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 Unpublished PhD thesis, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand.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: http://www.globe-online.com/philip.uys/phdthesis

 

CHAPTER 8

MANAGING THE IMPLEMENTATION OF THE VIRTUAL CLASS INFRASTRUCTURE IN CONVENTIONAL TERTIARY EDUCATION

 

In Chapter 7 the last of the four research cycles was described which concluded the action research.

 

In Chapter 8 the findings of this research are presented as they relate to the first of the two research questions: "How does one manage the implementation of the virtual class infrastructure in conventional tertiary education?"

 

The discussion in Chapter 8 synthesises the reflections in Chapters 4, 5, 6 and 7 on managing the implementation of the virtual class infrastructure, and relates these to the theoretical underpinnings of this research.†††

 

As in each of the four cycles (4.3.1, 5.3.1, 6.3.1 and 7.3.1) these findings are presented as a set of heuristics addressing the following elements of the MIT90 schema (see Figure 1.3) that is

8.1.††††† strategy

8.2.††††† roles and skills of individuals

8.3.††††† organizational structure

8.4.††††† technology.

 


The heuristics that will be discussed in this chapter are listed below in Table 8.1.

 


Strategy (8.1)

1. Follow a simultaneous top-down and bottom-up approach

2. Address the management issues of intellectual property, copyright, privacy of personal information and security

3. Presenting papers and attending relevant conferences are strategies for establishing contacts and legitimising academic staff involvement

4. Consider the cost to students of Internet access while studying on-line as well as the cost of the technology

5. Address the affective domain of the students in on-line communications

6. Lewin and Schein's change model can provide a helpful overall structure for organizational change

7. Participate in networked education as early as possible

8. Use a pilot project or a few pilot projects

9. Ensure that solid technological expertise is consistently available in the planning,development and deployment of networked education

10. A "free give-away of the first version" marketing strategy for on-line promotion can be followed

11. Do thorough market research

12. In the promotional strategy balance the gradual sharing of information about the virtual class with the rapid developments in this field

13. Ensure ownership

14. Ensure that educators and educational principles drive the implementation of the virtual class infrastructure

15. Increase the general use of ICT as well as the computer and information literacy levels

16. Identify and test the perceived critical success factors at an early stage

17. Obtain adequate central funding for wide impact

18. Ensure that implementing networked education is a strategic objective and that the reward systems of the educational institute are tied to it

19. Highlight the benefits and advantages of the virtual class for the institute, teachers as well as students

20. The "non-hygiene factors" (the "motivators") in Herzberg's theory can be used as†† ††††motivational tools

21. Treat the development of networked education†† as a commercial project

22. Use a prototyping systems development methodology for developing courses for the virtual class

23. Address quality assurance issues in networked education

Roles and skills of individuals (8.2)

1. Provide computer literacy training for students

2. Address the concerns, perceptions and changing role of academic staff

3. Provide trainingand support for academic staff

4. Ensure that the scholarship of teaching is recognised and appreciated

5. Design an appropriate workload formula for teachers in networked education

6. Address authenticity in assessment and on-line communications

7. Address the social needs in learning of both students and teachers

8. A development team composed of the following roles are proposed: sponsor, project manager, content director, creative director / graphic designer, computer specialist, educational director, editor, on-line media developer, gatekeeper and student representative

Organizational structure (8.3)

1. Ensure wide representation from the outset

2. Establish a central unit to provide sustainable training, support, research and development

3. Use a multi-disciplinary team for the development of networked education

4. Carefully consider the internal political patterns and dynamics that form part of the culture of the institute

5. Establish an ICT Help Desk facility to support students and staff in networked education

Technology (8.4)

1. There is a need for flexibility in acquiring information and communication technologies for networked education.

2. Physical locality and time zones of teacher, learner and materials need to be explicitly considered and facilitated in creating the technological virtual class infrastructure to effectively transcend geographical proximity and time constraints

3. The needs of students and teachers in networked education impacts on the nature, management and services of the library. The library is required to provide most of its services electronically.

