Hilton III, J. et al. (2010) Using online technologies to extend a classroom to learners at a distance, Distance Education, Vol. 31, No. 1, pp. 77-92

This team of researchers (including David Wiley) from Brigham Young University, examined the extent to which a face-to-face course can be shared with learners at a distance. Distance learners did not have to register with the university, nor received credit for the course. The face-to-face classes were recorded and made available online to the distance learners, as well as the online course material. (This is a follow-up to a study by Young, 2008, in which David Wiley also opened up his face-to-face class to distance learners). The Hilton et al. study examined a graduate seminar on open education offered by Wiley, but in this case, Wiley deliberately restricted the time devoted to the ‘extra’ distance students to no more than 30 minutes a week, whereas in the Young study, he put in more work on the distance learners. Note that there were only 6 face-to-face students in the class, while there were 38 at a distance.

Comment: I have some real concerns about this approach by Wiley. I think the idea of opening up classes to non-registered students is a good one, but not just making them relatively ‘outside’ participants of a class designed deliberately for face-to-face teaching. Wouldn’t it be more logical to open up classes deliberately designed for distance delivery to non-registered participants, and design them carefully for joint use? The distance learners in the Wiley experiment are being treated as second-class citizens in this set-up. Also it is one thing to open up a class of six students to anyone, but a very different matter if there are 30 or more registered students in a course.

Incidentally, opening up online credit classes to non-registered students is not new. In many universities all lectures are open to the public. How is this any different, just because the non-registered students are at a distance? In the 1980s-1990s, students who enrolled with the Open Learning Agency could take distance courses from any of the three universities in British Columbia for credit towards their Open University degree, without having to be admitted to the other universities. Nowadays, the University of British Columbia offers both a certificate and a masters online program where all the students participate together online in the same classes.

These programs however do highlight some of the absurdities of credit vs non-credit teaching. What happens when certificate or ‘external’ students who do not qualify for entry to a graduate program do as well or better than the admitted students in the same class? We had this situation at UBC, which became ridiculous when students who had excelled as certificate students wanted to transfer into the masters program and were denied, because they did not have the requisite qualifications for graduate studies (the certificate was not considered an appropriate qualification, even though the students had ‘proved’ themselves.).

The point is that our systems are unnecessarily restrictive in allowing in particular mature adults to access university programs. The real problem is a lack of places in the system, and hence over-zealous admission requirements, rather than finding means to combine registered students with others.

My point here is that just opening up classes to non-admitted students does little to make access really open, but merely results in frustration when these extra students try to get credit for their often excellent work. Such efforts at opening access need to be combined with changes to admission policies if they are to be meaningful. I’d like to see open access to all university programs, but only those that ‘prove’ themselves at the end of the first course or year are allowed to continue. (Tuition fees are now at such a level as to discourage ‘flippant’ enrolments).


Young, J. (2008) When professors print their own diplomas, who needs universities? Chronicle of Higher Education, September 25


  1. I did some courses at a distance, whiles others were doing the classroom version. The main issue I felt was that as a distance person, I felt like an ‘outsider’, and I wanted to feel part of the learning community. I think if they have both types of students, then both should use the online environment and together form a community for learning, then both will benefit.

  2. Hi Tony,
    Here is part of my response on my post:
    I could understand Tony’s concern relating to the credit versus non-credit students’ tension, with regard to the attention given more to the credit students, leaving the non-credit students feeling like second-class “citizen students”. Also Tony is concerned on how the system could cope with the often conflicting enrolment policy when dealing with mature candidates who might not have met the entry requirements for advanced courses, but that they have demonstrated excellent work with a lower level course.

    There are great points mentioned by Tony when reviewing the design and challenges of an open online course offered to the public.

    There are also other considerations such as:

    (a) the ethical dimension of mixing credit and non-credit students in an open course – what are the roles, responsibilities of the instructors, credit and non-credit students? What are the entry requirements for both credit and non-credit students or participants? If the course participants are to be surveyed and researched in an online course, what are the ethical considerations for the researcher, the credit and non-credit students?

    (b) the education and learning dimension: Should credit and non-credit students be given equal or unequal attention and intervention in an online course? How and why?

    (c) the assessment dimension: Should credit and non-credit students be assessed in exactly the same way in an online course? What sort of flexibility and negotiation in the assessment would be necessary for both credit and non-credit students? How would quality be assured in both credit and non-credit students? Who would be the assessor for credit students? Instructors only? Is peer assessment a plausible option? How to ensure assessments are validated in an open online course (with credit and non-credit students)? Is “formal assessment” part of the open online course? What sort of assessment or performance criteria are used?

    Here is my experience in the participation of open online course. Here I would also like relate to my research experience associated with open online courses.

