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This paper will emphasise the new educational media eg the Internet, hypermedia, distributed on-line learning etc. and the possibilities and challenges it creates for tertiary educational institutes especially in the area of the globalisation of education.
The research question being addressed in this paper is: In moving towards the virtual class, what are some of the key management issues in higher educational institutes and how should they be addressed?
The globalisation of education which calls for the establishment of the virtual class (an electronic meeting place of students and lecturers for the purpose of learning and teaching), requires new management approaches on the strategic, tactical and operational levels of management.
However, the transition to the virtual class in traditional settings must be carefully managed to succeed.
September 1995, the
In this paper, some of the key management issues on these levels of management are discussed.
On the strategic management level, issues like strategic planning in moving towards the virtual class, effective promotion of the virtual class, change strategies, traditional management structures and its interaction with progressive projects and technologies will be discussed. On the tactical level, suitable development methodologies, realistic new workload formulas, project management approaches, role of technologies and in particular the Internet, will be dealt with. Aspects like effective hypermedia learning environments, appropriate learning support systems, addressing social needs of students and staff, will be explored on the operational management level.
"Reality isn't what it used to be."
This paper will emphasise the new educational media eg the Internet, hypermedia, distributed on-line learning etc. and the possibilities and challenges it creates for tertiary educational institutes especially in the area of the globalisation of education.
This move towards the virtual class (an electronic meeting place of students and lecturers for the purpose of learning and teaching), requires new management approaches on the strategic (long terms issues), tactical (dealing with allocation of resources) and operational (day to day operations) levels of management.
The research question explored in this paper is: In moving towards the virtual class, what are some of the key management issues in higher educational institutes and how should they be addressed? This paper also argues that the transition to the virtual class in traditional settings must be carefully managed to succeed.
In Luke 5:37-39 in the Bible we read that "....new wine should not be poured into old wineskins, because the old wineskins will break and the new wine will spill out. Those who are used to the old wine will not want the new wine because they say: "the old wine is better"." This passage originally obviously did not deal with the virtual class, but it may be applicable to the emergence of the virtual class and the management approaches this requires. The question is whether the virtual class is "new wine" or just another type of wine? If it is the former, it may have serious consequences for educational institutes wishing to progress towards the virtual class without simultaneously adjusting the management of their institutes, as Thomas, Carswell, Price and Petre (1998) argues: "transformation of practices (both teaching and administrative) to take advantage of technology in order to provide needed functions, rather than superficial translation of existing practices".
One thing is certain, the momentum and pace of virtual class developments internationally as well as within organisations is faster than and has a more dynamic nature than the conventional operations of traditional tertiary educational institutes.
paper, some of the key management issues on the various levels of
management are discussed within two frameworks. Firstly within the current transition
in higher educational institutes from traditional learning to virtual class
learning - also called "telelearning"(Tiffin
& Rajasingham, 1995) and "distributed
on-line education" (Uys, 1998). The second framework is the action
research findings of the hydi Educational New Media
Centre (Uys, March 1998) in implementing the virtual class since September
1995. The growth of the centre has underscored the words of Prof Robert Spence
(Professor of Information Engineering,
"Hypermedia" is defined as multi-media (which includes text, movement, sound, pictures, colour) with hyper-links, which seamlessly transports the reader to other hypermedia materials.
The virtual class is seen as an electronic meeting place of students and lecturers for the purpose of learning and teaching: an educational experience of real people in a virtual dimension. In the virtual class the activities of the traditional educational institute is performed mostly without the movement of physical objects (eg getting students and lecturers into a physical venue); this includes the challenge of providing social interaction and a "campus experience" to on-line students.
The virtual class can take many forms, it might for example be on-line education using the Internet or an intranet, or meeting in virtual reality as telepresences, or combining these methods with traditional educational modes. Moving towards the virtual class for some higher educational institutes mean to move all education from traditional education to virtual class methods, or it might mean to incorporate the virtual class as one of their key educational strategies.
