CYCLE 3 - FIRST COMMERCIAL NETWORKED
In the first two cycles, two pilot projects were completed which provided the basic infrastructure at Wellington Polytechnic to offer networked education on a commercial basis. In the first research cycle the Wellington Polytechnic Website was implemented, and in the subsequent cycle a free sampler networked course was developed
In the third action research cycle which occurred from January to December 1997, the first commercial networked courses would be developed while the HYDI project would be established as a more integral part within the organisational structure as the HYDI Educational New Media Centre (Wellington Polytechnic, 1998 June). The roles and responsibilities in the centre also would become more formalised.
The virtual class infrastructure would be implemented at Wellington Polytechnic to the point that two commercial networked courses were made available for enrolment by students. A small number of students would participate in one of the commercial networked courses when it was offered as an alternative to the students who were enrolled in the on-campus version of the course.
traditional class was still the dominant model for education at Wellington
Polytechnic where most teaching was done face-to-face physically on the
A Computers in Teaching Advising Group report (CTAG, 1997:3) indicated a growing and wide computer use by academic staff at Wellington Polytechnic; it also indicated that "both lecturers and students were united in their call for access to the Internet”. A real concern was the limited computer access of students mentioned in this report: "access for students seems to be the Achilles heel for the polytechnic. Students consistently called for wider access to swipe cards so that they can use computers outside normal working hours”.
In a further study done at the Wellington Polytechnic (O’Donovan, 1997:4) the impact of information technology on internal communication was explored and the findings indicated that computer usage and electronic mail among staff had become widespread since this research started: survey findings indicated a “… critical mass of respondents had adopted the technology, the majority of respondents rank themselves as either intermediate or expert computers users and on average spend 2.5-3.0 hours per day on their computers”.
The above findings indicated a positive internal trend in computer usage and computer literacy if compared to the situation in 1995 when many staff members of the Wellington Polytechnic preferred to have paper-based communications and many academic staff did not have access to computers (Appendix 7: 10).
This chapter has been structured, like the previous two chapters, according to the typical phases in action research that is:
6.2. act and observe
The action research log for cycle 3 comprises 864 electronic mail messages, some of which are included in Appendix 13.
The overall objective for this action research cycle was to manage the implementation of the virtual class infrastructure at Wellington Polytechnic to the stage where networked education could be offered commercially.
work comprised growing the user-base of networked education within the
Educational Development Department, the plan also included extending the
diffusion of the virtual class into new academic areas because, as Rogers and
Scott (1997) indicated, early adopters
are instrumental in achieving to the point of critical mass for an innovation
and, hence, in its the successful diffusion. In terms of
In preparation for student participation in networked education there was an intention to extend the technological virtual class infrastructure in the areas of synchronous on-line activities and back-end information technologies.
The modus operandi for cycle three was based on the following strategies to meet the overall objective:
6.1.1 grow the base within the Educational Development Department by developing and delivering the first commercial networked courses towards the Bachelor of Education qualification
6.1.2 further explore appropriate organisational structures supporting the delivery of networked education
6.1.3 extend the diffusion of the virtual class into new academic areas
6.1.4 strengthen the interest regarding the delivery of networked education among senior and middle managers
6.1.5 extend the technological virtual class infrastructure
6.1.6 liaise with institutions, organisations and individuals working in the field of the virtual class.
6.2 Act and Observe
This section contains a discussion of how the strategies listed above were carried out.
6.2.1 Grow the base within the Educational Development Department by developing and delivering the first commercial networked courses towards the Bachelor of Education qualification
As in the sampler course in the previous cycle, a prototyping approach was used to develop the on-line materials. The prototyping approach not only provided the ability to experiment, but also created a high level of interaction among the development team of whom the content provider was part of (Appendix 13: 5).
The design of the first commercial networked courses at Wellington Polytechnic provided students with an option to study either independently in a more flexible mode or as part of a group in a more structured manner. Networked education does facilitate this flexible learning approach, which seems to be valuable to people already in the workforce as illustrated by an electronic mail inquiry that the author received from Texas (Appendix 13: 6). If a student elects to study as part of a group, the time lines within a course will need to be more structured, and the lecturer in networked education can thus use group work and group assessment techniques.
If a student
elects to study independently, start and finish times for a course are less
important. Assessments then are to be structured for an individual approach and
the student might or might not want to participate in on-line communication.