4. A basic technical implication for a conventional tertiary educational institute that aims to implement the virtual class infrastructure is that a web server needs to be managed for hosting the on-line materials. An internal Web server seems to be the preferred option for managing courseware.

5. An effective initial strategy to rapidly start networked education in terms of the technological architecture would be to initially focus on developing the front-end technologies.

 

 

Table 8.1†††††††† Heuristics of managing the implementation of the virtual class infrastructure in conventional tertiary education

 

8.1†††††† Strategy

 

The virtual class needs to be regarded at some point during its diffusion within the institute as an educationally sound and commercially viable educational paradigm and not as an educational experiment. Therefore an important strategy to adopt if the implementation of the virtual class infrastructure is going to be institute-wide is to manage the progression of the diffusion of the virtual class from experimental mode to being established as part of the organizational structure of the institute. It seems that the methods for promoting the virtual class internally to the relevant parties have to be regarded as a significant management issue when implementing the virtual class infrastructure in conventional tertiary education. A top-down approach to simultaneously augment a bottom-up approach is believed to be necessary, as put forward in Roger's (1983) diffusion of innovation theory (this aspect is discussed in 8.5 below).

 

The management issues of intellectual property (Johnston and Challis, 1994) and copyright (Barnard, 1997; McCullagh, 1995 September) in the academic environment in general have been problematic, but these issues are amplified in networked education where copying and replicating materials are alarmingly easy. This issue is further complicated by the notion of instructional design through teams (used by the HYDI team), which is proposed as the desired approach in networked education. A model of shared ownership can be explored where the institute retains the right to use the materials if members of the course development team should leave, and where staff have the right to use the materials developed by the team in their new environment. It is importantwhen a conventional tertiary educational institute embarks on networked education that these management issues be resolved at the outset.

 

These issues also relate to ensuring privacy of personal information (Dearden, 1995 September; Underwood, 1995 September) and the required security (Graham, 1995 September) within the ICT systems underpinning networked education. In networked education at Wellington Polytechnic most of the information resides in digital form on computers. This includes the educational materials themselves, assignment work and results of student assignments, on-line communications (both synchronous and asynchronous) among students and with the lecturer and/or tutors, students' progress data through on-line tracking, as well as enrolment and payment information.Digitized education via the Internet faces the same challenge, which requires unprecedented levels of security in teaching and learning systems (Graham, 1995 September). These can be partially addressed through the use of security software as well as user identification and password controls that worked well at Wellington Polytechnic. Operational policies to cover procedures such as signed undertakings by students to use materials for their personal studies only might also be necessary.

 

This research analyses the implementation of the virtual class infrastructure within conventional tertiary education, in which research output in terms of papers at reputable conferences and publications in respected journals, are regarded as important criteria for academic performance. Presenting papers and attending relevant conferences proved to be important strategies for establishing contacts with colleagues at other tertiary institutes working in the field of networked education. Structuring networked education projects as research activities can legitimise the involvement of academic staff in networked education that otherwise can be difficult to justify. This strategy might be essential to secure academic staff involvement when the scholarship of teaching (discussed below) is not recognized to the same degree as the scholarship of research.Networking with others and maintaining these contacts can also lead to valuable national and international feedback and advice on local efforts to implement networked education.

 

In the virtual class the 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. The cost of distribution of materials shifts considerably from the institute to the student, as the students have to pay their ISP for studying on-line. This management issue is highly relevant to the issue of equity of access (discussed in section 9.11 in Chapter 9). A specific strategy that can be followed in this regard is to have a networked course in a compressed state that students can download as a single file. Students would only have to link up to the Internet for on-line communications and possibly on-line assessment. The potential benefits to the institute, like student tracking and database functionalities, need to be balanced by the cost to the student. Networked education should also be designed with the smallest possible ICT "footprint" on the student side. Furthermore, courses can be designed so that hard copy or off-line soft copy can be provided with ease.

 

Addressing the affective domain of the students, that is the area of feelings and emotions, in the virtual class is a challenge that needs to be addressed to ensure a high level of meaningful learning and communicating in the virtual class (Negroponte, 1997 June). The challenge is for the virtual class, 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).

