Academic journal article Issues in Informing Science & Information Technology

Deakin Online: An Evolving Case Study

Academic journal article Issues in Informing Science & Information Technology

Deakin Online: An Evolving Case Study

Article excerpt

Introduction

In the early 1990's, Hiltz (1994) suggested that "what we are going to see in the future are more Virtual Universities", that the "meaning of the 'university' will change, and the idea of a 'campus' as we know it may disappear. It is now possible to run a university from a closet." (p. 259) More recently, Brown (2002) suggests that "effective, lasting adoption of IT [to support online learning] can only be achieved through integration of implementation strategies with wider institutional policy, planning, and objectives" (p. 578). It would seem that Cunningham et al.'s (1998) conclusion that "the future role of communication networks and virtual universities continues to be the subject of intense interest and speculation" is as relevant now as it was 5 or 6 years ago.

Deakin University has recently taken the decision to strategically support online teaching and learning institution-wide. In so doing, it has positioned itself to be a leader of online tertiary education in Australia. However, the various experiences of NYU Online (closed after investment of US$21.5M), Hungry Minds University (closed), Fathom.com (Columbia University, closed in March 2003 losing US$14M in the previous year), the Open University's US venture (closed in 2003 at a cost of 9m[pounds sterling] after failing to attract enough students), University of Maryland University College (closed), Temple University: Virtual Temple (closed) and DePaul University, Chicago (it failed to attract any enrolments to its masters in e-commerce) have indicated that such ventures are fraught with danger (MacLeod, 2002).

Deakin University is a dual-mode university with a large number of programmes offered to distance education students. It has used online communication, often on an ad hoc basis, to present teaching materials and support on- and off- campus students since 1981 (Coldwell & Newlands, 2003). It currently has 43% of its students studying off-campus and a further 12% studying in mixed mode (Calvert, 2003). Such presentations have matured from a mix of remote-login/FTP/email in the early 1980s to web mediated access today. In 2002, an internal survey, prompted by The Observatory on Borderless Higher Education's first international survey on online learning (http://www.obhe.ac.uk), revealed that approximately 60% of units were using electronic delivery for static information such as unit outlines, lecture notes, assignment due dates and so on, and a further 27% of units had a more dynamic online presence, using the Internet for key elements of a study programme including class announcements, discussions, group work, assignment submissions as well as the delivery of static information.

Since then the University has completed a comprehensive evaluation process and selected a single learning management system (LMS) which is being adopted to support eTeaching and eLearning institution-wide. It is expected that approximately 20,000 students will each access up to 8 of some 2000 units in 2004 (Wilson, 2003). Having completed a 12-month pilot implementation with over 100 units being accessed by over 7400 students, this paper reviews current progress as well as the components still necessary to bring the LMS project to fruition.

Key areas being addressed in the University project include:

1. the implementation of the LMS hardware and software systems;

2. a parallel project, Deakin Online (DoL), which "... provide[s] a convenient, dynamic platform for the delivery of online learning resources and interactive services as well as acting as Deakin's gateway to courses, units and services that are offered entirely or primarily in distance mode (Deakin Online, 2003);

3. the transition of existing online teaching activity into the LMS and the planning of new developments for online teaching;

4. the training of faculty to use the LMS;

5. the training of support staff to use the LMS;

6. …

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