The reasons why higher educational institutes are considering moving towards the virtual class include the need for life long learning. Education is becoming more of a lifelong endeavour than a few years stint after school because most careers require continued training to keep up with the growing body of relevant knowledge and also because of the modern tendency to develop more than one career during a person’s working life. Distributed on-line education is attractive to those already in the work force because of its open and flexible nature.
Emerging as a strong rationale for using distributed on-line education is that it can greatly enhance the quality of learning - also of on-campus students. It bridges the boundaries and limitations of time and space, provide for a variety of learning styles as well as for different navigational preferences. Students can also take more control of their learning and can develop "life" skills like time management and research skills, by students having to set there own study plans, find additional Web resources, having to evaluate its validity and then drawing sound conclusions.
It can also lessen two huge problems in traditional distance education ie decrease in personal motivation and a sense of isolation. Both asynchronous (e-mail, message boards) and real time on-line communication facilities (voice, video, Internet Relay Chat and shared whiteboards over the Net) can be used very effectively in this area.
It also makes sense to use the tools of the emerging information society as the educational tools. In modern countries there is a transition from an industrialised society, where physical production technologies strongly influenced the forms of service and way of living, to an information society where information technology plays a key role in the forms of service and way of living, and where information becomes a key building stone. In the information society the new communication technologies are being used; in preparing our students for this society, it seems sensible therefore to use these technologies in facilitating their learning.
The following key management issues as higher educational institutes progress towards the virtual class are discussed in this paper:
This is due to the key new educational technology, the Internet, being a global and expanding phenomena, and secondly because of the ease of publishing on-line.
2.1 The central medium, the Internet, is a global and expanding phenomena.
The Internet currently links nearly 300 countries around the globe, and is still growing exponentially at a rate of about 40 to 50 percent according to the latest data from the longest-running survey of Internet hosts, or machines physically connected to the network. (Glave, 1998). In February 1998, there were 29,670,000 "advertised" connected computers in 240 countries and territories. (The host count does not correspond to the total number of end users.)
Projecting out with the current trend, there will likely be 90 million hosts on the Net by the turn of the century.
(See http://www.mids.org/mapsale/world/matrworld.gif for a map of how Internet servers cover the globe, and for more details see http://www.nw.com/zone/WWW/report.html and http://www.ngi.org/trends.htm)
is here to stay. It has been robust enough to survive this exponential growth
which has seen it doubling each year since 1974! Looking back at its history,
it started out as ARPANET, a
As the Internet is a global and expanding phenomena, any on-line hypermedia course materials on the Net is immediately available to any student, locally or internationally, who has access to the Net.
2.2 Ease of on-line publishing
Web (World Wide Web) browsers used on the Net as well as on an intranet, interpret and display documents which are in the HTML (hypertext mark up language) language. Not only is this language very simple and easy to learn, but a variety of software packages exist to convert documents in other formats into HTML with ease.
All that is required to publish on the Web, besides having to have documents in HTML format, is an Internet account! (This is because Internet Service Providers (ISP’s) generally also include hosting space for Web pages as part of their package for account holders. )
The Net seems to be levelling the playing field between large or great institutes and others that are not - all (with Internet access) can participate in on-line education, as illustrated by the story of the two dogs that were surfing the Web; one dog said to the other: "You know, what I like about the Web is that nobody knows you’re a dog!"
2.3 Some implications
A few implications of the increasing globalisation of education are:
2.3.1 An exponential increase in the globalisation of education.
2.3.2 The establishment of global partnerships for the local support of on-line students.
2.3.3 The importance of establishing niches in the international educational market.
2.3.4 The minefield for students in selecting from an increasing number and variety (both in discipline and quality) of on-line courses and/or virtual institutes.
2.3.5 The threat of obsolescence of institutes who do not prepare properly for courses of a high academic standing being offered on-line in their city or town by other local or international institutes.
2.3.6 Credits transfer and certification needs to be addressed, but issues like status, the basis for transfer of credits, and industry expectations complicates this. However, models are emerging which could translate to global education eg Open Learning Australia (OLA) where more than 20 Australian Universities collaborate in distance education and the qualification is awarded by the institute in which the student did a third of their studies.
2.3.7 Appreciating the importance of culture as a key determinant in how students want to learn, how the content should be structured and how the learning experience should be facilitated.