 

The Lewin and Schein model for organizational change (Stair, 1992:396) proved helpful as a change model to provide overall structure for implementing the virtual class infrastructure in a conventional tertiary educational institute. However, the various stages may be treated not as linear but as dynamic elements of an iterative process.

 

Participating in networked education as early as possible seems to be important to create a desired niche and build up desired experience in the international virtual educational market in which there is a huge interest (as discussed in Chapter 1). To have any impact in this growing area, early participation seems a better approach than not responding to the possibilities and threats of networked education. Kenichi Ohmae asserts that "to prevent competitors from getting there first, a company must launch in the key markets simultaneously. Globalisation will not wait" (Caulkin, 1990:29).

 

Using one or a few a pilot projects seems to be an effective strategy for introducing an innovation like the virtual class in a conventional tertiary educational institute. A pilot project facilitates experimentation in a new field (Goldenfarb, 1995), the testing of concepts and processes, the formulation of guidelines and principles, the establishing of credibility, the promotion of the innovation as well as an analysis of how an organisation responds to a new paradigm or innovation.

 

Since networked education is based on ICT, it is necessary for solid technological expertise to be consistently available in the planning, development and deployment of networked education in order to address the needs of staff and students.

 

A "free give-away of the first version" marketing strategy for on-line promotion can be followed in promoting networked courses. This strategy is commonly used for on-line marketing - Netscape (1996) very successfully used it.

 

Thorough market research is as important to inform the critical decision of which courses to offer first in a networked mode, as in the case of launching any new service or product in other "markets".

Any innovation, including networked education, faces the challenge of bridging a lack of knowledge and understanding of its benefits and advantages. It faces an additional challenge: to balance the gradual sharing of information about the virtual class so as to tie in with the cyclical and relatively slow pace of teaching and administrative cycles that occur in a more predictable and repetitive pattern within conventional tertiary education.At the same time, all parties involved need to be kept up to date with this rapidly developing field. This tension is a management challenge that needs to be addressed in the promotional strategy of implementing the virtual class infrastructure.

 

Ensuring ownership was found to be important in the diffusion of the virtual class at Wellington Polytechnic. Strategies such as one-to-one and small group discussions, demonstrations and explanation of the benefits can be used to ensure ownership of the implementation of the virtual class by senior and middle management (Goldenfarb, 1995). It is also important for continuity of networked courses to ensure ownership by the department that offers networked courses (Szabo et al.,1997). Ownership by the academic staff is pivotal, and therefore the concerns and perceptions of academic staff need to be addressed (see 8.2 below).

 

In order to ensure ownership by academic staff as well as sound educational quality in networked education, it was important at Wellington Polytechnic for educators and educational principles to drive the implementation of the virtual class infrastructure, which served to confirm similar views of Szabo et al. (1997), Willmot and McLean (1994) and Caladine (1993). It proved essential to involve academics intimately in the reform process as suggested by Tillema (1995).

 

An institute that uses networked education extensively will develop an ICT architecture that is ubiquitous in order to serve its students and its staff (both academic and administrative). It appears necessary, therefore, to increase the general level of computer and information literacy (Goldenfarb, 1995) within a conventional tertiary educational institute when implementing networked education. Information literacy can be defined as the ability "to find, evaluate and disseminate information using traditional, currently available, and evolving technologies for the purposes of investigation, education, and the solving of real world problems" (ILT21, 1999). One of the four components of information literacy as defined by the Pennsylvania State University Libraries (1998) emphasises "...a positive disposition towards the use of new and extant information sources and information technologies".

 

It is important for management to identify and test the perceived critical success factors for the institute in order to progress towards the virtual class at an early stage (Goldenfarb, 1995) as occurred at Wellington Polytechnic in order to prevent allocating valuable resources to non-critical activities. Some factors will prove to be critical and need sustained resourcing while others might be found to be of no or less significance

 

In some conventional tertiary educational institutes decentralized organizational structures providing for the devolution of central services and responsibilities to departments are becoming popular (Yetton, 1993; Randle and Brady, 1997; Hart, 1999 July). Unless adequate central funding is available for innovations like the virtual class, these developments can easily occur in isolation and without wider impact.

