Newsletter - November 2001Welcome to the third edition of the ascilite newsletter in 2001. Our lead article is by Scott Diener of the University of Auckland and is a conversation with Tony Bates. A fascinating conversation that really leads one into Wonderland!
ascilite Newsletter is produced three times per year and we welcome article suggestions from our readers. Send your article suggestions to any of the editors: Cathy Gunn, Carmel McNaught, Tony Gilding, Gerry Lefoe.
Web Editor: Russ Pennell
Left Behind: A conversation with Tony Bates.
What's interesting on the ascilite website?
What's interesting elsewhere?
Left Behind: A conversation with Tony Bates.Scott Diener, Centre for Professional Development, University of Auckland
In a recent flexible-learning "best practices" seminar I conducted at the University of Auckland, a participant made the comment that her department needed to quickly mobilize training and resources for their faculty because she felt they were being "left behind". It's a common feeling these days. But who is ahead? In September I had the opportunity to visit with Tony Bates from the University of British Columbia, and it struck me as curious that our conversation revolved around many of the same issues as were raised in my seminar. I say 'curious' because it seems to me that the education community has been wrestling with these issues for a couple of decades, and we still aren't sure of our direction.
"Curiouser and curiouser"
You probably all know that Tony is fond of using the Lewis Carrol passage from Alice in Wonderland, "If you don't know where you are going, any road will do". It is reflected across much of his writing, and certainly underpins the wisdom he brings to the field. Our institutions around the globe are scurrying to 'catch up', but the road on which we travel is at best ill defined. I think, like Alice, we may be losing sight of our feet. So I thought I'd briefly share some of the conversation we had with Tony during his recent visit to the University of Auckland. His vision carries both the weight of experience and the substance of research, and I'd suggest that his views could assist us in defining the boundaries of our roads. I carried on the Lewis Carrol quotes just for fun.
"Well! I've often seen a cat without a grin," thought Alice; "but a grin without a cat! It's the most curious thing I ever saw in all my life!"
Foremost in Tony's concerns for higher education are the changing demographics of our student populations. They are older. They are more numerous. They have changing educational talents, styles and needs. Will students in the future wear the same grin as those we now teach? It seems unlikely. They may very well look different than any we have ever seen. But Tony reported that there is generally a low awareness of this among faculty in our tertiary education systems. Courses come, courses go. Students come, students go. Teaching keeps pace. But the demand on our institutions is clearly increasing, and larger universities routinely turn away significant numbers of students. As a downside result of this market demand, Tony feels that faculty are not attending to the shifting emphasis toward lifelong learning and the special needs of lifelong learners in the workforces of the future. There are few pressures on faculty to change practices, and consequently the mismatch between pedagogy and students is increasing.
His summary advice, of course, is that we need to develop strategies that will assist faculty in understanding the nature and scope of these changes, and subsequently to help them develop pedagogies that soundly address the needs of these curious looking learners.
"Would you tell me, please," said Alice, a little timidly, "why you are painting those roses?"
Rushing headlong to plant technology initiatives within a university can lead to unfortunate surprises. Tony was adamant that we should focus on getting a clear understanding of how we want our students to learn before we try to develop learning technologies. All too often pedagogy is being driven by technology, and the result may very well be that students are not learning. He suggested that every university should have a faculty development unit that covered both technology and pedagogy, and that seminars be designed for specific faculty. One-size-fits-all approaches will not, in Tony's view, help faculty to analyze their pedagogies to see if they fit. In fact, he suggested that difficulties for course conversions (to web delivery) are in actuality based around the diversity of subject areas, each with different requirements and pedagogies.
To further compound the problem, Tony felt that most universities have not provided the technology support levels necessary for teaching across the diversity of subject areas. At UBC the plan is to bring up the technology support for teaching from 10 full-time positions to 100 full-time positions over the next five years. That is a remarkable investment. Tony expects that there will be a centralized flexible learning unit, but that it will be a surprisingly small operation. The bulk of the support will likely be distributed throughout university departments, with oversight through advisory committees. This structure underscores Tony's insistence that technology should be strategically used, rather than simply being dumped on the institution. As an example, he suggested, "having a mandatory online component (to a course) makes no sense. Web-based learning has to add significantly to learning or it is not worth the effort". So it would seem that we should be very careful to ensure that the rose bush we plant is the color we want. This may be the biggest challenge of all.
