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 Unpublished PhD thesis, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand.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:





In the previous cycles, the virtual class infrastructure was implemented to the stage where commercial networked courses were available and students started to participate in these courses in an experimental way.


In this final action research cycle that occurred from January to December 1998, students would enrol and participate in networked courses, which took place especially through a growth in the use of on-line message boards in the Bachelor of Education (B.Ed) and Master of Education (M.Ed) courses.


The virtual class infrastructure was to be implemented at Wellington Polytechnic to the point where students enrolled for the commercial networked courses and on-line interaction among students and with lecturers occurred. The operations of the virtual class were still very much localised within the Educational Development Department.


This chapter has been structured, like the previous three chapters, according to the typical phases in action research that is:

7.1.      plan

7.2.      act and observe

7.3.      reflection.


The action research log for cycle 4 comprises 227 electronic mail messages, some of which are included in Appendix 24.


7.1     Plan


In cycle 4 the overall objective was to assess the appropriateness of the virtual class infrastructure and to extend it where necessary to support commercial networked education. 


The plan included further extending the diffusion of the virtual class to new academic areas and also to expand networked education into the Master of Education (M.Ed) courses within the Educational Development Department.


The intention was to specifically investigate the management issues related to teachers and students in networked education and the related administrative processes.


A list of planned operational actions for cycle 4 was included in the business plan of the HYDI Educational New Media Centre of August 1997 (Appendix 22), which highlighted the need for senior management support and for continued central funding.


The modus operandi for cycle four was based on the following strategies to meet the overall objective:

7.1.1        analyse the operations of networked education

7.1.2        extend the diffusion of the virtual class further in the Educational Development Department and into new academic areas

7.1.3    continue to liaise with institutions, organisations and individuals working in the field of the virtual class.


7.2     Act and Observe


This section contains a discussion of how the strategies above were carried out.


7.2.1    Analyse the operations of networked education


Most of the students and lecturers who participated in the two commercial networked courses had at that stage not worked on message boards (Viskovic, 1997 December) and the response to using these boards was minimal. There was also an intermittent technical problem with the boards, which did not receive priority treatment from the computer support group who had been requested to assist HYDI in this matter. This further discouraged student participation. However, electronic mail was used extensively between students and lecturers.


The HYDI team did more experiments with synchronous communication facilities over the Internet, but did not promote these for use in networked education because the team wanted to allow participants in the networked courses to first familiarise themselves with the asynchronous communication facilities.  Using the synchronous communication facilities would also require a sharp increase in technical support, which could not be provided by either HYDI or CSG.


The ICT support for students in networked education was thus very limited and depended on the availability of one or two members of the HYDI Educational New Media Centre. A helpdesk using the 0800 was not available for students, and technical queries often ended up with the author.


When the networked course “Introduction to Educational Research” (Zepke, 1997a) was presented, a number of students requested printed copies of the course because of technical computer problems (mostly with down loading and decompressing the course) or lack of access to the Internet. Other students requested that the course materials be provided on floppy discs. This defeated many of the instructional design and communication principles and intentions, and highlighted the importance of designing networked courses with the least possible "footprint", which is the required technology on the student's side. This also underlined the need for consistent ICT support for students and staff in networked education.   


An intranet was implemented at Wellington Polytechnic in 1998 by the Management Information Systems (MIS) group. This opened up new opportunities for offering networked education to on-campus students. A few lecturers in other departments started to experiment with this mode by putting some course resources on the intranet for their on-campus students. This made it possible to have on-campus and off-campus students participating seamlessly in the same course occurrence.


The administrative processes necessary for networked education were still largely print-based and designed for on-campus students. Library facilities were still catering largely for on-campus students, while some distance students expressed a need for accessing library resources electronically. On-line registration was discussed but the Management Information Systems (MIS) group was not yet able to support this possibility. Potential students, however, could still register their interest in networked courses on-line.


The global nature of networked education was illustrated when the HYDI team received the following e-mail from a trainer in the United States of America who had found the sampler networked course “Teaching Techniques for Adult Learning” on the WWW:

We were having a difficult time paring down the rather involved and extensive 'Train the Trainer' training that is offered at Johnson Space Center (it's for professional trainers).  What we needed was something direct and relatively simple to provide to crew training developers who, for the most part, are hardware, software, or science developers who also have to develop training demonstrations on how the equipment works.  Your website provided exactly the information we needed and saved development $$$ for the space program. 


There was interest from a number of international students to do the networked course “Introduction to Educational Research” (Zepke, 1997a), but even a significantly reduced international fee still cost more than what the potential students could afford - the exchange rate also aggravated this problem. The same occurred in the Virtual Teams course, but the fees – mainly because of the exchange rate – discouraged enrolment to the point that none of the students who had initially indicated an interest enrolled. The accepted view within Wellington Polytechnic at this stage was that standard international fees had to be paid by international students accessing courses from within their own countries (the cost of which was amplified by the exchange rate). This discouraged marketing of the networked courses as well as enrolments (as illustrated above). A proper marketing strategy had not yet been designed and needed serious consideration.


In the area of course development, the course elements were still being stored in flat directory structures. The HYDI Educational New Media Centre started work on a software package to better manage these elements by using a fully relational database. This software package would assist lecturers to develop on-line courses without any requirement for technical computer knowledge and would require limited technical input from the HYDI team. This software package was in an initial prototype stage at the end of cycle 4.