 

A 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 its implementation (Marquardt, 1996 ; Munitz, 1997). At Wellington Polytechnic it was done in a very limited way and led to limited reform. The institutional reward systems should encourage academic staff and students to become and remain involved in networked education if it desires wide implementation of the virtual class infrastructure internally.

 

It seems necessary to highlight the benefits and advantages of the virtual class for the institute, teachers and students, in order to gain the positive interest of administrative managers and academic staff in the implementation of the virtual class infrastructure (Goldenfarb, 1995).

 

The major motivational tools for participation in the virtual class may not be of a financial nature. The "non-hygiene factors" (the "motivators") in Herzberg's theory (1960) can be used as motivational tools to encourage those involved in the creation of the virtual class; factors to take into account are, for example a feeling of achievement, recognition of achievement, how interesting the work is, responsibilities for decision-making, opportunities to develop and to learn new skills.

 

The development of networked education is to be managed as a commercial project in which professionals fill the required roles and deadlines are set and treated in earnest. The HYDI team experienced that involving students as part of a teaching programme in the development of networked education was not successful (see Chapter 5). Students, however, have an important role to play in quality assurance within networked education developments (see 8.2 below).

 

The flexible nature of the media and the characteristics of the implementation of the virtual class infrastructure in conventional tertiary education point to the use of a prototyping systems development methodology for developing courses for the virtual class (Burch, 1992; Stair, 1992; Szabo et al. (1997). These characteristics include a low degree of certainty about input and outcomes, low user experience, immediately desired results, a high degree of risk and a large number of alternatives.

 

Quality assurance in networked education has proved to be challenging as version control needs to address an increased dynamic in updating materials, which confirmed the view of Butterfield et al. (1999, July) that as virtual institutes emerge, the attention to quality assurance (QA) is more of a necessity, but may be more difficult. It might become necessary to work with new organizations like the Global Alliance for Transnational Education (GATE, 1999) that have been created to deal with accreditation and certification issues across national borders.

 

8.2†††††† Roles and Skills of Individuals

 

The critical and fundamental role that ICT play in networked education points to the need for computer literacy of students in networked education, which needs to be addressed through appropriate training. Part of the rationale for engaging in networked education could be that it uses the tools of the emerging information or knowledge society as educational tools. In an information society there is widespread use of the new communication technologies. This is the society in which graduates should be able to effectively participate. Access to the virtual class is limited not only through inadequate access to ICT therefore, but also through computer illiteracy. The teaching of computer skills could be integrated as part of the learning process of each academic department and not only of the department that teaches IT courses. This can be achieved by pursuing a strategic organization-wide goal to enable students to engage in the learning process by using the ICT of the emerging information society.

 

In this research it was essential to address the concerns and perceptions of academic staff because of the need for changing their attitudes and ensuring ownership by academic staff (Evans and Franz, 1998 April; Taylor, Lopez and Quadrelli, 1996). Managing the fears and expectations of academic staff is an important part of implementing the virtual class infrastructure. Our experience confirmed that the role of the teacher in networked education is changing (Collis, 1998; Thompson, 1997 June; Zepke, 1998; Leslie, 1994). The teacher should be more of a facilitator than a provider of information (Hodgson, Mann and Snell, 1987; Mason, 1998:157; O'Donnell, 1996); in fact, the student has the materials on-line, has hyperlinks to Websites for further reading, can communicate with the other students in the course as well as communicate on-line with students and lecturers in other locations - be it nationally or internationally. It could be that on-line educators find themselves in a networked course in the role of either content provider or as facilitator. A model used by the Open University (UK) provides for the lecturer to do research and also to work as content provider with instructional designers, while teachers (facilitators or tutors) are contracted to facilitate the learning of the students (Laurillard, 1993). These facilitators can in the virtual class be contracted in from any geographical area since most of the facilitation will occur on-line. Furthermore, lecturers might have to deal with a new relationship with their students, which is not one-to-many but one-of-many. 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.

