Uys, P.M. (2000). Towards the Virtual Class: Key Management Issues in Tertiary Education. Unpublished PhD thesis, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. Available online:





Chapters 8 and 9 constitute the thesis of this study. Chapter 8 presents a set of heuristics as a tentative model for managing the implementation of the virtual class infrastructure in conventional tertiary education. Chapter 9 proposes a new tentative educational management paradigm for the virtual class called networked educational management.


The writer offers these findings tentatively and with a cautionary note in the words of Fullan (1991:350) to “…employ this knowledge in a non-mechanical manner along with intuition, experience and assessment of the particular situation…”


Chapter 10 provides a summary as well as overall conclusions and recommendations.


This study set out to identify what the key management issues are when implementing the virtual class in conventional tertiary education. It endeavoured to do this by establishing how the implementation of the virtual class infrastructure in conventional tertiary education as well as the operations of the virtual class are to be managed.


An action research approach was followed over three and half years that studied the endeavours of Wellington Polytechnic, a conventional tertiary educational institute in New Zealand, to manage the implementation of the virtual class infrastructure and the operations of the virtual class. The implementation of the virtual class infrastructure at Wellington Polytechnic advanced over the research period from a pilot project in July 1995 to offering commercial networked courses by December 1998. Using the terminology of Rogers (1983) the diffusion of this innovation included early adopters but was far from reaching critical mass.


The experience of implementing the virtual class infrastructure at Wellington Polytechnic does not confirm the smooth contours of Roger’s diffusion of innovation curve (see Figure 2.1). The various barriers that were encountered (both internal and external to the HYDI team), the uncontrollable events that negatively and positively impacted on the HYDI project, the mistakes made and fruitless experiments point to a ragged contour of the innovation “curve”. This innovation at Wellington Polytechnic experienced many of the problems that Fullan (1991:27) refers to in political change like “… overload, unrealistic time-lines, uncoordinated demands, simplistic solutions, misdirected efforts, inconsistencies, and underestimation of what it takes to bring about reform”. It was many times a case of a few steps forward and a number of steps backward.


More of a team approach could have been followed that could have added other significant insights. The action research methodology would have facilitated a team approach well. The writer acknowledges the subjectivity of this study and the impact this has had on both the process and outcomes of the research.


Further activities regarding the implementation of the virtual class infrastructure at Wellington Polytechnic would seek to move this innovation to reach a critical mass, which is Rogers’ (1983) indication of that point at which a sufficient number of individuals have adopted an innovation so that its further rate of adoption becomes self-sustaining. Effective administrative and educational support services for networked education were not in place at this stage and would need serious attention in the further implementation of the virtual class infrastructure at Wellington Polytechnic. Details of the planned further implementation of the virtual class infrastructure at Wellington Polytechnic are contained in HYDI’s three-year plan (Appendix 22).


Following the merger on 1 July 1999, Wellington Polytechnic became Massey University at Wellington after this research had been concluded. Massey University is a dual mode institute and is the major provider of university distance education in New Zealand.  This will most probably energise the implementation of the virtual class within Massey University at Wellington. However, It could also stifle the implementation of the virtual class, as networked education could be interpreted as just “another mode” of delivery and buried in traditional on-campus and distance education policies, practices and processes.


10.1 Managing the Implementation of the Virtual Class Infrastructure


This study concludes that the diffusion of innovation theory of Rogers (1983), which proposes a bottom-up approach when the innovation emerges from outside senior management, needs to be augmented with a top-down component for effective diffusion of the virtual class in conventional tertiary education. The top-down component needs to include both senior and middle management.


Lack of funding is often touted as a key stumbling block in the implementation of the virtual class in conventional tertiary education. This is indeed the case in the Pacific Rim, as Rajasingham (1999:170) points out: “New Zealand and the Pacific Islands are well aware of the need for a paradigm shift in education delivery, but are grappling with the world-wide problem of a lack of resources to provide equitable access to information technology”.


More important than lack of funds, might be the lack of vision and of creating a strategic implementation framework for the effective implementation of technological innovations like networked education. Berge and Schrum (1998:35) contends that “the most important function of institutional leadership may be to create a shared vision that includes widespread input and support from the faculty and administration, articulates a clear educational purpose, has validity for stakeholders, and reflects the broader mission of the institution”. Rajasingham (1999:166&170) also points to the imperative of addressing management infrastructure within tertiary education in New Zealand, and of addressing the lack of vision for the virtual class Naidoo and Schutte (1999:90) also point to this need in the African context: "If African countries cannot take advantage of the information revolution and surf this great wave of technological change, they may be crushed by it… Catching this wave will require visionary leadership in Africa". Bates (1995:47) contends that “…even more important than an environmental scan for managing change is the development of a long-term vision”, the implication of which is stated explicitly when Bates (2000:42) asserts that “…the widespread use of new technologies in an organization does constitute a major cultural change. Furthermore, for such change to be successful, leadership of the highest quality is required”.