Quality assurance emerged as a management issue since students from other countries inquired about enrolling in the networked courses. Courses have prerequisites and the qualifications of students would have to be assessed for equivalence to New Zealand standards. This issue was also illustrated in the challenge to ensure authenticity in assessment and on-line communications. Quality assurance was becoming a significant issue in networked education, as was illustrated by the initiative of David Woodhouse, director of New Zealand Universities Academic Audit Unit (AAU), to invite the author onto a panel to investigate external quality assurance for the virtual institution  (Butterfield, Chambers, Moseley, Prebble, Uys and Woodhouse, 1999 July).


7.2.2    Extend the diffusion of the virtual class further in the Educational Development Department and into new academic areas


The interest in the virtual class within Educational Development Department was positive, and staff of the Educational Development Department were interested in extending the use of on-line message boards. On-line message boards for four Master of Education (M.Ed) courses were created. In the second semester of 1998 work also started on another Bachelor of Education (B.Ed) degree course, “Adult Learning”.


The prospective on-line educators within the Educational Development Department were invited to do a short networked course “Virtual Teams: Managing the on-line meeting” (Pauleen, 1997). As the operations with the virtual class were akin to the operations of a virtual team in which participants are removed in space and often time (Jarvenpaa and Leidner, 1998; Lipnack and Stamps, 1997), the participation level was low owing to other higher priorities of staff and the culture within the Educational Development Department, which did not respond well to the invitation being framed as a pre-requisite for networked education.


A number of bottom-up initiatives were taken to extend the diffusion of networked education beyond the Educational Development Department. A brochure to promote the services of the centre both internally and externally was designed by the HYDI graphic designer and distributed by the author and other team members. A document containing guidelines for the development of networked education was also created and provided to the small number of prospective teachers in networked education.    


Alison Viskovic, an educational adviser within the HYDI Educational New Media Centre, participated in the Wellington Polytechnic Winter Lecture Series during which she discussed the possibilities of using hypermedia in networked education (Viskovic, 1998a).


The need to train more academic staff within the Wellington Polytechnic in computer mediated learning contributed to the development and presentation of a new course of  Computer Mediated Learning” for the Bachelor of Education qualification. Interest was reasonable and ten staff members from departments representing the areas of Engineering, Nursing, Fashion Design, Computer Studies, Communications and Music enrolled. Three workshops on “Finding Things on the Web Fast”, “Educational uses of Telecommunications and the Internet" and "Creating a Website" were held by the author to stimulate further interest in networked education. These workshops also contributed to increasing the computer literacy level necessary for networked education within Wellington Polytechnic. The interest in these workshops was extensive and the workshops were repeated on demand, but even then could not cater for everyone on the waiting lists. This pointed to the use of staff development as an important strategy to manage the implementation of networked education.


In the second semester of 1998 initial discussions for on-line short courses in the areas of Nursing and in Business Writing (within the Communications Department) were held. s However, owing to other priorities of the content providers, this did not materialize.


The author of the course on Virtual Teams (Pauleen, 1997) was included in the HYDI Educational New Media Centre for possible future consulting work; unfortunately, he resigned from the Wellington Polytechnic late in 1998. He expressed some personal concerns he had about his work in a letter to senior management. Their response made it impossible for him to continue in any capacity within the HYDI Educational New Media Centre and nullified the role he could have played in diffusing networked education in his department. This was a serious setback for the bottom-up diffusion of networked education at Wellington Polytechnic and indicated how important it is to understand and work within the culture of an organisation. 


The author (content provider) of the on-line statistics resource (Lovrich, 1997), which went on-line during the previous cycle, also resigned from Wellington Polytechnic. This highlighted a management issue relating to the continuity of on-line materials. The networked course materials still remained on-line but it was extremely difficult to find anyone in the area of statistics to take ownership of this resource. In an effort to ensure continuity in future scenarios, a form was designed where the head of department and head of school had to give permission for a lecturer to put materials on-line. This would contribute to ensuring continuity of on-line materials by placing the responsibility to maintain the materials within the academic department and school. 


A new "Forum for Enabling Networked Education " (a sub-committee of CTAG) was established late in cycle 4 and met once. Establishing this forum 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. Staff members from various academic and administrative departments were invited. This invitation also included representatives from senior management.


It seemed that while the bottom-up interest in networked education was growing, the lack of top-down support and priority being given to these developments frequently discouraged interest when commitments of time and energy were required. This was illustrated when a lecturer in another department who had been keen to experiment with networked education, was discouraged by his head of department and asked to focus on the face-to-face courses he was currently teaching.


The importance of middle management (heads of department) support when implementing the virtual class infrastructure has been illustrated in a positive way through the support and participation of Nick Zepke, the head of the Educational Development Department. The implementation of networked education at Wellington Polytechnic would probably have stalled if it had not been for his continued support. Rogers (1983) emphasised the importance of a bottom-up approach in a response to a question by the author  (E. Rogers, personal communication, 10 July 1998) on whether Rogers’ diffusion model (1983) proposed a bottom-up approach only:

I think that it greatly helps an innovation diffuse if it has top management support, especially for its rate of adoption to reach critical mass, after which further diffusion can be self-sustaining. But top management support may not be

necessary if the innovation has sufficient relative advantage, compatibility, etc.


This research indicates that unless the bottom-up support is matched by top-down strategy (that included senior and middle management), diffusion of technological innovation in conventional tertiary education will be slow and cumbersome.


7.2.3    Continue to liaise with institutions, organisations and individuals working in the field of the virtual class


The growing interest in networked education in New Zealand was illustrated when a relatively small community polytechnic in the Wellington region contacted the HYDI Educational New Media Centre to request graphic design assistance for their virtual class project (Appendix 24: 3).   