 

This changing role as well as the centrality of ICT in the virtual class point to the tremendous need for the training and support of teachers in the virtual class (Caladine, 1993). They need to become familiar with and master the new ICT used in networked education. Knowing how to use the global networks will be necessary for their own research and networking with academics. They also have to be able to point students to appropriate on-line resources. Teachers need to be aware of and be able to manage the new dynamics of communication in a virtual environment, for example managing on-line meetings. Understanding how a virtual team operates is necessary in managing the on-line learning of students. Academic staff members also need to be proficient in knowledge management and in dealing with the stress of information overload. Gundry and Metes (1996) indicate that dealing with foreign cultures requires teachers to have knowledge about cultural diversity and sensitivities for cultural differences. Nguyen, Tan and Kezunovic (1996) argue for the creation of a strategic plan for training academic staff in educational reform. Acquiring these skills and dealing with the stress of change and information overload underline the imperative for proper training and support mechanisms for teachers. The extensive interest in the workshops conducted by the author regarding networked education further indicates that staff development can be used as an important strategy to advance the implementation of networked education among academic staff. This strategy correlates with proposals by Mason (1996, June), Szabo, Anderson and Fuchs (1997) and Gabel and Feeg (1996, June).

 

In the polytechnic environment, the scholarship of teaching is recognized and appreciated, which was important as this is where the impact of the virtual class is most noticeable (Nixon, 1996). Involvement in networked education can also be structured as research projects to encourage academic participation.

 

An appropriate workload formula for teachers in networked education is required to cater for a new definition of "contact time" or "office time" (Barnard, 1997; Johnston and Challis, 1994).Timetabled teaching periods are no longer helpful as a way to determine workload.Management could rather be constructed around outcomes and performance agreements.

 

Another important management issue in the area of assessment that is to be addressed in implementing networked education, is that of authenticity - ensuring originality of work when the only contact between teacher and student is computer mediated. 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, such as continuous assessment, sampling of some assignments and conducting random personal interviews on-line, can be used. Another area where authenticity impacts the virtual class is in on-line communications. 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, for example in chat groups and assessments and can be printed on certificates. However, proper training and clear guidelines for students in addition to regulations regarding this matter may be the most effective way to address this issue.

 

Addressing the social needs of both students and teachers when it comes to teaching and learning in the virtual class is as important as it is on a physical campus (Caladine, 1993; Taylor and White, 1991; Tiffin, 1996b November). Strategies such as newsgroups, electronic mail discussion lists, synchronous on-line meetings, arranging some kind of 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 support these needs. Academic staff may have a negative reaction to increases in transactional distance (Moore, 1993) and therefore might resist the implementation of the virtual class infrastructure.

 

A development team for networked education composed of the following roles is proposed: sponsor, project manager, content director, creative director / graphic designer, computer specialist, educational director, editor, on-line media developer, gatekeeper and student representative. These roles incorporate the "five actor categories" that Paquettee, Ricciardi-Rigault, Paquin, Liegeois and Bleicher (1996, June) distinguish in the construction of a virtual campus, namely the learner, trainer, content-expert, manager and designer. The centrality of ICT in developing on-line materials emphasizes the important role of the computer specialist in the development team. The central role of the student in networked education (see Chapter 9) points to the inclusion of students in order to contribute to quality assurance within the multi-disciplinary networked education development team. The student representative role provides essential feedback during the development process and contributes to the internal quality assurance process. Our experience confirmed the importance of a gatekeeping role as proposed by Katz and Tushman (1997).

 

8.3†††††† Organizational structure

 

The effective diffusion of the virtual class in a conventional tertiary educational institute requires that the process is not localised in a specific academic department or grouping but occurs in such a way that it can serve the whole institute. Ensuring wide representation from the outset seems a necessary strategy when an institute-wide effect is desired (Goldenfarb, 1995). The concerns raised by the computer services group in this research also demonstrates the importance of ensuring that all wider stakeholders are consulted on the implementation of the virtual class infrastructure, and that the existing organizational structures are respected.

