Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Online Higher Education Working Group

A Coalition Online Higher Education Working Group, chaired by Alan Tudge MP, is looking at how "... online technology improve existing campus-based teaching with all the benefits of interaction, in the classroom and beyond...". Here are my quick thoughts on the topics raised by the working group:

1. Trends in online learning both in Australia and internationally and how this might unfold over the next decade:

Online learning will be integrated into most university courses, with blended learning (on-line plus classroom), using the "flipped classroom" model being  the norm. Pure on-line learning with no classroom will be available as an option, particularly for more advanced and mature students. However, face-to-face instruction will still be required for younger, less experienced students. As a rough guide about one quarter of the students will turn up to optional face-to-face classes, with thre quarters finding the on-line mode adequate. The Australian Computer Society is a leader in on-line learning with its masters level, globally certified CPEP Program. The use of online learning at a traditional university is discussed in: "A Green Computing Professional Education Course Online", for 7th International Conference on Computer Science & Education (ICCSE 2012), July 2012, Melbourne, Australia.

2. Assess the benefits of online learning for Australian students and the Australian economy, including the potential:

a. Impact on cost, flexibility, customisation and quality: Online learning is lower cost when used with large volumes of students. However, this requires a high initial investment in course design and highly trained staff. Most Australian university academics are not currently qualified to design or deliver on-line courses.

b. Benefits of enhanced choice, including from global players: Global choice of online courses will be limited by accreditation requirements. There is likely to be a flood of poor quality, unaccredited courses.

c. Impact on workforce participation and democratisation of learning: Online learning allows for learning while employed and in remote areas. However, being a student is still hard work and requires considerable amounts of time.

3. Assess the challenges of online learning and how they could be overcome, including:

a. The challenges to existing institutions and their preparedness to face them: Institutions will require staff to be retrained in online pedagogy and use of technology. This retraining can make use of online technology. A stepwise approach, which would see graduate tutors trained in basic online teaching, is proposed in "Report on Incorporating Professional Skills in the ANU Master of Computing", February 2013.

b. The maintenance of quality and standards: Online learning can enhance quality and standards through more detailed and frequent monitoring. However, measures to prevent cheating by students will need to be enhanced. Also teaching staff and students will require explicit training in how to communicate online.

c. The technological and infrastructure requirements of online courses: The learning technology already being introduced to universities and vocational institutions can be ungraded for larger scale use. In particular, Australia is a world leader in learning management systems, by virtue of the locally developed Moodle system. Ways to leverage this technology for MOOCs is discussed in "MOOCs with Books: Syncronisation of Large Scale Asynchronous e-Learning",  for 8th International Conference on Computer Science & Education (ICCSE 2013), April 2013, Colombo, Sri Lanka.

4. Assess what policy measures are required to capture the benefits for Australian students and the economy, including:

a. How do deal with accreditation: Current accreditation processes for domestic courses will require minor modification for online courses. International accreditation will require government or industry agreements. Work by the Australian Computer Society in accrediting global professional qualifications can serve as a model.

b. How to best assist Australian providers: Governments can assist Australian providers by removing barriers which prevent online courses from being undertaken by students. Government can also set an example by allowing their own staff to undertake online courses and teach in them. As an example, the online engagement courses proposed by the Department of Finance for all Australian Public Servants could be delivered online by Australian tertiary institutions.

c. How to capture the opportunities that international institutions provide while fostering Australian ones: Australian institutions can be encouraged to join international partnerships for online course creation.

d. What other regulatory changes are required to capture the benefits of the emerging environment: Visa restrictions which limit International students undertaking online courses should be relaxed. Currently an international student is expected to be on campus for about three quarters of a full time course. This should be reduced to one quarter.

5. Determine how Australia’s tertiary institutions can best capture the growing online international market, particularly in Asia. This would include:

a. Assessing the size of the opportunity: Australian experience suggests that all university courses will be delivered at least in part online, with the typical student spending about 25% of their time in a face-to-face class and 75% online. Undergraduate degrees will have more face to face components, and  postgraduate courses less. This will result in a drop in Australian students on campus, but allow for millions more online from our region.

b. Determining how Australia can grow an online international market without compromising our on-shore market: With most education online, Australian and international students will be able to choose courses from anywhere in the world. Retaining a proportion of the Australian students and capturing part of the international market will require maintaining Australia's very high standards for accreditation. A national course recognition program, so students can combine courses from multiple Australian universities, would be useful to promote "Brand Australia"  (I undertook a combination of ANU blended courses and USQ pure online ones for a Certificate in Higher Education). The Australian government can also fund Australian academics to reach out to the region.In November 2012 I was invited to talk on "Sustainable Development Through Green ICT: The Role of Education and the Business Sector", in Indonesia. The proposed "new Colombo Plan" has potential as a way to help promote Australian education in the region. However, as with the existing Colombo Plan, this may become enmeshed in geopolitics.

c. Determining what measures should be put in place to help capture the opportunities. Australian universities are already reconfiguring their campuses with accommodation and "learning commons" to suit the new blended learning. Campuses are being redesigned to be pleasant places to be, not just study. See also: "On-line Professional Education For Australian Research-Intensive Universities in the Asian Century", November 2012.

d. Identifying regulatory barriers that need to be addressed: No specific regulatory barriers exist, with online courses being covered by existing regulations on education. However, it would be useful for the Australian Government to advance bilateral and multilateral agreements on mutual recognition of educational standards. Support to professional bodies to advance standards for disciplines would also be of assistance.

No comments: