Leadership for positive change in HE
Shelleyann Scott and Kathryn Dixon (2008 ) in their edited book, The Globalized University: Trends and Challenges in Teaching and Learning, offer educational leaders a discussion about the changes information and communicate technology is bringing to their institutions.
Chapter 7, by Charles Webber: Universities in Canada face tensions with academic freedom as new forms of teaching and learning evolve and also with increased privatization and marketization of postsecondary institutions. And in order to make more money, institutions rely on international student fees, commercialization of intellectual property and outsource campus services. As well, “most western nations have at least one or more universities that specialize in distance teaching and learning … [and] are perceived by the public and most university faculty members as credible instititons” (p.196).
Changes in the Faculty of Education at the University of Calgary are a good example of some positive changes through leadership. Their graduate division (GDER) has the largest graduate student populations in Education. The strengths of the division are integrated campus and distance programs, skilled faculty in many specializations, strong student perceptions of GDER, student demand for programs, high-quality library resources, generate revenue, increased student access, flexible workloads, flexible programs, and research and professional development centres. Weaknesses are reliance on central technical centres, lack of supervision for course-based students, delayed website upgrades, insufficient student recruitment, reduction in GDER budget, and varying supervision loads. Threats are supervision workloads without teaching releases, loss of balance between teaching and research, funding for doctoral students lowest at university, need for new staff to manage non-traditional programming, staff and budgets, and increasing competition from other universities delivering programs nationally and internationally. A leadership strategy that has been successful in the GDER is a balanced portfolio that focuses on “society’s needs for high quality research and on teaching that informs professional practice … [and] includes strategic alliance with national and international organizations , partnerships that forge strong research and teaching networks … [that also] attract strong students from local, national and international settings” (p. 198). This approach serves many and alleviates political interventions.
Continual cuts to the campus-based programs have been aided by the cost-recovery graduate programs offered online. Thus, through online graduate programs it generates operating revenues. As well, the cost-recovery distance programs have increased student access to higher education as budget cuts affect the number of students admitted to campus-based programs. As well, faculty salaries paid from central institutional sources decreased affecting the ability to admit, teach and supervise campus students. This was offset by distance cost recovery programs such as the Master of Education and Doctor of Education. Applying for government funding to support new initiatives, such as with the ACCESS grant, increased student access; however, such funding allowed less flexibility to administration due to the grant’s focus on specific programs and rigid parameters. As well, staff were hired over the past decade to provide significant support to students in administrative, technology and library units. Staff in the GDER administration office covered a range of responsibilities from budgeting to marketing. They focus on program coordination, scholarship and program advising, continuing professional development opportunities, and other administrative duties.
A Post-Degree Continuous Learning framework allows students to complete coursework at three levels that eventually leads to the completion of a Master degree, much of which are delivered online. Also, a strong support infrastructure for students has helped student retention. These include such as library and technical support staff that helps students to use online databases and software systems. For faculty there are “an evergreen computer system for faculty members, software information seminars for faculty members and students, and instructional design support from the campus Teaching and Learning Centre” (p.176).
Faculty members teaching in the programs use innovative teaching practices. Quality teaching and a variety of course selection provide students with quality programs. Course evaluations accessible by students provide valuable input to improve teaching and scheduling of course and workloads. Students sit as representatives in all governance committees at the university and faculty. A number of professional centers in gifted education, educational leadership and higher education provide continuing professional development, local, national and international networks, and institutional partners to students and faculty. Research efforts are shared by faculty and students in initiatives such as annual online and campus research institutes, and an online peer-reviewed journal for leadership in learning. However, not all faculty members embrace distance learning approaches as revealed in the uneven growth in some programs.
Graduate students come from a variety of work roles such as teachers, principals, consultants, corporate trainers, postsecondary leaders, and instructional designers. The cost-recovery graduate programs do not have a residency requirement thus making the program more accessible and decrease the cost for graduate students by remaining in their communities, jobs and with their families. A survey conducted in 2006 asked current online and campus-based graduate students and alumni about their satisfaction with the programs. Most responded positively to various aspects of the program such as support, resources, instructors, program, supervision and student experience. The few areas that needed addressing, though more than 80% were satisfied, were the learning opportunities, interaction among students, and quality of supervision. However, distance learners felt more satisfied with student interaction and access to learning opportunities. Students in course-based Master programs were less satisfied with their supervision than thesis-based students. Alumni felt their programs enhanced their professional expertise and led to career advancement, but more so with campus-based students. Those online felt more satisfaction with their supervision than campus students and were more apt to recommend the program to a friend or colleague.