The importance of networking was illustrated when the author, through a visit by a staff member of a South African polytechnic to New Zealand, was invited to lead a project to extend networked education in that institute (Appendix 24: 1). This project did not materialize, but a consulting visit to this polytechnic was included in consulting opportunities in Southern Africa, which included three universities and five polytechnics. The visit to the University of Botswana was a direct result of networking with others in a similar field of study at an international conference (Appendix 24: 2).


The growing interest in networked education in New Zealand, Australia and further afield was evident in the growth of subscribers to the international e-mail discussion list, OnLinedu. This list had been created at the end of 1997, and had extended its membership to around 220 national and international members by the end of 1998. This list also became a useful mechanism to exchange views and information on networked education and to obtain feedback on the work of HYDI.


During a visit to the British Open University (April 1998), a staff member commented that the most significant loss students experienced from paper-based to networked education is the mobility of the study materials which now resided on computers. This naturally impacts on the mobility of the students.


7.3     Reflection


7.3.1  Managing the implementation of the virtual class infrastructure


These findings address the following elements of the MIT90’s schema (see Figure 1.3): and skills of individuals structure Strategy


Although the ICT allowed for sophisticated use, the HYDI team realised that the students might not have the required access to appropriate computer technology. This highlighted the importance to design networked courses with the lowest possible "footprint", that is to say  the minimum required technology on the student's side, as well as to consider the financial cost required from students for effective participation in networked education.


Contact with students in the networked courses highlighted the importance to manage the affective domain, which is the area of feelings and emotions in communications within the virtual class. Negroponte (1997, June) said that the role of emotions in communication must be taken seriously. Instead of viewing as “noise” any emotions in the communication process that negatively influence the "true message", it is a very important and natural part of human communications that should be included and facilitated in computer mediated communications. The challenge is for networked education, as a computer mediated education system, to accommodate, facilitate and communicate emotions (be it verbal, body language or otherwise) as an integral and vital part of the message. Networked education can deliver some support for this aspect through on-line audio and video conferencing, emoticons and well-designed graphics. Teachers need to be aware of, and able to manage, the new dynamics of communication in a virtual environment. Gundry and Metes (1997) draw attention to the fact that working online fosters the feeling of communicating with a computer and not with other human beings. In such instance, this man lead to a loss of “self-regulation”, manifested in angry or abusive online communication quite unlike the person’s face-to-face behaviour. How to manage the affective domain effectively in the virtual class points to a significant area for future research.


The management issue of ensuring privacy of personal information in networked education can be illustrated in on-line communication. Providing students with, for example, the ability to create their own password protected discussion groups and boards for private conversations contribute to the privacy of students’ conversations. The degree of access that students in future course occurrences should have, and benefits of public access to internal course communications and student work are issues facing the teacher in the virtual class.


The management issue of intellectual property and copyright in the academic environment has been problematic in conventional tertiary education, but is amplified in networked education where copying and replicating materials are alarmingly easy. Viskovic (1997, December) refer to Wellington Polytechnic’s copyright license which did not cover reproduction over computer networks as a factor in why course readings were still print-based. On the one hand, this issue relates to providing materials of others to students, as Barnard (1997:33) points out: "the primary roadblock to providing written material online is not the technology… The main hindrance is paying authors of copyrighted material”. On the other hand, the issue also  relates to academic staff who put their work on-line, for Barnard (1997:32) points out that “…others may be concerned over additional work loads and how their position will be affected once their expertise is readily available as a packaged course over the Internet”. David Noble (Appendix 13: 3) further elaborates:

Once faculty put their course material online, moreover, the knowledge and course design skill embodied in that material is taken out of their possession, transferred to the machinery and placed in the hands of the administration. The administration is now in a position to hire less skilled, and hence cheaper, workers to deliver the technologically prepackaged course. It also allows the administration, which claims ownership of this commodity, to peddle the course elsewhere without the original designer's involvement or even knowledge, much less financial interest. The buyers of this packaged commodity, meanwhile, other academic institutions, are able thereby to contract out, and hence outsource, the work of their own employees and thus reduce their reliance upon their in-house teaching staff.


Johnston and Challis (1994) explored changes in the working lives of six academics who moved from teaching a Master's degree in a traditional face-to-face tutorial format to one in which they also taught the same program in a distance mode. These authors point out that one of the concerns of the academics related to the ambiguous status of the written materials prepared for the distance mode. The academics questioned: whether the materials would be recognised as original works of scholarship: who would own the copyright and would these academics be recognized for their research or teaching activity.


The issues regarding intellectual property and copyright are further complicated by the preference for instructional design teams in networked education, which stems from the requirements of integrated educational design, graphic design and ICT design in networked education. Different team members may also create different elements of a networked course. Ownership can increase quality as it is essential that knowledgeable, committed faculty members continue to have responsibility for course content and delivery. Therefore, intellectual property policies should allow for faculty ownership of online courseware (University of Illinois, 1999). A model of shared ownership of the networked course may be explored to include retention by the institute of the rights to use the materials if members of the course development team should leave the institute. Staff can have the right to use the materials developed in their new work environment or in further publications. It seems necessary that when a conventional tertiary educational institute embarks on networked education that the management issues of intellectual property and copyright be resolved at the outset.


The HYDI team learned through the lack of ICT support how important it is to ensure that solid technological expertise is consistently available in the planning, development and deployment of networked education. During cycle 4, the full-time teaching commitments of the computer specialist limited his participation in the work of the HYDI Educational New Media Centre. The Computers Services Group (CSG) still focussed on operational aspects of ICT at Wellington Polytechnic. These two factors caused a lack of technical computer skills, technical development and ICT support for students (documented in Appendix 17).