Both the Internet and an intranet, is based not on a centralised or decentralised model, but on a distributed, non-hierarchical model where control and processing is distributed among the nodes.
3.1 Distributed on-line education
This allows for the distribution of the control of learning as well as on-line learning and teaching materials. Hence the term "distributed on-line education", coined by the author, which is being used throughout this paper to denote learning in the virtual class.
3.2 Strenghtening of cultural diversity
The distributed model of global education is by no means a mono-cultural or elitist cultural expression, although local cultures can feel threatened by other more dominant cultures as education is globalised
The Internet however, facilitates diversity and provides opportunities of expression for any culture and languages, no matter how small or local it is. This is due to the Net’s distributed nature and ease of on-line publishing (as discussed above). The range of cultures expressing themselves via the Net is in fact growing rapidly.
Where an institute offers their courses internationally in the hope of signing up students from other cultures, it is vital to appreciate the importance of the role of culture as a key determinant in how students want to learn, how the content should be structured and how the learning experience should be facilitated. This appreciation is often lacking in mono-cultural countries. Countries with a true multi-cultural reality of life, might find themselves therefore advantaged to move into international education.
3.3 The emergence of the distributed educational institute
Institutes which actively progress towards the virtual class, will find that the distributed nature of the new educational technologies (specifically the Internet and an intranet), facilitate and encourage the distribution of its objectives, control, power and resources throughout the institute, and indeed even among its clientele: the students and industry.
Furthermore, it might find itself physically and/or logically distributed through partnerships and collaboration with other national and international institutes.
The above calls for the implementation of more horizontal and flexible management approaches of higher educational institutes.
Corporate Universities are emerging which do not have the same academic philosophies or handicaps of traditional higher educational institutes (Microsoft, Andersons and Macdonald’s for example is active in this area). These proprietary institutions often focus on what makes money (eg courses like MBA, ESL, certificating teachers) following an industrial model of education ie through an intermediate process, inputs deliver outputs which can be marketed and sold.
entertainment is getting closer too! Hollywood Studios are also getting
involved in partnerships (there is currently a project at Warner Bros to
identify how each student learn and what they need to learn, and then matching
it up with specific computer mediated learning systems). Another example is
Will we soon see "The Ultimate Consortium" delivering the same quality of education, at the same cost or less, but in a more entertaining way, and taking shorter for degreeing students? A consortium consisting of a huge financial sponsor, a computer giant (eg MS) and a prominent company in the film industry drawing on the "best professors" available for the content and educational process? Will free academic discourse, critique and research be valued, encouraged and supported when the bottom-line becomes achieving a target profit margin?
Higher educational institutes will need to rethink mission, objectives and strategies to turn threats into opportunities in this competitive and dynamic environment.
The concept of the virtual class is new to most higher educational institutes and introduces organizational change; this was also the case at our institute where an On-line Campus has been created while traditional educational strategies have also continued.
Our on-line campus is part of the vision to combine hypermedia on the World Wide Web, as an on-line education medium, with other educational strategies to provide education to both overseas, national and local students in an open and flexible manner.
The main aims of the centre - through research, international and national consulting, development and teaching - are to increase
A key factor in the success of the on-line campus project at our institute was that the vision of on-line delivery was a shared one between the President and the Project Director. This assisted tremendously in introducing this new concept. For acceptance of the "virtual class" concept , it has been important though to create a general awareness following both a top-down and bottom-up approach.
Overall, the seven stages of Lewin and Schein’s model for organizational change (Stair, 1992) were followed. These stages are listed with a description of how each step was applied in this project:
a. Scouting: Identify potential areas or systems that may need change: educational planning, development and delivery
b. Entry: Stating the problems and the goals: included and described in the initial proposal document
c. Diagnosis: Gathering data and determining resources required: described in the initial proposal document and further developed during the pilot project and the development of the Sampler course
d. Planning: Examining alternatives and making decisions: some early decisions were contained in the initial proposal document eg that the Web is to be used as key delivery medium; others were made by using the prototype and Sampler concepts where a large degree of exploration, discovery and experimentation was allowed for in all areas : educational, technical and design.