"Let's fight till six, and then have dinner"
In any conversation with Tony, the subject of time demands in technology-driven education arises. He has some very definitive ideas on the subject. The most intriguing of those related to compensation and continuance issues for faculty involved in distance, flexible and online education. It is no news that the time demands of these pedagogies exceed their classroom counterparts, and it is also no news that many faculty are penalized by spending such time. Tenure decisions continue to be made primarily on research productivity, while teaching excellence is being given only minimal importance. However, Tony pointed out that tenure is faculty-driven, not administration-driven, and that faculty themselves will have to come to value teaching in order to make significant changes. It is an intriguing thought that could very well change our Tweedledee - Tweedledum battles. Interestingly, Tony believes there is a milestone approaching that can help us make such a transition. He pointed out that over the next few years a substantial portion of the existing faculty of universities around the world will retire, creating an opportunity to hire faculty who value teaching as well as research. This would, in rather short order, alter the current emphasis and create constructive change within our existing tenure and continuance systems.
"No, no!" said the Queen. "Sentence first-verdict afterwards."
Lastly, Tony expressed great concerns over the ability of existing infrastructures to absorb the increasing demands for education around the globe. He expects that university courses (UBC's in particular) will absorb a shocking student increase of 10% over the next five years alone, further adding to the glut in the classroom. Since it is already quite common for students to take 6 years to complete a four-year degree, competition for seats will become a significant issue for education. Plans at UBC are to absorb this additional student influx by using mixed-mode and distance learning classes, thereby reducing face-to-face loads for faculty. Therein lies the rub. Tony was very pointed in his argument that we need to carefully evaluate the cost-benefits of alternative programs, and that we "desperately need to look at evaluation, especially of mixed mode courses". Many programs offered to the public are given credibility before they have been responsibly evaluated, and many program costs are simply passed on as 'indirect' teaching costs.
"I think you might do something better with the time than wasting it in asking riddles that have no answers."
Clearly, Tony's vision for education is encompassing and informed. I'm not sure we will all agree with his positions, but I do think the time spent reviewing his work is well spent. He seems to me to be a generous, thoughtful and genuine person. Most importantly, he seems to have a great deal of common sense, and he uses it well. Tony has many resources, articles and presentations available on his web site. You can find him at: http://bates.cstudies.ubc.ca/
I don't think that any of the issues we raised with Tony are new or groundbreaking, but I do think that the fact we continue to raise them indicates our general sense of puzzlement. We may very well be behind, but rushing down a road with no direction is high-stakes gambling. Teaching models based on sound pedagogy, evaluation models based on objective outcome data, and careful cost/benefit analyses, can define the parameters of the road. We may even find that the road is wide enough for everyone to be 'ahead'.
Scott Diener, Ph.D.
Centre for Professional Development
University of Auckland
Private Bag 92019, Auckland
64 09 373-7599 x 8354
What's interesting on the ascilite website?Try a click on the 'Events calendar' button.
This takes you to the EdNA noticeboards area where there are 18 noticeboards covering a wide range of topics. A few examples are:
- Asia EdNet Noticeboard
- Education Related Conferences and Events. There is a noticeboard for Australia and an International noticeboard
- VET Conference && Event Themes - Resource Lists
This part of the site is well worth visiting regularly.
What's interesting elsewhere?The "work-in-progress" below, written by Professor Shirley Alexander, reviews "Who is building the standards?" for Learning Objects internationally and then highlights applications of Learning Objects standards in Australia, the USA, the UK, Europe and Canada.
"Work-in-progress" on Learning Objects (pdf document)
Professor Shirley Alexander is from the Insitute for Interactive Media and Learning and the University of Technology Sydney - http://www.iml.uts.edu.au/.
EdNA What's New
|A comprehensive Australian online educational resource network. What's New service provides material which has recently been added into EdNA Online.||Australia
To subscribe: http://www.edna.edu.au/edna/page1469.html
|IRN Internet Resources Newsletter||A-Z collection of the latest Internet Resources for academics, students, engineers, scientists and social scientists.||Heriot-Watt University, UK
To subscribe: http://www.hw.ac.uk/libWWW/irn/irn.html
|INFOBITS||Each month the Information Resources Consultant selects from a number of information technology and instructional technology sources and provides brief notes on key topics of interest.||University of North Carolina USA
send email to email@example.com with the following message:
SUBSCRIBE INFOBITS firstname lastname
|SCOUT Report||The Internet Scout Project provides information about the Internet to the U.S. research and education community.||University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA
send email to firstname.lastname@example.org In the body of the message type:
|ALT: Association of Learning Technology||ALT is an educational organisation which seeks to bring together all those with an interest in the use of learning technology in higher and further education.||UK
ALT is affiliated with ascilite and we have a reciprocal arrangement for conference attendance at the membership rates.
|DEST's Higher Education Division||The Department of Education, Science and Training provides a free electronic newsletter on issues and developments in Australia's higher education sector.||Australia
To subscribe: http://www.dest.gov.au/highered/enews/subscribeenews.htm