Last week, Ontario’s Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities set out key principles and functions for the new Ontario Online Institute that was announced in the Throne Speech on March 8, 2010.
In communications from the Minister to all major stakeholders in the Ontario post-secondary system, announcing the appointment of Maxim Jean-Louis, President of Contact North, as a special adviser seconded to the Minister, the government set out ‘Objective and Guiding Principles For the Establishment of an Ontario Online Institute’.
In particular the Minister’s communication laid out the following possible functions for the Institute:
- Planning and Gap Analysis – Facilitate and support the development of online courses and programs where there are gaps.
- Single Portal – Develop and host a single web portal where students and prospective students can access information on online programs and courses and
student support services.
- Shared Resources – Establish a repository of shared online learning resources and facilitate collaboration between all participants.
- Support Services – Ensures the provision of core support services for students and faculty.
- Research – Facilitates research into the best methodology and use of technology for teaching and learning purposes.
- Marketing – Promote the OOI brand provincially, nationally and internationally
- A not-for-profit corporation whose members will be publicly-assisted universities, colleges of applied arts and technology and other Ontario online learning networks.
- The Board of Directors and Board Chair would be selected by the members of the corporation in accordance with normal corporate legal requirements. The board would select and employ a Chief Executive Officer
It was also made clear that the OOI:
- Will not be a degree-granting institution that would compete with the existing institutions.
- Will not directly deliver courses, assess students, grant credentials nor provide instructional guidance on course content for students.
Maxim Jean-Louis will go through an intense and rapid period of consultation with all the major stakeholders, the aim of which is to put forward a detailed proposal for the Institute that has widespread stakeholder support. Since Ontario will have a provincial election on October 6, 2011, time is running out, so a report from Maxim Jean-Louis is expected in the spring.
This has been a long time coming, an indication of how slow government bureaucracies operate. Nevertheless, looking at the reports submitted by
- Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (2010) Ontario Online Institute: Students’ Vision for Opening Ontario’s Classrooms Toronto: OUSA
- Colleges Ontario (2010) A proposal for the creation of the Ontario Online Institute Toronto: CO
- Council of Ontario Universities (2010) The Ontario Online Institute: Achieving the Transformation Toronto: COU
- Contact North (2010) Making the Ontario Online Institute a Reality Sudbury: CN
- Joint submission from the Canadian Federation of Students – Ontario / Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations / Ontario Public Service Employees Union / Canadian Union of Public Employees (Ontario), December 2010 (JOINT)
there already seems to be a high level of consensus among stakeholders on the form and function of the Institute. All argue that a large, new central institution offering its own credentials should be avoided, and that the focus of the Institute should be to add value at a system level to the wide range of services already offered by the individual institutions. The main areas on which consensus still needs to be reached are the models for governance and funding.
Although Ontario is a Canadian leader in the number and quality of post-secondary online courses and programs (see Hard data about online learning in Ontario), it currently lacks province-wide co-ordination and inter-institutional collaboration between universities, and between universities and colleges (although Ontario Learn provides excellent collaboration between colleges, and Contact North provides support for and co-ordination of program delivery in the remote and rural regions of Ontario). Above all, difficulties with inter-institutional transfer of credit currently inhibits joint online programming and partnership possibilities.
If the new Institute can take a more student and system wide focus, and provide mechanisms (through program funding, creation of open resources, block credit transfer arrangements, and partnerships with Ontario hi-tech companies such as RIM and Desire2Learn, for instance), Ontario can be not just a Canadian but truly an international leader in online learning. The question is: can government deliver on this promise before the next election?