Distance Education Leadership: An
Appraisal of Research and Practice
Michael F. Beaudoin
University of New England
A new role for the professoriate in the new millennium has been recognized and encouraged, especially as technology-assisted instruction has proliferated and changed the way teachers and students interact and the manner in which educational entities must now do business to meet the demands of a digitized society. The literature describing the rapid evolution of distance education delivery systems over the past 20 years has frequently categorized it into three stages, from correspondence education to technology-assisted education to networked education. Although examples of all three stages currently exist, a consistent theme is that we are now witnessing dramatic changes in how instruction is designed and delivered over time and space. With this dynamic becoming more pervasive, faculty are being admonished to be more receptive and adaptive to opportunities for playing exciting new roles in the distance education arena.
But it seems we have not yet paid adequate attention to new roles required of leaders within institutions offering distance education. Schools and colleges in the new century need leaders who have reflected on their experiences and internalized an understanding of their own capacity to lead. This should apply no less to those in leadership roles in distance education settings with in those institutions. The intended purpose here is to look at the role of leadership in distance education settings, examine recent research and writing in this area, and identify research lacunae needing further investigation; offer insights and suggestions for “best practices” to those involved in or aspiring to leadership roles; and generate increased interest in the study of distance education leadership.
For purposes of this chapter, leadership, as distinct from managerial functions, is defined as a set of attitudes and behaviors that create conditions for innovative change, enable individuals and organizations to share a vision and move in the appropriate direction, and contribute to the management and operationalization of ideas. It is possible to play a leadership role without neccesarily being an expert in the field. A university president or elected public official who endorses, articulates and facilitates distance education goals crafted by others can have a