Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (2010) The Ontario Online Institute: Students’ Vision for Opening Ontario’s Classrooms Toronto ON: OUSA
OUSA have produced a superb document outlining their position regarding the proposed Ontario Online Institute. While strongly supporting the concept, OUSA raises a whole set of key issues that need to be addressed if the new Institute is to be successful. They also recommend a consortium model based on that used by Open Universities Australia. As well as identifying many of the issues that the Ontario government will have to address, such as quality assurance, credit transfer, student learning and advisory support, 24/7 services, student aid, the report also gives the best overview I have seen of the current state of online learning in Ontario, Canada’s largest province by population (13 million).
The consortium model is primarily a challenge to both the government, to put in place a governance structure and funding that will require existing universities to work together in a coherent and meaningful way, and to the Ontario universities themselves, who in the past have talked collaboration but in practice have done little. For instance, it is much more difficult to transfer credits between institutions in Ontario than almost anywhere else in Canada. Without agreement to accept automatically course credits from partner universities, any consortium model is doomed to failure.
The governance of the Institute will require detailed agreements about revenue sharing, program planning, quality assurance and student support that will require partner universities to yield much more autonomy to the Institute than any Ontario university has shown the stomach for in the past. I do hope the universities – or at least enough to make a workable consortium – will step up to the plate, because Ontario needs the increased flexibility and access such an Institute will bring if it is to have a hope of achieving its goal of 70% access to post-secondary education.
Lastly, the OUSA document makes a very important point:
it is important to note that many aspects of the Institute will depend heavily on the initial design, and many of the solutions presented in the following pages will only be achievable if a heavily integrated consortium model, such as the one employed by the OUA, is selected for the Institute….students wish to highlight that the Institute will have significant long-term effects on the post- secondary sector in Ontario, and that all stakeholders and partners deserve an opportunity to provide input into this process. With only a vague notion of what the Institute is meant to do, students have found it difficult to participate in these deliberations and are concerned with how little information is available months after the initial announcement. Moving forward, students urge the government to facilitate real input from all stakeholders.
I do anticipate that the Ontario provincial government will make an announcement early in the fall, as there is an election due on October 6, 2011, and the government will want to have something in place by then. However, this is a very short timetable for establishing what will be a major new development in online learning. Achieving the right balance between consultation and action will perhaps be the biggest challenge for the government.
In the meantime, congratulations to OUSA who have produced by far the most substantial public input to this process to date.