Friday, July 3, 2015

Review of ANU Does Not Address E-learning

The report "Review of the Australian NationalUniversity (ANU) Act 1991 and the governance arrangements of the ANU" was prepared for the Australian Department of Education by UK company Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited. The report is dated 12 December 2014 but was only released in June 2015. The report gives a positive outlook on the running of ANU and makes only some minor recommendations for improvements in transparency via the web. However, a major deficiency in the report is that it does not address e-learning.
 The report mentions online learning once in the background:
"Online learning is becoming more popular and accepted, particularly with certain cohorts of learners, thereby reducing the relevance of national boundaries." (page 11, Touche Tohmatsu Limited, 2014).
However, there is no further discussion of e-leaning's implications for the running of the ANU and no recommendations for the ANU to address this. Unfortunately this ignoring the implications of e-learning is common to Australian eduction policy makers. Education is a major Australian export industry and that industry is at risk of being made uncompetitive by e-learning in the next five to ten years.

In some respects ANU is well placed to make use of e-learning. Unlike other Australian universities, ANU  has not made a large investment in multiple domestic and international campuses. As a result ANU will not have to write off this investment in campuses, as other Australian universities will have to do.

Also ANU has joined the edX consortium and successfully delivered Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) as well has offering some more conventional small on-line courses (I run "ICT Sustainability" on-line for the ANU Research School of Computer Science). However, a move to e-learning requires not only different skills from educators but a change in the business operations and governance of an organization.

ANU's emphasis on postgraduate education is an advantage as this is easier to move on-line, than undergraduate educaion. I will be speaking on "Quickly developing online versions of learning materials for graduate students" at the the Cambridge University Library, 2pm, 22 July 2015.  However, e-learning for undergraduates requires a change in the teaching, support and business functions.

E-learning requires educators to learn new skills, which takes time. It has taken me about five years, and thousands of hours of training, to become comfortable designing and delivering courses on-line. Australian universities which have not already started on this path may find they do not have time to reequip and re-skill their workforce, before their on-campus courses are rendered obsolete and their students move to off-shore e-learning.

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