e. Action: Implementing the decisions: decisions were followed through in a consistent manner. A key aspect in developing distributed on-line courses is the selection of an appropriate systems development life cycle methodology. A prototyping (spiral) development model has proved to be very useful. Another issue is to achieve a balance in educational purpose, graphic design and the capabilities of information technology when developing on-line courses which call for the use of a multi-disciplinary project team (Uys, 1997, 1).
f. Evaluation: Determining whether the changes satisfied the initial objectives and solved the problems identified: this process has been carried out continuously in weekly and later fort-nightly project meetings, informal and open discussions, feedback by students who were asked to "test-drive" the courses and by enrolled students. Valuable feedback from trusted colleagues at other higher educational institutes were also obtained. It is essential that continual student feedback is sought and also that ongoing technical evaluation occurs to ensure that the most appropriate technologies are being used in an effective way.
g. Termination: Transferring the ownership of the new / changed system to the users and ensuring efficient operation: if the content providers (as clients) are intimately involved from start to implementation, this transition should take place in a fluent and satisfactory way.
The above model seems to work well if the seven stages are not seen as consecutive, but as dynamic dimensions of a process. Flexibility and giving a high priority to people-issues proved to be essential ingredients in the success of introducing the virtual class at our institute.
With the advent of intranets, the ease and feasibility of offering the same facilities to local students that are being offered to distance students have increased extensively. With the same interface (ie a Web browser), on-line education and teaching materials are available to both local and distance students.
Traditionally, centres for distance education were often "the minority" who understood and used information technology in education out of necessity because of its ease of distribution, ease of maintenance and later because of its potential to increase the quality of learning and teaching. At the same time their colleagues carried on with face-to-face education with workload formulas based on contact hours as a key component and lecturing in bigger and bigger lecture halls.
On the other hand, some educational institutes have the majority of their on-line materials solely for the use of local students.
Scenarios like these indicate that the possibility and reality of convergence of both local and distance education modes is a paradigm shift which is currently being made by only a small number of higher educational institutes.
What does this convergence look like in reality? It means that teaching and learning materials are available on-line and that it is used by academic staff as well as local and distance students in a creative way. Local students may have all their lecture notes on-line as well-designed hypermedia courseware which include on-line communication facilities, different navigation paths, catering for different learning styles, access and pointers to other Web resources and exercises. The local students may also have face-to-face tutorials to work through exercises and sit tests and exams in a physical building. Distance students may also have all their lecture notes on-line, have on-line real-time tutorials, attend workshops on the physical campus, and do their assignments on-line. However the synergy of this convergence is that local and distance students can meet on-line as well as physically, evaluate each other’s on-line published materials, do group assignments together, form informal study groups etc!
Instead of trying to meet traditional workload formulas and extend often ineffective class room and distance education techniques, this convergence rather look at creating the best possible learning scenarios for both local and distance students in a more flexible way.
This convergence of learning modes which traditionally have been called "distance education" and "on-campus education" means that both learning control as well as on-line learning and teaching materials are distributed to both local and distance students using the same interface (ie a Web browser). Hence the term "distributed on-line education".
The convergence of traditional on-campus education and distance education means that instead of spending on capital projects to increase the number or size of lecturing theatres, on-campus students can access on-line hypermedia courseware instead of attending lectures; this can naturally also be done in combination with tutorials (whether on-line or face-to-face).
Managing this convergence is a key aspect in the transition towards the virtual class.
Summarised below are some of the management issues in creating effective hypermedia learning environments.
7.1 Navigational preferences
Hypermedia assists the instructional designer in catering for different learning styles and ways of navigating a course. Mediated individualised instruction is a sound educational goal and supported by educationalists like Romiszowski (1984).
Two basic navigational preferences are being addressed in the our on-line courses: sequential and random navigation, as well as whether the student would like to study independently in a more flexible mode or as part of a group in a more structured manner.
Let’s first look at sequential and random navigation.
The Web and intranets cater very naturally through hyperlinks for the random learner. No strict sequence is built into the courses, although some suggestions of a sequential progression are made. The learner can thus take any route through the content and activities; the only fixed requirement is that the assessments need to be completed before credit can be obtained!
For the sequential learner, special measures need to be taken in an on-line course. In some courses we have used clickable navigational "course maps", which is a graphical presentation of the proposed sequence of the main sections in a course, and is presented at the start of the course. One of the standard hyperlinks at the bottom of each page within a course is a link to this "map" to help students orientate themselves whenever required.
From the page that contains the "course map", students can also access an "Index" page which contains an extensive list of most of the hyperlinks within the course. The inherent capability of Web browsers to change the colour of all followed links are used on this "Index" page, so that a student can access this page and see exactly which parts of the course have been visited and which parts not (this is a crude method and needs to be developed further).
Another issue is whether a student would like to study independently in a more flexible mode or as part of a group in a more structured manner. When the student wants to study as part of a group, the time lines within a course needs to be adhered to, and group assessment techniques can be used. The message boards can also play a key part in such a learning approach. If a student choose to study independently however, start and finish times for a course becomes less important. Assessments are then structured for an individual approach and the student might or might not want to participate in on-line communications. One of the benefits of on-lined education is that certain types of asynchronous communications like hypermail boards and newsgroups, allow the independent student to see what communications have been occurring on course topics and also provides contact information o fother students who have done or are doing the same course and in such a way break the isolation often experienced by the independent student.
7.2 Different learning styles
Other facilities in the On-line Campus are included to support specific learning styles. One learning style inventory describes four learning styles namely that of being a pragmatist, activist, reflector and theorist. (It is recognized that every student has a blend of these learning styles and approaches, and also that this is one of about twenty possible learning style inventories!).
Pragmatist : learning best by understanding / seeing and actively engaging in a practical application of the content - a "Gymnasium" section is a standard hyperlink at the bottom of each Web page within some courses where students are provided with exercises of both a practical and theoretical nature
Activist: learning best when the content contains a large number of activities and concrete experiences, when learning is an exciting experience and when there are a variety of "discoveries" - the "Gymnasium" section in some courses also assists this learning style. The Web also naturally lends itself to "discoveries" through hyperlinks - within the course or to external sources. Students can experience excitement in their learning through
- random navigation
- high level of inter-activity through e-mail, message boards, on-line feedback on assignments
- the use of multi-media ie graphics, colours, sounds and movement.
Reflector: learning best by reflective observation - a "Reflection" section is a standard hyperlink at the bottom of each Web page within some courses where students are provided with "thinking" exercises - often more advanced questions or points to ponder on. The "Gymnasium" section also assists this learning style. Since a large proportion of on-line communication in hypermedia courses on the Web is asynchronous, the student has the opportunity to reflect before responding to students, lecturers, the content or to assessments.
Theorist: learning best by abstract conceptualisation ie by understanding the principles of theory - a large percentage of some of our courses are the narrative elements (ie the instructional pages which consist largely of direct information-giving).
7.3 Designing for a constructivist learning approach
concepts of "constructivism" and "discovery learning" are
often confused (
"Discovery learning" centers around the concept that a strong narrative is not provided and that the student "discovers" knowledge / meaning through various self-directed activities such as working through a case study, having debates, answering a set of questions, being provided with references to resources. The Web lends itself very powerfully to this kind of learning through linking to various Web sites and through the use of both asynchronous and synchronous on-line communications.
however, is a philosophical educational approach in which it is argued that
since knowledge is socially and culturally constructed (
Hypermedia systems can also facilitate this approach very well as Landow (1992) for instance writes:
"Hypermedia technology is enabling rather than directive; learners browsing hypertext documents can construct their own knowledge according to associations in their own cognitive structures ... This emphasis on an active, constructivist learner means that hypermedia systems should be viewed as learning rather than teaching tools."
The implications for instructional design is well summarised by Boyle (1996) who suggests that it should focus on:
· construction of knowledge rather than instruction
· developing contextually authentic rather than artificial learning tasks;
· setting collaborative tasks within clearly defined social contexts;
· giving students voice and ownership within the learning process;
· enabling students to construct knowledge from their own life experiences;
· awakening students to their part in the knowledge construction process.