Quality assurance emerged as a significant management issue during cycle 4. Butterfield et al. (1999, July) believes that, in the context of the emergence of virtual institutes, attention to quality assurance (QA) is more necessary, but may be more difficult than in conventional tertiary education. More necessary, because radical change gives the opportunity for flaws to creep in, and more difficult because the well-known and proven methods of QA may no longer work. They believe that attention must come from the institutions themselves as well as from the external quality agencies (EQAs). Ensuring that educational principles are pre-eminent in on-line instructional design and that ownership remains with the academic staff (University of Illinois, 1999) can contribute to internal quality assurance. Quality assurance also relates to the complexities of national and international accreditation and certification. Some argue that the virtual class often lacks recognition from employers and institutions of higher education provided by accreditation and certification systems (National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, 1995). A solution might be to use outcome-based education, which focuses on assessing learning and learners instead of courses or other instructional units delivered by providers, and is based on specific, standardised, and widely accepted competencies (National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, 1995). An existing national model that illustrates a way of addressing national accreditation and certification is Open Learning Australia (OLA, 1995), which represents seven Australian Universities active in distance education. The institute through which the students complete a specified percentage of their studies awards the qualification. International collaboration is also emerging, which is likely to contribute towards addressing international accreditation and certification (see 7.3.2 below). Roles and skills of individuals


The role of the teacher in networked education is changing. The Educational Development Department content providers followed a constructivist teaching approach and perceived themselves as facilitators of learning. Within this environment, Zepke (1998:179) states, “…the teacher’s role is a limited one… the role includes - facilitating students learning by communicating and empathising with them; structuring knowledge and arranging a reasonable workload; helping students develop, change and critique their own learning structures”. Earlier Leslie (1994) had already identified the as one consequence of the information explosion the fact that teachers can't know everything of value to their students; however, assisted by telecommunications, they often can guide students to the information they seek. A broad range of studies seem to confirm the educational value of telecomputing networks. O'Donnell (1996) contends that the real roles of the teacher in an information-rich world will be not to provide information but to guide and encourage students working through the extensive body of information available. A "facilitator" would follow a developmental rather than a dissemination approach (Hodgson, Mann and Snell, 1987; Mason, 1998), and would be spending more time on on-line communication than face-to-face communication, being less of a "guru" and more of a coach, being less of a "creator" of courses and more of a "user”, especially of Web resources.


Clearly teachers will have to manage their own learning more efficiently in the highly accessible and visible international environment. They will need to be more observant of international developments in their academic fields; if not, they might find that the students themselves would be pointing out these developments through their use of the global networks. Collis (1998) points to the following imperative for the teacher in the virtual class: abandon self-encapsulated thinking.  The dynamics of change mitigate against what Collis (1998) calls "intellectual parochialism", a phenomenon typified by “self-enclosed thinking and teaching” by constraints imposed by one’s own work and ideas.  This type of approach will no longer be acceptable in the institutions of the future. The growing synergy between local and global, with the pervasiveness of telematics, will assume such proportions in society as a whole, in all aspects of commerce and culture, that the instructor cannot but abandon the notion of relying on archives of self-compiled notes, on a world circumscribed by individual research,  for fear of becoming a total anachronism.


This changing role points to the extensive need for training of teachers in the virtual class to master the new ICT. Using the global networks will be necessary for their own research and for networking with other academics, as well as being able to facilitate networked learning, for example managing on-line meetings and pointing students to appropriate on-line resources.


It could be that on-line educators in a networked course find themselves in the role of either instructional designer or as facilitator. Laurillard (1993) assumes that there will be a distinction between the tasks of teaching and of instructional design. This is a model of design and development of teaching and learning resources implemented by the British Open University. In paper-based distance education this model is often used; it is highly probable that this might become the typical scenario in the virtual class where  instructional designers focus on instructional design and development of networked courses as well as researching their academic fields, while teachers (facilitators) are contracted to facilitate learning in the virtual class.  These facilitators can in the virtual class be contracted in from any geographical area since most of the facilitation will occur on-line.


The HYDI team noticed that although the ICT allowed for sophisticated use, the students often did not have the required skills to use these technologies effectively. They had problems in particular with downloading the compressed version of the networked courses and in using the on-line message boards. This emphasised the need to provide computer literacy training for students as part of the virtual class infrastructure.


As indicated above, there is also a need for staff training, support and motivation when implementing the virtual class infrastructure (Mason, 1999; Rajasingham, 1999). The study by O’Donovan (1997) highlights the need for staff training in general computer skills at Wellington Polytechnic. Staff training in general computer skills is a pre-requisite for effective participation in the virtual class. Caladine (1993:24) notes that "staff generally are amenable to changes in teaching strategies to accommodate new modes of delivery, where appropriate development and support are in place”.  Nguyen, Tan and Kezunovic (1996) argue for the creation of a strategic plan for training academic staff in new techniques. However, it should be noted that lecturers and tutors will still need to take on the role of advisers, helping students to get started, manage their time and cope with self-doubt (Rowntree, 1992). Workshops could be introduced to cover course writing and editing, instructional design and course development and the use of the computer as a management tool in distance education.


The interest by academic staff in the workshops on using the Internet in education conducted by the author further indicated that staff development could be used as an important strategy to advance the implementation of networked education among academic staff. This is also one of the strategies within the training, infrastructure and empowerment system (TIES) at the University of Alberta in Canada and correlates with proposals by Mason (1996, June) and Gabel and Feeg (1996, June).