    I have participated in Connectivism and Connective Knowledge (CCK courses) in 2008, then 2009 with George Siemens and Stephen Downes and the Critical Literacies course with Stephen Downes and Rita Kop. I have found them eye opening experiences, with the MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) being offered open to all, with no entry requirements, and without any fees. They were designed with an all online learning principle, an open sourced educational and learning resources and a distributed learning environment where participants could use the aggregated resources (via course wiki and OL Daily and Daily), create their own resources, create their own blogs, groups or wiki or choose their media space, or participate in Moodle forums, and choose their own connections and study at their own pace, with or without the intervention of instructors (or a minimal intervention from formal instructors, except for the guidance of the resources and mode of learning).
    Jenny Mackness, Roy Williams and I, who were CCK08 participants had conducted research on our CCK08 experience and we have since then published two papers- all could be located in my blog post and http://suifaijohnmak.wordpress.com Our research was not funded by any organisations and we didn’t spend any money, except our time and our respondents’ generous time on the research. Our research was also shared with the CCK08 & 09 community for further discourse and community review before they were published in the Networked Learning Conference. I am looking forward to conducting future research based on such approach, or even more open research based on a community research methodology. I wonder if there has been any researches done that was based on such methodology, and not for qualifications award purpose. There is a challenge in that open research could be biased because of the impact and influence of other participants opinions in the research process, and so I haven’t heard of anyone trying this ever before.
    However, I think research on open online course would be rather restricted to opening up more researches as non-credit participants would not be looking for a qualification in such research, unless they are also undertaking a formal course or research with another institution.
    Thanks again for your stimulating posts and all the fantastic online resources.

  3. Tony, I agree with you about the absurdity of closing online courses to non-registered participants when the F2F versions allow all-comers. I make, however, the following observations:
    1 Online courses tend to lead to higher individual student-professor interaction
    2 F2F classes that admit observers often do not allow them to ask questions (hence calling them observers) and if they do, they tend to charge a fee for submitting assessments. In some cases, those assessments are commented upon but not graded.
    3 Space considerations are obvious in F2F and closing the door on a full class is easily understood. Online ‘space’ is less visible so the limitation of observer/cert seats needs clear explanation to stop the university being expected to subsidise unlimited bandwidth and the professor expected to support endless students.
    4 The vast majority of qualifications programmes are costed on the basis that all students do a particular percentage of the courses on a paid-to-awarding-institution basis. That’s why transferring in credit to a final year anywhere is difficult (if not impossible/expensive). Like it or not – and I don’t – gaining a degree without money is not normal. AP(E)L is a fiscal way round this that can apply. That said, AP(E)L could often be cheaper than it is.

    Continuous lifelong learning, affordable learning, qualifications with real substance – one day we shall manage to provide all in the same package! Thanks for the post.

    http://www.learningandqualifications.wordpress.com and @GillianP

  4. Thanks, Gillian and John – excellent comments.

    I should have pointed out that the certificate students in the UBC Educational Technology program pay the same tuition fees as the masters’ students taking the same courses, and therefore get the same attention, including assessment, from the instructors. Indeed, the instructors are often not aware which are certificate and which are registered as masters students (although the information is available). This makes it all the more unfair that certificate students who do well in the certificate but do not meet graduate school admission requirements are not admitted to the masters program.

    The decision is not based on cost or scarcity of places, but a mistaken view by the Faculty of Graduate Studies that the quality of a program is dependent on traditional undergraduate qualifications of the students who are admitted. To those that have it shall be given…

  5. Or to those that have paid registration fees…? Outcomes-based education cannot support what you describe so there must be some other (non-academic) reason. As for trad undergrad quals – don’t get me started! If a Bachelors was a Bachelors everywhere and a Masters a Masters and a PhD a PhD everywhere, life would be simple indeed. To be fair, I enjoy the differences and some Bachelors suit some people more than others but to say any traditional face-taught Bachelors is better than a non-traditional cert student is a somewhat time-saving rule-using.

  6. I haven’t been able to decide whether to post this here or in your next post (Blackboard buying Elluminate)…

    I think the idea a ‘open’ works better when we think about courses delivered completely online, as you say. But it seems to me that the institutional discussion about even considering the notion of “open” has not really started yet, at least in my country. I have had a couple of experiences offering online courses similar to those of Wiley, Siemens and Downes. And even though I have had the opportunity of running them (using sort of a don’t ask, don’t tell policy), I’m afraid the institutions I have worked with in these experiments are not considering the implications of opening up the learning experience to everyone interested.

    In my case, a few people have asked about how to get credit for the open course, but in general those who are not for-credit students are more interested in the experience, instead of certification. So assessment has not been much of an issue yet.

    I guess this has to do with the fact that about all online courses are still trapped inside LMSs. The limitations of the physical space are being translated into the online environment, without much analysis, so any alternative experience is seen as an opportunity to try a new approach. There are a lot of OER (and open courseware) available, but few to none local experiences (in Spanish) of open teaching, as Wiley calls it.

    The thing is that I ended up developing a rather simple public infrastructure to aggregate the info generated in my courses (using Yahoo Pipes), so now I have something that could be potentially used by anyone to run an open course. Is that an alternative to an LMS? Not really, not yet, as it requires not only some technical ability from the teacher, but a different educational mindset, and it has nothing to do with administrative functions.

    I agree with what you say in your other post: The “design and [of] personal learning environments relying entirely on non-commercial or ‘free’ web 2.0 tools […] will happen gradually, [but] it will require a level of knowledge of learning theory and new web technologies that is beyond that of many current instructors or even institutions”. I think I might have a starting point in what I have done so far, and I’m really interested in exploring more that possibility.

    There’s a recent presentation of this work (Spanish only) in my blog (http://bit.ly/akWjXh ), and I expect to attend Open Education in November to talk about it. I think openness, in this institutional context, is still a very new concern, and we’ll have to wait a bit before individual experiences get enough visibility to be part of a higher level discussion. We’re in the ‘lone ranger’ stage right now, it seems.

    Thanks for bringing this up!




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