The challenges to conventional tertiary education therefore require imaginative and bold leadership. Leadership Paul (1990:66) asserts in the context of employing what he terms “open management” that a value-driven leadership approach is required to transcend the traditional models of educational management. Limerick and Cunningham (1993:37) connect to value-driven leadership when proposing the use of transformational leadership as part of their “Fourth Blueprint” for the organisational life at the turn of the century. “Passive stewardship as a concept of management … is no longer a useful option when the continued viability of the institution over which stewardship is being executed is threatened ... [it] demands enlightened, innovative, and aggressive leadership” (Karol and Ginsburg, 1980:246). Tom Peters asserts that “my own hypothesis about tomorrow’s survivors is that they will be fast, intuitive, opportunistic, hustling, caring, trusting, empathising, cheer-leading, emotional, mistake-making and action taking. It is about as close to a 180 degree flip-flop as could possibly be imagined” (Caulkin, 1990:79).


A strategic plan for the implementation of the virtual class infrastructure needs to incorporate the possibility of second level effects. It is also vital to ensure that proper feedback loops (see Chapter 1) are built into the implementation system. Senge (1990:60) points out that novel ideas tend to cause behaviour to grow better before it grows worse. Sproull and Kiesler’s (1991) explain that second level (or second order) effects are more significant and longer lasting than first level (or first order) effects. They assert that second level effects occur because the technology transforms how people depend on and relate to others, and what they attend to. Hermann (1997, June) illustrated second order consequences of using the WWW for teaching in relation to access, changing concepts of teaching and learning and the changing nature of interpersonal communication. He states that “each in its own way provides anecdotal evidence for positive and negative unintended consequences of the use of this mode of teaching and learning in distance education.” Gundry and Metes (1997) note that second level effects have to do with changing the design of interaction, work process and social organization.  Gundry and Metes warn that second level effects can indeed defeat the intended first level effect. They quote the example used by Neil Postman (1990) that Gutenberg, the inventor of printing, was a devoted Christian, and thought that the printing press through the wide distribution of the Bible would advance the cause of the Holy Roman See. In fact, it brought about a knowledge revolution that destroyed the monopoly of the Church.


The set of heuristics for managing the implementation of the virtual class infrastructure in conventional tertiary education provides a broad area for future investigation into its second level effects as it is mainly based on first level effects of efficiency and productivity.


Implementing networked education needs to be a strategic objective and direction of an institute and the reward systems need to be tied to the implementation of networked education. The institute’s reward systems should encourage academic staff and students to become and remain involved in networked education if it desires to implement the virtual class infrastructure widely within the institute. Structuring networked education projects as research activities can legitimise the involvement of academic staff and might be essential to secure academic staff involvement when the scholarship of teaching is not recognised to the same degree as for instance the scholarship of research.


Strategic management of the implementation of the virtual class infrastructure needs to address the interests and concerns of administration, academics and students. Willmot and McLean (199499) found in a case study of an Australian University that  …each group has its own interests and concerns, which, at times, overlap, but at others, diverge”.


Particularly important is addressing the perceptions, fears and concerns of academic staff in order to change their attitudes and to ensure ownership. The extensive interest in the workshops that the writer conducted regarding networked education indicates that staff development can be used as an important strategy to advance the implementation of networked education among academic staff.


The critical and fundamental role that ICT play in networked education point to the need for a strategic training and support plan for academic staff and students in the educational reform that effective networked education induces. There is a need to increase the general level of computer and information literacy within an institute as a strategic goal when implementing networked education. Sustained ICT support and training is necessary due to the new skills, wider choices and distinct philosophies of the virtual class. The dramatic increases in the amount of information available that students and teachers in networked education has to contend with calls for increased critical analyses and knowledge management skills of both students and teachers. Acquiring these skills and dealing with the stress of change, extended choices and information overload underlines the imperative for proper training and support mechanism for teachers and students.


It follows from the central position of students in networked education that they could contribute significantly to the bottom-up swell of innovation diffusion in conventional tertiary education. Students need to be considered as agents of educational reform in concert with academics and managers. The diffusion of networked education will gain increased momentum in an institute when students petition for its widespread use.


The links and liaison with other institutions and individuals involved in implementing networked education proved to be a major source of encouragement, critique and inspiration. Networking at conferences led to continued exchanges and sharing of operational as well as research progress. Peers at national and international conferences where the writer presented some of the interim research findings as papers provided helpful feedback through their comments as well as through the papers they presented. Networking within the institute proved to be essential in diffusing networked education, obtaining support and ensuring ownership.     


10.2   Managing the operations of the virtual class


This study was based on the hypothesis that a new kind of educational management is required in conventional tertiary education for managing the operations of the virtual class. Although the research intention was to be deductive rather than conclusive, that it would uncover and highlight rather than lead to closure, this research led to the identification and formulation of a new type of management required for the operations of the virtual class namely: networked educational management. In this regard it would seem in the words of Luke (1978) that the virtual class indeed is “new wine” that require the "new wineskin" of networked educational management.


