered teacher education. Robinson and Latchem (2003) have
noted the demonstrated capacity of distance education for delivering teacher education.
However the initial teaching experiences of those whose pre-service education was undertaken
at a distance are little understood. Does the nature of the course delivery and the circumstances
under which these students studied impact on their experiences in the initial years of teaching?
Our investigation of this question was informed by work in three areas – characteristics of
distance learners, important aspects of distance delivered teacher education programs, and the
challenges of beginning teaching. These areas are briefly reviewed next.
Distance learners
Although there are arguments that distance learners are a ‘diverse, heterogeneous and
changing body of people’ (Evans, 1994, p.123; see also Thompson, 1998), aggregated data
provide broad indications of the general nature of this group. Despite advocating a view of
Anderson & Simpson
learners as a diverse, multi-dimensional group, Thompson tends to agree with the ‘widely
accepted view of the distance learner as one who is (1) older than the typical undergraduate, (2)
female, (3) likely to be employed full time, and (4) married’ (p.13). She also considered the
affective characteristics of distance learners, reporting that there is some evidence that students
who complete distance courses tend to be more self-directed and have less need to relate to
other students. In drawing this conclusion, Thompson was largely reiterating the work of Gibson
(1990). Gibson reported a number of studies that were concerned with factors relating to the
nature of distance learners, almost all of which dealt with the concepts of cognition and learning
styles. These studies tended to link style to participation and showed that students who
preferred to study independently, setting their own goals and making their own decisions about
learning objectives, were more likely to be represented in the population of distance education
students. Students, especially those new to distance education, need to ‘acquire the skills and
habits of being effective distant learners’ (Moore & Kearsley, 2005, p.12).
Distance delivered teacher education programs
Simpson (2003) argues for the crucial importance of considering the relationship between the
teacher education elements of a program and the demands of distance education in assuring
the quality of graduates of a distance delivered teacher education program. The intersection of
practice between teacher education and distance education can be seen in the way several
distance teacher education programs use the concept and practice of interaction – central to
both disciplines. In these cases, program philosophies are underpinned by the knowledge that
interaction between students, with tutors and with ideas and experiences presented within the
program, is critical to development as a teacher (Gore & Zeichner, 1995; Graves, 1990;
Swanwick, 1990) (for program examples, see Anderson & Simpson, 2002; Campbell, Yates, &
McGee, 1998; Henderson & Putt, 1993; Moon, 2000). With a focus on helping students to
become teachers, developing links between program elements and providing opportunities for
reflective practice are essential program aspects. The pedagogies employed and the processes
of teaching within a program are central in the development of teacher graduates.
Beginning teaching
From a student in December to a teacher in January – the transition is enormous. The first
years of teaching have been identified as quite problematic for teachers as they move through
the early phase of their development. For many beginning teachers, the focus is on time
management, class control and discipline. The tasks of focusing on student learning and
achievement, developing professional relationships with colleagues and caregivers, and coming
to understand the culture of the school are also acknowledged but initially given less emphasis.
Many researchers put forward the idea of stage-based developmental concerns in teachers, an
approach that grows primarily from the work of Fuller (1969; 1974). In essence, the stage model
suggests three major areas of concern – first, self-survival; next, instructional quality; finally,
impact on students.
A recent report from the New Zealand Education Review Office (ERO) (2005), highlights the first
stage of teaching, and the tasks and concerns for beginning teachers within a New Zealand
context. The report identified six key challenges for beginning teachers and noted five important
developments during the first two years of teaching. In meeting the challenges, beginning
teachers reported a developmental process that involved them in:
• building a sense of belonging within the school;
• learning skills in self-management, including goal-setting, planning, time management,
perseverance and resourcefulness;
• building self-confidence and a belief in their own professional competence;
• learning through being provided with models of good practice, and having collegial support
and encouragement to develop a teaching identity; and
• adopting an outlook of ‘continuous improvement’ through self-reflection and accepting the
ongoing monitoring, feedback and evaluation of experienced colleagues (ERO, 2005, p.21).
Breaking down boundaries
It is not surprising that beginning teachers have an initial concern with survival. As Feiman-
Nemser (2001) writes, beginning teachers ‘must demonstrate skills and abilities that they do not
yet have and can only gain by beginning to do what they do not yet understand’ (p.1027).
Acknowledging the difficulty of beginning teaching, this paper reports on a study that sought to
explore two questions:
1. How does undertaking a pre-service teacher education course delivered at a distance impact
on the practice of beginning teachers? and
2. How prepared do those teachers feel for their role as beginning teachers?
Data collection
Data for the study were collected through a questionnaire, focus group interviews and a small
number of in-depth personal interviews. This paper reports on those data gathered through the
focus groups and interviews only. The findings of the questionnaire provided a foundation to
generate the areas to be explored in the focus groups. Participants were asked to explore the
issues concerned with personal attributes, materials and their use, online interaction and the
asynchronous nature of the distance environment, and the impact that geographical distance
from the institution and each other had had on their practice as teachers. Further questions
were developed for the individual interviews.
The participants in this study were all mature women who had undertaken a three-year full-time
degree course of pre-service teacher education that had been delivered at a distance. Their
programs of study all used computer-mediated communication extensively. The participants
were provisionally registered teachers in their first or second year of teaching, and were, as we
found, all working in schools in the communities in which they had lived while studying to be
teachers. Geographically, they were spread from one end of New Zealand to the other. Their
teaching positions were located in schools of all types and decile rankings. Four focus group
interviews of around ninety-minutes duration involving six to eight people were conducted, and
five interviews of approximately one-hour duration were undertaken. The total number of study
participants was thirty-three.
With a group of participants who were entirely mature students, there is potential to overreach in
developing conclusions from the data because of the characteristics of the group. Murphy and
Roopchand (2003) suggest that mature students come to study with a more mature outlook and
have high intrinsic motivation. Moran et al. (2001) indicate that mature students enter teacher
education programs wanting, more strongly, to teach, to better the human condition, in contrast
with the employment focus of younger students. Evans’ point about heterogeneity, noted earlier
in this paper, has been made with regard to mature students also. Wilson (1997) writes that
there is a need to ‘question the taken-for-granted assumptions individuals may hold about
mature students, for example that they are more self confident ... there is no one identity of
‘mature student’ (p. 361). So, for our group of mature students, we should be cautious as we
consider their comments about the relationship between experiences in the program and
experiences in the classroom, bearing in mind the characteristics they are likely bring to their
study and work, but being aware that not all will.
Becoming a teacher
This section of the paper is divided into two parts. The first considers ways in which participants
saw their experiences as students impacting on their preparedness to teach, while the second is
concerned with impact on teaching practice. Both parts draw on participant descriptions, arising
from the ‘distance’ aspect of their study in a distance delivered teacher education program, of
the positive impacts and limitations on the demands of their work as beginning teachers.
Anderson & Simpson
Preparedness to teach
Organisation and time management are important in all modes of study, but particularly in
distance education where students do not have fixed timetables. Whilst they have obvious
deadlines for assignments, they must plan how to take the study material they receive and
organise to meet those deadlines. In a focus group, one member described how those skills,
developed during study, were necessary for teaching:
You’ve got to be so disciplined in order to fulfil your course requirements but that’s an
attribute that you need as a teacher as well so it probably was very good training,
although we didn’t realise it at the time, for what we have to do in the classroom.
The intensity of teachers’ work, alluded to here, and the need to be organised and to prioritise to
cope with that, was a theme that one participant developed, indicating again that those skills
had been learnt through distance study:
I found that what I’ve learnt, meeting deadlines and things like that that I’ve learnt through
distance study, has helped me in my career. And prioritising – definitely prioritising. I’ve
had to learn not to sweat the small stuff …So I’ve learnt to prioritise and figure out what
really is important and what isn’t.
Knowledge of a school community is an important aspect of teaching. In this regard participants
noted the value of their community embeddedness. In very general terms one commented:
(it’s) quite a good thing (this) distance learning, because it puts you into the communities
that you’re going to be working in;
while another was more specific about the links that tied her to the community:
We are distance (students) because we don’t leave our community. We stay in our
community and so those interactions perhaps are easier for us because this is our
community and we’ve trained here and our kids have gone to school here; we’ve coached
sports; we’ve been involved in everything.
Finally, the mode of delivery entailed extensive computer-mediated communication in a webbased
environment. Participants reported that their use of asynchronous discussion gave them
the opportunity to see a range of perspectives and to develop the skills and attitudes necessary
for reflection on their learning and teaching. One reported that online discussions gave the:
opportunity to really think carefully about what you’re saying and doing because it wasn’t
just coming out of your mouth when you’re sitting around with a few fellow students. You
had to write it and read it back to yourself before you press the send button.
and part of this involved the idea that the online discussion was:
really good for seeing others’ perspectives, and even sort of thinking that there might be a
different perspective on it.
Impact on practice
As well as describing how their engagement as distance students prepared them for teaching,
participants also revealed how their experiences as students led to particular aspects of their
practice as teachers.
One participant linked her organisation skills and time management, and described how skills
honed through distance study were utilised in teaching.
I think having studied at a distance you get given the readings and you might have some
activities to do and you’ve got the assignments but how you plan that, how you do your
timetable or manage your time, the things that you need to look up or find out …
everything like that you have to plan every single bit of it yourself. And I think that
definitely has followed through with teaching because I find myself looking at least four
weeks in advance about what I’m going to be doing.
Some participants saw teaching as requiring independence and drew on their experience as
distance students in explaining their teaching. In talking about her experience as a relieving
teacher one participant commented that as a student:
Breaking down boundaries
you were so used to doing things by yourself that (as a teacher) you just went in and did
it. I sort of find that quite valuable because you were so used to just going and doing
and another endorsed that singular independence, noting that from study:
you became quite an independent learner. So in a school I was a very independent
person and I preferred to work independently rather than get stuff from other people …
my independence actually ended up to be my strength.
However, independence can be a two-edged sword in a school community where making links
and working with other teachers is an important part of the process of developing a professional
identity. One focus group participant noted that:
one thing that I think was a kind of disadvantage is that you’re so used to working on your
own you find it really hard to actually ring up and ask for help.
A beginning teacher also needs to work with others and learn through collegial support. Some
learnt the skills and value of working independently but tempered that with a commitment to
working with others, being self-directed while recognising the value of collaboration.
(Distance study) … certainly encouraged independence and being assertive in going and
finding out information from schools or teachers, in resource rooms, in real life situations,
just having to fall back on yourself really … getting out there and asking others that live
around you.
To teach, teachers have to be employed, and there was particular value in being in the locality,
being known in a teaching role, and having it acknowledged that you would ‘stay put’.
I felt being in the community people knew you so I actually felt that helped me get a job.
(It was) actually a big advantage ‘cause they knew what you were like in the classroom -
they knew a lot about you and they kind of knew, especially in the rural area, that you
were going to stay there.
Being known, like being independent, can present challenges. Study participants often received
considerable support from local schools and community members as they pursued their study.
When times were hard, when a student wondered if choosing to study was the correct option,
the recognition of this support could weigh heavily. One student reported that:
We felt we had to stick it out because it was our community … you actually had to take
those lumps because walking out would have been really detrimental.
Familiarity with the world wide web that arose from the mode of delivery had an undeniable
impact on the role some participants undertook among school staff.
… the fact that the study was web based, I think it helped me become resourceful in
terms of finding out what was available for teacher support and for student support on the
web … (and now) … every time we’re planning a unit at school they always say to me
‘Right you’re in charge of getting all the websites together for this unit.’ And that’s
because I generally know exactly where to go and if I can’t find something I can dig
around for it.
The hint that experienced teachers don’t have the skills to work with information and
communication technologies (ICT) was picked up by others. One participant said:
Many teachers of course are very experienced teachers but haven’t had time to learn
about computers and all that sort of thing. I’m quite confident about that which is good. I
mean, that was an excellent by-product of this type of study in this time and age;
and another mentioned that she was the ICT lead teacher at her school. Her school’s interest in
her abilities with ICT started during her job interview:
They were really interested about my delivery and the skills that I had gained through that
... I was computer illiterate before I started but I certainly got a lot of new and different
skills throughout the training.
Anderson & Simpson
There is broad consensus that beginning teachers face challenges related to their survival as a
teacher in the very beginning of their career. Meeting this challenge requires them to call upon a
range of self-oriented skills – skills in organisation, developing independence and self-direction,
perseverance, resourcefulness, patience, time management, and commitment and motivation.
Participants also drew attention to two additional aspects of their life as distance students that
impacted on their work as teachers. These aspects were their life situations as students and the
mode of program delivery. These three themes – self-management skills, community
embeddedness and mode of program delivery – were the dominant contexts of participant
comment in relation to each of the research questions.
Moore and Kearsley (2005) note that distance education does not require independence or
autonomy of its learners but there is some evidence that independent learners prefer distance
education (p.171). Other such skills identified as especially important in distance education
include self-management, self-discipline, and self-motivation (Gibson, 1998). Study participants
spoke quite clearly and often at length about this range of skills, how they developed them
through their course of study, and how they were needed in their teaching.
Part of the work of the beginning teacher is to learn about and become part of the school
community. This entails, as Feiman-Nemser (2001) says, gaining local knowledge of the
students and the school. But it involves more than this. It also requires students to understand
the context within which the school operates, to appreciate the local community, the parents
and caregivers, and to develop working relationships with those people as well as with their
colleagues in the school. Participants felt this sense of belonging to and knowing the community
quite keenly, recognising the value it had in preparing them for a teaching role in a local school.
Of course teacher education students who stay in the community are important for small country
localities where recruiting and retaining skilled and qualified teachers is difficult. Thus
community embeddedness both helped prepare participants for their teaching role, and helped
ensure they won such a role.
All programs from which participants were drawn used computer-mediated communication
extensively and supplemented study material with a range of web-based resources. The effect
of three years of full-time study immersed in this web-based environment was commented on by
many of the students. Much of the commentary was based around the development of skills and
competence in the use of the computer as a tool that assists teachers’ work. Recognition of ICT
skills was useful for students in that it helped them to develop a sense of identity within the
school and allowed them to feel that they were contributing to the professional environment.
The beginning teachers interviewed for this study felt confident about their preparedness to
teach. They made the transition from student to teacher successfully. Distance delivery of their
teacher education program seems to have supported them in this. The levels of organisation
and time management required for distance study generalised quite effectively to the teaching
role. Their high levels of independence seem to have provided some challenges as they learned
to work as a member of a team and recognise the need to ask for and accept advice and
guidance. Being known in their community was also both valuable and challenging. Participation
in an online teacher education program provided obvious benefits for study participants, often
providing them with a valued role in the school environment, and affording them the opportunity
to develop a firm sense of professional identity.
This study suggests that distance delivered teacher education programs have some positive
effects on the practice of beginning teaching. Harnessing the potential of distance delivery
requires teacher educators to have an understanding of the characteristics of their distance
students, the affordances of the technologies mediating the delivery, and a clear knowledge of
the domain of teacher education and the tasks facing beginning teachers. The intersection of
the two disciplines of teacher education and distance education is a crucial space in which the
success of distance delivered teacher education programs and their graduates is determined.
Breaking down boundaries
Copyright © 2005 Anderson, B. & Simpson, M. The authors assign to ODLAA and educational nonprofit
institutions a nonexclusive license to use this document for personal use and in courses of instruction
provided that the article is used in full and this copyright statement is reproduced. The authors also grant
to ODLAA a nonexclusive license to publish this document in electronic or print form within ODLAA
publications and/or the world wide web. Any other usage is prohibited without the express permission of
the authors.
Anderson, B., & Simpson, M.G. (2002). Distance education in New Zealand: A case study from
Massey University. In V.V. Reddy & M. Srivastava (Eds.), Towards virtualization: Open and
distance learning. New Delhi: Kogan Page.
Campbell, N., Yates, R., & McGee, C. (1998, August 31- September 4). Bridging education in
the classroom and distance education: The development of new forms of teacher education
delivery. Paper presented at the Teleteaching '98 - Distance Learning, Training and
Education, IFIP World Computer Congress, Vienna, Austria and Budapest, Hungary.
Education Review Office. (2005). Voices: Beginning teachers' experiences during their first two
years of teaching. Wellington, New Zealand: Education Review Office.
Evans, T. (1994). Understanding learners in open and distance education. London: Kogan
Feiman-Nemser, S. (2001). From preparation to practice: Designing a continuum to strengthen
and sustain teaching. Teachers College Record, 103, 1013-1055.
Fuller, F. (1969). Concerns of teachers: A developmental consideration. American Educational
Research Journal, 6, 207-226.
Fuller, F., Parsons, J., & Watkins, J.E. (1974). Concerns of teachers: Research and
reconceptualisation. Austin: Research and Development Center for Teacher Education,
University of Texas at Austin. (ERIC Document No. 079 361).
Gibson, C.C. (1990). Learners and learning: A discussion of selected research. In M.G. Moore
(Ed.), Contemporary issues in American distance education. New York: Permagon Press.
Gibson, C.C. (1998). The distance learner in context. In C.C. Gibson (Ed.), Distance learners in
higher education. Madison, WI: Atwood Publishing.
Gore, J.M., & Zeichner, K.M. (1995). Connecting action research to genuine teacher
development. In J. Smyth (Ed.), Critical discourses on teacher development, (203-214).
London: Cassell.
Graves, N.J. (1990). Thinking and research on teacher education. In N.J. Graves (Ed.), Initial
teacher education, (58-73). London: Kogan Page.
Henderson, L., & Putt, I. (1993). The remote area teacher program (RATEP): Cultural
contextualisation of distance education through interactive multimedia. Distance Education,
14(2), 212-231.
Moon, B. (2000). Reconceptualising teacher education: Open, flexible and moving to embrace
the digital age. Open Praxis, 2, 4-7.
Moore, M.G., & Kearsley, G. (2005). Distance education: A systems view (2nd ed.). Belmont,
CA: Wadsworth.
Moore, M.G., & Thompson, M.M. (1997). The effects of distance learning (Rev. ed.). University
Park, PA: The American Center for the Study of Distance Education.
Moran, A., Kilpatrick, R., Abbott, L., Dallat, J. & McClune, B. (2001). Training to teach:
Motivating factors and implications for recruitment [Online version]. Evaluation and Research
in Education, 15(1), 17-32.
Murphy, H. & Roopchand, N. (2003). Intrinsic motivation and self-esteem in traditional and
mature students at a post-1992 university in the north-east of England [Online version].
Educational Studies, 29(2-3), 243-259.
Perraton, H. (1997). The cost effectiveness of distance education for primary teacher training.
Retrieved January 9 2001 from http://www.col.org/Consultancies/97primeteach.htm
Anderson & Simpson
Robinson, B., & Latchem, C. (Eds.). (2003). Teacher education through open and distance
learning, 3. New York: RoutledgeFalmer.
Simpson, M.G. (2003). Distance delivery of pre-service teacher education: lessons for good
practice from twenty-one international programs. Dissertation Abstracts International, 64(07),
2454A. (UMI No. AAT 3098247).
Swanwick, K. (1990). The necessity of teacher education. In N.J. Graves (Ed.), Initial teacher
education, (93-108). London: Kogan Page.
Thompson, M.M. (1998). Distance learners in higher education. In C.C. Gibson (Ed.), Distance
learners in higher education: Institutional responses for quality outcomes. Madison, WI:
Wilson, F. (1997). The construction of paradox?: One case of mature students in higher
education. Higher Education Quarterly, 51(4), 347-366.
