ICDE (2011) Annual Report, 2010 Oslo: ICDE
ICDE has recently published its 2010 Annual Report and a Progress Report on the organization’s work towards activities foreseen in its strategic plan for the period 2009-2012. The International Council for Open and Distance Education (ICDE) was founded in 1938 in Canada. In 2010, ICDE had 120 paying members comprising 94 institutions, agencies and authorities, and 26 individual members, in addition to honorary individual members and associate members. 33% of ICDE’s paying membership is in Asia, 27% in Europe, 13% in North America and the remainder are allocated evenly between Africa, Australasia and Latin America and the Caribbean.
Its first key objective has been to advocate for a more central role for distance education within UNESCO’s strategic directions. ICDE’s delegate-general to UNESCO noted that
the impact of distance education is suffering from a lack of support or advocacy from leaders in an organization which should be an obvious ally for distance teaching institutions. There is an apparent reticence in UNESCO for promoting the opportunities afforded by distance education, and Education for All is practically never addressed in terms of distance education or the systematic use of information communication technologies (ICT).
Its second key objective is to support the development of open educational resources
ICDE is a project partner in the Open Educational Quality (OPAL) Initiative….The OPAL Initiative, which runs through 2010 and 2011 focuses on the provision of innovative open educational practices, both in higher education and adult education, and promotes quality, innovation and transparency. It is part funded by the European Commission Education and Training Lifelong Learning Programme. During the first year of the project, the consortium worked hard to gain support among the academic and regulatory communities within higher and adult education for the term open educational practices (OEP). These are practices at the policy, institutional and teaching levels which provide the pre-conditions for creating, sharing and using freely available learning materials.
A third key objective is to ‘promote quality in distance, flexible and ICT based education, and work for the achievement of a global understanding of quality within distance education.’ To this end, ICDE is offering quality reviews of the student learning experience:
These are designed to support institutions in their ambitions to enhance quality in student support, and in their developmental work. The proposal is thus not accreditation but assessment of quality, the opportunity to learn from others and to implement best practice.
ICDE has also launched a project to study regulatory systems within distance education throughout the world.
It is argued that the social relevance of distance education, as well as security, quality and equity of access, are closely linked to the application of sound regulatory systems. The aim of the project is therefore to identify the main regulatory frameworks that apply to distance and online education in different regions of the world, and to identify good practices.
Lastly, work continued during 2010 on a proposal for a project to develop online data on the global spread of open and distance education.
During its 72 years, the ICDE has had some turbulent periods. Together with most Canadian institutions, in 1996 I withdrew UBC from membership of ICDE, due to its lack of financial transparency and accountability to its membership. The organization was increasingly acting like FIFA is today. In recent years though there has been a major transformation, with a new board, a new secretary-general and a new relationship with its key funder, the Norwegian government.
The above annual report indicates the benefits of this change. Distance education needs a strong voice, particularly at the government policy level, and the ICDE now seems to be providing that. ICDE has not only recognized the importance of the open educational resources movement, but has understood that the ultimate success of OERs depends heavily on creating appropriate environments that will support the development and use of open educational resources. Quality will always be a challenge that distance education needs to meet, and providing an external review from an international panel can provide tremendous support for institutions struggling to gain acceptance within their own countries, as well as helping them improve their support for learners. Lastly, looking for best practice in the regulation of distance education could and should strengthen the role and reputation of distance education on an international basis, as well as influencing countries where regulation is less effective.
What is not addressed though is the issue of where distance education is going with respect to dual-mode institutions, i.e. campus-based institutions that also offer distance education programs. This constitutes a large proportion of distance education activities, particularly but not exclusively in North America. Here there are not only many newcomers with often little history or experience of distance education (and certainly not ICDE membership), while at the same time dual mode institutions with a long history of distance education are absorbing or dismantling their separate or distinct distance education departments. These developments present a challenge for ICDE which it will need to address if it is to retain its reputation as the main representative of the distance education movement, not to mention its membership.