Adding to this should be an expectation on the part of the lecturer of receiving different expressions of meaning in assessments.
The on-line student can also with ease be on-line providers / publishers themselves by using facilities like hypermail threaded discussion boards and newsgroups (Uys, 1997, 2).
7.4 Providing both synchronous and asynchronous on-line communication facilities
On-line asynchronous as well as real-time communications over the Internet is exponentially growing. On-line video and voice conferencing, Internet Relay Chat (IRC), shared whiteboard facilities and other real-time interactive applications are being explored in education and commerce, while asynchronous facilities like e-mail and hypermail threaded message boards are often being used extensively.
"Distance" is no longer defined in terms of physical proximity but in response time! (comment made by Nicholas Negroponte at the 18th World International Council for Distance Education Conference in June 1997).
It will become an essential and normal part in on-line courses to provide these extremely cost-effective ways of communication among students, and between students and lecturers.
The educational value of synchronous on-line communication facilities include
· immediate feedback
· addressing social aspects (voices, faces, body language) in on-line communication
· adding an element of accountability
· provides a "somebody cares for me" message!
One of the problems with traditional distance education courses is the isolation that these students often experience. They often don’t know who their fellow students, previous students or even their lecturers are!
A clear distinction should be made between students-only boards and ones on which the facilitator may participate.
The degree and benefits of public access to internal course communications, as well as whether to leave all or some messages on the on-line boards for future (or continuous) course occurrences, are issues to be considered by each on-line educator.
7.5 Database support for on-line course generation
It is quite astounding to see how many computer products for the development of on-line courses take the notion for granted that course elements ("course objects") are to be stored in flat directory structures.
Often the html files, media elements and scripts are being stored on servers in an organised flat directory structure which is reminiscent of how data was stored before the 1980’s! Since then relational databases and object oriented databases have emerged as effective, sound and popular ways of storing information in computer systems.
There are a few comprehensive and specialised databases for on-line course generation, but they often need strong maintenance support of technical staff.
The hydi Educational New Media Centre is currently developing a flexible, low-end educator’s tool for on-line course generation using the "Filemaker" relational database because it is a cross-platform (Mac and PC) product, can generate HTML on the fly, is a fully relational database, is an inexpensive product and has sufficient security and access features.
This tool allows the lecturer to input from their office directly into the database text in paragraphs, selects from a range of pre-designed media elements (graphics, movies, audio clips) via key word queries, create internal and external links, and doing all of this without any knowledge of HTML, Java or other technical coding languages. This tool is highly flexible and does not have the characteristics of a "shell" type product.
At any stage the content provider can generate the course for transfer to the web server or deliver html on the fly through a pre-designed template script.
We see the advantages of this tool in
· the course convenor being able to enter a course without having to have comprehensive technical knowledge
· storing all elements of a course in a fully relational way in a database
· being able to treat all elements as objects which can then be analysed and amended separate from each other eg all hyperlinks can be tested for validity as a separate action
· acknowledging the role of people and serious preparation in developing an on-line course
· being a low end, friendly and focussed tool for developing distributed on-line courses.
"The single most frequent failure in the history of forecasting
has been grossly underestimating the impact of technologies"
In this paper the following key management issues as higher educational institutes progress towards the virtual class, were highlighted:
Returning to the question of whether the virtual class is "new wine" or just another type of wine..... It would now be clear to you that I am suggesting that we are dealing with "new wine", and that just as new wine should not be poured into old wineskins at the risk of losing both, that the progression toward the virtual class should go hand in hand with a transformation of management approaches on the strategic, tactical and operational level, and that the transition to the virtual class in traditional settings needs to be carefully managed to succeed.
There is no doubt that the discussion in this paper is preliminary and that it will be enhanced and expanded as the movement in higher educational institutes towards the virtual class gain increasing momentum. In this field we should acknowledge that expertise is short lived, and that the only appropriate approach is that of being a continual learner, because:
"In a time of drastic change it is the learners who survive;
the "learned" find themselves fully equipped
to live in a world that no longer exists"