New look for DE institutes?

Bruce King in a recent article titled, Reshaping distance and online education around a national university in regional Australia, elaborates on a proposal for new kinds of regional distance education institutions within a national framework; however, he declares they should not be modeled on or operated like a traditional dual-mode university. He proposed,

What the new regional university proposal potentially offers is: a targeted clientele, comprised in the first instance of student groups that suffer present educational disadvantage but with the capacity to recruit subsequently well beyond those groups; an ethos of service to that initial – and continuing – clientele; the forging of new administrative and teaching arrangements to provide high-quality distance delivery in fields that have sometimes not been so available; political commitment to the enterprise; an opportunity to create a flagship institution that can model best practice nationally and on a comparable basis with overseas institutional leaders; and the chance to create an approach to online delivery that connects with the distance education ethos, is underpinned by research about student learning, and offers a model of best practice that could provide leadership in online developments nationally. (2010, p. 138)

My research also found that online learners, while generally satisfied with their online program, preferred more services, instructor presence, lower tuition, and quality structured courses and programs with trained instructors. See slides of my recent presentation.

Perhaps Bruce is right in that such a responsive institute to online learners will have to occur outside the traditional institution due to current incompatible structures. He argues,

The argument here is that the problem for distance educators in mixed-mode Australian universities over the past decade has involved a number of compounding factors: (1) the fragmentation of their distinctive clientele; (2) a marginalisation in their commitment to the ethos of distance education because of the force of emerging technologies within universities generally; (3) in some instances, the breaking down of specialist administrative and student support services because of the democratizing nature of online technologies; (4) the removal of political support from distance education enterprises (e.g., the abolition of the distance education centres; King, 1999); (5) a movement away from the intellectual leadership that some Australian academics had provided in relation to the servicing and support of students off-campus, which created institutional flagships for the distance education community; and (6) a sense of personal dislocation in that many necessarily became involved with technological developments and recognised that what many would have seen as their educational commitments were being brushed aside in compromises required by the  rate of change to their practice. (2010, pp. 137-138)

Yet, what are the costs for such new developments and how could we leverage the infrastructures already in place? Creating a few virtual institutions with regional flavor and national commitment and access would be ideal. Yet in the short run, I think it will take strong leadership and fortitude to overcome practices and policies that no longer serve the modern university, while at the same time retain the mission, values, and integrity of post secondary institutions. It’s time for a make-over.

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