September 22, 2018

Some very good news for Athabasca University (and its students)

Athabasca University convocation

Graney, J. (2018) Athabasca University gets $4.9 million grant to upgrade outdated IT Edmonton Journal, June 8

One year on from the delivery of the Coates Report, an external review of the university, the Alberta provincial government has announced a one-off additional grant of almost $5 million to the university to help it overcome some of the problems it has been facing. The money is earmarked as follows:

  • $1.5 million to implement the university’s new strategic plan, which is in response to the recommendations in the Coates Report
  • $1.5 million to develop and implement a plan to improve student delivery services
  • $1.5 million to implement the university’s plan to upgrade its IT system, moving to a cloud-based system
  •  $400,000 to develop a long-range plan to renew the university’s teaching and learning framework.

The grant will enable Athabasca University to modernize significantly its digital learning environment and upgrade the existing IT infrastructure.

Marlin Schmidt, the Minister for Advanced Education in Alberta, is quoted as saying:

I am pleased with the progress made by the university to ensure that the recommendations in the Coates Report are implemented. I know these additional investments will support the university’s long-term success.


This is very good news for both the university and especially its students. It indicates that the Alberta government has confidence in the future of the university, and the funding provides necessary resources for modernizing and improving the quality of its teaching and other student services.

Once again though I am disappointed by the headline in the Edmonton Journal. ‘Athabasca University gets $4.9 million to become a world leader in digital learning’ would  have been a more accurate headline.

True, the university needs to upgrade its IT infrastructure, which was the subject of a scathing audit by the provincial auditor-general, but the majority of the funding has quite rightly gone to ensuring that the overall strategic plan is implemented, and to improving the quality of student services and the quality of teaching.

Congratulations to everyone at AU on getting this far so quickly since the Coates Report. Now you just have to do it.


Ontario funds research and innovation in online learning

eCampus Ontario (2017) Research and Innovation: Funded Projects Toronto ON: eCampus Ontario

A few days ago, eCampus Ontario officially announced nearly $2.5 million of grants for research and innovation in online learning for Ontario universities and colleges. This is a separate fund from their grants for developing online courses.

The 45 grants, from a total of 135 proposals, ranged from $17,000 to $100,000 in total. Ryerson University and Mohawk College each had five projects funded, but the University of Waterloo had the most in total grants at $396,000 with Ryerson close behind with $380,000. Mohawk received a total of $259,000, and Algonquin College received $186,000. Of the 45 grants, 14 involved two or more institutions working collaboratively.

The one common factor among all the proposals was their variety. No one area of online learning dominated, although six of the proposals were directly concerned with assessing quality in online courses. Four of the grants were to study ways to improve the course development process or to facilitate faculty better in online teaching.

Then there was a bunch of grants looking at the effectiveness of particular technologies, including four for games/gaming, three for the use of animations or simulations, and grants for exploring virtual labs or the application of virtual reality. There were about four grants focused on the use of online learning for skills development, including one on evaluating competency-based learning.

Lastly, there was a very significant grant of $80,000 to Ryerson University to support the national survey of online and distance education that I am leading.


Even setting aside my gratitude for my own grant, eCampus Ontario and the Ontario government deserve praise for investing in research and development at this level. There has been a desperate lack of funding for research or development in online learning in Canada, at least in recent years, and hopefully a great deal of learning, new developments and innovation in online learning will emerge from this process. 

The major challenge now will be to ensure that the projects disseminate their results across the system, so that major innovations do not just hide within tiny corners of the institutions. I am eagerly looking forward to seeing what emerges from these grants.

Designing learning spaces in an online world: student contest

image  State University of New York

image State University of New York

Christianson, R. (2014) Herman Miller Video Contest Studies Learning Environments Woodworking Network, February 2

In a previous post, I highlighted the approach of Steelcase, an office furniture manufacturer, to the design of learning spaces. Another office furniture maker, Herman Miller Inc., is asking college students to answer the question, “Why does your campus matter?” in its fifth annual Student Video Contest. In particular they are asking students to:

show why attending a bricks and mortar educational institution is relevant in the world of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and other online educational opportunities in a video of up to 3 minutes. In addition, entrants are encouraged to “make a case for space” in creatively demonstrat[ing] how they use all forms of digital communications in their individual and collaborative studies.