 

It is proposed that an institute wishing to implement networked education establish a central unit to provide sustainable training, support, research and development of networked education to staff and students. This strategy uses the first of the three possible implementation approaches of "flexible delivery options" in higher education proposed by Taylor, Lopez and Quadrelli (1996).

 

In the design and development of networked education a multi-disciplinary team is required because of the involvement of diverse disciplines such as education, graphical elements and ICT (Taylor, Lopez and Quadrelli, 1996; Spender, 1996a September; DEC working party, 1989). This is in contrast to the general practice of instructional design in conventional tertiary education, which is often a solo activity of an individual lecturer. Although instructional design deals with "Ö how to make instruction work as well as possible with the tools at hand" (Mager, 1988:1), the reality in conventional tertiary education is that instructional design often does not deal with graphic design and ICT design. In networked education, however, instructional design in practice generally also includes graphic design as well as ICT design. The scope of instructional design in practice in the virtual class is thus wider and different from the practice in conventional education.

 

It seems necessary when introducing the virtual class into a conventional tertiary educational institute to seriously consider the internal political patterns and dynamics that form part of the culture of the institute (Pettit and Hind, 1992). The implementation of the virtual class infrastructure calls for appropriate policies to be developed, for example policies governing access of on-campus students to the Internet and publishing on the WWW. Institutional policies blend the requirements of an innovation with the institutional capabilities and culture and are therefore necessary for wide implementation. This top-down aspect was neglected in this action research and could have been used to obtain positive support from administration.

 

In networked education both students and lecturers are required to assume a new level of sophistication in ICT use, which requires appropriate ICT support. Help facilities like context sensitive help buttons, details on technological requirements and troubleshooting help need to be included within networked courses. There are, however, aspects about using ICT or technical problems that require students or staff to interact with a knowledgeable person. It is therefore suggested that an ICT Help Desk facility be established to support students and staff in networked education. This ICT Help Desk should be available to staff and students by means of both electronic and conventional communications (such as a 0800 telephone number).

 

8.4†††††† Technology

 

Both networked education and the supporting ICT and applications are relatively new and are changing rapidly (see 9.4 in Chapter 9). An institute's approach to acquiring and discarding ICT therefore needs to be flexible. Caution is required when acquiring technologies to avoid being locked into its particular processes and approaches.

 

Physical locality and time zones of teacher, learner and materials need to be explicitly considered and facilitated in creating the technological architecture of the virtual class in order to effectively transcend any geographical proximity and time constraints when delivering networked education (National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, 1995; WA Telecentres, 1995). Networked education can, however, impact negatively on the mobility of the course materials (Mason, 1999). The affordability and weight of portable computers such as Laptop computers and notebooks rule out these technologies from being an adequate solution to provide mobility. Smaller hand-held palmtop computers with infra red updating capabilities are a positive step in re-creating mobility for students in networked education. A development of significance in this regard is experiments by the New Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Negroponte, 1997 June) and by commercial companies in the United States to program every minute part of the "paper". This paper has all the characteristics of wood-based paper except that it is made of specialized synthetic programmable materials. Pages in such a book could be loaded with information from the Web or other electronic sources and copied and pasted into other computer applications. Each page has a tremendous storage capacity and can be continuously updated and reloaded. This will be a breakthrough in providing students of the virtual class with both mobility and a new level of flexibility.

 

The needs of students and teachers in networked education also impacts on the management and nature of the services of the library. The library is required to provide most of its services electronically and to provide increased access to external electronic resources rather than local paper-based materials (Barnard, 1997; Odlyzko, 1994). Capital expenditure on physical extensions to libraries can be replaced by subscriptions to on-line databases and resources. Another development of significance for libraries in this regard is the current experiments with programmable paper (discussed above). Libraries might in future be mainly responsible for managing copyright contracts and electronic databases with categorised information that is accessible on the WWW for down loading onto computers or possibly into electronic books. The library might also become an important access area to networked education for on-campus students by making available computers in the library.