Ensuring authenticity in a “digital world” (Collis, 1996) is a significant management issue to address in the virtual class. Ensuring originality of work is an issue in assessment when most of the contact between teacher and student is computer mediated. Electronic signatures can also be shared and students in networked education can obtain assistance from others because of the lack of face-to-face control in assessment. This problem in paper-based distance education is often addressed by having a substantial part of the assessment done in a controlled environment. Other strategies to manage this problem can be to use continuous assessment, sampling of some assignments and conducting random personal interviews on-line.


Another area where authenticity impacts the virtual class is in on-line communications. On-line communications often occurs in newsgroups, synchronous on-line meetings and asynchronous message boards in which participants can take on a different persona or an alias. This can create serious communication and virtual class management problems when messages are incorrectly interpreted, on-line groups are inappropriately constructed as well as the occurrence of incorrect on-line student tracking (for example, incorrect statistics of student participation on on-line message boards). It might be beneficial to obtain student photographs at enrolment with some form of official confirmation of identity. The photograph can then be used extensively in the whole educational process as in the case of chat groups, assessments and printed certificates. However, proper training and clear student guidelines and policies regarding this matter may be the most effective way to address this issue.


Some distance students in the networked courses indicated that the face-to-face interaction with other students and the lecturer added a dimension not present in communications over a distance. A Bachelor of Education student said after a teleconference “If only we had met in person first” (Viskovic, 1997 December:9). Looking at the social environment within the virtual class, Tiffin (1996b, November:6) states that: "our students have no difficulty learning in a virtual class, but they hunger for the social side of a conventional university”. Caladine (1993:24) noted "student acceptance of alternative modes of delivery appears to exhibit some proportionality to the level of interactivity and the degree of presence of a human face”. Tiffin (1996a, November:2) also noted that "subject associations which cater to the academics and grad students are springing up on the Internet. They are places of gossip about university practices in the subject area and a community that can help a despairing writer or someone lost in an assignment”. Not only students, but also academics may have similar needs. In a study by Taylor and White (1991:20) they investigated academic staff' experiences of face-to-face, distance and 'mixed mode' teaching and found that the respondents preferred face-to-face teaching as it provided “...extensive opportunities for interpersonal interaction”. Academic staff members might have a negative reaction to increases in “transactional distance” (Moore, 1993) and might therefore resist the implementation of the virtual class infrastructure.


Addressing the social needs of both students and teachers in the virtual class is therefore important. Strategies such as using newsgroups, electronic mail discussion lists, synchronous on-line meetings, arranging some meetings in the physical realm with other students, designing courses with a high level of interactivity and using photographs and video clips of students and lecturers within a course can all be used to create a “personal” touch.


Losing the two content providers outside the Educational Development Department was a serious setback for the diffusion of networked education into other academic areas, and points to the vulnerability of using a bottom-up approach only. In this approach the energy of the diffusion is invested in individuals. The top-down approach can add to the continuity of the diffusion of innovations with the objectives of an innovation captured in longer-term strategic plans, annual plans, committee discussions and minutes, and operational policies. Organizational structure


The virtual team expert became unavailable to the HYDI Educational New Media Centre presumably because of not appreciating the culture of Wellington Polytechnic. This highlighted the importance of addressing the internal political patterns and dynamics of an institute when managing the implementation of an innovation like the virtual class.


There was a lack of technical computer support for the students and staff involved in networked courses. The HYDI team already had limited time for the development of courses and the wider implementation activities (all team members were involved on a part-time basis only) and the computer support group (CSG) did not offer a help-desk to students (on- or off-campus). Students had to “hunt around” for someone with the skills and time to assist them if they ran into problems. Staff could liaise with CSG but experienced that their focus was on other operational matters. This pointed to the need for sustained information technology support for students and staff in networked education. Help facilities like context sensitive help buttons can be built into networked courses and an accessible help-desk for both students and staff can be implemented. It appears essential that an ICT Help Desk facility be established to support students and staff in networked education. Technology


The needs of students and teachers in networked education impacts on the nature, management and services of the library. Students in networked education at Wellington Polytechnic used the WWW and the print-based readings as well as the Wellington Polytechnic library for obtaining books and journals. The main implication of networked education for the library appears to be to be able to provide most of its services electronically, including database searches, searching its holding database, ordering library materials and issuing. Barnard (1997:33) sets out this requirement: "being able to work on class material at any time, no matter where you live, can be compromised by the need to find a library that carries academic journals and books… seamless access to library resources is now a common goal of university libraries”. Capital expenditure on physical extensions to libraries can be replaced by subscriptions to on-line databases and resources. There is a continuing increase in valuable resources being available on the Internet and specifically on the WWW. Tiffin (1996b, November:1) indicates that "today there is no way our university library can match the resources of the Web. Our university library has become supplementary to the Web”. Odlyzko (1994), in describing the reasons for the demise of traditional paper-based scholarly journals notes that there is increasing pressure from libraries to cut back on subscriptions as journals become available electronically.


The lesser use of paper in networked education, however, constitutes a loss of mobility for students in conventional, paper-based distance education. Smaller hand-held palmtop computers are a positive step in re-creating the mobility for these students in networked education although cost would still be a serious deterrent to widespread use.


7.3.2    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).