There is also quite a funny student video from last year’s contest. Stick with it to the end – it’s less than three minutes.

These are really interesting questions to ask, and I suspect that students will come up with probably more interesting ideas than faculty on this – however, all faculty and instructors should be thinking about this now, so why not work with some of your students to enter this contest?


WCET’s WOW awards for innovative uses of educational technologies

 WCET Advance

The WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies (WCET) has announced the recipients of the 2013 WCET Outstanding Work (WOW) award, a competition that recognizes innovative uses of educational technologies in higher education.

1. The Open Educational Resource (OER) Faculty Fellowship at Lane Community College (Eugene, Oregon).

This program was born out of a student need for textbook affordability.  The College has made a minor annual investment over the past few years that – as of today – saves students $326,400 per year in textbook costs. Additionally, the program has a plan to recruit more faculty each year, extending the benefit to the college and the students. This is an excellent example of a college developing a strategy for OERs that has led to valuable, pragmatic and measurable outcomes.

2. Obojobo, University of Central Florida

Obojobo  is a Learning Object system designed, crafted, and maintained by The University of Central Florida. It provides a platform for the collaborative design, sharing, and distribution of instructional components in a variety of academic areas. Obojobo has allowed key departments such as the Library and Student Development and Enrollment Services to create and share learning resources that faculty can incorporate into their courses. The system also collects valuable data related to student performance for  feedback on their learning. Obojobo has also allowed UCF to provide different self-paced faculty development programs. This is another example of why the University of Central Florida is a world leader in blended and distributed learning.

3. University of North Carolina: The Online Proctoring Network

The University of North Carolina’s Exam Proctoring Network promotes academic integrity by providing a standardized and streamlined proctoring process for students, faculty and proctors.   The UNC network is the only “one-stop” proctoring solution across a state-wide system.  The secure system allows students, faculty and proctors to schedule appointments, securely transfer documents and receive automated reminders when an action is required. The system is in use at six campuses, and three of the remaining campuses will go live fall 2013. The focus is on ensuring academic integrity in online student assessment.

Videos about each of these projects can be viewed from WCET’s media release

The WOW awardees will be recognized by WCET’s national community of higher education innovators during the  WCET 25th Annual Meeting in Denver, CO, November 13-15, 2013.

Literature review on online learning and productivity needed

© Professional Purchasers' Blog, 2012

Here is a chance for a consultancy which I have had to pass by because of other commitments/contractual arrangements:

The Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO) has launched a Request for Proposals (RFP) for an extensive literature review and environmental scan of online learning related to the productivity of postsecondary education institutions. By drawing from international comparisons and community/institution best-practice, the idea is to better understand the cost and quality implications of online learning and how the productivity of postsecondary education systems and institutions might be enhanced.

 HEQCO is an independent agency of the Government of Ontario (Canada) that conducts research and provides objective advice to government on matters that improve the accessibility, quality, and accountability of Ontario’s public colleges and universities. In order to accomplish this mandate, HEQCO employs a multifaceted research approach with a view to developing meaningful policy recommendations that inform the postsecondary education community in Ontario, Canada, and around the world.

The deadline for proposal submissions is Monday, August 20, 2012 at 3:00 PM.

To request the complete copy of the RFP, please send an email to the following address: For more detailed information about the RFP process itself, please view the following website: You can find information about HEQCO at

I have to say, if it was left to me, I would just tell them how online learning can enhance productivity, without having to do the literature review – but that’s not what they are asking for.

Feel free to search this site for references, under the tags ‘costs’, ‘benefits’, ‘productivity’, ‘barriers’, ‘quality standards’ if you want to do the study. (Now how about that for improving productivity).

And good luck if you win the bid.