 

A basic technical implication for a conventional tertiary educational institute that aims to implement the virtual class infrastructure is that a web server needs to be managed for hosting the on-line materials.This can be done using an Internet Service Provider - which requires an additional relationship in need of being managed - or an internal web server of the institutionís own. A stable, dedicated internal Web server seems to be the preferred option. An internal Web server will allow for experimentation with and testing of new technologies which require quick access to, and a high level of control of the scripts, on-line databases and other ICT.

 

An effective initial strategy to rapidly start networked education in terms of the technological architecture is to initially focus on developing the front-end technologies,that is to say those technologies that support the user-computer interface. The technologies in the virtual class are usually flexible (for example HTML), which allow for the back-end technologies to be introduced at a later stage - technologies such as a suitable database and course-management software.

 

8.5 ††††† Augmenting Rogers' Diffusion Theory

 

Innovation diffusion theory (Rogers, 1983) provides a general explanation for the manner in which new entities and ideas like IT and networked education are disseminated through social systems (in this case conventional tertiary education) over time. Diffusion, when according to Rogers' theory the innovation emerges from outside senior management, essentially follows a bottom-up path from early adopters to widespread use. This bottom-up approach was found to be essential for the diffusion of networked education at Wellington Polytechnic. This action research found that if the implementation is only top-down, academic and allied (administrative) staff will not be aware of the possibilities of networked education and the impact it might have on them, while ownership could well be a problem.

 

Tillema (1995) analysed historical studies, largely based on experience in the schooling sector, and supports the bottom-up approach and warns that top-down attempts to achieve educational reform have failed. Tillema asserts that top-down attempts will continue to fail unless they deal with the cultural and pedagogical traditions and beliefs on which current practices and organizational arrangements are based.

 

This research suggests further that the Rogersí diffusion of innovation theory, when the innovation emerges from outside of senior management, needs to be augmented with a top-down component that includes both senior and middle management in order to accomplish effective diffusion of the virtual class in conventional tertiary education. This correlates with Drucker's(1985) assertion that a successful innovation should aim at leadership from the beginning in order to be innovative enough and capable of establishing itself.

 

If it is only bottom-up, senior managers might not support it and resources might be difficult to obtain. The prominence of the project at Wellington Polytechnic and the level of resources made available would not have been possible without senior management and middle management support. When political problems were encountered, the President was able to step in and direct matters. Middle management, that is heads of academic and administrative departments, played an important role in controlling resources; in some cases in a positive way and in other cases withholding support. (However, when the initiative for moving towards the virtual class comes from senior management this support is implicit.)

 

Goldenfarb (1995) describes the importance of senior and middle management support with reference to the CWIS project that started by setting up a Steering Committee with representatives from four of the twelve academic faculties in the University, the Library and Information Technology staff. Invited participants were mainly lead users, who had already some relevant expertise, or were recognized as stakeholders who stood to benefit largely from the use of the new technology.

 

The head of Information Technology demonstrated some early achievements to the Vice Chancellor and his deputies. Their awareness and interest in the project provided the top-down pressure on heads of departments to support the project. This gave the project the legitimacy and full acceptance into the everyday operation of the institution.

 

When departments were asked to identify what was critical to their adoption of CWIS, all ten departments nominated their product champion, who drove the project through all the critical steps of the implementation process. Seven of the ten departments identified the support of their leader as having played a major role.

 

This illustrates the central role that senior management plays in bringing about organizational change, and in this case, the introduction of the virtual class in a conventional tertiary educational institute.The backing from a group of senior managers accompanied by strong budgetary support seems to be necessary if the progression towards the virtual class is to be an institutional one. Berge and Schrum (1998:35) contend that the "key to success of campus initiatives in technology-enhanced learning and distance education is the support of campus leaders". Daniel (1998) argues that a technology strategy is necessary for campus universities like Wellington Polytechnic, which underlines the importance of a top-down component when implementing the virtual class in conventional tertiary education. Daniel (1998:143) also maintains that

The application of technology without a concurrent transformation in the teaching/learning process will be an add-on that will only increase costs. Re-engineering the learning environment will not occur without the development of a technology infrastructure.