There was some international interest in the networked courses at Wellington Polytechnic, which points to the global reach of networked education. Tiffin (1996, February) explains that if a virtual class, like the information society, were going to be distance independent then it would be global rather than national. The global nature of the virtual class is possible because the new educational technologies facilitate and lead naturally to the globalisation of education since the central technology in networked education is the Internet. The minimum requirements to publish on the WWW are simply to have an Internet account and to transfer documents in HTML format to a Webserver. The global reach of the virtual class means that all institutes in tertiary education find themselves in a global educational market of providers and students. Pearce and Robinson (1988) clearly illustrate in their strategic management model how the external environments, in conjunction with the internal company profile and the vision, determine the mission of an organisation. The importance of considering the external environment is also highlighted in the MIT90 schema (see Figure 1.3). It is therefore necessary for each conventional tertiary educational institute - as mentioned in cycle 1 - besides considering participating in the virtual class themselves, to look at other strategies to counter the threat of the virtual class. These strategies should be built into the organisation's long-term objectives. Institutes participating in the virtual class might need to focus on establishing a specific niche in the international educational market.


In the virtual class with its global character the importance of culture as a significant determinant in how students desire to learn, how the content should be structured and how the learning experience should be facilitated must be appreciated. The HYDI team did not design networked education for use by students of different cultures, and realised that this needed to be addressed to cater for international students.  Woodhouse (1999) points out that education is definitely not culturally neutral. This might be a significant reason why a singular "MacDonalds" type networked course in each academic area for global use will probably not be feasible. Students may choose to study close to home because of convenience or physical security factors, but culture may also contribute to this choice. Dealing with foreign cultures requires teachers to have a knowledge of cultural differences and sensitivities for these differences. This can easily be overlooked in networked education where communications often exclude clues (like pronunciation, expressed moral values, and physical appearance) as to the culture of the communicators. For example, Gundry and Metes (1997) argue that online communication can unite the organization, but it can also highlight fundamental cultural differences. Online communications can suddenly pitch a person into a different national culture in which taken-for-granted perceptions of communication, time, power and information are quite different.  These authors consider that training in working cross-culturally has become a necessity, not an option since understanding each other's world view, biases, and preferences will be essential to building trust and shared perceptions, and maintaining the communication that drives work.


Offering courses globally has implications for the pricing of these courses since conventional tertiary education is often subsidised by government and therefore differentiates between fees for local students and those outside its geographical area.  In the virtual class, however, the fee structure needs to take the local target market of the student into account in order to be competitive in that specific market.


The centrality of the learner in networked education leads to increased autonomy for the student. With the student's ability in the virtual class to access other students, lecturers and resources globally in a predominantly flexible environment of enrolment and assessment, the learners in the virtual class can be in control of their own learning in a real way.  This emphasis supports and can be facilitated through the use of constructivist approaches in networked education as used in networked education at Wellington Polytechnic.


Networked education facilitates ease of publishing on-line. Students at Wellington Polytechnic participated in on-line discussions, while on-line journals were also available in the networked courses. This leads to the ability of students in networked education, in contrast to the conventional student, to be on-line providers and publishers themselves by using facilities like hypermail threaded discussion boards and newsgroups (Uys, 1997b June). This ability increases student control of and participation in the learning process, which can lead to added motivation for the student.


Students that are used to paper-based distance education seem to experience a significant loss in mobility when studying by networked education. The affordability and weight of portable computers such as laptop computers and notebooks mitigates against these technologies being an adequate solution to provide this mobility. Smaller hand-held palmtop computers with infra red updating capabilities are a positive step in re-creating the mobility for distance students in networked education.


Management of the learning environment within the virtual class parallels the operations of a virtual team,  that is a group of people working towards a common goal in a computer-enabled environment where they are removed in space (and often in time). Lipnack and Stamps (1997:7) define a virtual team as "a group of people who interact through interdependent tasks guided by common purpose" that "works across space, time, and organizational boundaries with links strengthened by webs of communication technologies" . Jarvenpaa and Leidner (1998) aptly define a global virtual team as a temporary, culturally diverse, geographically dispersed, electronically communicating work group. Therefore, understanding how a virtual team operates is important in managing the on-line learning of students. Zack and Serino (1996) explain that effective team leaders also act as process facilitators, thereby promoting team effectiveness by educating the team about how to work collaboratively. For Gundry and Metes (1997) existing communication and work skills, developed over years of face-to-face, collocated work, do not transfer to and sustain high performance online work. Time, effort and bandwidth involved in online conferences and forums often suffer because the organizers overlook basic principles of need and relevance, being unaware of the special techniques required to sustain online dialog. Gundry and Metes (1996) stress the fact that teaching in the virtual class also requires proficiency in knowledge management.   Increasing use of electronic group collaboration tools in support of team work has sparked interest in how others can capture, store, and re-use the ways by which what goes on when people use those tools. Called 'knowledge management', this is important for enterprises whose principal currency is knowledge, rather than physical or financial resource. At the heart of knowledge management lies the issue of placing knowledge under management remit in order to derive value from it, that is to realize intellectual capital.


Elements of the virtual class like the vast resources on the World Wide Web, on-line databases, newsgroups, threaded message boards with evolving discussions, discussion lists (like Listservs), and increasing volumes of electronic mail can create real information overload and stress. Users of ICT in the past had to deal with data overload through computer output (characterised by irrelevant and redundant information), but students and teachers in networked education have to manage a real information overload: an overload of relevant and valid information. Gundry and Metes (1997) sums this up by pointing out that electronic communication fuels information overload, which is a major cause of stress in online workers. Developing critical analysis skills will become increasingly important as the information or knowledge society grows. Gundry and Metes furthermore suggest that communications protocols, along with filtering devices, are required in order to develop an appreciation of, for example, the consequences of overcirculating electronic mail.  Simply by indicating message priority in the e-mail header helps people get to the most important communication first.