On-line message boards, electronic mail and real-time CHAT (which the HYDI team
started to experiment with in cycle 3) can play a significant part in breaking
the isolation often experienced by a student studying alone (Barnard, 1997:30).
Asynchronous communications like hypermail boards and newsgroups allow the
student to observe the discussions that have occurred on course topics as well
as to obtain the contact information of other students who have done or are
taking the same course (Appendix 20). Stacey
(1997, June:1) quotes some of their students who used
computer mediated communication (CMC) in outback and urban
"I think it gives us better contact with our fellow students and it takes away the isolation of distance education. "
"....it just makes you realise you're not isolated in your pain. You're not the only one out there that doesn't understand it".
The head of the Educational Development Department, Nick Zepke, became convinced that networked education could improve the quality of learning, and was the first networked education teacher at Wellington Polytechnic. The first full course to be deployed on-line was “Introduction to Educational Research” (Zepke, 1997a) as well as case studies provided in the “Curriculum Design and Development” course (Viskovic, 1997). These Bachelor of Education courses were available in August 1997 and their introduction was announced in the internal staff memo as well as through a press release (Appendix ). A few students who where enrolled in the campus version of the “Introduction to Educational Research” course explored the on-line version and some reported that they found it to be a valuable resource.
The head of Educational Development Department also developed a research interest in networked education and published "Narrative and Constructivism in Cyberspace: Instructional Design for Distance Delivery using Hypertext on the Internet" (Zepke, 1997b) and "Virtual Classroom: Holy Grail or Tin Can?" (Zepke, 1997 October 28). The educational adviser within the HYDI Educational New Media Centre also researched networked education and presented a paper "Experimenting with the Internet: Developing New Patterns of Communication with Distance Learners" at the New Zealand Association of Research in Education (NZARE) Conference, Auckland (Viskovic, 1997 December).
These two content providers were influential in promoting networked education in the wider Educational Development Department and also as gatekeepers for providing educational, operational and cultural information (that is of the Educational Development Department) to the HYDI team. There were still ambivalent attitudes and concerns towards networked education as Viskovic (1997, December:11) points out:
(i) Some are enthusiastic, seeing the potential for more distance students to join in a wider variety of course experiences
(ii) Others are involved about equity issues such as access to the Internet for distance students from lower socio-economic groups
(iii) Others again see difficulties in the staff time commitment required, not only in developing materials and creating interesting interactive WWW pages, but also in maintaining on-going communication. While our classes are relatively small, this is less of a problem, but they ask whether we will still be able to interact with all the students individually when the numbers grow …
Educational principles were pre-eminent in the development of the first commercial networked courses at Wellington Polytechnic. Technological possibilities and administrative requirements were evaluated on the basis of how they contributed to student learning. Educators drove the design and implementation of the virtual class, and the networked courses thus had a strong educational base as illustrated at an evaluation team meeting at the end of cycle 3 (Appendix 16). It was felt that the good visual design, provision of various navigational paths, personal warmth through style as well as sound content based on educational principles and objectives should be maintained. In terms of the process, aspects like the enthusiasm within the team, continual inquiry and critique and an experimentation approach were experienced as being positive. Growth areas identified, included closer integration of design and narrative, more clarity on navigation plan, increased quality assurance, early and clear explanation and negotiation of the role and responsibilities of the facilitator, and more creative and effective promotional strategies.
The three year plan 1998 - 2000 of the Educational Development Department (Appendix 14) indicated that the Educational Development Department had embraced the virtual class as a significant component and strategy, and saw it as one of the competitive advantages of the department. Bottom-up and top-down - through the head of the department - initiatives within the Educational Development Department led to the further extension of the diffusion process within the Educational Development Department.
6.2.2 Further explore appropriate organisational structures supporting the delivery of networked education
The HYDI project was in a transitional stage between being an experimental project and becoming an established part of the organisational structure at Wellington Polytechnic. Its experimental nature is illustrated by the fact that it was still being funded from the President’s development budget and that no staff worked full-time on this project. However, the HYDI project had become part of the Educational Development Department as the HYDI Educational New Media Centre (Appendix 23) for the reasons described in chapter 6. The role and planned operations of the centre are described in the three-year plan for 1997 to 1999 (Appendix 22) and indicated that an expanding role was projected for the centre. The HYDI Educational new Media Centre had a vision to spearhead and co-ordinate the use of new media in education at Wellington Polytechnic from an integrated management, educational and technical computer perspective to enable technology-based educational improvement and innovation for open and flexible learning. The author's position description was amended to include more markedly the responsibility to spearhead and co-ordinate the use of new media in education (Appendix 19).