Breaking down boundaries
Promoting communities of practice in transnational
higher education
Lee Dunn and Michelle Wallace
Transnational teaching has become the ‘new frontier’ for academics who are expected
to teach across more than one country, in more than one education system and in
unfamiliar cultural settings, including the unfamiliarity (for ‘local’ teachers) of teaching a
foreign program in one’s own home country. A recent survey (Dunn & Wallace,
forthcoming) found overwhelmingly that Australian academics who teach in
transnational programs have learnt how to teach in other countries from experience and
from colleagues who have also travelled to teach, but these communities of practice
rarely cross borders. This paper proposes ways to support inclusive communities of
practice across diverse educational, cultural and geographic settings.
Over the last decade, the growth in the numbers of international students studying with
Australian universities has been remarkable, driven in part by ‘the growing scarcity of public
funding for universities’ (Marginson, 2004, p.4) and by a change of policies from the late 1980s
from ‘aid to trade’ (see, e.g., Leask, 2003; Marginson, 2004; McBurnie & Ziguras, 2003).
Australia is now among the top five providers of education to international students (Marginson,
2004). Between 1990 and 2002, the number of international students taught by Australian
universities increased from 24,998 to 185,058 (DEST, 2003). It is estimated that 41 per cent of
the recent growth in international education has been in off-shore enrolments (DEST, 2003) with
each of Australia’s thirty-eight universities now providing off-shore education (Rizvi, 2004) and,
according to forecasts by IDP Education Australia, ‘by 2025 approximately half of all
international students enrolled in Australian universities will be transnational’ (Hyam, 2003,
As distinct from distance education, transnational programs include a face-to-face component,
either directly by the Australian university, or indirectly through a formal agreement with a local
institution (DEST, 2005). Such programs are configured in a number of ways ‘from full-course
delivery at an off-shore campus, to a combined face-to-face and flexible delivery option, and elearning
… in general there is strong recognition of the value of Australian academics meeting
and interacting with the offshore student population’ (Debowski, 2003, accessed online).
The quality of global for-profit transnational education has come under scrutiny in recent years.
A reading of the Australian Universities Quality Agency (AUQA) audit reports 2002–2004 (see
attachment 1) shows that, while most universities have plans in place for international programs
(including transnational offerings) the committees recommended in many cases that strategies
be clarified as to priorities, which programs are financially viable and teaching, learning and
assessment outcomes. A recent OECD report (OECD, 2004) raised similar concerns in a global
context and added that quality assurance frameworks should make an attempt to validate forprofit
cross-border qualifications to protect students and eliminate ‘degree mills’ and
‘accreditation mills’ because ‘professions largely depend on the trustworthiness and high quality
of qualifications’ (OECD, 2004, p.23). Hyam (2003, p.29) notes ‘It has been argued that
transnational programs must be, at least, of equivalent standard to the same or a comparable
program delivered by the home university. While this objective is sound and laudable, putting it
into practice can be challenging.’ The challenge in designing comparable assessment standards
Dunn & Wallace
and for teaching practice includes, as the OECD report points out, that most countries place a
high importance on education in terms of national identity, culture, economic development and
cohesion. Comparative standards, then, have to be designed to reflect what particular partner
countries consider to be important in the education of their citizens.
Australian academics in this context are the cultural boundary riders and the local teachers who
work with them are the intermediaries and interpreters of their meanings. This paper is
concerned with this new frontier of teaching and learning in transnational award programs
offered by Australian universities. We will propose ways to enhance the quality of teaching,
learning and assessment (which is increasingly audited by quality agencies) by promoting the
concept of developing and supporting cross-border communities of practice.
So many changes so quickly
In addition to the ‘juggling of a myriad of expectations’ in their on-shore role, academics who
teach in other countries become ‘temporary expatriates’ with a ‘sometimes onerous’ always
‘difficult’ task (Debowski, 2003, accessed online). A case study of the impact of transnational
teaching on staff of Central Queensland University (CQU) found that recent changes ‘in tasks,
technologies, accountability and regulatory compliance have changed the nature of academic
work (including) the management of courses over multiple sites’. The impact has been
considerable (Tickle, Clayton & Hawkins, 2003, p.76). Is it any wonder that the subtleties of
teaching students from vastly different educational systems who have unfamiliar cultural
understandings can become overwhelming to the travelling Australian teacher? Any
professional development, then, should be immediately relevant and should not be an additional
workload burden. Local teachers are similarly managing rapid change including teaching an
Australian (and thus foreign) program.
How can academics learn about transnational teaching?
An Australia-wide survey we conducted in 2004 targeted academics who teach in transnational
programs. Sixty-one academics from nine Australian universities responded. The survey asked
about their teaching practices, how they are currently prepared for this teaching and what kind
of induction and professional development they need in order to teach more effectively in offshore
settings. The detailed methodology and outcomes of the survey are the subject of another
paper (Dunn & Wallace, 2005, forthcoming). Often, neither the Australian nor the local teachers
have had any professional development to help them adapt to teaching in this new setting.
While universities are now beginning to introduce formal induction and development programs,
the survey showed that most respondents were not aware of anything offered by their institution
and had learnt about transnational teaching from their own experience and from their
colleagues. Some have formed networks based around their own school, faculty or institution.
Another finding from the survey was that ongoing collegial contact with the local teachers and
partner institutions was unusual, and it was clear from respondents’ comments that they were
not especially confident in their knowledge of the geography, culture or education systems of
the countries in which they teach. A closer collegial relationship with local teachers and
institutions would help the ‘temporary expatriates’ become oriented to the new country and the
local teachers to be more holistically involved.
In an earlier study (Dunn & Wallace, 2004) we reported that the transnational students we
interviewed in Singapore placed a higher value on contact with their Australian lecturers than
with their local tutors because the Australian lecturers were perceived to have more authority.
Leask (2004, p.146) argues that local teachers should be ‘brought into the teaching team as
academic equals recognised for the true value they bring to the content of the curriculum as well
as its delivery’.
Closer collegiality between the two groups of teachers would perhaps reduce the status
differences in the eyes of students, as well as enabling each group to draw upon the knowledge
and expertise of the other. As Leask suggests ‘integration of experiences, practices and
processes ‘there’ with experiences, practices and processes ‘here’ will assist us to improve
Breaking down boundaries
teaching and learning outcomes in all students and, in particular, our stated goal of developing
international perspectives’ (2004, p.147).
A barrier to the implementation of appropriate development activities for geographically
separate groups of teachers is cost, especially because off-shore students ‘are estimated to
provide significantly lower revenue and profit yields than on-shore international students’
(Heffernan & Poole, 2004, p.75). Therefore, we suggest that the development of and
institutional support for inclusive professional communities of practice, much of whose
communication could take place online, would form the basis of a cost-effective model for
collegial academic development. The process could build on existing networks while broadening
them to include Australian and local teachers in a meaningful and inclusive way.
Communities of practice
Learning in context, or ‘situated learning,’ is acknowledged to be a vital element of learning
through which professional communities of practice are formed (Wenger, 1998) and, while
transnational teachers’ professional networking has more than likely enriched their teaching,
without guidance it might also reinforce poor practice. In addition, cross-border communities of
practice have not emerged. The results of our recent survey, our previous work (Dunn &
Wallace, 2004) and a reading of AUQA reports (2002–2004) show that there does not appear to
be close collegial contact between Australian academics and the local teachers who support
them in their teaching and assessment of student learning, although it must be said that in some
programs teaching and assessment are well audited and moderated.
Theories about the social nature of learning as articulated by Lave and Wenger (1991) assert
that people learn through active participation in social communities and that ‘information stored
in explicit ways is only a small part of knowing’ (Wenger, 1998, p.10). Wenger believes that
organisations can benefit from a study of social learning and should encourage people to
‘participate inventively in practices that can never be fully captured by institutional processes’
(Wenger, 1998, p.10). He advocates that organisations should welcome and assist community
building and provide resources to support ‘the communities that develop these practices to
prosper’ (Wenger, 1998, p.10).
It is a fact of life that academics belong to a range of communities of practice including their
disciplinary research community, their family and social communities and the community of
teachers in higher education, but many do not identify as members of the professional
community of teachers. However, this situation could change. The development of professional
expertise in teaching has, until recently, been under-valued in higher education because
traditionally the key measure of success as an academic depends upon research quantum.
Now, however, the quality of teaching in higher education generally is under scrutiny, and there
are several nationally funded projects proposed or under way to encourage and improve
teaching, including in transnational programs (DEST, 2005).
The Australian academics in our study had formed small networks, often without the institutional
support that could have helped them to further manage the new teaching challenges they face.
As noted earlier, most did not have regular contact with the teachers or educational partner
institutions in the countries to which they travelled and so could not draw upon their local
knowledge or their content expertise.
Why initiate and support communities of practice?
We would argue that many of the concerns about the quality of transnational programs could be
alleviated by the development and support of broader, more inclusive professional communities
of practice than the narrow networks that currently exist. Such communities, connected to the
immediate teaching needs of both groups of teachers, could assist teachers to enhance
intercultural understanding.
Interviews with transnational students have found that they find some Australian and American
texts difficult to understand and that they can be anxious and confused about assessment
Dunn & Wallace
requirements (Dunn & Wallace, 2004) and the lack of references to their own culture (Pyvis &
Chapman, 2004). Pyvis & Chapman (2004, p.15) quote a student as saying:
In my course of study I realised that there’s lots of materials, reading materials, that we
are getting from the Western culture and in fact I find there’s not many from the Asian
perspective and not many from the Middle East. The Middle East perspective, I think they
have a lot to share. I think, in the Middle East, civilisation has been there for years, when
Europe was in the dark ages. What are their findings, with regard to their own context?
We need more of an international focus, rather than just focusing on a US culture, or a
UK, or Australian.
It would be a real boost to student satisfaction and perhaps enhance their learning outcomes for
Australian and local academics to work together to plan inclusive curriculum, sensitive to local
cultural environments.
AUQA reports during the years 2002–2004 have often noted that while there is mention of
‘equivalence’ of assessment practices between on-shore and off-shore programs in plans and
strategies there was little evidence of effective moderation practices. Several Australian
universities were requested by AUQA to reconsider their assessment practices, to regularly
monitor and do comparative analyses of the performance of on-shore and off-shore students.
Transnational students find that their Australian teachers sometimes use unfamiliar and, for
them, difficult teaching and learning activities. For example, the style of questioning can be
different. One Singaporean student said: ‘We tend to keep it to ourselves. It’s tough for the
lecturer – asking questions, looking around and nobody answers’ (Dunn & Wallace, 2004,
Unfamiliarity with the learning context can lead Australian lecturers into unconscious
insensitivities, for example, another Singaporean student commented:
When the lecturer asks us to talk about our work, we just keep our mouths shut because
some of the people in the class could be heads or bosses doing the same program. The
lecturer says how can we apply this knowledge to correct weaknesses in our work and
we say ‘Oh, no weaknesses; only strengths.’ (Pyvis & Chapman, 2004, p.14).
One of the most common models of delivery of transnational programs is a converged model of
distance education, with face-to-face sessions by ‘fly-in-fly-out’ Australian teachers augmented
by sessions with local tutors and (sometimes) online discussion groups. Although John Biggs
(see, e.g., 2003) and others argue that high quality learning outcomes are achieved when
curriculum objectives, assessment tasks and teaching and learning activities are all aligned, this
is difficult to achieve without close cooperation between all those involved in designing,
assessing and teaching.
Curriculum planning and review: A natural place to start
Curriculum planning and review is at the heart of the teaching and learning process in any
educational program (Bird et al., 2003), so it is logical to start inclusive collegial contact at the
planning or review stages to design culturally responsive curriculum and learning materials.
Curriculum planning includes the design and alignment of assessment tasks and marking
criteria, thus presenting another meaningful opportunity to include the perspectives of all those
involved in a transnational program through regular networking. It is then logical to include
processes for the moderation of academic standards, marking and grading. A bonus here would
be the development of a common approach to the vexed issue of deterrence and detection of
Communities of practice develop through social learning (Wenger, 1998) which might be
informal or formally initiated. It is unlikely, because of geographical distance, that teachers in all
the countries involved in a transnational program have regular opportunities for encounters in
the staff room or corridors where much professional social learning takes place.
It has been our experience that without ongoing facilitation dispersed professional teaching
networks do not automatically become communities of practice especially within the
increasingly casualised academic work force. Unless they are well facilitated and monitored,
Breaking down boundaries
they tend to start enthusiastically and then fade away when pressures of time, work and family
responsibilities intervene. Therefore, a meaningful structure and process for collegial contact is
needed in order to facilitate the formation of professional communities.
Some complexities to be considered
So far we have identified pedagogical and professional benefits of situated learning and
communities of practice in transnational programs in terms of quality enhancement, teaching
and learning outcomes and the maintenance of academic standards. However, the achievement
of these goals is not an easy task. There are a number of complexities that must be negotiated
before two groups of teachers from different educational backgrounds and cultural
environments can work together in an inclusive and egalitarian way.
Intercultural understanding: Intercultural contacts do not necessarily lead to intercultural
competence (Otten, 2003). Teachers and students in transnational programs become ‘partners
in intercultural construction’, according to Wang (2004, p.5). This is also true of the two groups
of teachers in a transnational program who must enter a dialogue to build ‘emergent
understandings and new frameworks rather than (submit) to imported wisdom’ (Wang, 2004,
p.5). Wang believes that traditional cross-cultural approaches are not appropriate in this setting
and that ongoing dialogue offers more opportunities for change and even resistance to the
accepted inherited cultural frameworks that people bring to transnational teaching and learning
(Wang, 2004, p.5).
Unequal power relationships: In promoting the egalitarian construction of intercultural
frameworks of understanding, institutions are likely to come up against the traditionally unequal
power relationships between the Australian teachers (who are likely to be ‘in charge’ of a unit of
study) and the local teachers (who are likely to be their tutors). We have already seen that
students are aware of this difference in authority (Dunn & Wallace, 2004) and teachers are also
highly aware of their own status level (Leask, 2004).
Vision and goals of the partnership: Heffernan and Poole (2004) discuss the consequences
when partners vary in their vision for the transnational partnership. Their study produced a
model with two continua: one ‘showing the importance of the operation as a money-making
venture (low to high)’ and the other ‘indicating the importance of developing quality education
for the potential students (low to high)’ (2004, p.86). We have seen that transnational programs
are not as profitable as recruiting international students to attend Australian campuses,
therefore commitment to the development of inclusive communities of practice could be at risk
when educational quality is a lesser goal than money making for one or both partners in a
Institutional support and teacher commitment: While we envisage communities of practice
to be built around existing work and that they should not be costly to maintain, they will wither
unless they are supported by their institutions and are seen by participants to enhance their
teaching and to improve student learning outcomes.
Supporting communities of practice
A ‘community of practice’ approach to professional development ‘involves sustained relations
over time among community members and contexts in which they function, and among more
and less experienced colleagues’ (Moore & Barab, 2002, p.44). It allows community members
to be reflective about their curriculum, assessment and teaching. Although communities of
practice in transnational teaching could emerge naturally, they are unlikely to include teachers
from all the countries involved in a program for a number of reasons including geographical
distance, power difference, the challenge of building intercultural frameworks of understanding
and lack of institutional or teacher commitment. In addition, communities of practice ‘should not
be romanticised: they can reproduce counterproductive patterns, injustices, prejudices, racism,
sexism and abuses of all kinds’ (Wenger, 1998, p.132).
Dunn & Wallace
For these reasons, we recommend that inclusive communities of practice should be
institutionally mediated and supported, formed around individual programs and based on a
model suggested by the work of Wenger who proposed three ‘dimensions of practice and
community: 1) mutual engagement, 2) a joint enterprise and 3) a shared repertoire’ (1998,
Mutual engagement: ‘Being included in what matters is a requirement for being engaged in a
community’s practice’ and this ‘does not entail homogeneity. Indeed, what makes engagement
in practice possible and productive is as much a matter of diversity as it is a matter of
homogeneity’ (Wenger, 1998, p.74). Potential members of cross-border, intercultural
communities of practice centred on transnational higher education programs are indeed diverse.
A process of ‘dialogue’ to build ‘new frameworks and understandings’ as proposed by Wang
(2004, p.5), when effectively facilitated and moderated, would enable mutual engagement
through intercultural learning‘. Mutual engagement involves not only our competence, but the
competence of others’ (Wenger, 1998, p.76).
Joint enterprise: A joint enterprise is ‘the result of a collective process of negotiation that
reflects the full complexity of mutual engagement’ (Wenger, 1998, p.77). A meaningful joint
enterprise to initiate an inclusive community of transnational teachers is firstly to achieve
intercultural understanding. It is important to acknowledge that transnational teaching and
learning is shaped by international, national and institutional realities, and any joint enterprise
will probably be negotiated and renegotiated over time.
The design or review of the curriculum or assessment tasks and/or the articulation of
assessment standards and the moderation of marking and grading continue the meaningful joint
enterprise. Negotiation and a ‘regime of mutual accountability’ (Wenger, 1998, p.81) enable the
fledgling community of practice to develop its own ‘shared repertoire of communal routines,
discourses and activities’ (Vrasidas & Zembylas, 2004, p.328) that continue while a joint
enterprise exists.
Shared repertoire: A shared repertoire ‘reflects a history of mutual engagement’ but ‘remains
inherently ambiguous’ (Wenger, 1998, p.83). Until practice is established and there is a shared
history of negotiating meanings a deeply shared repertoire will probably not emerge. However,
as negotiations take place, decisions are taken, and agreed teaching and learning practices are
implemented, a shared repertoire of words, meanings, routines and activities will develop to
reinforce the community of practice. A repertoire is ‘inherently ambiguous’ as a resource
because it is dynamic and open to change.
Power resides in the community of practice
Wenger points out that communities can be misdirected or coerced – and they can be ‘helped
enlightened, unshackled’ but he believes that power resides in a community of practice because
‘in the last analysis (i.e., by doing their work through mutual engagement in practice) it is the
community that negotiates its enterprise’ (1998, p.81). Our proposal, then, is that institutions
initiate, promote and support these communities to work positively and creatively while
acknowledging that there will always be constraints of one kind or another.
Where and how will they meet?
The role of a place or places to meet is a key element in the maintenance of communities of
practice. In the case of transnational teachers, the most accessible place is likely to be online.
We recommend that program leaders have their IT departments establish a site on their online
learning system (WebCT, Blackboard or the like) and that they call on IT experts and
educational designers to assist in the development of a pedagogically sound design that
enables easy participation in regular meetings at each stage of the curriculum, teaching and
assessment process in the program.
When teachers travel, face-to-face meetings can be arranged beforehand to continue the work
of the ‘team’ and develop relationships within the ‘community.’
Breaking down boundaries
What support do online communities need?
The kind of support communities need is twofold: 1) initiation and maintenance of the online
community of practice regarding leadership, frequency and moderation of meetings, the balance
of formal and informal interactions, negotiating roles and rules of engagement, relationship
building etc. and 2) learning and teaching support, including pedagogy and how to manage the
dialogue towards intercultural understanding among members of the community and with
As we have seen, Australian and international quality assurance literature cites a number of
concerns about the quality of transnational higher education programs including the perception
that some are ‘degree mills’ or ‘accreditation mills’ (OECD, 2004), that Australian teachers
should do more to take account of the nuances of culture and nationality and that assessment
practices need to be improved (AUQA reports, 2002–2004).
Australian academics who are blazing the new frontier of transnational teaching grapple with a
great many changes to their teaching role as a result of becoming involved in the transnational
programs offered by their universities. Local teachers, in the countries where Australian
programs are offered, also find themselves in unfamiliar territory teaching a ‘foreign’ curriculum.
It is for these reasons that we propose institutional support for the development and
maintenance of program-based inclusive communities of practice (as articulated by Lave &
Wenger, 1991; Wenger, 1998). Membership should include teachers in all countries associated
with a program, as a way to improve the quality of transnational higher education offered by
Australian universities. Most of each community’s interactions would be via well-designed and
moderated online communication. Such communities would not be costly, would be immediately
useful to the universities and teachers involved and would facilitate improved work practices
rather than add to teaching workloads.