An institute that uses networked education extensively will need to develop a ubiquitous ICT architecture to match the central role of ICT in networked education. Effectively managing ICT, which forms the base of networked education, may also assist in attracting external resources that can further fund this innovation. Yetton (1993), in his research of twelve universities' management of IT, uses the MIT90 schema (see Figure 1.3) to illustrate the important role of technology in an organisation's performance, and  claims that the universities that succeed in getting IT right, will attract resources; those that get it wrong, will not.


Networked educational management is based on a distributed or networked model and has therefore an advantage above both centralised (strengthening conformity) and decentralised (encouraging divergence) management approaches. Conventional management of tertiary education have been described as having a peculiar model of centralisation in administration and decentralisation in academic endeavours which often lead to frustration and counter-productive outcomes which have been referred to as organised anarchy (Cohen and March, 1974). Networked educational management can ensure conformity to central principles and standards while it simultaneously encourages diversity and may contribute to the bridging of the traditional schism between the administrative and academic areas in tertiary education.


The enhanced effectiveness that networked educational management can bring to tertiary education is based not only on the premise that it is an appropriate management response to the new educational paradigm of the virtual class, but also through new synergies. Tapscott (1996:xiv) describes this possibility as follows:

The Age of Networked Intelligence is an age of promise. It is not simply about the networking of technology but about the networking of humans through technology. It is not an age of smart machines but of humans who through networks can combine their intelligence, knowledge, and creativity for breakthroughs in the creation of wealth and social development… The network becomes the computer – infinitely more powerful than any single machine. And networked human intelligence is applied to research, thus creating a higher order of thinking, knowledge - and maybe even internetworked consciousness – among people. The same networking can be applied to business and almost every other aspect of human endeavor – learning, health care, work, entertainment.


This research through the notion of networked educational management offers a variety of further research opportunities. Bertalanffy (1968:18) points out that the  …earlier versions of a new paradigm are mostly crude, solve few problems, and solutions given for individual problems are far from perfect”.


Further research could explore the effectiveness of networked educational management and the heuristics of implementing the virtual class infrastructure in other conventional tertiary educational institutes, non-conventional educational institutes for example distance educational institutes and dual-mode institutes, as well as in secondary and primary education. Networked educational management could further be examined in different organisational and national cultures.


The collaborative nature of networked educational management calls for further investigation of effective physical and virtual team processes and principles in tertiary education. Aspects of team motivation, decision-making, autonomy and accountability needs to be explored within the framework of the learning organisation.


It is a paradox that conventional tertiary education which has traditionally been the main providers of post-secondary learning in society seems to be enormously challenged to become a learning organization itself – adaptive, flexible, information based and responsive to its environment. Eric Hoffer stated that in a time of drastic change, it is the learners who survive; the ‘learned’ find themselves fully equipped to live in a world that no longer exists. Will conventional tertiary education be able to transform its management approaches and processes to the extent required when there is widespread use of networked education?  Can it implement networked educational management to its fullest extent? In the context of the emerging digital information age, Tapscott (1996:37) asks the following questions: “Can the formal education system transform itself? …Will teachers and administrators be able to reinvent education?”. This research has not provided positive responses to these questions.


Luke (1998) feels so strongly about the fundamental differences between conventional face-to-face and virtual universities that it prompts him to state that “virtually all the rules governing face-to-face universities make it difficult, if not impossible to run a virtual university; you just don’t migrate into Cyberspace from a built environment”. Taylor, Lopez and Quadrelli (1996) believe it to be improbable that conventional tertiary education can transform itself. With technology becoming more pervasive in all aspects of teaching and administration, academic as well as general staff roles are being transformed. Across all key areas new positions and skills are needed. From the diversity of staff development strategies and activities that universities are adopting, we identified three approaches to deal with this challenge. These approaches will need to support an accelerated shift from teaching to learning, delivered not by individual lecturers but by multi-functional teams. Universities are poorly equipped and under resourced to manage this strategic change.


The extensive management and wider implications for a conventional tertiary education institute when implementing the virtual class might further be pointing to the emergence of a new kind of educational institute. This study has shown that implementing the virtual class needs to have an extensive impact on the management processes within conventional tertiary education. It further confirmed the centrality of management processes in implementing technological innovation as depicted in the MIT90 schema (Figure 1.3). Networked educational management needs to occur on all levels and in all areas of an institute that seriously engages in networked education. It follows that the kind of institute that fully adopts the virtual class will display fundamentally different characteristics than that of a conventional tertiary educational institute. In terms of an overall organisational structure it seems possible therefore that networked educational institutes might emerge which will actualise networked education and use networked educational management to its fullest extent.


Finally, educational principles need to guide the implementation of the virtual class in tertiary education. Corporate universities and private enterprise are poised to supersede the current role of conventional tertiary educational institutes in higher education. Tertiary educational institutes need to respond to the requirements of the information society to ensure that educational principles govern future post-secondary education.  Johnston (1997:120) aptly puts it:  “there is no alternative but to face the inevitability of a profound impact of new technology on teaching and learning and to work to establish a rich educational environment within that framework…”