Networked education was slowly being recognised as part of the established organisational processes at Wellington Polytechnic as is illustrated by the inclusion of HYDI responsibilities in the 1997 performance agreement (Appendix 15) of the HYDI educational consultant. A further illustration of this is the inclusion of the author’s role to “...input into WP Inet standards and liaise re intended HYDI developments” in a document prepared by the academic registrar and director of the Management Information Systems (MIS) group to indicate wider “Inet” (that is both Internet and intranet) roles within Wellington Polytechnic.
cycle 3 the author was invited to be a member of the newly formed Computers in
Teaching Advisory Group (CTAG), who reported to the President. Participants in this
group included academic staff of the
The multi-disciplinary team approach that was used in the previous two cycles was again utilised in the course development in cycle 3. This approach seemed to work well, and regular fortnightly meetings (Appendix 13: 9) and some social events (Appendix 13: 8) supported the electronic communications of the team. The roles within the HYDI Educational New Media Centre remained as before, except that a designated person did not fill the role of “editor”; the content providers filled this role through peer evaluation.
It seemed that policies could be used to blend the requirements of this innovation with institutional capabilities and culture. In an attempt to formalise the use of networked education at Wellington Polytechnic and to establish continuity and wider support in administration, the author started formulating guidelines and possible regulations for the use of networked education via the Internet or intranet. This was done in consultation with the MIS director and a first rough draft was created as the basis for further discussions (Appendix 18).
6.2.3 Extend the diffusion of the virtual class into new academic areas
HYDI was still maintaining the Wellington Polytechnic Website, which had been developed as a pilot project in research cycle one. However, a transition of the maintenance of the Wellington Polytechnic Website was achieved in July 1997 when a Web administrator was appointed within the Management Information Systems (MIS) group. Although MIS group is not an academic department, this transfer did support the diffusion of the virtual class infrastructure within the institute because the academic registrar immediately set out to establish formal ownership of the contents of the Wellington Polytechnic Website within all the Wellington Polytechnic departments.
A recommendation contained in the report on the author’s overseas visit in the previous cycle (Appendix 8) was that short courses for niche markets were to be selected on the basis of thorough market research and that these were to be developed in parallel to the core formal courses in cycle 3. It was also stated that these short courses should ideally cater for the international market. A memo (Appendix 21) and general e-mail to all staff was therefore sent out in April 1997 (with a proposal form) to invite staff to “...join in the exciting venture of delivering courses via the World Wide Web to an international audience, by proposing a short course in your academic area which you believe will have a wide international audience and success (this will hopefully enable the Wellington Polytechnic to offer it at a modest fee) and be a short course not more than the equivalent of 4 or 5 credits (40 - 50 total learning hours).”
The reaction was limited and no developments occurred as a direct result of this effort - it seemed as if academic staff were just too busy to explore this further. Through personal networking a first networked education short course, “Virtual Teams: Meeting On-line” (Pauleen, 1997) in the School of Languages and Communication was, however, developed and piloted in November 1997 for national and international delivery. The HYDI team endeavoured to operate as far as possible within the regulations of the institute. In this instance the approval status of this course was defined as a seminar (Appendix 13: 1). The need for differentiation of international fees based on the local fees of students came to the fore (Appendix 13: 7). Charging a standard international fee made it difficult to market courses internationally while the exchange rate further made the fees unattractively high for certain international markets.
Through personal networking, which again emphasised the importance of the bottom-up component of innovation diffusion, the first teaching and learning resource of the On-line Campus was launched in November 1997 from within the Computer Studies Department. It comprised a comprehensive set of evaluated and categorised links to statistical organisations, resources and statisticians across the world (Lovrich, 1997). Another bottom-up activity was that the author presented two papers to academic and allied staff from various departments “The Wellington On-line Campus: Quo Vadis?” (Uys, 1997b October) and “Trends in Cyberspace Education: What’s Happening?” (Uys, 1997 September) at the Winter lecture series at the Wellington Polytechnic.