Copyright © 2005 Dunn, L. & Wallace, M. The authors assign to ODLAA and educational non-profit
institutions a nonexclusive license to use this document for personal use and in courses of instruction
provided that the article is used in full and this copyright statement is reproduced. The authors also grant
to ODLAA a nonexclusive license to publish this document in electronic or print form within ODLAA
publications and/or the world wide web. Any other usage is prohibited without the express permission of
the authors.
Biggs, J. (2003). Teaching for quality learning at university, (2nd ed.). Buckingham, UK: The
Society for Research into Higher Education and Open University Press.
Bird, J., Dunn, L., Hayden, M., Latona, K., Morgan, C., O’Reilly, M., Parry, S. & Speedy, G.
(2003). Pathways to good practice: A guide to flexible teaching for quality learning, Teaching
and Learning Centre, Southern Cross University, Australia.
Debowski, S. (2003). Lost in internationalised space: The challenge of sustaining academics
teaching offshore. Securing the future for international education: managing growth and
diversity: Conference proceedings. Retrieved December 10, 2004, from
Department of Education, Science and Training (DEST) (2003) Backing Australia’s future,
Higher Education review process, striving for quality: Learning, Teaching and Scholarship,
Canberra: DEST.
Department of Education, Science and Training (DEST) (2005). A National Quality Strategy for
Australian Transnational Education and Training. A discussion paper. Retrieved May 20,
2005, from
Dunn & Wallace
Dunn, L. & Wallace, M. (2004). Australian academics teaching in Singapore: Striving for cultural
empathy. Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 41(3), 291-304.
Dunn, L. & Wallace, M. (forthcoming). Australian academics and transnational teaching: An
exploratory study of their preparedness and experiences Higher Education Research &
Heffernan, T. & Poole, D. (2004). ‘Catch me I’m falling’: Key factors in the deterioration of
offshore education partnerships. Journal of Higher Education Policy & Management, 26(1),
Hyam, L. (2003). The relationship between international quality assurance and global
recognition of Australian higher education qualifications. Proceedings of the Australian
Universities Quality Forum AUQA occasional publication. Retrieved May 20 2005 from
Lave, J. & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge
UK: Cambridge University Press.
Leask, B. (2003). Beyond the numbers – levels and layers of internationalisation to utilise and
support growth and diversity. 17th IDP Australian international education conference
proceedings. Retrieved June 27, 2005, from
Leask, B. (2004). Transnational education and intercultural learning: Reconstructing the
offshore teaching team to enhance internationalisation. Proceedings of the Australian
Universities Quality Forum 2004. Retrieved June 27 2005 from
Marginson, S. (2004). National and global competition in higher education The Australian
Educational Researcher, 31(2), 1-28.
McBurnie, G. & Ziguras, C. (2003). Remaking the world in our own image: Australia’s efforts to
liberalise trade in education services. Australian Journal of Education, 47(3), 217-234.
Moore, J. & Barab, S. (2002). The inquiry learning forum: A community of practice approach to
online professional development, TechTrends, May/June 46(3), 44-50.
Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, (2004). Quality and recognition in
higher education: The cross-border challenge. Centre for Educational Research and
Innovation. 960407IE.PDF Retrieved May 20 2005 from (read only document)
Otten, M. (2003). Intercultural learning and diversity in higher education, Journal of Studies in
International Education, 7(1), 12-26.
Pyvis, D. & Chapman, A. (2004). Student experiences of offshore higher education: Issues for
quality, Australian Universities Quality Agency. Retrieved May 20 2005 from
Rizvi, F. (2004). Offshore Australian higher education, International Higher Education, 1(3).
Tickle, K., Clayton, D. & Hawkins, K. (2003). Quality management models for international
campuses and operations: A case study of a regional university’s experience. Proceedings
of the Australian Universities Quality Forum AUQA Occasional Publication. Retrieved May
20 2005 from www.auqa.edu.au/auqf/2003/program/papers/Tickle.pdf
Vrasidas, C. & Zembylas, M. (2004). Online professional development: Lessons from the field
Education + Training, 46(6/7), 326-334.
Wang, T. (2004). Understanding Chinese educational leaders’ conceptions in an international
education context, Proceedings of Australian Association for Research in Education (AARE)
international education research conference, 28 November-2 December. Melbourne
Australia 1-28.
Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: Learning, meaning and identity, Cambridge, UK:
Cambridge University Press.
Breaking down boundaries
Attachment 1
Australian Universities Quality Agency audit reports accessed online May 2005 from
University Date of report
Australian Catholic University December 2002
Australian Maritime College February 2003
Charles Sturt University November 2004
Curtin University of Technology October 2002
Edith Cowan University October 2004
Griffith University April 2004
James Cook University September 2004
Macquarie University July 2003
RMIT December 2003
Southern Cross University October 2003
Swinburne University of Technology March 2003
The University of Canberra June 2003
The University of Newcastle January 2003
The University of New England September 2003
The University of Queensland September 2003
University of Adelaide March 2003
University of Ballarat November 2002
University of Notre Dame November 2003
University of South Australia August 2004
University of Southern Queensland October 2002
University of Western Australia April 2004
Perspectives on student learning: Presence, interaction
and animation

Intergroup dynamics in site-based distance courses:
Inclusion, alienation, and the hierarchy of presence
Denise Paquette-Frenette
This chapter, based on the results of a qualitative study of twenty-seven adults,
examines group interactions in site-based postsecondary courses delivered through
videoconferencing or audioconferencing. The nature of the social and educational
environment in small sites impacted the learning experience. Age, gender, group
cohesion and cultural identity were found to affect inclusion of class members.
Presence of the instructor, of other learners in a site or of peers in the community was
associated with enhanced learning. Intergroup relations were marked by the hierarchy
of presence as differences between the large group in front of the instructor and distant
sites divide the group into sections of unequal power.
The majority of recent writings on group interactions in the open and distance learning field
focus on online courses. The past fifteen years have seen a plethora of studies on group
collaborative learning in web-based environments (Deaudelin & Nault, 2003). Empirical studies
have demonstrated that group processes online can match those found in face-to-face classes
(McDonald & Gibson, 1998) and that shared group identity can be identified (Job-Sluder &
Barab, 2004). Others have shown that communities of learners can be developed in web-based
courses if teaching strategies are put in place to promote group-based learning, if cognitive,
social and teaching presence are ensured (Kling & Courtwright, 2004; Garrison & Anderson,
2003), and if efforts are made to reduce the transactional distance between learners and
instructor by fostering interaction (Moore, 1993).
However, the nature of group interactions in synchronous courses offered over diverse
geographic locations through conferencing technologies is less well known. ‘Place-shifted’
courses (Simonson et al., 2003) using videoconferencing or audioconferencing present an
interesting configuration of dispersed sites where students gather in groups around monitors,
cameras and microphones. In many contexts, as is the case of the adults involved in this study,
sites are composed of very few learners. The dispersed multipoint classroom is thus composed
of several small groups, with some locations having a single learner at home or in a site.
The relatively few studies concerning the social and educational environment in small sites paint
a partial picture of this environment. Biner et al. (1997) found that learners in sites with fewer
students were more satisfied and more likely to exceed prior performance than those in larger
sites. The authors surmise that small sites may provide a socially non-intimidating environment
conducive to positive feelings among students. Learning and critical thinking can occur across
sites, through higher-order discussions (Burke, Lundin, & Daunt, 1997; Anderson & Garrison,
1995). Eye contact across sites in videoconferenced courses facilitates conceptual
understanding and problem-solving (Joiner et al., 2002). Communities of learners can be
created, but specific teaching strategies must be put in place for this to occur (Simonson et al.,
2003; Anderson & Garrison, 1995). Students can interact, collaborate across sites and give
evidence of higher-order thinking in audioconferenced courses when teaching is designed to
promote social and cognitive interaction among learners (McLoughlin & Oliver, 1998). However,
Swartz and Biggs (1999) noted that, because ordinary class behaviour was modified, talk and
turn-taking in remote sites required special give and take by learners as well as strong teaching
Breaking down boundaries
The study described in this paper was conducted in the context of the French-speaking minority
of Ontario, which with approximately half a million people makes up less than 5 per cent of this
Canadian province’s total population. The characteristics of this cultural group make it a
linguistic minority according to Allardt’s (1992) criteria: its members speak a language different
from the mainstream, share a common history, hold distinct rights concerning education and
have complex forms of social organisation. Because of its geodemographic features, that is,
small numbers of learners scattered across a large territory, this population has limited access
to postsecondary education. Distance education is often the only means available for taking
courses in one’s language. Most of the postsecondary courses for French speakers are
delivered synchronously, through compressed videoconferencing or audioconferencing (Faille &
Umbriaco, 1999). In small towns, sites are often located in the French-language school or
community centre. At the time of the study, no online courses were available and even now are
offered by only a few institutions.
The study adopted an interpretative approach to explore group learning, social relations and
cultural identity in postsecondary distance courses. A theoretical framework was conceptualised
by combining three models. Cranton’s taxonomy of group learning (1996), based on Habermas’
three domains of knowledge, distinguishes between cooperative learning, which provides
access to instrumental knowledge through the exchange of information and expertise,
collaborative learning, through which learners together construct an understanding of self and
the social world, and transformative learning, in which critical examination of assumptions leads
to emancipatory knowledge. Sociopsychological theory of small-group interactions provided
characteristics of an ‘optimal’ group (Jaques, 1984; St-Arnaud, 1980), which served as criteria
for analysing social and affective relationships within site and class groups: pursuit of similar
goals, small size, reciprocal influence, collective perception of group’s existence,
interdependence between members, sufficient time for development of internal structures, and
desire to remain in the group and contribute to it. These two models were combined with
Breton’s (1994) typology of minority-language adults’ identification to a sociocultural community:
a utilitarian identification, in which the individual values the advantages of a second language
over cultural dimensions, an identification based on interdependence and solidarity with the
community, or a symbolic relation in which the individual identifies with the same values and
heritage as the cultural group.
Semi-structured interviews were conducted by telephone with twenty-seven adults enrolled in
distance courses in four universities and community colleges. Participants were between 20 and
54 years old. The profile of participants is similar to the distribution of French-speaking learners
in postsecondary distance courses in Ontario: approximately two-thirds were women (n=16);
more were enrolled in community colleges (n=15) than in university (n=12); the majority were in
courses delivered through compressed videoconferencing (n=19). The participants had varied
experience with 163 distance courses, from limited (one course, n=7) to very great (between 7
and 20 courses, n=11). Their perceptions, based on one recent distance course, represented 17
different courses in 15 different graduate or undergraduate programs. Most courses were made
up of five or six sites, and seven out of the twenty-seven participants were alone, either at home
or in a site.
This chapter focuses on the results related to the relationships between the various groups in
distributed synchronous classrooms. Intergroup dynamics become evident in the degree of
porosity of boundaries around each site. The groups in the study, including site groups and
single-learner sites, were characterised by either watertight or porous boundaries, separating or
including individuals and entire sites. The adult learners’ perceptions of relations between
groups within and across sites varied considerably. Examples of both inclusion and alienation
were noted, and the power of presence emerged as a major theme.
Inclusive boundaries
Age, gender, cultural identity, personality and group cohesion affected inclusion of class
members across sites. In these cases, the group’s boundaries are porous and the dispersed
class functions as a whole. Figure 1 illustrates the types of relationships established in the
northern region of the province.
small site
sub-group: young adults
Large group:
instructor present
small site
young adults
young adults
older adults
Inclusive relationships between sites
Figure 1
Subgroups of younger adults communicated during class time by internet chat with same-age
peers in other sites, using ICQ. They would often travel twenty to sixty miles to take the class in
other sites, mostly for social purposes. Older adults in their forties and fifties connected for
team-work or stayed in contact after class, through the telephone bridge, to help each other with
Women created what one participant called ‘spaces of complicity’ across distances. Some
female students in a larger site insisted that a face-to-face session be created in order to
physically meet two women in remote sites and include them in the class group. There were two
reported cases of dyads made up of women who lived far away from each other, each alone in
her site, who worked as learning partners and kept in touch long after the course was finished.
Older men also created links across sites, but these relationships were viewed in pragmatic
terms. Most of the men considered others as colleagues who helped with assignments whereas
the women and two men of African origin expressed the relationship in terms of affection,
connection and friendship. A young woman related how her female peers became a group of
friends which created its own learning spaces. The climate of confidence and intimacy
established inside and outside the class increased their self-esteem, success and retention
rates. Female study participants expressed sympathy and sometimes empathy for remote
learners who ‘are to be admired for their efforts and success despite the obstacles and
disadvantages of being far from the prof’. Many groups thus exhibited the majority of the
characteristics of well-functioning small groups (Jaques, 1984).
At times, the common cultural background of the minority-language adults facilitated
relationships across locations. Almost half the study participants (n=13) manifested a symbolic
identification with the cultural community according to Breton’s typology (1994), compared to an
instrumental identification. Participation in the distance course increased this sense of identity in
a third of the adults (n=9), who stated that it helped them feel they belonged to a larger
community of French speakers. These connections contributed to breaking the isolation felt by
minority-language adults dispersed in a ‘sea of English’ and favoured openness to the views of
others. Collaborative learning (Cranton, 1996) was associated with new perspectives acquired
during discussions across sites. Identification to a common cultural community thus facilitated
learning and social relationships despite age differences, racial origins and large distances.
The characteristics of the seven learners in the study who were alone seemed to influence
whether or not they were accepted by their peers as group members. Personality, humour and
familiarity were associated with inclusion. A learner in a small community was ‘adopted’ by class
members ‘because she was open and friendly and laughed a lot’. Three participants identified
their sense of humour as an important quality while others felt they were recognised and
accepted after taking several courses with the same group.
Breaking down boundaries
The presence or absence of the instructor in a site is a situation peculiar to distance courses
delivered through conferencing technologies. Although the size of sites varies, in this study as in
other contexts, the largest group is usually found in the site in which the instructor is present.
The inclusiveness of this group’s boundaries seems to depend on its degree of solidarity, on
whether its members see the entire class as an entity. Some cohesive groups in the instructorled
site served as a strong base, described by a participant as the ‘mother-atom’ around which
isolated learners orbit as ‘satellites’. One example, in an audioconferenced course, illustrates
the inclusive actions of a learner in the larger site. So that remote learners could understand,
this person made a running commentary of the instructor’s gestures and drawings on the board,
thereby compensating for the instructor’s alienating behaviour. Thus, study results provide
evidence that some large groups with permeable boundaries welcome remote learners.
Alienation of distance learners
The results provided more examples of exclusion of remote learners than of inclusion. Barriers
to the participation of learners in remote sites were raised by both instructors and peers.
Participants spoke of instructors who never asked them questions, ignored them during
discussion activities, or remembered them a few minutes before class was over. In one extreme
case, just a few minutes after class began, the instructor turned off the microphones in order to
exclude learners who were not in the same site and stated he would ‘deal with them’ individually
‘after the class’. Thus, even though the study did not explore instructor–learner interactions, the
results pointed to the instructor’s responsibility in reducing pedagogical distance (Moore, 1993).
Most often, it is the learners in the instructor-led site who exhibit alienating behaviours. In
synchronous distance courses, where audio tends to create more problems than video
(Simonson et al., 2003), sound is used to exclude learners from both the social and the
cognitive environment. Since push-to-talk microphones are the norm in the classrooms involved
in this study, students shut out others simply by not pressing the microphone button when
interacting in class or during breaks. Remote learners felt left out when they could hear
everyone in class laughing about a comment that was inaudible to them. Often, they were not
addressed by others during discussions and their answers were not taken up by learners in the
larger site. Most considered it almost impossible to do teamwork at a distance since no time
was allotted on the multipoint bridge for communication between sites outside class hours.
Some isolated learners (n=3) stated that they often felt alone, marginalised and alienated.
These barriers to communication reflect the intensity of the exclusion felt by some learners as
well as the reduced opportunities for collaborative learning or negotiation of meaning.
Learners in the same site as the instructor felt other learners were in a distance course but did
not see themselves in this way (n=5). Many (=7) viewed remote learners negatively: they ‘are
not interested’, ‘do not participate’, ‘are inattentive’, ‘do not answer’, ‘lack respect for others’,
‘are afraid to reveal their personal life’, ‘do not learn as rapidly’, ‘slow down the course’ or ‘waste
everyone’s time’ when they ask questions, and ‘have another way of thinking’ because they are
in a different town. The words used to describe remote learners were vague or incorrect or,
most often, indicated that they were considered ‘them’, ‘the other’, that is, alien. Only one
person used the neutral term ‘distance learners’. Table 1 lists the expressions used by learners
in the same site as the instructor to describe their classmates in other sites.
Table 1: Terms used by learners at the instructor-led site to describe remote learners
Vague or incorrect terms Outside, peripheral At the other extremity The other
‘other colleges’
‘other campuses’
‘the other university’
(when they are actually
in the same class)
‘the girls in Challam’
(does not know their
name, in a cohort of 11,
and combines the names
of two cities, Chatham
and Welland)
‘who come from
‘outside students’
‘those over there’
‘at the other end’
‘on the other side’
‘from the other side’
‘us, here with the
instructor’ vs. ‘the others,
in teleconference’
‘us, the gang’ vs. ‘them’
‘it’s two independent
‘they’re not in the group’
‘they’re like in a class
that’s apart from ours’
Sometimes the boundaries are established by the remote learners themselves. Figure 2
presents the two sides to intergroup relations in a videoconferenced course.
In the larger urban site, about half the adults feel that because videoconferencing allows all
class members to see the instructor and each other, remote learners have equal status and
there is reciprocity between the sites. This welcoming openness is not perceived as such by the
three women in the town sixty miles away. They perceive an impenetrable wall between their
site and the larger one. It is difficult to determine if the remote learners have not themselves
erected this wall by failing to create links to other learners outside their circle. The cohesiveness
of their small group in relation to learning (a learner in the larger site notes that ‘one person’s
answer reflected the thought of all three’), to friendship (‘they come in together, laughing, and
seem to have a good time together’) and to sociocultural connections (they grew up in the same
small town) thus appears to effect a schism, dividing the class into two groups whose members
do not communicate.
Small site:
Larger site: - 3 women
- 15 adults - small town
- large urban centre - 60 miles
- instructor is present away
Two perceptions of this group concerning remote site: Perceptions of this group concerning its status:
1. positive perception: reciprocity, sites seen as having 1. positive perception: group self-awareness,
equal status in class self-directedness
2. negative perception: frustration at lack of 2. negative perception: feel isolated
participation of remote site in class group, relationship from the class group
seen as cold
Contrasting perceptions of intergroup relations in two sites
Figure 2
Breaking down boundaries
Differences in cultural identification also created barriers which lead to the exclusion of learners
in certain towns. Figure 3 charts the relationships between sites in a multipoint course.
Larger site:
small town (H.)
- instructor is present
Small site:
small town
Small site:
small town
(E. L.)
Small site:
small town
Barrier: no communication
Exclusion of a site for sociocultural reasons
Figure 3
The statements of several study participants (n=5) revealed the systematic exclusion of one
particular site (K.). The reasons provided were that inhabitants of that town had a ‘different
mentality’ or ‘attitude’ towards their identity as members of the larger cultural community. They
were perceived as being less committed to the French culture and language as others.
Geographic distance has nothing to do with this alienation of a specific site.
