The Report of the E-Learning Advisory Group March 2002 10/14Steve Maharey Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education)
The Report of the E-Learning Advisory Group March 2002 10/14
The Way Forward Leadership, Quality and Capability
Earlier in this
report, the Advisory Group looked at the possibilities of e-learning in terms of
a value chain. The value chain was underpinned by three essential requirements:
- effective leadership and governance
- high standards of quality assurance
- sufficient capability in terms of systems, people and infrastructure.
These three elements are the foundation of a successful educational
We have noted earlier that e-learning is simply the use of particular
electronic tools to support the learning process. All reputable institutions
will in future need to offer some of these options to their students, who will
often wish to combine an e-learning experience with being part of the campus
community. Others will be seeking a learning experience that does not require
their attendance in any particular place at any particular time. Clearly the
institutional strategies for e-learning will be different depending on their
particular mission and the profile of the institution including the
characteristics of the students they seek to serve.
Governance and leadership
It is vital that
the regulatory and legislative environment for e-learning provides for effective
governance and leadership. Councils of institutions need to have a sound grasp
of the issues and develop effective e-learning strategies as part of the system
as a whole.
Many institutions have willingly shared their current e-learning strategies.
These indicate that across the sector there is significant differentiation.
Massey University's vision is to use the medium to develop learning communities
among students and teachers. To support its vision, Massey is challenging every
college to plan the development of e-learning in a phased way and to commit to
providing e-learning support for all off-campus programmes in the next three
Whitireia's vision for e-learning is to increase applied vocational education
and training opportunities for people in its communities by offering greater
flexibility and individual choice in the diversity of delivery. The focus of
UCOL's e-learning strategy is to blend the best of classroom-led and
The University of Otago's Strategic Direction 2005 specifically encourages
the adoption of innovative and flexible learning methods. The University of
Waikato has e-learning as one of its strategic goals and has focused on
developing cohesive curricula for teaching on-line so that students have a path
to a complete qualification. The Open Polytechnic is pursuing a volume-based
strategy which seeks a scaleable option to reach many more students studying in
their own homes/workplaces/countries. AUT and Auckland University are also
pursuing international development as a critical component of their e-learning
strategies. Institutions are clearly developing their e-learning strategies in
ways that build on and strengthen their core competencies and comparative
advantage. This is what the country needs. The challenge for the TEC will be to
foster e-learning and to ensure that institutions are mutually supportive in the
emerging e-learning environment. Institutions also need to have an understanding
of how their own e-learning strategies fit within national priorities so that
chances for collaboration and strategic partnership are enhanced.
The Advisory Group recommends that documentation of an e-learning strategy
be part of an institution's Charter and Profile requirements. (Recommendation
Governing bodies and tertiary leaders also need to understand the economics
of the strategies they are pursuing. Anecdotal evidence suggests this is not
well understood. It would be helpful if TEC took a lead role in developing this
information base as suggested earlier. It could also facilitate workshops for
chief executives to address this issue. The Advisory Group has been impressed by
the strategy being pursued by the University of Southern Queensland and by their
understanding of the implications for the university and the resulting way in
which the strategy is being operationalised. This is one example where the
Advisory Group believes there would be significant benefit for New Zealand CEOs
in learning from USQ as part of a structured workshop.
Most New Zealand tertiary education providers are committed to delivering at
least some education online within the next few years. This will introduce
governance and quality challenges that they may never have encountered before.
These could relate to investment decisions, intellectual property issues,
student and teacher access, course selection as well as security and privacy
Authoritative independent advice and guidance is a critical issue, especially
for smaller institutions that simply do not have the resources to evaluate
options appropriately. Some institutions may be too small to provide
comprehensive training for their staff in the range of new skills and knowledge
required in an e-learning environment.
The Advisory Group recommends therefore that advice and guidance to
institutions on e-learning, strategic and infrastructure issues and options be
made available via the tertiary portal. (Recommendation 3)
It would be useful for the consortium contracted by TEC to develop the portal
to also have responsibility for creating and maintaining this service which is
envisaged as more of a linking function to where expertise resides in the sector
than a consultancy function. It may be that the latter is what is advised if the
issue requires expertise beyond that available within the sector.
Some of the governance issues are complex and will require careful
consideration by TEC Councils. An obvious area is intellectual property and
Our assessment is that there is very poor understanding of the legal
environment surrounding intellectual property, copyright, and moral rights, and
this is a potential risk if not appropriately managed. This is also an area
where there is much to be gained from having a single independent source of
advice for institutions.
There is a further current issue. A major problem lies in sending out print
material electronically and making it available for copying via digital
technology. At present the Copyright Act does not cover the digital realm.
The Advisory Group recommends:
- That the Government ensure that the review of the Copyright Act 1994
meets the needs of students and educational institutions in a digital
environment. (Recommendation 7)
- That the Government establish processes to ensure that intellectual
property issues and particularly the management of intellectual property rights
are understood and appropriately addressed within the tertiary sector.
