If you have any vested interest in higher education then the Independent Third-Party Review of Athabasca University (2017) provided by Ken Coates, PhD. is a must read. AU has helped guide post-secondary institution’s online environment for years, and this is one of their best, albeit unintended, lessons to all. First of all, the report is optimistic and leaders in distance education are happy to hear that the university has the talent and dedication to bounce back.

I’m close to the subject because I have just graduated from AU with a Masters in distance education and would so much like to see it succeed.

It is an exceptional opportunity for all with any interest in higher education to take advantage of the findings in the report. The findings are by no means unique to AU, they were just the first to experience the pains related to the new style of learning found in distance education. Other universities are very fortunate to have AU as a model in this form of education and should certainly take this opportunity to learn from the findings in the report.

Everyone who reads the document will take something different from it because it is so rich in information. My take is focused on digital pedagogy and the need for faculty to get up to speed or…well, read the report to find your “or”.

The report was filled with student feedback, feedback that I whole-heartedly agree with. The following comment reflects a problem common to all courses I had taken. It is also common to many courses that I am currently supporting as an Educational Technologist:

“Many of the students are taking the program to further their knowledge and use of technology yet the program takes the traditional approach of essays with a few blogs thrown in to modernize the learning experience. As a student, I would like to see the university actually have the professors create assignments where students need to use technology such as video journals, websites, interactive learning objects etc. Ironically, we are studying about the best use of technology to engage our online students, yet the university is doing the opposite.”

I have no empathy for AU faculty who aren’t anything less than fully versed in various technologies needed to set a great example in engaging online courses. After all, it is an online university. However, I do have empathy for instructors in other universities who are given their first online course to teach in a month and not given training.

Another student feels faculty must be “more readily available and far better vetted”. AU’s situation reflects the consequences of not being prepared to teach in the new online environment.

“For a university that purports to provide the highest degree of online education, the enabling technology that supports them is extremely lackluster.” Solely Moodle to complete assignments will not cut it in today’s environment, which was typically my experience. Allowing students to dictate their preferred technology would be a way forward, and is possible in any LMS. It must take open-minded and versatile facility to make this happen.

So, the race is on. One student commented, “I would hope as we move more of society onto the Internet, that they can become leaders in the delivery of distance ed.” I will leave the pronoun “they” as is as it will be replaced by the university with enough focus, dedication and versatility to adapt to the growing method of learning, distance education. After all, overall enrollment in higher education has fallen in the past three years, but the number of students taking classes at a distance has continued to grow.

Not up to speed on technology? Let HKKS help you set the pace in distance ed.

Guiding light


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