The hierarchy of presence
Generally, study results indicated that presence, in its many forms, is associated with a stronger
learning experience. When asked who contributed most to their learning in the distance
courses, participants overwhelmingly noted the instructor and the people who were physically
closest to them. Depending on the site configuration and the learner’s situation, however,
presence took on different meanings. Learners in larger sites turned to their classmates within
the same location for help with understanding, for a stimulating learning environment, for
comfortable social relations which fostered the exchange of ideas and, in some cases, for a
strong community to which they identified. Learners in the smaller remote sites did the same;
physical presence in the site not only motivated adults to engage in learning but it also broke
the isolation of distance learners. Single learners, however, created their own learning group: as
adults with existing professional relations, they found people in the community who could help,
support or motivate them.
Presence could be achieved in various ways. For a few learners (n=3), seeing others through
videoconferencing or receiving the instructor’s visit to the community was sufficient to establish
presence. For most participants, presence means contiguity. Some insisted that program
administrators organise face-to-face meetings. Lone learners (n=3) chose to attend summer
institutes. Institutional presence (Simonson et al., 2003) also played a role. Single learners who
took courses in a campus-based site rather than at home had more opportunity to establish
social networks, even though they were alone in a room for their particular distance course.
When the focus moves from the individual learner to intergroup dynamics, it becomes clear that
asymmetrical relations between sites limited participation and created unequal learning
situations. The instructor’s presence in the larger site coloured the learners’ perception of other
class members as well as their behaviour towards them. Learners in the instructor-based site
often exerted their power by ignoring ‘outsiders’. For the fourteen study participants in the same
site as the instructor, the ‘prof is here with us’; he or she is ‘our prof’. These words underline
both the proximity of the instructor and the perception by these learners that they alone
constitute the class group, the ‘we’. In contrast, learners in remote sites described the instructor
as ‘far’, ‘at the other end’, ‘not there’, ‘absent’, ‘elsewhere’, ‘distant’, or ‘outside’.
The application of Cranton’s (1996) typology of learning in groups emphasises the implications
of these unequal situations. Most learning for adults in remote sites was instrumental, whereas
instances of collaborative and even transformative learning occurred in the larger instructor-led
sites. The only exception was that of a very cohesive multicultural group in a cohort-based
program. Partial results seem to indicate that small-group work contributed to cohesion and
deeper learning. Since remote learners were excluded from groupwork, they were denied
access to enhanced learning opportunities.
Thus, in the synchronous courses studied, the greater the presence, the stronger the learning
experience or the closer you are physically, the more influence that person has on your
In distance courses, the issue of presence is rather like the ‘elephant in the bed’, taking up a
great deal of space but seldom acknowledged. Presence constitutes the standard of the ideal
learning situation for every participant in this study. While the results illustrate how synchronous
site-based courses can reproduce many social and educational characteristics of face-to-face
classes, the study, like Swartz and Biggs’ (1999) research, raises the question of the relative
importance of physical presence. It also confirms Simonson et al’s (2003) argument that
synchronous distance courses require a reconsideration of classroom dynamics.
Physical presence primarily serves a pragmatic function. The importance given to same-site
learners may be partially attributed to difficulties with audio quality in both videoconferenced and
audioconferenced delivery. Many participants complained of ‘imperfect microphones’ and of the
noise created by side talk or by younger adults chatting on their laptops. Their most common
reason for preferring physical presence was to ask their peers to repeat words they had not
understood. Another noted advantage was receiving explanations without having to interrupt the
instructor. This reluctance to interrupt was strongly associated with concerns about time, as
participants were acutely aware of the limited time allotted on the bridge.
In group-based distance courses, planning for interactivity is essential in order to reduce the
transactional distance between learners and instructors (Moore, 1993) and to foster
collaborative, interdependent learning relationships among class members. It is a common
pitfall of instructors to focus on only one site during the complex process of managing the class
and operating technology. Instructors must plan activities that build a supportive social
environment for all learners (Simonson et al., 2003). However, it is challenging for instructors to
overcome the difficulties encountered when watertight groups with rigid boundaries repel the
remote learner both on a psychological and a social level. This social and psychological
distance pushes individuals and sites even further toward the periphery, consigning them to a
marginal position. The centrality of the social and emotional dimensions of group learning was
an important result of our study. Instructors must strive to become aware of the peripheral status
and unequal power of certain sites. As previous studies had noted, it is essential that they
develop strategies to overcome the frustration and alienation of some learners, and give them
an equal voice in the larger group (Simonson et al., 2003).
Intergroup relations between sites are peculiar to synchronous oral distance courses, and the
examination of boundaries between sites can contribute to an understanding of group dynamics
in both open and distance learning and adult education. As the results of this study bear out,
site-based courses hold an ambiguous position between the advantages of presence and the
ramifications of separation by space experienced by a part of the distance class. The physical
and interpersonal distance between sites amplifies differences in status and creates additional
obstacles to participation than are found in either face-to-face or online courses. These
differences in status underline an aspect of group dynamics that is seldom alluded to in adult
Breaking down boundaries
education. Since the 1970s, adult educators have presented groups as having natural and
positive tendencies towards self-direction (Foley, 1992). They are thus seldom seen as having
the kind of negative impact felt by the learners in remote site-groups in this study.
However, the results also beg the question of whether or not boundaries can ever be totally
broken down. There will perhaps always be an ‘us’ and a ‘them’ in intergroup relations.
Cohesive groups with a strong self-identity or group ethos necessarily set up boundaries. It is
true that instructors should aim to make the entire class group cohesive. Nevertheless, strong
attachment to a local community, anchored in social relations in the local site, may also mean
that other communities are excluded from the circle. A further question for exploration would be:
should all boundaries between groups be broken down? The binary inclusion/exclusion
opposition may need to be replaced by attention to a learner’s attachment to a particular group
and the dispersed classroom’s capacity to foster and maintain social and learning relationships.
The consensus around distance education’s capacity to provide access has almost become a
cliche of the open and distance learning field. Synchronous distance courses delivered through
conferencing technologies can facilitate access to postsecondary programs for minoritylanguage
learners and break down barriers to education. Inclusive intersite relations create links
between dispersed learners which enhance learning. However, many boundaries remain,
especially those around the group in which the instructor is present. Dealing with the issues
associated with the separation of the instructor and some of the students may redefine the
hierarchy of presence and open breaches in site boundaries.
Copyright © 2005 Paquette-Frenette, D. The author assigns to ODLAA and educational non-profit
institutions a nonexclusive license to use this document for personal use and in courses of instruction
provided that the article is used in full and this copyright statement is reproduced. The author also grants
to ODLAA a nonexclusive license to publish this document in electronic or print form within ODLAA
publications and/or the world wide web. Any other usage is prohibited without the express permission of
the author.
Allardt, E. (1992). Qu'est-ce qu'une minorité linguistique? In H. Giordan (Ed.), Les minorités en
Europe. Droits linguistiques et Droits de l'Homme. (45-54). Paris: Éditions KIMÉ.
Anderson, T., & Garrison, D. R. (1995). Critical thinking in distance education: developing
critical communities in an audio teleconference context. Higher Education, 29(2), 183-199.
Biner, P. M., Welsh, K. D., Barone, N. M., Summers, M., & Dean, R. S. (1997). The Impact of
Remote-Site Group Size on Student Satisfaction and Relative Performance in Interactive
Telecourses. The American Journal of Distance Education, 11(1), 23-33.
Breton, R. (1994). Modalités d'appartenance aux francophonies minoritaires. Essai de typologie.
Sociologie et Sociétés, XXVI(1), 59-70.
Burke, C., Lundin, R., & Daunt, C. (1997). Pushing the boundaries of interaction in
videoconferencing: a dialogical approach. Distance Education, 18(2), 349-361.
Cranton, P. (1996). Types of group learning. New Directions for Adult and Continuing
Education, 71, 25-32.
Deaudelin, C., & Nault, T. (Eds.). (2003). Collaborer pour apprendre et faire apprendre. Sainte-
Foy: Presses de l'Université du Québec.
Faille, C., & Umbriaco, M. (1999). Open learning and distance education in Canada. Report No.
RG34-2/1999F. Ottawa: Ministry of Public Works Canada.
Foley, G. (1992). Going deeper: teaching and group work in adult education. Studies in the
Education of Adults, 24(2), 143-161.
Garrison, D. R., & Anderson, T. (2003). E-Learning in the 21st Century. A framework for
research and practice. New York: RoutledgeFalmer.
Jaques, D. (1984). Learning in groups. London: Croom Helm.
Job-Sluder, K., & Barab, S. A. (2004). Shared ‘We’ and shared ‘They’ indicators of group
identity in online teacher professional development. In S. A. Barab, R. Kling & J. H. Gray
(Eds.), Designing for virtual communities in the service of learning: (377-403). Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.
Joiner, R., Scanlon, E., O'Shea, T., Smith, R. B., & Blake, C. (2002). Evidence from a series of
experiments on video-mediated collaboration: does eye contact matter? Presentation,
Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning Conference, Boulder, Colorado. Retrieved Dec.
2nd 2003 from http://newmedia.colorado.edu/cscl/39.html
Kling, R., & Courtwright, C. (2004). Group behavior and learning in electronic forums: A sociotechnical
approach. In S. A. Barab, R. Kling & J. H. Gray (Eds.), Designing for virtual
communities in the service of learning (91-119). Cambridge : Cambridge University Press.
McDonald, J., & Gibson, C. C. (1998). Interpersonal dynamics and group development in
computer conferencing. American Journal of Distance Education, 12(1), 7-25.
McLoughlin, C., & Oliver, R. (1998). Planning a telelearning environment to foster higher order
thinking. Distance Education, 19(2), 242-264.
Moore, M. (1993). Theory of transactional distance. In D. Keegan (Ed.), Theoretical principles of
distance education (22-38). London: Routledge.
Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2003). Teaching and Learning at a
Distance. Foundations of Distance Education (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson
St-Arnaud, Y. (1980). Les petits groupes. Participation et communication. Montréal: Les
Presses de l'Université de Montréal/ Les Éditions du CIM.
Swartz, J. D., & Biggs, B. (1999). Technology, time, and space or what does it mean to be
present? A study of the culture of a distance education class. Journal of Educational
Computing Research, 20(1), 71-85.
Breaking down boundaries
Online discussions: Improving the quality of the
student experience
Helen Wozniak
Over the past five years, the School of Applied Vision Sciences at the University of
Sydney has used orientation activities to improve the quality of the students’ online
learning experience while they are located off-campus undertaking professional practice
placements. During 2004 and 2005, students were introduced to Salmon’s (2000) fivestage
model of online learning and teaching in the orientation sessions to provide a
structure for reflection on the quality of their online learning experiences before and
after participation in asynchronous discussions. These student reflections were coded
and compared to the student ratings of their stage of development as online learners
and their academic performance. There was a significant change in the learners’ stage
of development and degree of reflection before and after their participation, which was
positively correlated with their online participation assessment results. Important
insights including strategies that improve the quality of asynchronous discussions are
Web-based activities increasingly are being used to supplement learning materials in higher
education courses, a technique known as ‘blended learning’. A key factor in the way that webbased
activities are designed and implemented is an understanding of how learners, instructors
and content interact with each other (Moore, 1989). Learner–to-learner interaction which often
occurs in groups, with or without the presence of an instructor, has become an important
element in distance education since the latter part of the 1990s, and is ideally suited to
applications mediated by the internet. As stated by Anderson, Annand and Wark (2005), ‘there
is a growing body of literature indicating that increased peer interaction can boost participation
and completion rates, and result in learning outcome gains in distance education courses’
(p. 223).
Learner-to-learner interaction builds on the broad educational theories exposed by Vygotsky
(1978), which describe the process of learning as a social process whereby the best learning
occurs when learners experience a process of interaction and collaboration with other learners
and teachers. Commonly used techniques for the promotion of learner-to-learner interaction in
online learning environments are grouped as computer-mediated conferencing (CMC)
techniques which can be either asynchronous (occurring over a period of time) or synchronous
(such as live chat). They enable increased flexibility for students to engage in learning activities
in their own time and place, removing the boundaries of the traditional face-to-face experience.
It is thought that asynchronous conferencing gives participants an ‘opportunity to reflect upon
each message, providing a considered response’ and the ability ‘to participate in a manner that
is more considered and reflective than is normally possible in face-to-face sessions’ (Kirkwood
& Price, 2005, p. 269).
Despite the apparent theoretical advantages in the use of these techniques, there is still
considerable research showing that in practice there are barriers to the achievement of these
results. While it is clear that students use these mediums for sharing knowledge, providing
feedback, and explaining and elaborating on each other’s ideas, researchers have found that
students did not regularly negotiate meanings related to concepts, apply their knowledge to new
areas and engage in reflective thinking (Maor, 2003, Paulus, 2005). Claims are still made that
learning will not be enhanced by these developments until students ‘understand not only how to
work with ICTs, but why it can be of benefit to do so’ (Kirkwood & Price, 2005, p. 260). This is
reinforced by suggestions that students need to learn strategies, be provided with scaffolding
and practise reflective thinking processes (Maor, p. 131).
This paper will extend the research that has been conducted over the past five years using
asynchronous discussions in an undergraduate health science degree. Of particular focus in
this report is an analysis of the student perspective whereby students in 2004 and 2005 were
asked to reflect on their experiences and achievements based on Salmon’s five-stage model of
online learning and teaching (Salmon, 2000). Qualitative analysis is used to consider student
reflections both before and after participating in asynchronous discussions, along with
quantitative analysis to relate this information to the students’ learning outcomes.
The context of this study
At the University of Sydney, the School of Applied Vision Sciences third-year undergraduate
orthoptic students are off-campus for a significant part of the semester undertaking professional
practice experiences at eye clinics in hospitals or in private sponsored practices around
Australia. They are, therefore, unable to offer each other face-to-face support. The
asynchronous discussion tool in the learning management system WebCT has been used for
the past five years as the central tool to facilitate development of student communities of
inquiry. Clinical case-based scenarios addressing both the key content areas and dilemmas in
clinical decision making are debated in private asynchronous discussion groups of up to ten
students. The first four cases are provided by the lecturer. Students interact with each other by
sharing their ideas and conceptions about the different approaches to solving these clinical
problems and formulate a group consensus solution to each case which is posted after a period
of approximately two weeks. The lecturer then provides feedback to each group individually and
also provides a set of model answers addressing the key issues for each case. Later in the
semester, students present an individual case in a similar manner and are responsible for
moderating the ensuing discussion and providing feedback to the other students.
Orientation activities designed to improve the quality of the
student experience
Students attend an orientation tutorial which gives an overview of the complete WebCT site.
Research undertaken by the lecturer during the past four years has been used to enhance the
orientation sessions to include greater emphasis on the building of a collaborative online group
(Wozniak, in press). Orientation activities not only address the technical aspects of
asynchronous discussions, but also provide students with tools that enable them to interact
effectively and promote knowledge construction between discussion group members.
Content analysis of student postings, using Salmon’s (2000) conference analysis categories,
before the introduction of orientation sessions with these activities in 2003, and of postings in
2004, after the orientation sessions, indicated a statistically significant increase in postings that
demonstrated interactive rather than individual thinking (Wozniak & Silveira, 2004). That is,
students demonstrated more postings where they critiqued other students’ ideas, challenged
opinions with further questions, negotiated new meanings and summarised contributions. This
fosters the development of higher-order learning and enables linkages to be made between the
practical and theoretical components of the course. It was also found that the level of
engagement with online discussion significantly correlated with the students’ marks in some of
the assessment tasks, particularly the practical examinations where students are required to
apply content materials to the real-life clinical cases. Students who achieved higher levels of
interactivity with Salmon’s conference analysis categories also achieved higher marks for their
clinical assessments (Silveira, Wozniak & Heard, 2004).
Students have commented on the success of this process stating that ‘it is such a great way to
find out what others think’ and how ‘easily we can freely express our own opinions’. Over the
Breaking down boundaries
past three years, the average number of postings per student has increased six fold from five to
thirty per student, and in 2004 more than 1200 messages were posted by thirty-five students.
Stage 5: Development
Able to critically evaluate your own learning
Able to support new comers
Stage 4 Knowledge Construction
Use the ideas of others to expand your own
Negotiate and interpret ideas and meanings
Summarise previous contributions
Formulate actions from the shared ideas
Stage 3 Information exchange
Interact with others
Ask questions about information
Explain your ideas, support ideas of others
Add examples to your ideas
Re-evaluate your opinions
Aware of being a “lurker” and the consequences of
not actively participating in the group
Stage 2 Online socialization
Getting to know your group
Beginning to share your ideas with
Stage 1 Gaining
Access & Getting
You can enter the
You can post your
first message
Salmon’s model of teaching and learning online with computer-mediated communication
adapted for undergraduate students (Salmon, 2000, p.26). An earlier version of this figure
appears in: Wozniak, H. (in press).
Figure 1
Using Salmon’s model to promote reflection about the student
In 2004 and 2005, students were introduced to Salmon’s five-stage model of teaching and
learning online through computer-mediated communication (2000, see figure 1). The model
assists the student to progress through the steps of accessing the CMC tools, online
socialisation, exchanging information, conferencing to construct knowledge and, finally, critical
thinking where the learner adopts responsibility for their own learning. Much of the work of
Salmon (2000, 2002a) describes the processes that e-moderators can use to assist students to
progress through each of the stages of the model. In the context of our resource-poor
environment, where there was no e-moderator support to facilitate this process, this model was
adapted for use by students, with the aim being to empower the students to follow their own
development through the five-stage model. The orientation activities were adjusted in 2004 to
closely model the five-stage model of learning online and formed the background pedagogy for
the use of the discussion tools. Since all moderation was conducted by the lecturer with no
additional support from other online tutors, there was a strong emphasis on equipping the
students with the skills needed for effective online communication. Other researchers have
adopted this model in the design of their ‘e-tivities’ (Pavey & Garland, 2004), but have
concentrated their analysis on reflections of the staff experiences and anecdotal student
comments rather than analysing the students’ self assessment of their stage of online learning.
Pallof and Pratt state that an important element of the online learning experience is the learning
that is ‘based on reflection and on the interpretation of experience’ known as transformative
learning (1999, p. 129). They consider that it is important to create a space to ‘open the door to
reflection’ (p. 135) and suggest that when students are asked to evaluate their participation,
they include a self-reflective exercise. By introducing Salmon’s model of learning online to
students, and supporting its use with the additional self-evaluation and reflection activities
described in the next section, it was hoped that this would provide a framework for fostering
transformative learning experiences.
Analysis of the student experience
In 2004 and 2005, a total of forty-eight students were surveyed before and after participating in
online discussions. At the conclusion of the orientation activities in the second week of the
semester, they were asked to consider their early experiences and provide comments based on
the areas outlined in table 1. They revisited this survey information at the completion of the
semester and were asked to compare their responses at the beginning of the semester with
their actual experiences. They were asked particularly to use a process of reflection to gain
insights into their experiences by considering what this might mean for their future learning
experiences. The numbers reported in the results vary as not all students completed both
surveys. Ethics approval was gained to enable us to gather this data and compare it to each
student’s assessment results. This consisted of their online participation assessment which was
determined by the quality and quantity of their postings.
The overwhelming majority of students reported that they had access to the online materials at
home (67%) or at home and university combined (30%), which was consistent with their
expectations at the commencement of semester. It appears that difficulties related to equity of
access experienced in our early research in 2000, when online materials were first introduced,
have been largely overcome. This is similar to overseas experience (Kirkwood & Price, 2005),
though Lobry de Bruyn (2004) notes that distance students in rural areas of Australia may still
have access difficulties. Students reported that they accessed the asynchronous discussion
between two and five times per week, which did have a tendency to reduce towards the end of
the semester when competing workload demands were higher. As expected, the students’ self
assessment of their stage of development as online learners using Salmon’s model showed a
significant change from the beginning of semester to the end of semester (see figure 2)
(Wilcoxon Signed Rank Test, -4.076 p<0.001, n=30). However, the pattern of change across the
group was not consistent and predictable (Pearson’s correlation, 0.335, p=0.71, n=47). The
mean stage from Salmon’s model reportedly achieved by students in week 2 of the semester
was 2.4, n=32 (between stage 2 online socialisation and stage 3 information exchange) and in
week 14 at the end of semester was 3.7, n=47 (between stage 3 information exchange and
stage 4 knowledge construction).