Losing the two content providers outside the Educational Development Department in cycle 4 was a serious setback for the diffusion of networked education into other academic areas.It points to the vulnerability of only using a bottom-up approach in which the energy of the diffusion is vested in individuals. The top-down approach can add to the continuity of the diffusion of innovations; this approach ensures that the objectives of an innovation are laid down in longer-term strategic plans, annual plans, committee discussions and minutes, and operational policies.

 

Goldenfarb (1995) found that a critical success factor in the diffusion of innovation was following both a top-down and bottom-up approach.

 

Szabo, Anderson and Fuchs (1997) report on the implementation of the virtual class at the University of Alberta, Canada and support a simultaneous top-down and bottom-up approach:

There are two major intended goals of TIES [Training, Infrastructure and Empowerment System]. The first is that the chief academic officers identify a vision for alternative delivery systems of instruction for the university, publish that vision widely, and demonstrate their commitment to it in a clear and convincing fashion. Secondly, departments within the university create leadership task forces to interpret the vision for their unit and prepare colleagues to implement the shared vision.

 

Daft (1989:274) states that a bottom-up innovation process is typical for technological innovation (within an organic management structure) while administrative innovations typically follow a top-down direction of change (within a mechanistic management structure). However, the virtual class, as a technological innovation also requires changes in administrative processes to operate effectively, and hence needs both approaches.

 

Using a bottom-up and top-down process links upto the learning organization concept (Marquardt, 1996:218) in which "...it is possible for any member to be an awareness-enhancing agent or an advocate for new competence development. In this way, both top-down and bottom-up initiatives are made possible". Using both approaches simultaneously confirms Gunn's (1998:142) assertion that

An effective technology strategy works in both directions. From the top down, it is articulated through institutional objectives, sensitive to existing culture, constraints, strengths and weaknesses, and presented as a coherent, achievable set of goals with appropriate incentives and rewards. It must also move from the bottom-up where knowledge of teaching strategies, learning contexts and disciplinary expertise can be translated into action plans geared to achievement of institutional strategic objectives and so creating a sense of ownership at all levels of the institution.

 

In following both approaches simultaneously, preference needs to be given to an organic implementation model rather than an institutional implementation model.In the organic model the processes and outcomes are based on grassroots level needs, the diffusion occurs in an evolutionary way, and the persons taking ownership of the new paradigm drive the implementation. This is in contrast to the institutional (or mechanistic) implementation model in which processes and outcomes are developed through a broad top-down decree, and ownership of the new paradigm is not a high priority; staff are expected to do as instructed. More emphasis needs to be placed on the organic implementation model because the paradigm of the virtual class is a new concept in conventional tertiary education, and understanding the possibilities of the virtual class and how it serves the needs of students and teachers is a gradual process which requires time. Holt and Thompson (1998:215) assert that "whatever the road to mainstreaming, it is a slow, difficult and time-consuming one to negotiate successfully". Academic staff members need to take ownership of the virtual class concepts and practices because they largely operate in an autonomous way when deciding how to deliver teaching. The implementation of the virtual class in a conventional tertiary educational institute is a long-term strategic process and can be jeopardised if its implementation is decreed in a top-down fashion to achieve short-term gains.

 

Everett Rogers commented as follows on a question set to him by the writer(E. Rogers, personal communication, 10 July 1998), on whether Rogers' diffusion model proposes 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.

 

However, the findings in this research suggest that a simultaneous top-down and bottom-up component is necessary for an effective diffusion of the virtual class in conventional tertiary education. Bates (1995:47) contends that "...even more important than an environmental scan for managing change is the development of a long-term vision". Moving towards networked educational management requires visionary leadership which cannot be left to bottom-up initiatives but requires strategic planning by senior management in education and government.