At the end of that year, a proposal to CTAG (Appendix 13: 2) was accepted to create a subgroup of CTAG to conceptualise and enable the further development of networked education. This subgroup would be called the “Forum for Enabling Networked Education”. This bottom-up activity was part of the plan to extend the diffusion of the virtual class into new academic areas and also to start addressing more of the strategic and operational issues related to networked education.
A study at Wellington Polytechnic (O’Donovan, 1997:3) indicated the need for training in general and basic computer skills among both academic and administrative staff in particular in order for networked education to diffuse further:
… the majority of respondents (70.5%) rank themselves as an intermediate or expert computer user. While this is a positive outcome, it should be noted that 20 lecturers (40%) classify themselves as either novice or beginner. This suggests that computer based communication systems are likely to be less effective among this group of employees. Training may be needed to ensure that these respondents are able to communicate using the available technology.
6.2.4 Strengthen the interest regarding the delivery of networked education among senior and middle managers
In the Wellington Polytechnic’s “STATEMENT OF CORPORATE OBJECTIVES 1998 - 2000” (Wellington Polytechnic, 1997) no mention was made of any aspect relating to the virtual class or the Internet. The references to the internationalisation of education were stated in terms of the conventional practices of increasing the international linkages with two more collaborative agreements, and recruiting international students to attend courses physically on campus eg “Orientation and ongoing social and learning support to be provided for international students” and “Increase international student numbers to …% of total EFTS”. The SMG also requested that the monthly spoken input that the author had been providing at SMG meetings be replaced with written input; the President obliged by consenting to the request of the SMG group.
In June 1997 CTAG made a presentation to the President in which the author identified the perceived advantages of using the Internet in education and specifically included benefits relating to management (Appendix 6). The author hoped that this document would be used to create more support among directorate members for the implementation of networked education at Wellington Polytechnic.
The directorate still supported the implementation of the virtual class at Wellington Polytechnic, as is reflected in September 1997 in a comment by the Vice-President at a public staff meeting t the effect that the directorate perceived HYDI as potentially significant in the strategic direction of the Wellington Polytechnic.
6.2.5 Extend the technological virtual class infrastructure
The importance of proper database support for networked education was illustrated when a small database application was developed to monitor the navigation of individual students through networked courses. This application analysed the raw data obtained from the Internet Service Provider (ISP) on “hits” statistics (the number of times pages are accessed) on the networked courses. This information could contribute to understanding how the students’ actual use of the on-line materials correlated to the instructional design.
Most of the necessary technological architecture for offering networked education had been obtained and implemented. This included access to the Internet and a Web server, HTML editors, a scanner and cross-platform computers. The news in August 1997 that Apple and Microsoft had reached a broad product and technology development agreement was welcomed with the hope that cross-platform differences like the rendering of colours and HTML files would be eliminated (Appendix 13: 11). In cycle 3 the HYDI team started experimenting with video-cams and related software for synchronous on-line communications within networked courses. The author felt that synchronous communications could contribute to a sense of accountability by students, communicate to students that there was a real interest in them and also to add aspects of non-verbal communication through on-line video-conferencing. The experiments proved to be difficult to conduct (Appendix 13: 4) without an internal Webserver to experiment and test these newer technologies and applications.
6.2.6 Liaise with institutions, organisations and individuals working in the field of the virtual class
Networking with colleagues involved in similar projects was essential for the author to evaluate the implementation of networked education at Wellington Polytechnic within a national and international context. As an open system, the Wellington Polytechnic also had to remain aware of changes in the external environment.
The author attended the 18th World ICDE (International Council for Distance Education) Conference" in Pennsylvania, USA (June 1997), presented two papers (Uys, 1997a June; Uys, 1997b June) and participated in two panels that dealt with “An Infrastructure to Support the Use of Educational Technology for Sustainable Development” and “Moving Course materials from Paper-Base to Screen-Base”, respectively. In the process valuable feedback was obtained on the HYDI team’s efforts and the author also learnt more about management issues in the virtual class from other presenters of papers (as referred to in this Chapter and others).
