Analytic or operational necessity? Towards the Multiversity.

This is a live blog from the first keynote presentation from the DEANZ conference. Paul Bascsich (Canterbury fellow 2012) spoke about analytic or operational necessity? Towards the Multiversity. Paul has wide experience around many areas, but today at the DEANZ conference he gave a world tour of virtual universities and polytechnics, most of which are teaching at a distance, and many countries have a ‘state’ single-mode provider…and ‘open’ university.. The US already have in-depth success (Sloan / Educause), while many other counties such as the UK, Australia, Canada etc have dual-mode providers. They  virtual polys and unis god well beyond the OECD and BRIC, for example, the Middle East, Thailand, China, India etc.

Many of the virtual university initiatives have faded, have not been reported on, or never achieve  “second stage ignition” (Bacsich, passim). Distance learning is “in trouble across the world” from governments (says President of ICDE). The Dutch OU, for example, has had some “blips”.

Virtual school have been an area of growth, and some of their experiences could “teach tertiary a thing or two”. There are 50+ in Europe, and a robust offering from Oceania, Latin America, and Asia. Sofia Distans is one example from Sweden (mainly asynchronous), which was started for diplomats’ children. Interhigh in Wales has more synchronous learning opportunities, and the Brisbane school of Distance Education in Australia is an example of an OER approach.

Latin AmericaLatin America (Photo credit: Wikipedia)Has there been a lost decade (well 10 to 20 years)? First Class was brought into the OU in the 1990s, and the first large-scale course for teachers was offered online at this time. Paul asserts that universities are facing crises – the “perfect storm” around what they are offering. Should their focus be broad or narrow? Retention is a classic problem, and this is usually worse when distance learning is involved. Quality is often fobbed off, rather than resolved. Effectiveness and study time are also an issue. Academically adrift – Arum and Roksa – was recommended as a useful read, and suggest that students come out of university with analytic skills not much better than those they came in with. In England, student study times have dwindled and vary widely between institutions and courses, and they are lower than in much of the previous years.

Outside the US, there is no overall articulated and evidenced case for blended and/or distance learning, and Paul asked for more up-to-date research. Do studies on study time to ensure that students and parents are not short-changed…and this is part of knowing your student. Student satisfaction is only part of the picture. Research has value for the nation, but not necessarily for the parents, students, or institutions. The evidence from the for-profit sector suggests that breadth of provision beyond traditional HE is key to (commercial) success of eLearning.

elearningelearning (Photo credit: Wikipedia)Paul started to wrap up with some key multeversity features including:

  • Joining with other institutions to set school-learning exams
  • Linking with international partners to lobby governments and ensure true benchmarkable quality
  • Generating ‘liberal arts’ thinkers yet e-business ready.

He finished by posing the question “Will your institution make it through the singularity and be transformed? But the question is, how to do it? The thoughts Paul included are: start now, “know thyself”, use incremental approaches, employ change management tools, have a compelling vision and will, and develop leadership at all levels.

About ictenhancedlearningandteaching

I am a director and consultant at Ethos Consultancy NZ ( I have a keen interest in all aspects of ICT Enhanced Learning and Teaching (ICTELT) where the focus lies on ways of scaffolding and empowering learners. In particular, I am interested in the way that creative, blended approached to Academic Professional Development can create trust, rapport and encourage reflective practice. As such, ICTELT is approached from facilitation, design, evaluation and assessment as opposed to the tools and what they can offer. I am a strong advocate of the potential of Web 2.0 to empower learners from all walks of life and cultures, especially after my experiences working for 6 years in the Middle East. In particular, I am interested how ePortfolios can be used in the VET sector (especially where Literacy and Language challenges are faced), in Recognition of Prior Learning, and in authentic, applied assessment. I have been involved with designing and developing ICTELT approaches and programmes for ten years. Following research informed approaches and design, I apply a qualitative, iterative process to evaluate the effectiveness of interventions, programmes and tools, encouraging learners' voices and input from all stakeholders.
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