Bradshaw, J. (2104) Ontario to launch $42million central hub for online postsecondary classes, Globe and Mail, January 14
After more than two years discussion and consultation, it has been officially announced that Ontario’s government will spend $42-million establishing a centre that aims to drive new online learning opportunities for university and college students across the province.
At this stage, there seems to be four key goals for the new centre:
- offer ‘state-of-the art, scalable’ online courses that can be used across the province
- automatic credit transfer of these courses between member universities, and between member two-year colleges (thus avoiding unnecessary duplication, and obtaining economies of scale)
- a sharing of best practices in online pedagogy and resources
- a common portal of courses (which Contact North has already in place – whether this will be replaced or amended remains to be seen).
Ontario Online will be run by the province’s colleges and universities as an independent not-for-profit enterprise. The province has established a ‘sector steering committee’ with representatives not only from the universities and colleges, but also from OntarioLearn, Ontario Universities Online and Contact North, to oversee implementation. (Although, according to the Globe and Mail, the province’s instructors who are already delivering online learning are a little miffed that they are not directly represented on the steering committee.)
It won’t start actual operations until 2015, although $12 million will be available to the designated Centre of Excellence in fiscal year 2013-2014, i.e. before April, and $2.5 million has already been allocated for online learning projects under the province’s Productivity and Information Fund.
It should be noted that this initiative will build on an already very active post-secondary online learning environment, with more than 500,000 online registrations in over 18,000 online courses offered by the province’s post-secondary institutions, according to data collected by the provincial government in 2010.
It will be quite a challenge for Ontario’s 22 universities and 24 colleges to come together and work co-operatively through Ontario Online. It seems that participation in Ontario Online is voluntary, so it will be interesting to see who finally signs up to join, and what degree of success they have in developing ‘common’ courses that can be used across different institutions. $42 million may sound like a lot of money, but it won’t go far among 46 institutions.
Also, there are likely to be elections in Ontario before the centre is finally operational, so it will also be interesting to see if the new government will continue to support this initiative, given that the province is struggling with a large budget deficit and a faltering economy.
Nevertheless, whatever the challenges, this is clearly a move in the right direction. It offers an opportunity to provide a more integrated post-secondary system (Ontario is notorious for its lack of credit transfers between institutions), and perhaps more importantly, to experiment with ways to increase both quality and productivity through online learning.