Breaking down boundaries
Table 1: Data collected before and after participating in asynchronous discussions in 2004 and
Area Information sought at commencement of
semester (BEFORE)
Information sought at the conclusion of the
semester (AFTER)
1 How they anticipated they would access the
online communication tools (home/ university/
other locations) and how often (per week)
Differences in access and number of accesses
2 Comments regarding their prior experience with
online learning both the positive and negative
Comments about the actual online discussion
experiences – positive and negative aspects
3 What they hoped they would be able to achieve
from participating in online discussion groups
Achievements they felt they had made through
4 What stage they believed they were currently at
on Salmon’s model and why
Stage they were currently at from Salmon’s
model and why
5 Additional comments or suggestions
6 Assessment results – online participation marks
1 2 3 4 5
Week 2
Week 14
Student self assessment of stage from Salmon’s model
Figure 2
Qualitative data (areas 2, 3 & 5 from table 1) were analysed independently by two researchers
to identify common themes and also coded separately according to four categories describing
the depth of the reflective comments. This grading was based on a framework developed by
Hatton & Smith (1995), which describes different levels of reflective writing and is detailed in
table 2 with examples from this study. Areas of disagreement between the two researchers
were discussed and resolved.
Table 2: Grading scale for reflective comments (adapted from Hatton & Smith, 1995)
Type of
Description Example
1 Unreflective
Student reports events.
No attempt to provide
reasons or justification for
I’d read most of the postings, sometimes print them out, and
read whenever I had time. I also tried hard to contribute to
the group discussion, by getting references and writing up
information in detail.
2 Descriptive
Not only a description,
students make some
effort to analyse reasons
for events or actions from
their own point of view.
I really enjoyed logging on and reading other people’s
opinions, as often they were slightly different to my own, and
brought up issues I did not think of. I feel that I contributed
well to my group, and I am not sure that I would change
anything next time around. The only thing that I may do next
time is rather than relying on someone else in the group to
provide an answer to an issue that has been raised, I should
really research it myself. … Having said this, however, I also
feel it is important when working as a group that all the group
members feel valued and feel like they can contribute
3 Dialogic
More complex as
students ‘step back’ from
events/actions leading to
a different level of mulling
about, discourse with self
and exploring the
I know that in future I would be more confident, experienced
and aware of the online culture and so there would be less of
a developing stage, more of a revision stage when involved
in e-learning. This would allow my contributions to be more
effective. I also only became aware after some time that I
should make a comment to show that I have read the
discussion and am aware of the conversation, even if I did
not contribute. In future I will know to do this from the start.
4 Critical
Shows greater insight by
considering multiple
contexts, such as their
view in the light of others
and how it affects others
in the group process. Has
awareness of the role that
the experience plays in
learning and how
activities shape their
learning or future practice.
It has provided me with another way to learn. First in a group
and second by making me think and give my opinion of what
I believe to be the answers. This is a good way of learning
because in reality, in our profession, everyone can have a
different opinion in different cases. Through these online
discussion groups we as a group have been able to discuss
a huge variety of cases that we could be faced with in the
future and therefore as orthoptists we will have to make
informed decisions based on those kinds of results to come
up with a diagnosis and hence management. Online learning
has allowed me to not only read what others think, but also
to question why they think that and then come up with a
good conclusion that everyone agrees on. It has allowed me
to take on a different approach when looking at a situation
and how to analyse it.
Students reported overwhelmingly that their experience of asynchronous discussion was
positive (89%), with a small number stating that the experience had both positive and negative
aspects (8%). Their comments related to the many advantages that a flexible learning
environment affords learners, for example, ‘I learnt a lot from my peers in my own time’, ‘it
allows you to judge your own standards against others’, ‘continual feedback that you get is a
good indicator of your progress’ and ‘encouraged deeper learning’. Some students did comment
on difficulties in keeping motivated across the whole semester, feelings of frustration when
group work was not shared equally, and the fact that they would rather discuss issues face-toface
because they had difficulties expressing their opinions in writing. Despite these comments,
the majority of students appreciated the collaborative nature of the online learning environment
and also the additional support and feedback provided to enhance their learning experiences.
Breaking down boundaries
Figure 3 outlines the results of grading the reflective comments. Once again, there was a
significant change in the level of reflection over the semester with a general improvement in the
depth of the reflections (Wilcoxon Signed Rank Test, -4.243 p<0.001, n=36). The pattern of
change over the semester was predictable, with students generally moving to more reflective
comments by similar amounts (Pearson’s correlation, 0.551, p=0.000, n=36).
1 2 3 4
Quality of reflective statements
% Week 2
Week 14
Grading of Reflective statements
Figure 3
When considering the relationships within the data it was interesting to note that there was a
significant correlation between the students’ self-reported assessment of their stage of online
learning with Salmon’s model and the grading of their reflective comments at the end of the
semester (Pearson’s correlation, 0.328, p=0.026, n=46). There was also a significant correlation
between the stage on Salmon’s model at the end of the semester and the online participation
marks (Pearson’s correlation, 0.411, p=0.005, n=46). The related correlation between the
grading of reflections and online participation was also significant but not as strong (Pearson’s
correlation, 0.335, p=0.021, n=46).
Implications for the improvement of the student experience in
online discussions
Until now there has been a focus on the strategies that e-moderators should use to ensure that
students participate and engage in online discussion activities. This has included considerable
research regarding the types of activities and tasks that promote student engagement and
interaction (Paulus, 2005), and the role of the e-moderator to ensure student interaction
(Spector, 2005), often using content analysis of the postings made in discussion groups or
qualitative student comments about their experience. All are used to derive useful strategies to
enhance the quality of the student experience in asynchronous discussions. Many conclude that
students need to be taught how to interact effectively in the online learning environment.
The gap in asynchronous discussion research has been the use of a structure for examining the
students’ perspective regarding their development as online learners. This research has
provided a framework for analysis of the student experience by empowering the student to track
their own progress as an online learner after carefully planned orientation activities. Results
from this research and that undertaken previously (Wozniak & Silveira, 2004 and Silveira,
Wozniak & Heard, 2004) have shown that undergraduate students are able to progress to stage
3 and 4 of Salmon’s model, and have positive experiences with this process which correlates
with their learning outcomes.
Wu & Hiltz (2004) used a questionnaire to examine students’ perceptions of their learning after
using online discussions. They found that students who were more motivated and enjoyed their
experiences also reported higher perceptions of their learning achievements, although they
recognised that there may be a difference between perceived and actual learning. Webb et al.
(2004) have also noted a positive association between participation in what is termed ‘elearning
dialogues’ and learning outcomes. The number of student postings and number of
times each student accessed the discussion board were correlated with the student’s
participation mark. They do note, however, that both active (posting responses) and passive
(reading contributions of others) participation was related to learning outcomes achieved,
suggesting that ‘lurking’ in discussion forums can also have a positive impact on learning.
Content analysis of online discussion postings was carried out by Mehanna (2004) and clusters
of pedagogies were identified and related to student grades in a postgraduate program. It was
found that if students engaged in online discussion activities, such as providing feedback,
summarising and notetaking, reinforcing effort, building arguments and engaging in cooperative
learning were positively correlated with student grades. All of these activities are consistent with
the types of activities that are highlighted in the adaptation of Salmon’s model described in
figure 1 of this paper.
It needs to be recognised that there are many factors that may influence the effective use of
asynchronous discussions and learning outcomes achieved and it is difficult to isolate these in
this research. It is suggested by this research that Salmon’s model combined with adequate
preparation of students can provide a useful framework of the online learning experience. This
is largely at odds with the findings of many others who suggest that considerable e-moderator
support is required to monitor and maintain a collaborative learning environment with effective
student interaction.
An area that could benefit from further enhancement is the role that reflection plays in the
development of more effective online learners. Salmon (2002b) suggests that online reflection is
akin to providing a ‘mirror on the screen’ and is important in the design of an online learning
experience. She discusses how reflection can benefit both the individual learner and group
learning, but suggests that methods of encouraging critical reflection require further
investigation. It is apparent from other researchers in traditional (Hatton & Smith, 1995) and
online learning environments (Maor, 2003) that students struggle to achieve these higher levels
of reflective practice (described in table 2). Methods of scaffolding reflection activities have been
suggested (Ward & McCotter, 2004; Rose & Devonshire, 2004), including the use of a guided
rubric introduction and a staged process to assist the student to move to higher levels of
reflective practice.
Online learning environments increasingly are being utilised in both blended and distance
education programs with asynchronous discussions seen as a means of promoting
collaboration and enhancing the quality of the student learning experience. When students are
orientated to the learning opportunities available to them in online environments and given a
structure to assist them in monitoring and evaluating their experiences, positive learning
outcomes can be achieved. This is possible in the increasingly resource-poor environment of
higher education in Australia today without requiring ongoing e-moderator support and the
ensuing time drain associated with assisting students in this environment.
Copyright © 2005 Wozniak, H. The author assigns to ODLAA and educational non-profit institutions a
nonexclusive license to use this document for personal use and in courses of instruction provided that the
article is used in full and this copyright statement is reproduced. The author also grants to ODLAA a
nonexclusive license to publish this document in electronic or print form within ODLAA publications and/or
the world wide web. Any other usage is prohibited without the express permission of the author.
Breaking down boundaries
Anderson, T., Annand, D., & Wark, N. (2005). The search for learning community in learnerpaced
distance education: or ‘Having your cake and eating it to!’ Australasian Journal of
Educational Technology, 21(2), 222-241.
Hatton. N., & Smith, D. (1995). Reflection in teacher education: Towards definition and
implementation. Teaching & Teacher Education, 11(1), 33-49.
Kirkwood, A., & Price, L. (2005). Learners and learning in the twenty-first century: What do we
know about students’ attitudes towards and experiences of information and communication
technologies that will help us design courses? Studies in Higher Education, 30(3), 257-274.
Lobry de Bruyn, L. (2004). Monitoring online communication: Can the development of
convergence and social presence indicate an interactive learning environment? Distance
Education, 25(1), 68-81.
Maor, D. (2003). The teacher’s role in developing interaction and reflection in an online learning
community, Education Media International, 40(1/2), 127-137.
Moore, M. (1989). Three types of interaction, American Journal of Distance Education, 3(2), 1-6.
Mehanna, W.N. (2004). e-Pedagogy: The pedagogies of e-learning, ALT-J, Research in
Learning Technology, 12(3), 279-293.
Pallof, R.M., & Pratt, K. (1999). Building learning communities in cyberspace: Effective
strategies for the online classroom, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Paulus, T. (2005). Collaborative and cooperative approaches to online group work: The impact
of task type, Distance Education, 26(1), 111-125.
Pavey, J., & Garland, S. (2004). The integration and implementation of a range of ‘e-tivities’ to
enhance students’ interaction and learning, Innovations in Education and Teaching
International, 41(5), 305-315.
Rose, M., & Devonshire, E. (2004). Rethinking reflection: Using online reflective learning in
professional practice for Indigenous health workers, Education Media International, 41(4),
Salmon, G. (2000). E-moderating: The key to teaching and learning online, London: Kogan
Salmon, G. (2002a). E-tivities: The key to active online learning, London: Kogan Page.
Salmon, G. (2002b). Mirror, mirror on my screen … Exploring online reflections, British Journal
of Educational Technology, 33(4), 379-391.
Silveira, S., Wozniak, H., & Heard, R. (2004). Using online discussion groups to enhance the
learning outcomes of undergraduate orthoptic students. What have we learnt? In D. Verlohr,
A. Rydberg & Z. Georgievski (Eds.), Global perspectives converge down under:
Transactions of the 10th international orthoptic congress, (359-362). Melbourne 14-17
November 2004.
Spector, J.M. (2005). Time demands in online instruction, Distance Education, 26(1), 5-27.
Vygotsky, L.S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes.
Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Ward, J., & McCotter, S.S. (2004). Reflection as a visible outcome for preservice teachers,
Teaching and Teacher Education, 20, 243-257.
Webb, E., Jones, A., Barker, P., & van Schaik, P. (2004). Using e-learning dialogues in higher
education, Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 41(1), 94-103.
Wozniak, H., & Silveira, S. (2004). Online discussions: Promoting effective student-to-student
interaction. In R. Atkinson, C. McBeath, D. Jonas-Dwyer & R. Phillips (Eds.), Beyond the
comfort zone: Proceedings of the 21st ASCILITE conference, (956-960). Perth, 5-8
December. Retrieved June 21 2004 from
Wozniak, H. (in press) Empowering learners to interact effectively in asynchronous discussion
activities. In M. Bullen & D. Janes. (Eds.) Making the Transition to eLearning: Strategies and
Issues. Hershey, PA: Idea Group Inc.
Wu, D., & Hiltz, S.R. (2004). Predicting learning form asynchronous online discussions. Journal
of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 8(2), 139-152.
I would like to acknowledge the assistance provided by Sue Silveira in the analysis of the
qualitative data and Dr Rob Heard for the statistical analysis.
Breaking down boundaries
Exemplary educators: Creating a community of inquiry
Beth Perry and Margaret Edwards
The future of distance education is online course delivery. Some educators have much
to learn about the effective use of technology to provide successful learning
experiences for students. This study reports the perspectives of students from an online
graduate program regarding the teaching strategies used by their most exemplary
online teachers. Findings revealed that these highly effective instructors, categorised by
the learners as ‘exemplary,’ established a strong social, cognitive, and teaching
presence online which Anderson et al. call a ‘community of inquiry’ (2001). These
teachers were able to convey a perceptible human presence in the virtual classroom.
Introduction and background
This paper is the report of a research project that focused on the teaching strategies and
interpersonal approaches that make some online educators highly successful. That is, from the
perspective of graduate students who completed their entire degrees online, what made some
of their instructors more effective than others?
The paper begins with an overview of relevant scholarly literature that, in part, demonstrates the
relative lack of research in this area. A major element of the literature review is a discussion of
the community of inquiry model developed by Garrison, Anderson and Archer (2000). This
model provides the framework for an analysis of the findings from the study. The three major
analysis sections of the paper parallel the themes of the model: cognitive presence, teaching
presence and social presence (Garrison, Anderson & Archer, 2000). Specific examples from
research transcripts are provided to illustrate how exemplary teachers created online
communities of inquiry by focusing on these domains. The paper concludes with a brief
discussion of future research possibilities and a proposal for an extension of the community of
inquiry model based on the findings of this study.
Literature review
Although technology, especially the internet, is revolutionising the way people learn and there
has been a ‘virtual explosion of online education’ (Thiele, 2003) the literature remains lacking in
studies focused on what makes some online educators more effective than others.
There is general agreement that teacher effectiveness is in some part related to the instructors’
ability to connect with students who are present in a virtual world. It seems that those teachers
who students recall as especially effective are able to make their presence perceptible even at a
distance. Yet, while many researchers acknowledge the importance of transmitting this online
presence they do not specifically speak of how to accomplish this (Ambrose, 2001; Brooks,
2003; Kreijns, Kirschner & Jochems, 2002; Na Uban & Kimble, 2004; Richardson & Swan,
2003; Rourke et al., 2001; Woods & Baker, 2004; Woods & Ebersole, 2003).
The current research literature does document the important role the educator plays in
influencing the outcome of the online educational experience. This seems especially important
‘in the absence of physical presence’ (Shea, Pickett & Pelz, 2003, p.65). In the community of
inquiry model, Anderson et al. label this conveyance of presence as ‘teaching presence’ (2001).
While there seems to be agreement that strong virtual presence of the instructor is essential to
Perry & Edwards
successful online teaching, there is a lack of research that describes the qualities of an effective
virtual teacher presence.
The current literature concerning online teacher effectiveness also explains the concept of
‘teacher immediacy’ (Ambrose, 2001; Brooks, 2003). The notion of teacher immediacy was
originally defined as ‘behaviors that enhance closeness and nonverbal interaction with another’
(Hutchins, 2003). Arbaugh (2001) reiterates this view by stating, ‘immediacy refers to
communication behaviors that reduce social and psychological distance between people [and]
includes both nonverbal and verbal behaviors’ (p.43). It is only recently that immediacy in the
online environment has become a focus of research studies, with the biggest challenge being
how nonverbal communication can be transmitted via the internet. Richardson and Swan
(2003), Woods and Ebersole (2003), Rourke et al. (2001), Na Uban and Kimble (2004), Kreijns,
Kirschner and Jochems (2002), Woods and Baker (2004) all make reference to the importance
of immediacy behaviours in the virtual classroom but they do not specifically speak of how to
facilitate this experience. Farmer (2004) draws a direct link between the creation of immediacy
and the experience of feeling the positive presence of the online teacher.
As indicated, teaching presence is one of the three aspects of the community of inquiry model
(Anderson et al., 2001). The other two major concepts from this model are social presence and
cognitive presence (see figure 1).
From Garrison, Anderson & Archer, 2000, p.88.
Figure 1
Social presence is defined by these authors as the sense of relationship that can arise among
learners who share a virtual classroom as they project their personal qualities into the learning
environment and become ‘real people’ (Rourke, et al., 2001).
Cognitive presence is considered to be the extent to which learners are able to make meaning
through interaction and discussion in a critical community of inquiry (Garrison, Anderson &
Archer, 2001). Some clues as to how instructors establish effective cognitive, social and
Breaking down boundaries
teaching presences are evident in a study by White, Roberts and Brannan (2003). These
researchers emphasise getting the learners to participate, using the right message so that it is
received, understood and remembered, and eliciting feedback from the learner (White, Roberts
& Brannan, 2003, p.173). These strategies are a good starting point for further reflection on how
to establish a community of inquiry.
In summary, the community of inquiry model supposes that ‘deep and meaningful learning’,
what we are calling exemplary education, takes place in a group of people who are strongly
linked, even in a virtual world, both socially and cognitively. In addition, for the community of
inquiry to function successfully, there needs to be leadership through the perceptible presence
of the teacher. In this community, ‘learning occurs through the interaction of three core
components: cognitive presence, teaching presence and social presence’ (Rourke et al., 2001).
Overarching this, successful establishment of social and teacher presence seems from the
literature to depend on the participants’ facility to create immediacy.
Examples from the study illustrate how these three spheres overlap to create a positive
educational experience shaped principally by exemplary teachers. In addition, the analysis in
this study goes beyond the community of inquiry model to propose an additional sphere of
Graduate students from the Centre for Nursing and Health Studies at Athabasca University in
Canada, who study all of their courses online, were invited to participate in this qualitative
research project by recounting interactions they had with teachers they considered exemplary.
This study uses narrative inquiry as the research design. As Carter (1993) explained, narratives,
or stories, capture the richness and nuances of meaning in human affairs. This design is
appropriate since the teacher–learner relationship is probably rooted, at least in part, in the
human interaction between the participants in this relationship. Further, Elbaz (1991) wrote,
‘story is the very stuff of teaching, the landscape within which we live as teachers and
researchers and within which the work of teachers can be seen as making sense’ (p.3).
Participants were asked the following question on a survey that was sent to all Masters of
Health Studies (MHS), Masters of Nursing (MN) and Advanced Nurse Practitioner (ANP)
graduates one month after convocation for the years 2002, 2003 and 2004. They were asked to
provide a narrative that focused on specific interactions and experiences with their exemplary
teachers rather than a list of characteristics or adjectives describing these educators. In part,
the question reads:
We need to have your perspective on what makes online educators exceptional. Please
tell us about an incident or interaction you had with a faculty member during your
Master's program that you would categorise as an exceptional moment of learning. We
are interested in going beyond a list of characteristics of exceptional educators to look at
the context and process of these learning moments …. Perhaps you would be able to tell
us the ‘story’ of your learning moment.
