At the invitation of Richard Elliott, and John Clayton of Waikato Institute of Technology (WINTEC), I gave a series of keynotes and workshops in New Zealand from 22 September to 2 October, 2008, primarily focused on e-learning in vocational and technical training. I focused particularly on British Columbia’s nascent project for flexible learning for trades training. The trip was funded by a grant from Ako Aotearoa, the NZ National Centre for Tertiary Teaching Excellence, with support from the NZ Ministry of Education and the various host institutions (WINTEC, CoreED, University of Canterbury, Wellington Loop, Victoria University of Wellington, and Manukau Institute of Technology). A detailed program can be found at the end of this blog entry.
I visited two institutes of technology, two universities, NZ ministry officials, two schools co-operatives, and a total of over 500 people working in e-learning in New Zealand in four of the major cities (Auckland, Wellington, Hamilton and Christchurch). Nevertheless, it is difficult to get an accurate picture of the state of e-learning during a short visit, so I hope NZ colleagues will help me modify this blog so that it is as accurate as possible.
New Zealand has many similarities with British Columbia. It has approximately the same number of people. Nearly half the population live in two major urban areas (the commercial centre, Auckland, and the capital, Wellington). NZ also has a similar post-secondary structure of public universities and colleges. Thus it is not surprising that New Zealand is facing similar challenges in vocational and technical education and training, such as, for instance, a chronic shortage of skilled and qualified tradespeople. Similarly, in the university sector, many of the challenges regarding e-learning are similar to those in BC.
e-Learning activities in New Zealand
I was generally impressed with the extent and sophistication of the e-learning activities in NZ. In particular:
e-Learning in Industry <ito.elearning.ac.nz>
As part of the government’s Tertiary e-Learning Research Funded projects for 2008, the NZ Ministry of Education is supporting research examining the role of e-learning in building workforce capability to meet regional and national industry needs. This interactive web-space has been designed to inform industry leaders, managers and staff on the issues associated with the use of e-learning applications in vocational education and industry training. As well as providing access reports and web-sites on e-learning in industry the site also has a number of interactive tools such as forums, surveys and private communication spaces. This is a must-visit site for anyone interested in the use of e-learning in industry.
The e-Learning Maturity Model <http://www.utdc.vuw.ac.nz/research/emm>, developed by Dr. Stephen Marshall and colleagues at Victoria University of Wellington, provides a quality improvement framework by which institutions can assess and compare their capability to sustainably develop, deploy and support e-learning. The underlying idea is that the ability of an institution to be effective in a particular area of work is dependent on their capability to engage in high quality processes that are reproducible and able to be sustained and built upon. This is now being applied to a number of institutions in New Zealand and internationally.
Simulations and animations
Several NZ training providers are developing top quality simulations and animations. I was particularly impressed by the work being done by:
Marops Ltd. <http://www.marops.net/> MAROPS was developed out of the need to provide quality advice on the use of aircraft in the Maritime Role. The original concept has evolved beyond just aviation and now includes the delivery of customer specific computer based training solutions, the authoring and enhancement of operational and technical publications, evaluation and testing work, and the development of software for instrumention and part task trainers. (OK – I was influenced by the fact that I have a pilot’s licence – but they do make excellent low to medium-cost animations and simulations).
HitLabs <http://www.hitlabnz.org/wiki/Home> The Human Interface Technology Laboratory New Zealand (HIT Lab NZ) is developing and commercializing technology that improves human computer interaction. The HIT Lab NZ conducts research with new emerging technologies. Interaction Design techniques are used to adapt these technologies to the needs of end users and solve real world problems. I saw a very interesting application of their technology to teaching clinical pharmacology. The Interactive Clinical Pharmacology site <http://www.icp.org.nz/> consists of 37 user-interactive graphics developed to help medical students understand 14 major topics. ICP has been tested with 5th year medical students in Clinical Pharmacology at the University of Canterbury. All material is available over the web free of charge.
Mobile learning and training bakers
Selena Chan <email@example.com> of Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology gave a very interesting presentation on the use of mobile phones for training bakers. She has her own blog at http://mportfolios.blogspot.com/
Access and cost issues
One concern that is much stronger in NZ than in BC is about access to and the cost of Internet services for educational use. Approximately 75% of homes in New Zealand have Internet access, but many rural areas are poorly served, and many of the connections are slow speed and more expensive than in BC.
BC has a private high-speed province-wide government network, BCNet, that connects schools, libraries, hospitals and other government agencies. Basically the BC government pays the whole telecommunications charges for BCNet ‘off the top’, enabling schools and other government institutions minimal cost access to broadband services. However, I was frequently told that in New Zealand Internet service charges were a considerable burden on schools in particular, who often lack sufficient bandwidth.