6.3.1 Managing the implementation of the virtual class infrastructure
These findings address the following elements of the MIT90 schema (see Figure 1.3):
184.108.40.206.roles and skills of individuals
It seemed that in terms of instructional design in the virtual class, prototyping, which was used in cycle 3 to develop the first commercial networked courses and in each of the previous two cycles, again proved to be a useful and appropriate development methodology because of its flexibility (Stair, 1992; Burch, 1992). The assumption in the TIES change model of Szabo et al. (1997) supports experimentation, which is intrinsic to prototyping. Although no-one can predict the future, especially in the highly changing area of instructional technology, the best way to predict the future is to invent it through experimentation, retaining the good ideas and dropping any that do not work.
The presentation of papers and attendance of conferences by HYDI team members proved to be important strategies for establishing contacts with colleagues at other tertiary institutes working in the field of networked education as well as assisting in legitimising academic staff involvement in networked education.
In the virtual class the financial cost on the part of the student cannot be ignored and, besides strategies to provide affordable access to adequate ICT, the cost of Internet access while studying on-line needs to be considered as a management issue. A specific strategy that can be followed in this regard, and which was used at Wellington Polytechnic, is to have a networked course in a compressed state that the students can download as a single file, leaving the students to go on-line only for communications and perhaps on-line assessment. Clear instructions need to be provided for the students on the steps to follow for down loading the file, decompressing it and accessing the course. Some networked education software packages like WebCT and Lotus Learning Space require the student to stay on-line for networked education. The potential benefits to the institute (student tracking and database functionalities) need to be balanced by the cost to the student.
The interest from senior management in networked education was still limited to one or two individuals and, with the President as sponsor retiring at the end of 1997, the top- down support looked set to dwindle. The bottom swell of interest did extend slightly further than the Educational Development Department, but was still insignificant when compared to conventional teaching. Szabo, Anderson and Fuchs (1997) reported on the implementation of the virtual class at the University of Alberta, Canada and indicated their support for a simultaneous top-down and bottom-up approach to meet the two major intended goals of involved in a training, infrastructure and empowerment system. The first is for the chief academic officers to identify a vision for alternative delivery systems of instruction for the institution, publish that vision widely, and demonstrate their commitment to it in a clear and convincing fashion. Secondly, departments within the institution should create leadership task teams to interpret the vision for their unit and prepare colleagues to implement the shared vision.
In the HYDI
team the Educational Development Department staff ensured the pre-eminence of
educational principles rather than administrative desires or technical
possibilities. It seems therefore appropriate that educators drive the
implementation of the virtual class infrastructure. Szabo et al. (1997) made some assumptions in their TIES change model by
stating that emphasis should be placed firstly on
realistic goals for improving formal learning (such as increased achievement,
decreased learning time, increased accessibility to instruction or cost
control) and secondly on the use of the technology involved in alternative
delivery systems (ADS). The move towards flexible approaches to teaching
and learning in a medium-sized (2000 students) tertiary institute in England
was examined over a period of three years by Willmot and McLean (1994:102-104).
They found that academics were suspicious that flexible learning was being
promoted for economic rather than educational reasons (1994:102) and that
students and academics agreed that, if flexible approaches were to be
successfully adopted, then "teachers need to take the responsibility for
deciding on the appropriate level and type of guidance". Caladine
(1993:9), who reviewed the literature on non-traditional modes of delivery in
higher education using state-of-the-art technologies, supported this emphasis
when noting “...that if the system is driven by technological determinists
rather than educators, the learners may become the victims of the process
rather than its beneficiaries”. David Noble (Appendix 13: 3) noted that
"some sceptical faculty insist that what they do cannot possibly be
automated, and they are right. But it will be automated anyway, whatever the
loss in educational quality. Because education, again, is not what all this is
about; it's about making money”. This highlights the importance of ensuring
ownership by academic staff through using a bottom-up approach (which should
occur in combination with top-down strategies) when implementing the virtual
class infrastructure in conventional tertiary education (
Another management strategy to enable the wide implementation of the virtual class infrastructure in conventional tertiary education is to ensure that this is a strategic objective and direction, and to tie reward systems to it (Munitz, 1997). This would be true for any strategic objective or direction, and also when an institute desires to move towards the virtual class. Its 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.