Institutions and government will need to ensure that students studying
electronically have the same access to materials as contact students do. This
means that substantial sections of a work or resource must be able to be copied
or cached for study and research purposes. Similarly, learners need to be able
to copy material from servers and websites in the course of their studies. A
range of options need to be explored to guarantee effective student access.
Overall a balance needs to be struck between protecting the rights of the
developer of materials and the public good resulting from widespread access to
learning materials. The Copyright Act is currently under review and the outcome
of any change in legislation will have significant impact for e-learning.
The issue of intellectual property is important for Maori. Decisions may need
to be made concerning the electronic availability of knowledge, skills,
attitudes, beliefs and taonga unique to Maori. Ownership and use of te reo and
taonga may need to be agreed upon.
Currently there are two agencies with statutory
responsibility for quality assurance in the tertiary sector the
Vice-Chancellors' Committee in the university sector and the New Zealand
Qualifications Authority (NZQA) for the remainder of the tertiary sector. In the
case of polytechnics and colleges of education, NZQA has delegated
responsibility to the Association of Polytechnics New Zealand and the New
Zealand Colleges of Education Council. Both agencies are required to address
Maori issues in quality assurance.
In order to attract public funding, all tertiary programmes and
qualifications must be accredited by one of these bodies and they are also
subject to regular review. Currently, in both the University and NZQA
environment these quality assurance appraisals are performed against a single
set of standards and expectations that apply regardless of delivery medium or
Quality assurance agencies around the world are now moving to develop
appropriate guidelines for e-learning, and there is debate about how to apply
specific benchmarks to e-learning. It could be argued that virtual education is
such a new phenomenon that all stakeholders require greater assurance of its
quality than can be provided through the existing quality assurance system. With
a growing international market for education, there is also the need to ensure
that quality assurance standards have international credibility.
On the other hand, it could be argued that quality standards should be
related to core educational processes and outcomes, rather than the mode of
delivery. Given the trend to more mixing or blending of modes, this approach
seems most appropriate, and the Advisory Group recommends accordingly.
The Advisory Group finds that the current approach of the accreditation and
quality assurance agencies in New Zealand has the potential to work well with
online programmes. The standards do relate to core educational processes and
outcomes. The onus is on the institution to provide appropriate evidence for how
the standards are met. The major issue is to develop an understanding amongst
accreditation and audit panels about the different kinds of evidence that are
For example, a traditional requirement has been that institutions demonstrate
they have a library with adequate spaces for students, appropriate book stock,
and journal subscriptions. Addressing quality in an e-learning environment is in
many instances raising questions that refocus the quality standards for all
modes of learning. In this instance the primary question that should be able to
be answered, irrespective of mode, is 'Do students have timely access to the
information that is relevant for them to succeed in their course?' This may be
provided through Internet access to databases; it may also be found that in the
traditional situation, despite the fact that there are books in the library, the
students cannot gain access to them in a timely fashion, because there is an
The Advisory Group was struck by the potential for the focus on quality for
e-learning to raise the stakes in relation to the quality of any learning. That
presents an opportunity to address quality issues in a nonthreatening way by
framing them in a paradigm where everyone is being required to learn new ways of
The need for agreed standards
It is clear that developing common
standards for learners and educators to create, find, evaluate, reuse and share
electronic content will be crucial if New Zealand is to develop e-learning
objects that are accessible and valued by learners.
New Zealand needs an e-learning environment where learners can easily search,
identify and retrieve content no matter where they are. This means that learners
must be able to access learning objects developed by one institution even if
they are using different platforms at other institutions.
Achieving universal agreement on how learning objects should be created,
stored, retrieved, assembled and delivered is fundamental for creating an
e-learning environment which transcends technology and meets the needs of
The bringing together of all these elements and players will require careful
co-ordination and effective leadership. The Advisory Group sees that a
Consortium for e-learning could play a leading role in this regard.
We must do all we can to ensure the learners are able to seamlessly navigate
New Zealand's e-learning environment and receive information of interest to them
in ways that are tailored to their needs. Consistency of standards will be an
essential in the development of such a system.
Developing a code of practice for e-learning
Educators must also
move rapidly to create confidence in the currency of digital content and
information available to learners.
The Advisory Group recommends New Zealand institutions develop a voluntary
code of practice or quality standard around e-learning content and services.
This would assist students to know which were quality providers and thus also
assist in branding New Zealand education on the web. It is suggested that NZQA
and NZVCC could facilitate a sector group to develop such a code and identify an
appropriate way of implementing it. (Recommendation 4)
Steps also need to be taken to protect New Zealand learners from poor quality
offshore virtual programmes. The Australian Government, for example, has already
moved to provide national protocols for virtual universities, allowing for the
possibility of prosecution where students are adversely affected by the actions
More generally, learners need assistance in sorting out the bewildering array
of on-line options so they can determine their relative quality. The Canadian
Government has funded the development of a consumer's guide to distance and
on-line learning and it is recommended that New Zealand consider producing a
similar resource. The guide would cover details such as the mix of media to be
used in the learning programme, as well as study and assessment requirements.