In some urban areas, such as Wellington, the government is funding a local public fibre-optic ring network, such as the Wellington Loop, and the national telecommunications carrier, NZ Telecom, is laying down a national fibre-optic network. However, unlike BC, NZ does not have an extensive cable TV industry. Thus although NZ is still one of the most de-regulated countries with respect to telecommunications, the core telecoms infrastructure still belongs to one company, NZ Telecom, from whom other service providers must lease lines. Thus NZ is a good example of the importance not only of a competitive corporate environment, but also of competing technologies, such as cable and wireless as well as telephone networks, for driving down the cost of Internet services.
Lastly, difficulties of access and cost were sometimes cited as a barrier to more extensive use of e-learning, but those making this argument were not always aware of the actual data and statistics. Nevertheless, access to the Internet is still a big problem in NZ for specific groups, such as Maoris (especially on the off-shore islands), the very poor, and those in isolated rural areas.
Regulation of online distance education
Most polytechnics and institutes of technology in New Zealand, as in BC, operate mainly within their own region. However, the Open Polytechnic of New Zealand operates nationally and internationally, with over 20,000 students. More recently, it has added online and flexible learning programs to its core of print-based distance education materials. At the same time, NZ campus-based polytechnics have begun developing both blended and fully online courses, coming into direct competition with the Open Poly. Consequently, the Ministry of Education has told the campus-based institutions that they should not deliver online programs outside their region.
I think this is in the long run an unwise policy. There is a certain degree of specialisation in each polytechnic, and it does not make sense that these specialist subjects should not be available across the country. Furthermore, the campus-based polytechnics will be restricted, while international providers, particularly the Australians, who are very aggressive in marketing their online programs, will be able to directly compete for students. Lastly, some of the polytechnic programs, such as nursing, require national and international work placements, and these students will benefit from access to online learning materials and teaching when outside their polytechnic’s region. In the end, this policy will become unworkable, but in the short term it is another barrier to the development of cost-effective e-learning programs.
Institutional management of e-learning
The challenges in the institutions I visited are similar to those elsewhere, although they varied in intensity, depending on the institution. E-learning is now much more pervasive than it was 10 years ago, so it is no longer seen as novel or ‘revolutionary’. As a consequence, though, its application across an institution is often inconsistent, and quality and effectiveness is often questionable, despite the fact that all the institutions I visited had good quality learning technology support units. The two main challenges are e-learning policies and management, and faculty development and training.
None of the institutions visited had a specific plan or program for implementing or managing e-learning. Thus e-learning was usually piecemeal and fragmented across any single institution. The same applies to professional development. It is still a voluntary activity for most faculty, and research and face-to-face teaching still receive priority.
It was not my job to give recommendations to management, but in all the institutions visited, the following would I believe lead to more effective use of e-learning:
1. A mandate to a member of the institution’s executive to take leadership for the application of technologies to teaching and learning; this would include responsibility for planning and policies for e-learning
2. An institutional process for dealing with policy, investments, and implementation of e-learning (e.g. a standing committee representing all key stakeholders)
3. Increased rewards through tenure and promotion for innovative teaching
4. Academic departments to develop program plans that include statements of how teaching will be delivered, as well as content and learning outcomes, linked to the budget process.
From my perspective, this was a very successful visit, in that I was able to meet and discuss in depth the issues around the use of e-learning with a large number of practitioners and policy makers. The itinerary was intense but extremely well managed by Richard Elliott, John Clayton and the hosts at each institution (Derek Wenmoth at CoreED, Michael O’Donoghue at University of Canterbury, Marg McLeod at Wellington Loop, Stephen Marshall at Victoria University of Wellington, and Oriel Kelly at Manukau). I had wonderful hospitality, tasted many of the excellent wines and foods of New Zealand, and left with my love of this beautiful country even more enhanced.
E-Learning and vocational education and training (Waikato Institute of Technology, CoreEd, Christchurch, Manukau Institute of Technology) Download pdf version of PowerPoint slides
Investing in online learning: cost analysis and business models (Waikato Institute of Technology, Victoria University of Wellington, Manukau Institute of Technology) Download pdf version of Powerpoint slides
Effective teaching and learning with technology in tertiary education (University of Canterbury, Victoria University of Wellington) Download pdf version of Powerpoint slides
National and institutional planning for online learning and distance education (Victoria University of Wellington) Download pdf version of Powerpoint slides
The implications of Web 2.0 for teaching and learning in a knowledge-based society (Wellington Loop) Download pdf version of Powerpoint slides
Benefits and barriers to embedding e-learning in industry training (CoreED, Christchurch)
Developing flexible and e-learning resources (University of Canterbury)
Innovative teaching designs with new technologies: blue skies visioning (Wellington Loop, Manukau Institute of Technology)
Senior management, Waikato Institute of Technology, Manukau Institute of Technology
College of Education, University of Canterbury
Ministry officials, Ministry of Education, Wellington
Learning Technology units, Waikato Institute of Technology, University of Canterbury