Flexible learning - Getting ready/UC strategy plan steps 17 and 18, 2008-2012

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UC strategic plan: Steps 17 and 18[edit]

University of Canberra's developed a strategic plan for 2008-2012 which contains 39 steps. Of particular note, two steps (17 and 18) are currently receiving attention:

  • Step 17: Review our semester system and modalities of course delivery with a view to being attractive to new kinds of well-qualified students.
  • Step 18: Make the best use of educational technologies and work-based learning opportunities.

This has been followed with a more detailed review and online and blended learning, and subsequent adoption of a series of X recommendations.

Whilst I welcome UC's newfound, high-level enthusiasm for blended and online learning, I am somewhat suspicious of the suddenness of the enthusiasm and a possibly naive expectation that blended and online learning might offer some kind of magic bullet for the new "winter" semester problem. Denise Kirkpatrick, from The Open University in the UK recently indicated in her opening keynote address at the Moodleposium 2009, that a new course takes three years of development before its ready for full production - this is for a university which has been recognised as a global leader in flexibly delivered tertiary education with 40 years of experience. It makes the current UC initiative, whilst laudable in its ambition, also somewhat naive and hopeful.

In my experience with online and blended learning, Amara's law seems to have applied — i.e., that "We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run". UC should be prepared for mixed success in its online and blended learning endeavours, although risk-taking should be encouraged. Clarke's Second Law seems relevant: "the only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible".[1].

Step 17: Review semester system and modalities of course delivery[edit]

Review semester system[edit]

  1. As far as I know the Vice-Chancellor conducted a review of the semester system and came to the conclusion to change from two 15 week semesters to a trimester system of 13-7-13 weeks. However as far as I know the review has never been released to staff, although the VC has generally argued in email updates and presentations that the introduction of the winter term will provide greater flexibility for students and will thus be attractive to students. Anecdotal and straw poll results suggest a muted response (the VC described the response as muted in a Sep 2009 email to staff - he also indicated that this was a euphemistic description).
  2. So, we have a trimester system. Former 15-week semester-long units now need to be redesigned down to 13 week units (with a one week teaching break instead of a two week teaching break). There is currently relatively little attention on this, even pretty much all academic teaching staff will find that they are doing this, whilst a relatively smaller number of staff design units for the 7-week winter term.
  3. The reason for the current attention on blended and learning is that planning and preparation for the 2010 academic year is well underway - and with new academic calendar, consisting of:
  4. a new, 7-week Winter Term
  5. shortened Semesters (from 15 to 13 weeks, and going from 2 to 1 non-teaching weeks)
  6. Note that the semester/trimester/term nomenclature is confusing: the official calendar refers to Semester 1, Winter Term, Semester 2. This nomenclature strikes me as an awkard compromise and it hasn't been explained. Are we going to a trimester system or not? If so, why not refer to Trimester 1, 2, and 3?

Step 18: Educational technologies and work-based learning opportunities[edit]

This an awkwardly worded strategy in large part due to its double-barrelledness (educational technology may or may not overlap with work-based learning. What is the common, underlying theme? I suggest that its about flexible learning which can include online, blended, and work-based learning and other ways of learning - in fact, it is about exploring and embracing a wider repertoire of learning processes and methodologies.

  1. Arthur C. Clarke, "Hazards of Prophecy: The Failure of Imagination" in Profiles of the Future (1962). See Clarke's three laws