The surveys were completed online and returned anonymously. The total number of responses
to the research questions was nine out of seventeen graduates from 2002, fourteen out of fortyseven
graduates from 2003 and thirty-four out of eighty-five graduates from 2004. The total
number of participants in this initial study was fifty-seven, representing a participation rate of 38
per cent.
One of the most challenging aspects of qualitative method is the analysis and interpretation of
data (Priest, Roberts & Woods, 2003). In this study, we used what Priest, Robert and Woods
(2003) call narrative analysis. Narrative analysis is a method by which interpretation of meaning
may be made from data that is in story form. Narrative analysis allows researchers to attempt to
communicate what was experienced by the study participants. In narrative analysis, elements of
the narratives (or stories) are organised into common themes.
Perry & Edwards
Five sub-themes emerged during the initial review of the data. The sub-themes revolve around
the educator challenging students, affirming learners, having power of expertise and presence,
and learning alongside the student in a community of inquiry. Each of these themes were
subsequently collapsed into the three major elements of the community of inquiry model –
social presence, cognitive presence and teaching presence and a fourth theme we called
emotional presence was proposed.
Social presence
According to the community of inquiry model, social presence is defined as the ability of
members to project themselves socially and emotionally in a community of inquiry (Rourke et
al., 2001). Social presence supports the cognitive and affective objectives of learning. The first
indicator of social presence is ‘affective responses’. The expression of emotion, feeling and
mood are the hallmarks of social presence. Closeness, warmth, affiliation, attraction and
openness are words used to describe such responses.
In our study of exemplary educators, students frequently described these teachers as affirming.
Study participants were especially mindful of situations in which educators took time and sought
opportunities to affirm their initiative and accomplishments in the course. Specific examples
from the transcripts that related to establishing a social bond through affirmation of the learner
include the following:
I remember a professor who sent emails now and again with personal feedback – positive
and constructive. I believe that she used ‘teachable moments’ to encourage her students.
I found that feedback from the professor whether as a general posting or as a private
email was most encouraging. I appreciate personal feedback and therefore was
impressed that many of the instructors took the extra time to provide words of
Personal communication and encouragement were very helpful and much appreciated.
According to the community of inquiry model, a second indicator of social presence is
‘interactive responses’. More specifically, reinforcement underlies development and
maintenance of interaction. The model authors identified complimenting, acknowledging and
expressing appreciation as indicators of reinforcement in a text-based medium (Rourke et al.,
Again, there is an abundance of examples of interactive responses in the research transcripts.
Some specific participant statements include the following:
I was struggling with a particular project, i.e., applying the content to my specific situation.
I found it very helpful to have my questions answered and be given questions and
feedback to assist me, challenge me, but yet encourage me.
Her feedback was so encouraging and you never wanted to let her down. She would
send you a little email just out of the blue to let you know you were on track.
The final indicator of social presence in the community of inquiry model is ‘cohesive responses’.
Cohesive responses build and sustain a sense of group commitment among members of a
community of inquiry. Garrison, Anderson and Archer (2001) identify phatics and salutations
such as ‘Hi all’, vocatives such as using another’s name and addressing the group as ‘we’ as
examples of cohesive responses (Rourke, et al., 2001).
One example of an exemplary educator who paid particular attention to cohesive responses is
demonstrated in this transcript excerpt.
One instructor really stood out. She always made it seem like we were all in this journey
together. In fact she sent us a welcome email even before the course started. I thought
that was really thoughtful. She also used our names when she wrote an email to the
whole class. I found myself looking forward to seeing if my name was mentioned! When it
was [mentioned] I was just thrilled.
Breaking down boundaries
In summary, the establishment of a social bond in the community of learners seems to be an
essential part of an outstanding learning experience. The participants in the study describe the
instructors they found exceptional as those who, at least in part, both projected themselves into
the learning environment and were able to facilitate the inclusion of others into the social
context of the virtual classroom. This finding brings to mind the work of Purkey and Novak who
described the ‘invitational classroom’ (1995). In their analysis, these authors found that the
effective teacher in a face-to-face classroom treated the students as guests in the class and the
teacher interacted with them in a way that enhanced the social atmosphere of the gathering.
This was seen to create a climate of respect and comfort in which learning was accentuated.
Perhaps the effective online teachers are similarly able to invite students into their virtual class
and, by treating them as you would your more welcomed guests, the social presence of the
community of inquiry model is established.
Cognitive presence
Garrison, Anderson and Archer (2000) define cognitive presence as ‘the extent to which
learners are able to construct and confirm meaning through sustained reflection and discourse
in a critical community of inquiry’ (p.90). There are four phases involved in establishing cognitive
presence: triggering event, exploration, integration and resolution. In the initial phase, an issue
or a problem that emerges from participants’ experience acts as a triggering event for inquiry.
Once the inquiry is initiated by the triggering event, brainstorming, questioning and information
exchange are used to explore the area in a divergent manner. During integration, the
community of inquiry continues the activity of the exploration phase in an attempt to construct
shared meaning. Resolution of the issue or problem posed initially occurs in the final phase
either through direct action or vicarious action such as thought experiments (Garrison,
Anderson & Archer, 2001).
In some ways, the data from our study of exemplary educators demonstrates the four phases of
cognitive presence. In the following example one of the participants describes a situation in
which the professor assisted the student as she struggled with a challenging learning situation.
I am recalling a few times [when] my professor at the time made a significant impact
because of the absolute focus she gave me in my studies. I was really having difficulty
with a concept. With emails back and forth, we got to the bottom of my difficulty within a
few days.
Other data provided specific emphasis on the exploration phase of establishing cognitive
presence. For example, one student commented, ‘Positive learning moments [occurred] when
classmates were asked to expand on examples or experiences.’ Another participant said, ‘Often
it was the comments or questions of these discussions that were the spring boards for
unanticipated memorable nuggets of learning that I will always value.’ One more commented,
‘This instructor also had a way of describing the issues and concepts we were learning and then
stimulating thinking through postings prior to unit discussions.’
There were several examples from the study data that focused on the instructor bringing closure
to the discussion. This correlates with the community of inquiry models’ cognitive presence
phase of resolution. For example, one student wrote,’ The summary [provided by the instructor]
helped me to understand her expectations and helped all of us to think more critically about
what we posted in the forum.’ Another said, ‘What I found useful which most of the instructors
did was to summarise or provide their theoretical thoughts and insight into a particular
discussion or course topic.’
In summary, the establishment of a challenging cognitive relationship in the online classroom
was seen as essential to excellence in distance teaching. The exemplary educators were often
described in the stories as instructors who challenged the beliefs and views put forward by
students. Many respondents indicated that the exemplary online educators challenged their
thinking on topics and urged them to ‘do more and do better’ on assignments and course
activities or to see the world through a different lens. One participant commented, ‘Online
learning is limited by personal interaction, my best experiences with instructors were those
where the instructors challenged my thinking or perspective. A couple of the instructors were
Perry & Edwards
particularly good at questioning your assumptions and pointing out other views to broaden the
perspective of the students.’
Teaching presence
According to the community of inquiry model, teaching presence is defined as the ‘design,
facilitation and direction of cognitive and social processes for the purpose of realising personally
meaningful and educationally worthwhile learning outcomes’ (Anderson et al., 2001, p.5). In the
online setting, particularly in graduate education, this function is addressed not only by the
instructor, but also by instructional designers, program coordinators and class members
themselves. For this reason, teaching presence, rather than teacher presence is used in the
Design and organisation, the first teaching presence indicator, involves setting curriculum,
designing methods, establishing time parameters, utilising the medium effectively and
establishing netiquette expectations (Anderson et al., 2001). The data from the study supports
this element of the model. Two comments in particular relate to the design, organisation and
coordination of the course. One respondent said, ‘Basically the ones who managed the course
consistently from beginning to end, allowed the group to evolve but remembered the individuals
proved to be the best.’ Another graduate commented, ‘The professor had outlined her
expectations for posting in the conference forum. She summarised the discussion at the end of
the week and cited comments from the students.’ While this second example speaks to the
process and organisation of the course, it also alludes to the establishment of social presence.
It is clear that there is overlap between the essential elements of the community of inquiry
The second indicator of teaching presence, ‘facilitating discourse’, is more than the facilitation of
social activities. Rather, it includes identifying areas of agreement and disagreement, seeking to
reach consensus, encouraging, acknowledging or reinforcing student contributions, drawing in
participants, promoting discussion and assessing the efficacy of the process (Anderson et al.,
2001). We believe that this element of teaching presence also has common characteristics with
the exploration phase of the cognitive presence element. Perhaps the subtle difference is a
greater emphasis on the administrative aspects of facilitating discussion in the teaching
presence realm. Several students did provide data that speaks to this notion of facilitative
discourse. One graduate said, ‘The introductory comments [provided by the instructor] to each
unit helped direct the focus on the pertinent information and helped me gather more meaningful
information from the readings. This also helped to apply the information and present more
academically in the conferences.’ A second respondent stated, ‘I once received an e-mail from
the professor commenting on my posting. The instructor basically commented that I was very
‘insightful’ in my posting. I had taken a somewhat different tack than my classmates. It was kind
of an ah-ha moment for me. It taught me to swim upstream when I felt strongly, even if it was in
a different direction to the rest of the school.’
The final indicator of teaching presence, ‘direct instruction’, includes the presentation of content,
directing questions, focusing and summarising discussion and inserting knowledge from diverse
sources (Anderson et al., 2001). The expertise of exemplary instructors in this process was
evident in the students’ comments. A graduate wrote, ‘Some of the faculty members chose to
summarise the posting of the week – what a great idea. It highlighted some of the important
areas, which helps to keep one on track and provides insight into what the faculty considers
important or relevant to the course. I found it encouraging seeing the instructors comment
occasionally on threads that had been posted – wow – they read what we are saying.’
In summary, much of the data from the study relates to the characteristics of teaching presence
from the community of inquiry model. The study participants provided clear appreciation for
instructors who they perceived to have a ‘power of expertise’. They described this as a solid
knowledge base about the subject matter the educators were teaching. It is clear that to be a
truly effective online instructor educators need to be well informed about the topic they are
teaching and able to convey this depth of knowledge effectively through distance mediums.
However, beyond simply presenting content, effective online teachers involve the learners in the
Breaking down boundaries
discussion of content through directing questions focusing and summarising key points and
guiding students to greater depth of comprehension and application of concepts.
This analysis of our data using the community of inquiry model as a framework provides a
means of elucidating themes. It is clear that students in this study did value instructors who
were able to establish communities of inquiry through strategies that included establishing
teaching, cognitive and social presence. As we have worked through the framework comparing
the participants’ responses to the definitions of each of these elements of the community of
inquiry model we are reminded that there is often an overlap between interventions that
establish a social presence and those that develop the cognitive element. Likewise, there
seems to be a great parallel between actions focused on the establishment of cognitive and
teaching presence, particularly those educator actions that ‘direct instruction’. Perhaps the
lesson to be learned from this is that there is no single consequence or effect of a teaching
action. Each instructive interaction has the potential to simultaneously affirm, connect, teach,
challenge, test and lead learners. While it is helpful to break down teaching actions and to
classify and categorise them and assign them labels and place them into a model, it is also
important to be mindful of the complexity of this practice of teaching. As Parker states so
powerfully, ‘teaching goes beyond technique’ (1998, p.9).
A question that guided us as we worked through this process of analysing our data using the
community of inquiry model is, ‘have we learned something from our study that could cause us
to propose an extension of this model?’ There is one recurring theme that emerges in our
analysis that could provide some basis for this. We have called this theme ‘learning with the
student’. In regards to this, one student wrote, ‘The best part came when my instructor, whose
expertise and wisdom I greatly admire, noted that she had learned something new from the
means by which I had presented my understanding of the concepts of nursing theory.’ Another
commented, ‘In one of the courses the instructor was openly honest about how much she was
learning from each of us during our conference dialogues and assignments. What struck me
about this was how important it is for the instructors to guide, share and participate and not to
assume or present themselves as being the authority on a subject.’ These comments also
provide support to the concept of teaching presence rather than teacher presence suggesting
that in the community of inquiry all are both teachers and learners (Garrison, Anderson &
Archer, 2000). Perhaps this is what it means to truly establish a community of inquiry. That is,
as Parker says, effective instruction involves ‘thinking the world together’ (1998, p.61). Parker
proposes that we need to correct our ‘obsession with objective knowledge’ and, rather, build
learning communities, at least in part, through ‘subjective engagement’ (p.61). We see in our
data that students value instructors who are confident enough in their knowledge of the area
they are teaching to expose to the students their own eagerness to continue to learn about the
topic at hand. In this way, the two parties in the learning community work together to further the
learning and do so in a mutually supportive manner.
To push the community of inquiry model a little further, respondents in the research also
described what we have labelled the power of presence. This was an interesting theme as the
presence was virtual in the internet environment. Power of presence manifested itself in an
energy and enthusiasm that came across in the postings and email exchanges that students
described as motivating and encouraging and thus supportive of their learning. It was a virtual
presence which revealed that a genuine human with emotion was the person facilitating the
class. Although the community of inquiry model does allude to some aspects of the instructor’s
humanness, especially in the social presence component, perhaps there is room in this model
for a more specific emphasis on the emotional presence. How can one have a true community
without some aspect of emotional attachment or involvement in the lives of those who share
that communal space? Several of the comments from the students in the study alluded to this
perspective of journeying together – teacher and learner – through the experience of a
particular course. To be a true community, this essential human experience needs to be
acknowledged and perhaps nurtured. As professors and students we are more than an email
address, we are real people with lives outside the classroom and we bring to the community of
Perry & Edwards
inquiry all that makes us human. The exemplary teachers were noted by the study participants
as those who saw them as complex beings and who were able skillfully and authentically to
acknowledge those elements of their being without losing focus on the educational purpose that
had brought them together. This is no different in the virtual world than it is in the face-to-face
classroom. Virtual students are still actual people. Consider this example shared by a student:
The first [exemplary professor] was in a particularly difficult semester for me and I had to
be away for ten days and the instructor was very accepting of this fact and assured me
that catching up could be done later. At the time that I was to leave (several weeks after I
had notified her) she sent me an email to wish me well and to enjoy my time away and
not to worry about catching up. I was able to take the much needed break and came back
with renewed interest and enthusiasm. I felt that this demonstrated a true interest in me in
this otherwise seemingly cold impersonal learning. It gave me much more of a feeling that
she wasn’t just doing her job but that she cared about the students as people and that our
learning was also important to her.
Future research
As with most studies this one raises additional questions for further investigation. A study
looking at the humanness of online educators is also planned. This study revealed the students’
perspective that teacher presence was important in establishing leadership within the online
community. Thus, do faculty who are viewed as exemplary online instructors attempt to convey
the human presence in the online environment?
Exemplary teaching, even in the online environment, is essentially communal. To be an
outstanding educator in the distance domain, one needs to be able to convey a social, cognitive
and teaching presence enveloped in a sense of a shared learning experience. Good teaching
cannot be reduced to technique. While it is essential that the effective online educator has a
deep knowledge base, skill with instructional design and the ability to use technology, the
exemplary educator simultaneously conveys to the students a sense that they are part of a
community where their insights, input and ideas are valued by other real people. As one student
said, ‘The exemplary teachers I describe as essential, personal, focused ... all amazing
ingredients to make me feel that my participation and my understanding were essential to them.’
Is it possible that what the student is describing here is what Brooks (2003) and Ambrose
(2001) record as ‘teacher immediacy’? Are these the ‘behaviors that enhance closeness’
(Hutchins, 2003) with one another, essentially creating the feeling of community within the
community of inquiry? This is an area where further research may be beneficial to our
In summary, the major purpose of this study was to seek a fuller understanding of exceptional
online teaching from the students’ perspective. In order to develop high quality online teachers,
progress must be made in understanding what makes online educators effective. Christner
(2003) cautions that online education should not be seen as the cure for all of the problems in
higher education. Yet online learning is likely here to stay and thus additional research aimed at
the unanswered question of how the instructor can positively influence the learning experienced
by the student should be a priority.
There is no formula for exemplary teaching. However, it is possible that by examining the
comments of students as we did in this study, we can gain some idea of how those who do
succeed in establishing true communities of inquiry do their work. ‘Learning – learning together
– is the thing for all of us’ (Parker, 1998, p.161).
Copyright © 2005 Perry, B. & Edwards, M. The authors assign to ODLAA and educational non-profit
institutions a nonexclusive license to use this document for personal use and in courses of instruction
provided that the article is used in full and this copyright statement is reproduced. The authors also grant
to ODLAA a nonexclusive license to publish this document in electronic or print form within ODLAA
Breaking down boundaries
publications and/or the world wide web. Any other usage is prohibited without the express permission of
the authors.
Ambrose, L. (2001). Learning online facilitation online. Moving Online Conference II. Retrieved
from http://flexiblelearning.net.au/leaders/fl_leaders/fll00/lyn_ambrose.htm.
Arbaugh, J. (2001). How instructor immediacy behaviors affect student satisfaction and learning
in web-based courses. Business Communication Quarterly. 64(4), 42-54. Retrieved from
Anderson, T., Rourke, L., Garrison, D., & Archer, W. (2001). Assessing teaching presence in a
computer conferencing environment. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 5(2), 1-
Brooks, L. (2003). How the attitudes of instructors, students, courses administrators, and course
designers affects the quality of an online learning environment. Online Journal of Distance
Learning Administration. 6(4). Retrieved from
Carter, K. (1993). The place of story in the study of teaching and teacher education. Educational
Researcher, 22(1), 1-12.
Christner, T. (2003). A classroom of one: How online learning is changing our schools and
colleges, Library Journal, 128(1), 130.
Elbaz, F. (1991). Research on teacher’s knowledge: The evolution of a discourse. Journal of
Curriculum Studies, 23, 1-19.
Farmer, J. (2004). Communication dynamics: Discussion boards, weblogs and the development
of communities of inquiry in online learning environments. Retrieved from
Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2000). Critical inquiry in a text-based environment:
Computer conferencing in higher education. The Internet and Higher Education, 2(2-3), 87-
Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2001). Critical thinking, cognitive presence, and
computer conferencing in distance education. American Journal of Distance Education,
Hutchins, H. (2003). Instructional immediacy and the seven principles: Strategies for facilitating
online courses. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 6(3). Retrieved from
Kreijns, K., Kirschner, P. & Jochems, W. (2002). The sociability of computer-supported
collaborative learning environments. Educational Technology & Society, 5(1), 8-22.
Retrieved http://ifets.ieee.org/periodical/vol_1_2002/kreijns.html.
Na Ubon, A. & Kimble, C. (2004). Exploring Social Presence in Asynchronous Text-Based
Online Learning Communities (OLCs). In Proceedings of the 5th International Conference on
Information Communication Technologies in Education 2004, Samos Island, Greece. 292-
297. Retrieved from http://www-users.cs.york.ac.uk/~kimble/research/icicte.pdf.
Parker, P. (1998). The courage to teach: Exploring the inner landscape of a teacher’s life.
NY:NY, Jossey-Bass.
Purkey, W.W. & Novak, J. (1995). Inviting school success: A self-concept approach to teaching,
(3rd, ed.). California: Wadsworth.
Priest, H., Roberts, P., & Woods, L. (2003). An overview of three different approaches to the
interpretation qualitative data. Part 1: Theoretical issues. Nurse Researcher, 10(1), 30-43.
Richardson, J. & Swan, K. (2003). Examining social presence in online courses in relation to
students’ perceived learning and satisfaction. Journal of Asynchronous Learning
Networks,7(1), 68-88. Retrieved from http://www.sloanc.
Perry & Edwards
Rourke, L., Anderson, T., Garrison, D. & Archer, W. (2001). Assessing social presence in
asynchronous text-based computer conferencing. Journal of Distance Education. 14(2).
Shea, P., Pickett, A., & Pelz, W. (2003). A follow-up investigation of ‘teaching presence’ in the
SUNY learning network. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks,7(2), 61-80. Retrieved
from http://www.aln.org/publications/jaln/v7n2/pdf/v7n2_shea.pdf.
Thiele, J. (2003). Learning patterns of online students, Journal of Nursing Education, 42(8),
White, A., Roberts, V., & Brannan, J. (2003). Returning nurses to the workforce: Developing an
online refresher course. The Journal of Continuing Education in Nursing, 34(2), 59-64.
Woods, R. & Baker, J. (2004). Interaction and immediacy in online learning. International
Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning. Retrieved from
Woods, R. & Ebersole, S. (2003). Becoming a ‘communal architect’ in the online classroom –
Integrating cognitive and affective learning for maximum effect in web-based learning. Online
Journal of Distance Learning Administration. 6(1). Retrieved from
Breaking down boundaries
The role of interaction in enhancing achievement and
student satisfaction in an online course: A rubric
Belle Alderman and Stuart Fletcher
Interaction is highly prized in online and distance education courses. Essential qualities
of interaction have been widely discussed in the literature and parts of some courses
evaluated against these specific qualities. This paper examines a course that was
designed and implemented using constructivist learning principles with a high level of
collaborative interaction. At the end of this course, students were evaluated to
determine their perceptions of achievement and satisfaction. A rubric devised by
Roblyer and Wiencke (2004) was applied to benchmark types and levels of interaction.
The conclusion reached is that while high level, quality interaction was an essential
contributor to these students’ achievement and satisfaction, some aspects of
instructional design require modification to further enhance achievement and
Writing for Young People is a fully online Masters course which was based on constructivist
principles with special attention paid to interaction between student and content, student and
student, and student and instructor. This paper benchmarks the level and quality of interaction
in this course. It does so by briefly examining those elements that promote student achievement
and satisfaction as revealed in the literature on interaction in online and distance education
courses. A rubric, based on theory and practice, and devised by Roblyer and Wiencke (2004), is
then used to benchmark the interaction in this course. Finally, refinements regarding interaction
in this course will be suggested.
Interaction in theory and practice
Interaction appears frequently as a defining characteristic of quality learning experiences in
online and distance education. Sims (1999, p.2) defined interaction as ‘those functions and/or
operations made available to the learner to enable them to work with content material presented
in a computer-based environment’. To this definition, Tu and McIsaac (2002, p.144) added that
effective interaction also included cooperative activities and communication styles used by
computer-mediated communication (CMC) users. Moore (1989, p.1) identified three types of
interactions: learner–content; learner–instructor; and learner–learner. That interaction must be
designed to match the learning task and students’ different stages of development (Moore,
1989, p.5). Anderson (2003, p.3) added that learners must also interact with the instructional
design. Moore believed that interaction between learner and content was paramount because
here the individual engages in a field of knowledge, participates in a dialogue, interacts with
concepts and questions and accommodates content. Engagement between learner and
instructor was crucial in providing authoritative, stimulating, motivating and interesting content,
as well as supporting, encouraging and verifying the learner’s response to knowledge
application (Moore, 1989).
Alderman & Fletcher
Roblyer and Wiencke researched (2004, pp.85-86) the theory and practice of interaction in
distance education courses in order to develop a rubric that would allow a meaningful
examination of interaction. They highlighted the importance of student engagement and learning
structured around collaborative experiences. Engagement and collaboration are also
characteristic of constructivist learning environments using computer-mediated communication.
Such constructivist learning environments offer ‘authentic tasks, engage learners in meaningful,
problem-based thinking and require negotiation of meaning and reflection on what has been
learned’ (Jonassen et al., 1995, p.21).
Herrington et al. (2004, pp.11-13) researched authentic activities in web-based courses and
concluded that authentic learning activities were: ill-defined; comprised complex tasks to be
investigated over a sustained period of time; provided opportunities to examine the task from
different perspectives; used a variety of resources; provided opportunities to collaborate;
provided opportunities to reflect; offered integration across different subject areas and led
beyond domain-specific outcomes; integrated seamlessly with assessment; created polished
products valuable in their own right; and allowed for competing solutions and diverse outcomes.
Quality interaction is supported by ‘social presence’, according to Tu and McIsaac (2002, p.146)
who defined this term as the ‘degree of feeling, perception, and reaction to another intellectual
entity in the CMC environment’. They found the following issues influenced interaction: timely
responses to CMC messages; use of stylistic communication styles; casual conversation;
communication strategies; appropriate message length; planning, creativity, intellectual,
decision-making and social tasks; and appropriate communication group size (2002, p.144).
Positive influences on interaction occurred when the instructor provided time and activities for
students to get to know each other initially; when the instructor created a supportive
environment and modelled positive communication; and when small groups were formed for
interaction (Tu & McIsaac 2002) . Swan’s research (2002, p. 34) on online courses also
identified the importance of frequent and constructive interaction with the students by the
instructor. The students, though, required some control over this interactivity in terms of pacing,
choice of interactions, and their personal needs, experience and interests (Sims, 2003, pp.90,
While there are many important elements essential to ensuring interaction in online and
distance education, none appears more fundamental than quality instructional design. Wagner
(1997, p.25) concluded that designing effective interactive learning experiences begins with
considering the goals and objectives of the learning experience, with regard for the specific
audience and the particular conditions encountered in a given setting. Wagner (1997, pp.21–22)
suggested that interactions should change learners and enable them to actively work towards
their goals. By focusing on the outcomes of interaction rather than the agents of interaction, it is
possible to determine whether the interaction has had the desired effect. This emphasis on
outcomes of interaction returns then to the importance of instructional design.
Hirumi (2002, p.22) suggested using a ‘grounded design’ based on theory and research. Five
reiterative steps guide the educator in designing and sequencing e-learning. Standard
instructional design principles are highlighted, then Hirumi specifically points to the importance
of choosing appropriate interaction(s) to facilitate each event, analysing the quantity and quality
of planned interactions and selecting the telecommunication tools (chat, email, discussion
board, etc.) that will facilitate the interaction. The challenge in instructional design is achieving
an interplay of all factors that influence interaction.
A course designed for interaction
In this section, interactive features of Writing for Young People that were highlighted in the
literature and have the potential to impact on student satisfaction and achievement will be
examined. Writing for Young People was developed as one of six courses in the Master of
Creative Writing program first offered by the University of Canberra in February 2005. Although
this course was designed for online delivery using the University’s learning management system
(WebCT) with no face-to-face requirements, it also included some course materials and
readings in print form.
Breaking down boundaries
The instructor for Writing for Young People created a ‘world’ of authentic learning experiences
using constructivist learning principles. In this world, students would individually and
collaboratively engage in writing, critiquing and reading original and published works for young
people, respond to the literature, research the children’s book industry and experience its
tensions and influences. The learning environment explored the interconnections in the
children’s book industry through the experiences of those involved in the industry. Students
investigated practices, debated contentious issues and interacted with practitioners.
Simultaneously, they created original works with an enhanced understanding of how the
mediators between children and their books interact in this large and complex network.
The supporting website was designed to visually reflect the world of writing for young people. A
comment from an Australian children’s book publisher inspired the website’s visual metaphor.
Price (1991, p.179) said the ‘road from story idea to finished book and then to satisfied reader is
a long and perilous one, as any writer or publisher will tell you. It is fraught with dangers and
distractions, there are many forks along the way, many choices to be made, and the signposts
are never clear.’ On the website, the content was parcelled into intellectual ‘chunks’ and
positioned so that content and visuals reinforced one another.
Each topic in the course used a similar instructional design as a scaffold to support study and
understanding of the content. An overview described each topic and detailed learning
outcomes. Interactive activities were designed to engage students, based on Salmon’s (2002)
idea for ‘e-tivities’ for online learning. Each activity included a purpose, task and outcome to
encourage learner engagement, personal response and/or collaboration in small and large
groups. Students could choose a range of ways to engage in interaction. They might post their
views on the discussion board, record thoughts in their writer’s journal, visit a bookshop or
public library, talk with young people, take part in collaborative writing, discuss children’s books
or contribute to discussion forums. Strategically located readings extended the course content.
Each included a brief description to focus attention and a task to consolidate what was read.
Key points were scattered throughout the content to provoke reflection and discussion of
contentious issues such as censorship, editorial influence or the status of the industry.
Discussion forums, generated by the instructor, were designed for interaction and collaboration.
They were concentrated over a short time frame to reflect learners’ desire for immediate
feedback and to encourage maximum participation. Of prime importance to these students were
the two creative writing forums where they workshopped their original work for young people
online, discussed these over a period of a week with their colleagues, then posted a revised
work including critical comment on their own writing process. Students’ constructive comments
on their colleagues’ work were often highly detailed and included responses to the comments of
others. Towards the end of the week, the instructor responded to each piece of creative writing.
This allowed the instructor to expand the students’ contributions by extending their views in
related and new directions.
There were three discussion forums of another type. These tackled broader and more
challenging concepts. In the theory into practice essay, students researched a theorist of choice
and the potential impact of the theory on the industry, plus its application on two published
works for young people. Each essay was posted on the theory into practice essays forum, with
everyone required to comment on one other essay. This assessment item demonstrated
students’ higher-order thinking skills and encouraged knowledge sharing.
The publishers forum, spanning five days, provided a rare and real-world experience in
interacting with four children’s book publishers from Australia and the United States. The
publishers collaboratively devised and posted a provocative statement featuring multiple
interpretations and then engaged with the students in teasing out the intricacies of publishing for
children. There were follow-up comments and a fascinating revelation and resolution of tensions
between writers and publishers.
The debate forum was a culminating, inquiry-based learning experience. Students formed
affirmative and negative teams to research and debate the contentious proposition that there
should be boundaries set on writing for young adults. To facilitate team members working
together, two private topics were created on the discussion board so each team could privately
exchange ideas. They discussed, often in passionate terms, their case study material, which
Alderman & Fletcher
included research documents, reviews, newspaper articles and other items built around two
controversial young adult novels. Each team then collaboratively wrote four arguments, each
limited to 350 words and posted these over an eight-day period. There was extensive
asynchronous communication leading up to the debate. One team also used the chat tool in
WebCT. When the debate concluded, two external adjudicators, both experienced and
knowledgeable librarians serving young adults, read the debate postings, gave the teams a
score and posted their report including scores and the winner. The debate forum teased out
various values and viewpoints about the children’s book industry while honing students’ skills in
intellectual argument, analytical thinking, problem solving, time management and teamwork.
All students were required to participate in the five discussion forums. The remaining activities
were designed to cater for the different interests and experience levels of students, and thus
offer an element of choice, and to allow them to pace themselves and choose when and how
much they communicated.
Applying a rubric to analyse the level and quality of interaction
The course, Writing for Young People, was evaluated through an online questionnaire
completed by twelve of the thirteen students enrolled. Using these results to formulate
questions, a focus group, consisting of nine of the thirteen students enrolled, gave verbal
feedback. Both evaluations provided detailed information about the instructor, course design,
course content and use of the course website as well as suggestions for improvement. Student
comments on interaction were featured in both the questionnaire and focus group. These
comments are summarised where views were commonly held by the students.
To analyse the evaluation data collected for this online course specifically in terms of its
interactive qualities, a rubric designed by Roblyer and Wiencke (2004) to determine the quality
of interactivity in distance education courses was selected. Roblyer and Wiencke (p.95) offer
this rubric as ‘one tool that can allow more meaningful examination of the role of interaction in
enhancing both student achievement and student satisfaction in distance learning courses’.
This particular rubric was chosen as one that was based on theory and practice, tested by
experts in the field and used to evaluate distance learning courses. In using the rubric to
evaluate interaction in the course, Writing for Young People, criteria that described the fifth and
highest level of interaction was used. In this way, the rubric provided a benchmark for the
measurement of the quality of the interactivity in this course.
One of the five elements of the rubric, ‘interactivity of technology resources’, examines the use
of synchronous technologies. In the delivery of this course, these synchronous technologies
were not considered an appropriate or effective strategy to meet the specified learning
outcomes. Student needs for a high degree of flexibility were met through asynchronous
communication. As a result, this element was not applied as part of the total rubric in the
analysis of the interactive qualities of this course. Applying the other four elements of this rubric
provided a systematic way of analysing the impact and quality of the interactivity which was
fundamental to the course design.
The first element of the rubric (‘social rapport-building, designs for interaction’) examines the
way in which the instructor provided ongoing course structures to promote social rapport among
students and with the instructor. This is in addition to providing for exchanges of information and
encouraging student–student interaction and encouraging student–content and instructor–
student interaction.
The development of a social presence as a basis for quality interaction as defined by Tu and
McIsaac (2002) resulted in the establishment and maintenance of positive social rapport
building. Effective online interaction requires a sense of trust and a social collectiveness. Early
activities facilitated this. The first activity asked students to post a short profile about
themselves, their writing ambitions and books they remembered from childhood. These elicited
further dialogue between students and the instructor, established common interests and
provided the instructor with valuable information to later customise comments and ensure
content reflected and extended their personal interests. Other early activities included sharing
childhood emotions and childhood experiences, and discussing books with young people and
Breaking down boundaries
then sharing their responses. These activities easily drew students into a shared arena and
helped to establish a knowledge-sharing group. Student feedback indicated that the course
provided an opportunity for intimate communications to develop and the students formed
relationships and friendships.
The second element of the rubric (‘instructional designs for interaction’) examines the ways in
which instructional activities require students to develop products by working together
cooperatively (e.g., in pairs or small groups) and to share results and feedback with other
groups in the class. This is in addition to the requirement that students communicate with their
Wagner (1997) emphasises the outcomes of interaction as part of goal attainment. This
emphasis was incorporated in the underlying instructional design for the course. A constructivist
learning environment as defined by Jonassen et al., (1995) which is based on authentic learning
experiences as described by Herrington et al. (2004) resulted in most of the students (83.4%)
believing that the course had enhanced their ability to critique each others’ creative written work
online. They viewed this as a ‘perfect’ methodology which removed potential embarrassment.
Students stated that it also removed the aspect of immediacy and provided an opportunity for
reflection and for the modelling of critiques. There were mixed responses from the students
concerning the perceived workload required, which indicated the need for additional guidance
from the instructor.
According to the instructor’s records of each student’s participation in activities, the majority of
the free choice online activities engaged more than 50 per cent of the students while the five
required online activities engaged between 77 per cent and 86 per cent of the students.
According to course feedback, the use of an online debate, managed by two collaborative
teams, was found by several students to be difficult at times and somewhat labour intensive,
although it was described by others as ‘fun’. Several students also found that their small group
interaction did not work as well as their large group interaction, and there was a perception that
several people did more work than other group members.
The third element of the rubric (‘evidence of learner engagement’) applied requires that by the
end of the course all or nearly all students (90%–100%) are replying to and initiating messages
both when required and voluntarily, and these messages are detailed, responsive to topics and
well developed communications. Swan’s research (2002) reinforces the need for high levels of
learner engagement within an online discussion environment. In describing students’
expectations of interactivity in online learning, Sims (2003) identified some of the essential
elements. In this course, the majority (91%) of students found that there was a high level of
support provided by the instructor throughout the course and that this contributed to their sense
of an interactive community. Fifty-eight per cent of the students felt that online participation was
a valuable learning experience. Regarding posting and responding to messages, there were
790 postings by these thirteen students, with the lowest number of postings being ten and the
highest number being 122. There were seven individuals who posted more than fifty messages
each, and the average was sixty-one postings. While the majority of students agreed that the
workload was reasonable, a few felt more guidance could be provided as a guide to the amount
of interaction required.
The fourth element of the rubric (‘evidence of instructor engagement’) applied requires that the
instructor responds to all students’ queries, always responds promptly (i.e., within 24 hours),
and always offers feedback, detailed analysis of student work and suggestions for improvement,
as well as additional information to supplement learning.
In effective design for e-learning described by Hirumi (2002, p.22) the key is the successful
integration of all factors that influence interaction. In this course, the majority of students (92%)
felt that the instructor responded promptly to queries and that they had been given sufficient
feedback on their assessed work including detailed information about assessment grades. The
instructor’s guidance and immediacy of response was considered by the students to be
outstanding and the instructor was considered to be ‘generous and encouraging to students’
and ‘extremely knowledgeable and highly competent’. The students also valued the instructor’s
guidance concerning how the online discussions were to be conducted and appropriate
etiquette protocols.
Alderman & Fletcher
The Writing for Young People course reflected quality interaction, in terms of student
satisfaction and achievement, as identified in the literature. The rubric analysis confirmed that
much of the online interaction in this course met the fifth and highest level identified by Roblyer
and Wiencke (2004). The course can be deemed successful through both analyses.
There is always room for improvement in any course revision. Students felt that the online
debate was labour intensive. Case study materials will be reduced in number and the length of
the debate shortened. While students praised having the wide choice of activities, this led to
some conscientious students undertaking too much. Generally, the literature on interaction
discusses ways to increase interaction. While interaction in this course was measured at high
levels, students would benefit from more detailed guidance on the minimum amount of online
interaction required and on managing workload. Writing for Young People was a challenging but
satisfying experience for all those involved. When the redesigned course is offered, evaluation
will examine whether the revised design for interaction further enhanced students’ achievement
and satisfaction.
Copyright © 2005 Alderman, B. & Fletcher, S. The authors assign to ODLAA and educational non-profit
institutions a nonexclusive license to use this document for personal use and in courses of instruction
provided that the article is used in full and this copyright statement is reproduced. The authors also grant
to ODLAA a nonexclusive license to publish this document in electronic or print form within ODLAA
publications and/or the world wide web. Any other usage is prohibited without the express permission of
the authors.
Anderson, T. (2003). ‘Getting the mix right again: An updated and theoretical rationale for
interaction, International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 4(2), 1-12.
Retrieved June 26, 2005, from http://www.irrodl.org/content/v4.2/anderson.html
Herrington, J., Reeves, T. C., Oliver, R., & Woo, Y. (2004). Designing authentic activities in
web-based courses. Journal of Computing in Higher Education, 16(1), 3-29.
Hirumi, A. (2002). The design and sequencing of e-Learning interactions: A grounded approach.
International Journal on e-Learning 1(1), 19-27.
Jonassen, D., Davidson, M., Collins, M., Campbell, J. & Haag, B. (1995). Constructivism and
computer-mediated communication in distance education. The American Journal of Distance
Education, 9(2), 7-26.
Moore, M. G. (1989). Editorial: Three types of interaction. The American Journal of Distance
Education, 3(2), 1-6.
Price, R. (1991). Finding the form. In B. Alderman & P. Clayton (Eds.), Creative connections:
Writing, Illustrating and Publishing Children’s Books in Australia. Port Melbourne, Vic: D. W.
Roblyer, M. D., & Wiencke, W. R. (2004). Design and use of a rubric to assess and encourage
interactive qualities in distance courses. The American Journal of Distance Education, 17(2),
Sims. R. (2003). Promises of interactivity: Aligning learner perceptions and expectations with
strategies for flexible and online learning. Distance Education, 24(1), 88-103.
Sims, R. (1999). The interactive conundrum 1: Interactive constructs and learning theory. In J.
Winn (Ed.), Responding to Diversity. Proceedings of 16th Annual Conference of ASCILITE.
Brisbane: QUT, Teaching and Learning Support Services. Retrieved 7 July 2005, from
Salmon, G. (2002). E-tivities: The key to active online learning. London: Kogan Page.