220.127.116.11 Roles and skills of individuals
In implementing the virtual class infrastructure in conventional tertiary education it is important that the perceptions of academic staff concerning networked education are addressed. The attitudes and ownership by academic staff are vital to the success of the implementation of educational innovations (Evans and Franz, 1998 April). At Wellington Polytechnic the two content providers of the first networked course from the Educational Development Department were positive about networked education and were influential in promoting networked education in the wider Educational Development Department - there remained, however, ambivalent attitudes to and concerns about networked education (Viskovic, 1997 December). The challenge that remained was to widen the positive perceptions in Educational Development Department to more academic departments at Wellington Polytechnic and to address the concerns about networked education within Educational Development Department. Taylor, Lopez and Quadrelli (1996) postulate that the adoption of technology within higher education faces three obstacles, namely attitudinal, technical and structural of which attitudinal issues are the most important. In their investigation, the relationship of attitudes and beliefs to change was fundamental. A negative perception of networked education is portrayed in an open electronic mail (Appendix 13: 3) by David Noble highlighting powerful barriers facing the adoption of networked education:
Once faculty and courses go online, administrators gain much greater direct control over faculty performance and course content than ever before and the potential for administrative scrutiny, supervision, regimentation, discipline and even censorship increase dramatically. At the same time, the use of the technology entails an inevitable extension of working time and an intensification of work as faculty struggle at all hours of the day and night to stay on top of the technology and respond, via chat rooms, virtual office hours, and e-mail, to both students and administrators to whom they have now become instantly and continuously accessible. The technology also allows for much more careful administrative monitoring of faculty availability, activities, and responsiveness.
Polytechnic, as many other polytechnics in
Nixon (1996:5) refers to this tension between the roles of academic staff as teachers and researchers when he argues that “the reconstruction of professional identity is a precondition of the restructuring of higher education”. He points to the differential status (and employment opportunities and rewards) attached to these roles, with rewards going to those who are tenured and research-focused. Nixon (1996:13) identifies four pre-conditions in educational institutes for this problem to be resolved through proper development of academic staff:
(i) the importance of collegiality and the need for mutually supportive relationships with colleagues;
(ii) the importance of having a clear sense of where their institution was going; a sense of its priorities and long-term commitments;
(iii) the need for structures to support their development as teachers and writers; and
(iv) the need to resolve tensions between their teaching responsibilities and research commitments.
18.104.22.168 Organizational structure
The HYDI project became the HYDI Educational New Media Centre within the Educational Development Department - a department that serves the whole institute. This created a firmer base for networked education and its wider diffusion at Wellington Polytechnic. This suggests that a central unit can be established to provide sustainable training, support, research and development of networked education in a conventional tertiary educational institute that aims to pursue networked education.
The HYDI Educational New Media Centre was established using the first of the three possible implementation approaches of “flexible delivery options” in higher education proposed by Taylor, Lopez and Quadrelli (1996). The integrated approach with a central unit managing the integration of teaching and learning with IT, emphasising support for professional development in educational and information technologies and linking it to university goals. The parallel approach, creating an IT-based teaching and learning unit, which operates separately and in parallel with existing staff development units. The distributed approach, which is more 'bottom up' and devolves responsibility for IT-based teaching and learning developments to local innovators across a range of faculties and units.
The use of
video-cams and having to meet on external servers in experiments by the HYDI
team confirmed the necessity of having a stable, dedicated internal Web server.
Experimentation with and testing of new technologies also required quick access
to, and a high level of control - an important function of management (Boone
and Kurtz,1984; Van Dyk et al., 1991; Newman,
6.3.2 Managing the operations of the virtual class
The research findings in this section support the second research question (How does one manage the operations of the virtual class?) and describe the “Management Processes” element within the MIT90 schema (see Figure 1.3).
The virtual class facilitates the use of the tools of the emerging
information or knowledge society as educational tools. This can be particularly
valuable in countries like
Networked education makes it easier for students to select networked courses from different institutes of their choice in order to gain a qualification. This technical possibility could be explored at Wellington Polytechnic as more networked courses, specifically in adult education, become available. This again points to the new level of control that a student can exercise in the virtual class.
The growing list of locally and internationally offered networked courses (The University of Texas at Austin, 1998; TeleCampus Online Course Directory, 1999; Geteducated, 1999) provide the student with a greater choice and can simultaneously create a minefield for students in having to select from this increasing number and variety (in academic quality) of networked courses and virtual institutes (Global Virtual University, 1999; Butterfield, Chambers, Moseley, Prebble, Uys and Woodhouse, 1999 July). The value and standing of courses are factors the student naturally has to consider with care. The critical analysis skills of students will need to be sharpened as choices in tertiary education increases.