Learning from Australia's SOCCI model
Developments in Australia
in the schools area under the SOCCI Project provide a useful reference point and
a powerful argument in favour of developing standard learning objects. The
Australians, for example, have implemented an American model the Sharable
Content Object Reference Model (SCORM) which provides guidelines and technical
specifications to be used by all technology vendors, content owners and users.
The existence of such standards means learning objects can be easily moved or
copied from one institution to another and accessed through any system that
conforms to the SCORM specification.
The Advisory Group endorses this approach and believes that it offers
significant potential benefits for institutions as well as learners. For example
there may be significant domestic and international opportunities for New
Zealand institutions to expand their markets if they choose to adapt their
existing content into suitable learning objects.
Once again, collaboration will be essential to develop a critical mass of
learning objects in a way that is timely, avoids duplication of effort and
resources and acknowledges the special strengths and expertise of New Zealand
educators and institutions.
There are a number of capability issues that need to
be addressed to develop the potential of e-learning in New Zealand. The 2001
report, E-Commerce: Building the Strategy for New Zealand identifies the
following areas for attention:
- A shortage of management, leadership and entrepreneurial e-commerce skills
- Low levels of understanding of the opportunities afforded by e-commerce and
- Varying levels of computer literacy in the community
- An uneven distribution of technology infrastructure across the country
- Lack of connection to global business networks
- Shortage of technical graduates and the emigration of skilled IT personnel
- Shortage of skilled instructional designers working in the e-learning
Similarly, a Ministry of Education report about ICT in
schools identifies some key restraints, including lack of simultaneous access to
the Internet and gaps in teacher knowledge. Our own work suggests these also
apply in the tertiary sector.
There is no easy way of obtaining information about the capability and/or
capacity of the tertiary sector in e-learning. A very quickly-devised
questionnaire was sent to TEIs to try to gain a picture of what the current
status might be and key findings are highlighted in the sections below. The
Advisory Group strongly recommends that the TEC give priority to developing
robust information on the 'readiness' of the sector, and that it does this in
such a way that the sector can use the information to chart its progress in
The Advisory Group was impressed with the model used to assess both the
readiness of educational institutions and of communities and suggests that this
could usefully be adapted and maintained on the web as a very useful development
tool. This can be viewed at www.cspp.org/projects/readiness
Many of the 'people' capabilities have been identified throughout this
report. They are required at all levels and across all functions of the value
chain. There is need for development of leadership capability that is informed
about e-learning and its implications for strategy development and institutional
investment. Teaching staff need considerable support to learn new skills and
adapt to changing roles. Administrative staff need to learn new skills too as
their functions are moved onto electronic bases. There is need for people
skilled in new areas website development; web instructional designers;
developers of educational software for simulation, for assessment. And of
course, there is need for people with technical capabilities. Our limited survey
of TEIs demonstrates that there is considerable human resource development
required for the potential of e-learning to be achieved.
Collaboration between tertiary providers will also be a key requirement to
build technical and staff capability. Many encouraging examples are already
underway, such as the University of Auckland's involvement with UNIVERSITAS 21
and the virtual university U21global which the University of Auckland plans to
establish in 2003 with Canada's Thomson Learning.
Such partnerships within New Zealand will also pave the way to enhancing the
capability and infrastructure which underlies e-learning success. The Advisory
Group sees great potential for gains in time, cost and quality through a
collaborative working environment and the sharing of resources in the
development of e-learning. This is particularly true in pursuing international
The Advisory Group recommends that tertiary funding continue to be
provided at the same level regardless of the learning mode. (Recommendation
In the realm of technical infrastructure, there is
a need for urgent action and wide-ranging development to extend access,
especially to rural and remote communities. The recent action by the Otago
Community Trust to fund broadband Internet access in schools shows a growing
awareness of the importance of Internet access and investment in e-learning.
The creation of local 'technology hubs' , 'telecentres' , or cyber kiosks all
represent ways of addressing the needs of small rural communities. It is vital
that regions have the digital capability and bandwidth to provide learning
opportunities in their area. Open Learning Centres, such as those developed in
Australia, provide another model.
Once again, collaboration may offer the best way forward in a country of our
size. For example, in the King Country area, the local community is working with
the Waikato Institute of Technology and the Ministry of Economic Development to
establish a technology hub.
Many hardware and software companies
offering their products and services now target educational institutions. A key
issue for institutions is to identify which products and services will provide
the most effective support for their e-learning strategy. At present gaining
independent, accurate information about relevant technologies can be difficult.
Concepts of scalability and commercial sustainability remain to be explored in
assessing the value of e-learning software and support.
It is important, therefore, to harness the commercial expertise that already
exists in the sector to identify the most cost-effective solutions. Care must
also be taken to ensure that a commitment to specific technologies does not
limit the potential for collaboration with others, or access for learners.
In this new environment it is imperative that tertiary institutions see how
their strategies contribute to national tertiary goals and to international
opportunities. These need to be differentiated and complementary. Recognising
and building on institutional strengths and collaborating to achieve goals will
bring much better returns both educationally and financially.