Swan, K. (2002). Building learning communities in online courses: The importance of
interaction. Education, Communication & Information, 2(1), 23-49.
Breaking down boundaries
Tu, C. H. & McIsaac, M. (2002). The relationship of social presence and interaction in online
classes. The American Journal of Distance Education, 16(3), 131-150.
Wagner, E. D. (1997). Interactivity: From agents to outcomes. New Directions for Teaching and
Learning, 91, 19-26.
Animations: A key advance for open and distance
Richard Lowe
Explanatory graphics are increasingly pervasive in online and other electronic learning
environments. Static and animated graphics are especially attractive to those producing
resources for the international education context. While use of a specific written or
spoken verbal language may be an impediment to learning, graphics are widely
regarded as universally accessible. They also have the potential to address aspects of
learning that are particularly challenging for open and distance education. Traditional
approaches based largely on textual information can be poorly suited to the learning of
subject matter that is intrinsically visual in nature. Further, for content dealing with
change over time (such as processes and procedures), static forms of information may
be ill-matched to the learning task. In contrast, animated graphics offer a very direct
way to explain topics that are both highly visual and intrinsically dynamic. Animations
can be regarded as a way to overcome previous limitations inherent in open and
distance learning. One possibility is that courses previously requiring a significant oncampus
component for aspects involving processes and procedures could instead now
be presented largely online. Current practice in online learning suggests that many
producers of educational resources assume animated graphics to be intrinsically
superior to both text and static graphics for presenting dynamic subject matter.
However, quite contrary evidence is emerging from recent research on learning from
animations. This paper examines the perceptual and cognitive challenges faced by
learners when they interact with animations and presents research-based
recommendations for improving the design quality and educational effectiveness of
dynamic visualisations.
Text, graphics, or animation?
Verbal forms of information have long dominated formal education. With the spoken or written
word traditionally given the primary responsibility for presenting to-be-learned content, graphics
have tended to play a secondary role as adjuncts to that verbal information. However, this
traditional relationship between verbal and graphic information is undergoing a profound
change. Of particular importance are advances in information and communications technology
coupled with the development of powerful graphics processing software. As a result of this
progress, static and animated graphics are an increasingly pervasive feature of online learning
environments. In the context of web-based learning resources, the ready availability of graphics
has led to them being given more and more responsibility for content presentation. Subject
matter that only a few years ago was presented almost exclusively via verbal information is now
far more likely to be offered in a multimedia format that makes extensive use of explanatory
graphics. One reason for this swing towards graphics is undoubtedly the attraction they hold for
a generation of learners who have been raised in a visually-oriented society. For these learners,
the affective impact of graphics can be considerable in terms of their initial engagement with the
presented material and the sustaining of their motivation.
There is little doubt that screen after screen of uninterrupted text has far less appeal to today’s
learners than displays that make extensive use of graphics. However, in addition to these
affective benefits, graphics also have the potential to facilitate various perceptual and cognitive
processes that are necessary for learning to occur once engagement and motivation have been
Breaking down boundaries
secured. There is a conviction among many designers and developers of educational materials
that graphics make their own unique contribution to the effectiveness of learning because of the
particular way they present visual and spatial information. Traditional approaches to education
based largely on verbal presentation of information are poorly suited to this purpose. There has
also been rising interest from researchers in how learners comprehend graphics (e.g., Schnotz
& Kulhavy, 1994). Unlike verbal presentations, graphics can present information in a way that
closely corresponds to the visuospatial structure of the referent subject matter. Graphics can
provide learners with powerful external representations of information that can play a key role in
supporting internal cognitive processes that are fundamental to learning (Hegarty, 2004; Scaife
& Rogers, 1996). They offer advantages over a verbal alternative for processes such as
searching and the establishment of relationships (Larkin & Simon, 1987). Further, when graphic
representations are used in conjunction with verbal information, learning can be facilitated due
to the multimedia effect (Mayer, 2003). There is a need for a more sophisticated approach to
how people learn from text and visual displays, particularly in the way that information from
these two very different sources is integrated during learning (Schnotz, 2002).
In many disciplines, much of the information that learners must deal with has an important
dynamic component because it involves processes and procedures. Multimedia learning
resources increasingly include dynamic subject matter and there is growing research interest in
finding robust principles that might guide their design (Narayanan & Hegarty, 2002; Moreno, in
press). Until very recently, the presentation of dynamic subject matter for distance and flexible
learners has been especially challenging, particularly when visual, spatial, and temporal
dimensions of the content are all important. Verbal representation of such information struggles
to cope with the visual and spatial aspects, while static graphics often handle the dynamics
Figure 1 Static depiction of a seismograph
For example, the static depiction of a seismograph used for measuring earthquakes shown in
Figure 1 provides no explicit information about the temporal changes that occur as the
mechanism operates. Unless you already have a reasonable level of background knowledge
about seismic activity and its measurement, it is difficult to work out how a seismograph
operates from this diagram alone. Ancillary markings such as arrows and dotted lines may be
added to such static graphics in an attempt to convey dynamic information. In the case of a
seismograph’s operation, virtually everything that is shown in the diagram changes in some way
over time. Indicating all these changes would require the addition of many ancillary markings to
what was originally a very simple depiction. These additions would tend to clutter the depiction
so that it appears far more complex. Further, they must be properly interpreted in order for the
learner to understand the changes being represented. During this interpretation process, it is
assumed that the learner constructs a mental model of the situation depicted (Johnson-Laird,
1983) and that this must include dynamic information about how the situation changes over
time. This mental model building activity must be carried out within the constraints of the limited
capacities that humans have for processing information. If a learner cannot interpret the
ancillary dynamic markings on a static graphic, or interprets them wrongly, an inappropriate
mental model will result and learning will be compromised. Animations obviate the need for
these markings and their attendant disadvantages for learners. It therefore seems reasonable
that animated explanations are replacing static graphics in open and distance learning contexts.
The animation advantage
The property of animations that most obviously distinguishes them from static graphics is their
capacity to provide a direct depiction of change over time. In many cases there is a simple
correspondence between the dynamics of the original subject matter and the changes depicted
in its animated representation. From an educational point of view, this directness removes the
need for learners to carry out the cognitive manipulation (i.e., mental animation) that is assumed
to be required with static depictions of dynamic subject matter (Hegarty, 1992). Mental
animation of the information shown in a static graphic can be a demanding process, particularly
when the represented content is unfamiliar or complex. There are also individual differences in
the capacity to perform mental animation (Hegarty & Sims, 1994). Learners who have low
spatial abilities are especially likely to have difficulties in carrying out appropriate mental
animation from a static graphic.
Even when graphic cues about the dynamic character of the subject matter are provided in a
static graphic, mental animation may still be challenging and prone to error. This is because the
process of converting the single image into a continuous visual representation can rely heavily
on inference about details of the dynamics involved. The ancillary graphic markings that are
used to indicate dynamics on a static graphic are inevitably rather crude indicators of the actual
changes involved. For example, while an arrow may show the general direction an entity
moves, it is difficult to simultaneously indicate other important aspects of the change, such as
speed variations, etc. It is even harder for a static graphic to depict dynamics effectively when
multiple entities are undergoing change, particularly if these changes are interrelated in subtle
Animations appear to provide a superior alternative to static graphics for depicting dynamic
subject matter. The dynamic properties of animations can be used to mirror behaviours of the
referents being depicted. Representation of those dynamics by animation is explicit so they are
directly available to learners via perception without the need for the additional and often
demanding cognitive processing that is required with a static depiction. More of the learner’s
limited cognitive capacity is therefore available to be used for the central task of understanding
the depicted content (as opposed to the peripheral task of trying to work out how the subject
matter behaves). Because animations provide dynamic information directly, the learner’s task is
limited to interpreting the exhibited behaviour.
Challenges for learners
From the previous discussion, it may seem that animations should be far more effective than
static graphics in supporting the learning of dynamic subject matter. However, there is an
increasing questioning of conventional wisdom about the superiority of animated graphics
(Tversky, Morrison, & Betrancourt, 2002). It appears that potential benefits of animated
depictions must be traded off against a number of challenges that animation can pose for
learners. These challenges are concerned with limits on our human capacities to process the
types of information contained in animations and how animations present that information to the
learner (Lowe, 1999). When the depicted subject matter is unfamiliar to the target learners, such
challenges can be particularly acute because these learners lack the domain knowledge that
would allow them to chunk the presented information for efficient processing. Compared with
the ‘single frame’ of a static graphic, the multiple frames of an animation present a greater total
amount of information that the learner must process. Further, this greater information load must
be processed under a strict time regime because if the animation’s frames are presented too
slowly, the illusion of movement is lost. This means that each frame is available to the learner
for only a fraction of a second. While such limited processing time may not be a problem for
Breaking down boundaries
very simple subject matter, more complex information is unlikely to be processed adequately
under these conditions.
The overall complexity of an animation has much to do with the graphic entities that are used in
the display and the ways in which those entities are related. Animations presenting a host of
varied entities that are connected by a myriad of relationships are likely to be especially
demanding for the learner. Not only are the constituent entities invariably distributed around the
display, but their locations also often change during the course of the presentation. In addition,
the changes that are relevant to understanding the relationships between these entities may
occur simultaneously in different parts of the display. In order to build an understanding of the
subject matter depicted by the animation, the learner must attend to these distributed items of
information and attempt to link them into a coherent whole. Because our visual system is limited
to focusing on a very small area of foveal vision at any one time, it is impossible for the learner
to perceive all aspects of a complex changing display simultaneously. Rather, the display must
be explored and information extracted incrementally. It is therefore unrealistic to expect learners
to cope with a complex animation at a single viewing, particularly if they are novices with
respect to the subject matter depicted.
So, what approaches could designers of educational animations adopt in order to help learners
manage such complexity? It is tempting that think that interactive animations may be the answer
(c.f. Bétrancourt, in press). However, even when learners are provided with a user-controllable
animation that may be repeatedly and freely interrogated, there is no guarantee that they will be
able to extract the required information (Lowe, 2004). Rather, a perceptual dominance effect
may prevail in which graphic material that is highly conspicuous but not necessarily of particular
relevance to the learning task can preferentially capture learner attention while more important
information is neglected (Lowe & Schnotz, in press). While the visuospatial properties of the
entities in an animation provide one set of characteristics that can contribute to whether or not
information is noticed, temporal properties may also be important (Lowe, 2000). In particular,
perceptibility appears to be influenced by the extent to which dynamic contrast is present
between a graphic entity and its surrounding context. For example, rapidly moving entities on a
relatively unmoving background are likely to receive preferential attention. However, these
highly conspicuous entities may not necessarily be the most important in terms of the current
learning task.
Graphic entities used to depict the subject matter represented by an animation can be either
static or dynamic. In many cases, static graphic entities in the animation serve a contextual
function as the background to the dynamic graphic elements that show how the subject matter
changes with respect to its form or position. A necessary consequence of using animated
graphics to depict change over time is that some aspects of the information they present are
transitory. The dynamic graphic entities typically undergo one or more of three main types of
change (Lowe, 2003): translation (in which a graphic entity moves within the animation display
area), transformation (in which the graphic entity changes with respect to its form (shape, size,
colour, texture, etc.)), and transition (in which the graphic entity appears in, or disappears from,
the display area). For example, an animated ball may bounce around inside the frame
(translation), grow, change colour, and morph into a square (transformation), then exit from the
frame (transition). The fleeting nature of animation means that for a single-play animation,
information presented earlier in the animation is no longer directly available at a later stage.
This contrasts markedly with the situation for a static graphic in which all information is
permanently accessible. As a result, earlier information must be held in the learner’s memory if
it is needed at a later stage of the animation. This is a problem not only because the learner
may be unable to appreciate the significance of information at an early stage in the
presentation, but also because later information effectively overwrites earlier information in the
learner’s working memory.
The dynamic character of animations appears to have a seductive effect on those who design
educational materials. Many designers prefer animated depictions over the static alternatives
and, for some, this is probably because of the affective impact animations are presumed to
have on learners. However, other designers seem to prefer animations because of their
capacity to represent dynamics in a direct, explicit manner. There is a tendency for the flood of
animations that have appeared in electronic learning materials in the last few years to focus on
presenting the dynamics of the subject matter in as realistic a manner as possible. This
behavioural realism is employed even when the depiction is highly diagrammatic in character
rather than having a realistic appearance. Such animations present the dynamics in all their
complexity with no concession made to the information processing demands that result. With
animated diagrams, it can be interesting to contrast the extremely unrealistic abstract treatment
used for the visuospatial aspects of the subject matter (i.e., its appearance) with the slavishly
authentic depiction of its behaviour.
Design recommendations
Researchers have so far failed to find any general educational advantage for animations over
static graphics. While this appears to be counter-intuitive, it can perhaps be explained in terms
of inadequacies of current animation design. At present, animations are designed and
developed largely on the basis of intuition rather than research-based principles. This current
situation is partly a result of the lack of existing research on how people learn (and don’t learn)
from animation. Systematic research into what happens when learners interact with educational
animations is in its infancy and only in the last few years have useful findings started to emerge
from empirical studies. Nevertheless, there is now a sufficient body of research evidence to
allow a number of general design recommendations to be offered. The following suggestions
are made on the basis of the limited amount of research evidence currently available.
First, a clear distinction should be drawn between possible affective and cognitive functions of
animation in supporting learning (Lowe & Schnotz, in press). If these two purposes are not
clearly delineated, the animation’s effectiveness may be compromised because of conflict
between features designed to grab attention and aspects that are concerned with developing a
full and coherent understanding of the subject matter. Because the perceptual characteristics of
animations can be such a powerful influence on what learners notice and connect, designs that
emphasise affective impact over cognitive considerations may lead to important aspects of the
subject matter being neglected.
Second, key aspects of the subject matter need to be portrayed in such a way that the learner’s
attention is specifically directed towards them as required. This means the display should be
manipulated in ways that change the perceptual salience of the various information components
in order to emphasise important features and de-emphasise less important ones. Manipulation
of perceptibility needs to occur throughout the course of the animation and it may well be that
entities highlighted during one period are suppressed during another. The cueing of thematically
relevant aspects within an animation is particularly crucial for learners who are relatively
unfamiliar with the subject matter. Such learners will lack knowledge about what areas of the
display are likely to contain important information and at what periods during the animation
those areas should be inspected (Lowe, in press).
Third, the current preoccupation of designers with producing behaviourally realistic animations
seems seriously misguided, especially when the subject matter involves complex dynamics. The
processing demands that are involved in dealing with changes depicted as they actually occur
may simply overwhelm the learner with information. As a result, key information is likely to be
missed so that comprehension suffers. Designers of animated graphics may learn a great deal
from the approaches that have evolved over the years for producing educationally effective
static graphics. Manipulation of information has long been standard practice for educational
illustrations. Simplification and the gradual build up of information is a feature of these
illustrations and similar approaches could well be adapted to the design of animation.
Fourth, animations should not be expected to function effectively in isolation. Rather they
generally need various types of support (c.f. Mayer & Anderson, 1991), an idea that contrasts
markedly with the widely held view of animations as adjuncts to text. Instead, it may be more
effective to reverse this usual relationship and cast text (or at least verbal information) in the
role of adjunct to animation. Given that complex animations can place heavy processing
demands on the learner’s visual system, it is usually wise not to exacerbate this situation by
adding on-screen text in an attempt to support the graphic information. However, because
Breaking down boundaries
narration utilises a different and non-visual processing channel, it may be better to accompany
animations with verbal rather than visual information.
Animations are a potentially valuable tool for open and distance learning. However, current
approaches are unlikely to realise this potential because they rely on animations that tend to be
designed on the basis of intuition rather than research-based principles. Further, even welldesigned
animations may be ineffective if the target learners lack the domain-specific
background knowledge necessary for appropriate processing of the presented content.
Research on how animations are processed is beginning to show the complexity of this activity
and the varied demands it makes on learners. It is becoming clear that many animations are far
from ‘self-explanatory’ but instead may require that the learner is given significant support and
guidance for them to be effective. Other more traditional resources, such as verbal exposition,
offer possibilities for increasing the effectiveness of animation as a tool for learning. We already
have the technology required to generate and distribute animations to open and distance
education students. The advance we need now is for animations to be designed and presented
in ways that can make the best of the opportunities this technology provides.
Copyright © 2005 Lowe, R. The author assigns to ODLAA and educational non-profit institutions a
nonexclusive license to use this document for personal use and in courses of instruction provided that the
article is used in full and this copyright statement is reproduced. The author also grants to ODLAA a
nonexclusive license to publish this document in electronic or print form within ODLAA publications and/or
the world wide web. Any other usage is prohibited without the express permission of the author.
Bétrancourt, M. (in press). The animation and interactivity principles. In R.E. Mayer (Ed.),
Handbook on multimedia learning, New York: Cambridge University Press.
Hegarty, M., & Sims, V.K. (1994). Individual differences in mental animation during mechanical
reasoning. Memory & Cognition, 22, 411-430.
Hegarty, M. (1992). Mental animation: Inferring motion from static diagrams of mechanical
systems. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition, 18, 1084-
Hegarty, M. (2004). Diagrams in the mind and in the world: Relations between internal and
external visualisations. In A. Blackwell, K. Mariott & A. Shimojima (Eds.), Diagrammatic
Representation and Inference. Lecture Notes in Artificial Intelligence 2980. Berlin: Springer.
Johnson-Laird, P.N. (1983). Mental models: Toward a cognitive science of language, inference
and consciousness. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Larkin, J.H. & Simon, H.A. (1987). Why a diagram is (sometimes) worth ten thousand words.
Cognitive Science, 11, 65-99.
Lowe, R. (1999). Extracting information from an animation during complex visual learning.
European Journal of Psychology of Education, 14, 225-244.
Lowe, R.K. (2000). Animation of diagrams: An aid to learning? In M. Anderson, P. Cheng & V.
Haarslev (Eds.), Theory and application of diagrams, (475-478). Heidelberg: Springer.
Lowe, R. (2003). Animation and learning: Selective processing of information in dynamic
graphics. Learning and Instruction, 13, 157-176.
Lowe, R.K. (2004). Interrogation of a dynamic visualisation during learning. Learning and
Instruction, 14, 257-274.
Lowe, R.K. (in press). Learning from animation: Where to look, when to look. In R.K. Lowe & W.
Schnotz (Eds.), Learning with animation: Research and implications for design. New York:
Cambridge University Press.
Lowe, R.K., & Schnotz, W. (in press). Les animations: Aspects cognitifs et perceptuels. In
J-F Boucheix (Ed.), Les animations graphiques et les technologies pour l’apprentissage.
Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.
Mayer, R.E. & Anderson, R.B. (1991). Animations need narrations: An experimental test of a
dual-coding hypothesis. Journal of Educational Psychology, 83, 484-490.
Mayer, R.E. (2003). The promise of multimedia learning: Using the same instructional design
methods across different media. Learning and Instruction, 13, 125-139.
Moreno, R. (in press). Multimedia learning with animated pedagogical agents. In R. Mayer (Ed.),
Handbook on multimedia learning. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Narayanan, N.H. & Hegarty, M. (2002). Multimedia design for communication of dynamic
information. International Journal of Human–Computer Studies, 57, 279–315.
Scaife, M. & Rogers, Y (1996). External cognition: How do graphical representations work?
International Journal of Human–Computer Studies, 45, 185–213.
Schnotz, W. & Kulhavy, R.W. (1994). Comprehension of graphics. Amsterdam: Elsevier.
Schnotz, W. (2002). Towards an integrated view of learning from text and visual displays.
Educational Psychology Review, 14, 101-120.
Tversky, B., Morrison, J.B., & Betrancourt, M. (2002). Animation: Can it facilitate? International
Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 57, 247-262.

ليست هناك تعليقات:

إرسال تعليق