Viskovic (1997, December:9) reports that a Bachelor of Education student commented: “Less easy to set aside time for learning if there is no set meeting time for the group. Scheduled Internet time for a group would be valuable”. It seems that the requirements for self-discipline and continuity of motivation in tertiary students are amplified in networked education owing to its virtual and asynchronous nature when the traditional prompts such as physical materials on a desk, or scheduled class times are often absent. Strategies to address this issue include effective instructional design to use appropriate multi-media, effective monitoring of participation through computerised or manual tracking, as well as asynchronous and in particular synchronous communications. Synchronous on-line communication tools may assist in producing both a sense of belonging as well as accountability in the student in networked education.


Managers of the virtual class need to address the issues of dialogue across the response and psychological distance between teacher and learner. "Distance" in this environment is no longer defined in terms of physical proximity or remote but in response time (Negroponte, 1997 June). There is also another type of distance, which Moore (1993) and Caladine (1993) explain as transactional distance, which is the psychological distance between learner and teacher. Caladine posits that transactional distance in technology-delivered education is greatly impacted by the technology (the medium) itself. Evans and Nation (1992:9) seem to support this view when they point out that that virtual class practices do not eliminate problems of distance between teachers and learners, but on the contrary create their own. Synchronous on-line communications like voice over the Internet, on-line video-conferencing, on-line whiteboards, CHAT and shared applications can play an important role in bridging transactional space in the virtual class - but it needs to be managed properly.


The computer mediated dimension of virtual class management is illustrated as having an electronic record of on-line communications that can be saved for future reference by the students and teachers. Gundry and Metes (1996) explains the special significance computer conferencing has for knowledge management, namely that a team using computer conferencing to collaborate, is creating a permanent, shareable, record of what they write and send to each other,


The availability of an intranet at Wellington Polytechnic signalled the potential to offer networked education to on-campus students, which reflects a trend in the private sector to use intranets to access internal documents through a Web browser (Cher, 1995; Gundry and Metes, 1997). The potential of a new convergence of on-campus and off-campus students participating seamlessly in the same course emerged. This phenomenon arises from the greater ease and feasibility of simultaneously offering a networked course to on-campus students as well as to distance students. This possibility extends collaborative on-line learning from an activity that can be used effectively for distance students (Stacey, 1997 June) to one in which distance and on-campus students can jointly participate. The synergy that networked education brings is that both local and distance students can participate in the same course occurrence in a real and meaningful way through synchronous and asynchronous on-line communications. This convergence of learning modes, which traditionally have been called "distance education" and "on-campus education" is a new management challenge for both teacher and student. Learning control and responsibility are distributed as well as on-line learning and teaching materials to both local and distance students using the same interface (that is a Web browser). The use of networked education for on-campus students will increase the demand for access to on-campus ICT. The convergence of traditional on-campus education and distance education could therefore require a decrease in spending on lecture theatres and an increase in spending on extending computer facilities like computer laboratories and the availability of intranet access in public areas such as libraries.


As experienced by the HYDI team, the materials and teaching process in networked education seems to be in a state of continuity: once a course is on the WWW, it remains available and no special arrangements are needed to keep it continually available - special arrangements, however, have to be made to discontinue availability. In contrast, course materials are in a state of discontinuity in conventional tertiary education. Two factors contribute to this problematic situation. Firstly, the on-line materials are often registered with search engines and guides on the Internet. The Universal Resource Locator (URL) is then bookmarked within a web browser by users who often may share the URL with others in a network of contacts. Secondly, the on-line materials need to be kept up to date. Berners-Lee (1999b) noted that  it would take up a great deal of time and effort to keep that web of material up to date, to the extent of giving the impression of requiring more effort than creating it in the first place. Lennon and Maurer (1996, June) emphasised the importance of managing the hyperlinks which are embedded in on-line materials. Effectively managing the discontinuity of on-line materials as a result of the discontinuity of human involvement is necessary to meet student expectations and provide ongoing support, and in so doing to avoid the institute from falling into disrepute. An example of discontinuity of on-line materials is a course in a specialized academic area in which the lecturer concerned discontinues his/her involvement (as  happened with the “Virtual Teams” course and “Statistical learning resource” in cycle 4). The networked course materials still remain on-line and might become outdated or, when removed, cause frustration to on-line users when unsuccessfully attempting to locate it. In a paper-based distance education environment or a face-to-face physical teaching environment, the discontinuity of a lecturer can be addressed by the discontinuity of the mailings or the classes at an appropriate point. The virtual class thus needs special approaches to ensure a seamless discontinuity like de-registering the materials with the search engines and guides, replacing the course materials with clear notices to that effect and notifying parties that might have bookmarked the materials. Furthermore the hyperlinks in particular need to be managed effectively, which may require specialized software (Lennon and Maurer, 1996 June).   


Ergonomics emerged during cycle 4 as a management issue for an institute using networked education. Networked education is per definition enabled through ICT (Chapter 1) and therefore leads to an increase in the use of ICT by students and staff. The instructional design of networked education should therefore take into account the computer-user interaction, which includes the ergonomics of the physical and technological equipment. It is necessary for both the teacher and the student in networked education to manage this aspect of the computer-user interaction in order to avoid the possibility of repetitive strain injuries (RSI) - also called operational overuse syndrome (OOS). The institute has a responsibility to create awareness and to provide the necessary knowledge and skills to both the teacher and the student in networked education to manage the computer-user interaction appropriately.


Another management issue for the operation of the virtual class is to provide large-scale student access to intranet(s) and the Internet at the lowest possible cost since these technologies provide the basis for the implementation of networked education. Networked education students at Wellington Polytechnic did not all have access to the Internet and requested hard and soft copies of courses. Networked courses need to be designed with the lowest possible "footprint", that is the required technology on the student's side. Addressing the cost to students includes designing networked education so that students can stay off-line for most of their study time, while they naturally have to be on-line for communications. This can be achieved through compressing a course into a single file for the student to download. In addition, the institute can endeavour to negotiate favourable contracts for Internet access and ICT on behalf of their students. For on-campus students participating in networked education via the intranet, "drop-in" computer labs can be provided and computers can be placed in public access areas such as the library.


At Wellington Polytechnic the course elements were still being stored in flat directory structures on account of limited staff and financial resources. Work on a database application has started.  Many networked education software packages take the notion for granted that course elements ("course objects") are to be stored in flat directory structures. HTML files, media elements and scripts are stored on servers in an organised flat directory structure, which is reminiscent of how data was stored before the emergence of databases (Stair, 1992:141). This can be an effective initial strategy to rapidly engage in networked education, but does not constitute effective data management in the long run. Relational databases and object-oriented databases have emerged as effective, sound and popular ways of storing data in computer systems (Stair, 1992:144). It is therefore suggested that managing the data in networked education should occur through the use of proper database management systems.


Only adults participated in the networked courses at Wellington Polytechnic in this cycle because of the nature of the courses (being targeted to tertiary teachers), and the flexibility it offered to working students. This links up to one of the reasons why tertiary education institutes are considering moving towards the virtual class, namely to address the need for lifelong learning (Mason, 1999:77). Education is becoming more of a lifelong endeavour compared to the traditional few years stint after school, a development that stems from the fact that most careers require continued training to keep up with the growing body of relevant knowledge and also from the modern tendency to develop more than one career during a person's working life. Spender (1996b, September) claims that the whole of society is becoming the student body. Networked education is attractive to those already in the work force because of its open and flexible nature. Class management within networked tertiary education will increasingly therefore have to take the principles of adult education into account. A priority then for conventional tertiary education and especially teachers in networked education will be to research and understand how adults learn.


Equity of access is an issue that was often raised within the Educational Development Department (Viskovic, 1997 December). Terms often used in this regard refer to those who are "information rich" and those who are "information poor" - which often leads to social and financial impoverishment (Hope, 1998). Not only can access to the virtual class be limited through inadequate access to ICT and Internet costs, but also through computer illiteracy. Spender (1996, August) argues that the borderless information environment is not open to all the peoples of the world because of access and equity issues. The ongoing changes in ICT have been creating a seemingly unending spiral of regular upgrades to software and hardware, which leave many students wanting when they desire to access networked education. There are initiatives to address these issues,  like Cybercafes, Internet access in public spaces such as libraries, arranging adequate on-campus computer access, collaboration with other educational institutes to provide access to remote students, as well as Telecentres which are used in Australia (WA Telecentres, 1995) and Europe, and growing in number in Africa (Naidoo and Schutte, 1999:90).


Linking with others working in the field of networked education in cycle 4 again proved enormously helpful to verify concepts, learn from the experience of others, contemplate possible collaboration and consulting. Many universities and colleges are indeed positioning themselves for effective participation in distance and particularly networked education through collaborations at institutional level. Examples include Universitas 21 (1999) that comprises 21 universities in Europe, Australasia and north America and includes Auckland University in New Zealand, and has plans to develop and use multimedia technology in education. Another example is the European Consortium of Innovative Universities  (ECIU, 1999), which is a co-operative of 10 European universities with a focus on the development of new forms of teaching, education and research.


7.4       Conclusion


The research findings of cycle 4 are documented in 7.3.1 and 7.3.2 above.


In this action research cycle the overall objective was to assess the appropriateness of the virtual class infrastructure and to extend it where necessary to support commercial networked education by carrying out the following strategies:


7.4.1        the virtual class was operational at Wellington Polytechnic, but it was clear that much could be done to make it more effective; it was still very much based on the Bachelor of Education (B.Ed) and Master of Education (M.Ed) degrees offered by the Educational Development Department; work on a database application started; effective administrative and educational support services were not in place, especially in the area of ICT support

7.4.2    networked education within the Educational Development Department did expand primarily through the use of on-line message boards both in the Master of Education (M.Ed) and Bachelor of Education (B.Ed) courses; after extending the diffusion of the virtual class to two new academic areas, the diffusion contracted again when the two content providers left the Wellington Polytechnic; staff development proved to be a successful bottom-up diffusion strategy; middle management support proved to be necessary for wider implementation of networked education

7.4.3        liaison with institutions, organisations and individuals working in the field of the virtual class continued through attendance at conferences, the electronic mail discussion list OnLinEdu and consulting.


During cycle 4 the goal that was formulated at the outset (see Chapter 1) was achieved, that is to progress with the action research to the point of fee-paying students enrolling and participating in networked courses at Wellington Polytechnic. The implementation of the virtual class infrastructure at Wellington Polytechnic was operational, albeit small.


Wellington Polytechnic took its first steps towards the information-based operations of the virtual class and experienced what Drucker (1998:100) had predicted: “… as soon as a company takes the first tentative steps from data to information, its decision processes, management structure, and even the way it gets its work done begin to be transformed”. The research findings were pointing to the need for a new educational management paradigm for managing the operations of the virtual class.


At this stage it was not clear whether conventional tertiary education was able to adapt its management approaches and processes to the extent required for the effective and widespread use of networked education.


At the end of this final research cycle a set of heuristics can be formulated as a tentative model for managing the implementation of the virtual class infrastructure in conventional tertiary education. These heuristics are derived as much from the failures of implementing networked education at Wellington Polytechnic as from the successes of this project.