The design of the first commercial networked courses at Wellington Polytechnic gave students the option to study either independently in a more flexible mode or as part of a group in a more structured manner. Networked education facilitates this option which is often not available in conventional tertiary education where teaching occurs in a group mode or as individualised correspondence education. More autonomy for the student is thus possible in networked education.
On-campus students were increasingly considered to be part of the networked education student body. Viskovic (1997, December:4) describes this possibility as follows: “… can also enable local students to communicate between classes, or to access class resources or staff members at other than timetables class meetings”. This convergence of learning modes which traditionally have been called “distance education” and “on-campus education” through networked education adds a new dimension to the management of student learning and the students management of their own learning.
(1997, December:13) indicates concern among the
Educational Development Department staff about the new possibilities of
flexible enrolment at Wellington Polytechnic (Appendix 20): "what
administrative practices may need modification if we want to use on-line
learning as effectively as possible? Would variable start and finish times for
courses offer distance students more flexibility, since they are not studying
in classrooms? Or should on-line students be encouraged to progress ‘in-step’
so that they are all ready to discuss particular course topics at the same
time?” At the ICDE conference in June 1997,
Martin Valcke of the Open University of the
In cycle 2 the implementation of the virtual class infrastructure at Wellington Polytechnic had reached the stage where it was no longer experimental, but set to provide real education and earn real income. It was still largely based in the Educational Development Department with some other departments also starting to put materials on-line. The diffusion of this innovation had spread to more “early adopters” but was still a small project in the overall teaching regime at Wellington Polytechnic.
In the business plan of the HYDI Educational New Media Centre of August 1997 (Appendix 22) a number of weaknesses of the implementation of the virtual class infrastructure was listed as part of a "SWOT" (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis including:
(i) The Internet and related technologies are developing at an exponential rate
A research centre is new to Wellington Polytechnic (in fact to most
(iii) The financial resources limit the research outcomes severely, especially in not being able to employ a computer technician for a substantial number of hours per week
(iv) Most people involved in the centre have other stronger commitments in their working day
(v) The operational processes within this centre is often different than the processes within vertical departments and schools due to its nature as a growing research centre and its entrepreneurial focus
(vi) Marketing and promotion of the services of the centre is not adequate
(vii) Students desiring to do on-line courses might not have adequate
The research findings of cycle 3 are documented in 6.3.1 and 6.3.2 above.
The overall objective for this action research cycle was to manage the implementation of the virtual class infrastructure at Wellington Polytechnic through the following strategies to the stage where networked education could be offered commercially:
6.4.1 further extension of the base within the Educational Development Department by developing and delivering the first commercial networked courses in the Bachelor of Education
6.4.2 appropriate organizational structures for supporting the implementation of the virtual class were further explored with the most significant development being the establishment of the HYDI Educational New Media Centre as part of the Educational Development Department
6.4.3 the diffusion of the virtual class was extended into two new academic areas, which thus extended the number of “early adopters”
6.4.4 the interest regarding the implementation of the virtual class among senior and middle managers was not sufficiently strengthened
6.4.5 the technological virtual class infrastructure was extended through experimentation in the area of synchronous on-line activities, but lacked further acquisition of back-end information technologies, for example a proper database for storing all the course elements
6.4.5 liaison with institutions, organisations and individuals working in networked education occurred through the writer’s attendance of the 1997 ICDE conference and Alison Viskovic’s attendance at the New Zealand Association of Research in Education (NZARE) Conference.
As the implementation of the virtual class infrastructure progressed and approached closer to facilitating networked education in a commercial way, it became more evident that conventional management of tertiary education would need to be transformed to manage the operations of the virtual class. The conventional organisational structure and culture within Wellington Polytechnic made it very difficult for the institute to adapt – or consider adapting - its management approaches and processes to the extent that is required to effectively use networked education.
This concluded the third of four action research cycles.
As indicated in Chapter 1, the action research had to progress to the point of fee-paying students enrolling and participating in networked courses at Wellington Polytechnic. A few students did participate in one of the commercial networked courses in an experimental way when it was offered as an alternative to the on-campus version, but on-line course interactions were at an early stage as the courses were made available late in cycle three.
In the fourth action research cycle the plan was to extend the investigation of management issues particularly relating to teachers and students in networked education and also to investigate which administrative processes were required.