“Learning in a Global Information Society”

Re-Engineering the Campus with Web and Related Technology for the Virtual University
Insights from my work in Europe analysed in the context of developments in the US – Part 2

by Prof. Paul Bacsich, Sheffield Hallam University, UK
This is the second part of a two-part article based on a presentation given at FLISH971 at Sheffield Hallam University in 1997. It is a retrospective look at my approach to “re-engineering the campus” analysed in the light of my European experiences over the last 15 years and my studies of the North American situation. This final part describes what is happening at Sheffield Hallam University and then describes how to become an Internet University! (Read part 1 first)2

What are we doing in Sheffield Hallam University?
In summary, we are developing an Electronic Campus oriented to postgraduate distance education, but (very importantly) also available to on-campus students, using at this point in time:    FirstClass (computer conferencing) WWW on our own Internet and Intranet servers RealVideo

Across Europe
If I move out from my own campus to the current European situation in universities, what do I see? The picture is not very encouraging. Though progress is being made, in fact, in relative terms, the situation is much less encouraging than at the end of the EU Third Framework Telematics for Learning (DELTA) programme in 1995. The last two years have been either wasted years, or years of consolidation, depending on one’s point of view. The highlights are:  
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As usual in Europe, there are many good research projects; as usual in Europe, they are disconnected from the market and commercial developers (most of whom are on the US West Coast, as usual.) Few universities are taking re-engineering seriously.

(Footnotes added August 2013.) See http://www.pjb.co.uk/14-15/Flish97.htm See http://www.pjb.co.uk/14-15/vu1.htm

Paul Bacsich

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“Learning in a Global Information Society”

 

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Even the Business Schools are cautious, some of the highest-rated particularly so. (This is true in the US too, being rationalised by the phrase from one of the top schools: “We use teachers not technology”.) There is the traditional European focus on consortia and co-operation. This is partly driven by the EU funding regime, which forces one to be in a consortium to get any funds, partly by the (continental) European organisational culture which still finds it hard to take on concepts of competition and commercialism in universities. (Actually, in some countries they still find it hard in other industrial sectors such as defence, telecoms and broadcasting). There is still a “funding dependency culture” (to use the phrase of Peter Bates the editor of this newsletter). Often when funding stops, so does the project – stops dead. Whatever the reality, the impression is that the European Commission changes the focus of its attention from time to time. A few years ago they seemed very keen on distance education and the established European open universities. Some would say that their faith was not rewarded. (I would argue that the flood of European money changed the UK Open University, or hastened existing change. It did not seem to do nearly so much in the other open universities, but some of them are more traditional despite being distance teaching organisations.) At present there seems to be a move towards concentration on the ancient universities in the so-called “Coimbra Group”. But as in the US, the ancient universities are not very interested in change; they are too well-funded and have many sources of extra income and leverage that they can tap if they get into difficulties. There is still a great need for trainer training. But so often, the trainers are trained by those who lack serious experience with the technologies in education. This may work with video-conferencing, but computer conferencing and WWW use in education have sufficient subtlety that this trickle-down process does not lead to good results. There is still a great deal of “re-inventing the wheel” both technically and educationally. The European Commission has on more than one occasion identified lack of dissemination as a problem, with a mild rebuke to the disseminators; but as Chairman of a dissemination organisation3 I know from experience how hard it is to disseminate to those who do not want to be disseminated to.

A Key Issue – “Who’s in Charge?”
An issue which unites Europe and North America is “Who is in charge of re-engineering?” (or whatever pale shadow of that is in favour). Candidates include:   
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the Library (usually now changing its name to something more modern like Learning Centre) the Audio Visual Centre (often lower down in the power structure, except in a few locations; in the UK many centres never recovered from the lack of success of university-level educational television outside the Open University) Computing Service or Services (some universities still have two computing services, though there is little justification for that except history)

LearnTel – a passing reference in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_virtual_learning_environments_in_the_1990s

Paul Bacsich

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“Learning in a Global Information Society”

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Technologists (who think that they should be in charge) Educational Technology Units (who, one might joke, know that they should be in charge – they are often regarded with suspicion by others, leading in some unnamed universities to comical results where evaluations are carried out by people who by definition are not evaluators) Distance Learning Units (it is a not uncommon US phenomenon to have more than one Distance Learning Unit, often differentiated by technology – for example correspondence texts and videos; but in Europe there is at most one normally; though many universities active in distance education do not have such a unit at all) The answer to the question “Who’s in charge” should be of course “None of the above”. Re-engineering suggests that a Director of Learning Technology is appointed as a re-engineering “czar”. The Director is likely to have come from one of the above units, but would be well advised to leave his or her old loyalties at the door of their new office.

Usual Errors – in Europe and the United States
Apart from the problems of who is in charge of overall re-engineering, here is my list of the most common implementation mistakes that universities make when trying to re-invent themselves on the Internet. I am afraid that you will not find this list in the literature and you will not find references to actual sites with these problems, for obvious reasons of tact and discretion, such as being wanted to be invited back.  A very old academic takes the lead. In one US university, a talented journalist was given the role of Internet education team leader, which he carried out successfully; but he was old and in less than perfect health. There was no succession plan, of course. A young researcher is given the lead. This has happened in Europe. A talented researcher was given the lead on a large course. Needless to say, he wanted to develop a new system rather than use existing (and adequate) technology. Students are still waiting for the course to come out. See the next point. R&D replaces implementation. This is a classic problem when researchers are put in charge. Researchers always have reasons that seem good to them for not adopting what has worked before. Yet there are dangers if non-researchers are put in charge – they may not be up to date enough even with current technologies. The adoption/roll-out “jump” is badly done. After the researchers have developed a system, they tend to lose interest – they want to move to the next challenge. Yet for the system to be successful, some agency has to roll it out; for example the Computing Service. The potential for misunderstanding (at best) and power politics (at worst) is enormous. The periphery fights the centre. This is common in multi-campus universities. It has been a problem in some open universities. An old-fashioned unit gains control. In the UK, forces centred on the Library often come out in charge of educational technology. In some cases that works well, when the Library has re-invented itself; in other cases it merely holds things back. In the US it is getting quite common for a re-invented Computing Service to gain control. This can work too; but fail too.

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Paul Bacsich

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Funding dies out. This is a common European problem. In the UK we like to think that we are getting over it, but I wonder.

How to Become an Internet University
So given this catalogue of problems common in Europe, what lessons can I give about what a university should do in order to re-engineer its campus for the Internet. Here are my rules:      Get a top-down commitment to the Internet. This was one of the great strengths of the Open University move to the Internet – the Vice-Chancellor believed in it. Re-engineer the system, under a “czar”. Not so often done in universities, yet. Agree a network strategy within your IT strategy. Universities are getting quite good at that. Agree a business plan including external funding. The business plan may be no problem. External funding is usually being worked on by many individuals and departments. Putting them together into one strategy – that I have not seen. Enforce a staff development plan. Some UK universities, new and old, are making great progress with this. Some even give courses to their staff leading to Masters degrees in educational technology. Other apparently similar universities do essentially nothing. Update them frequently! This is not often done. Rather like university Web sites, plans go out of date fast in the modern world.

Implementation
After having an overall plan, the time comes for an implementation roll-out. Few European universities are doing anything substantial, as on the scale of many US universities. Of those that are, the following styles of implementation can be found: Incremental In this method, one builds on some existing unit and developments without making major changes. Often one focuses on an existing centre of research excellence or on the Computing Service or the Library. Another way of doing incremental work is to set up a Development Fund to which academics can bid. This has been done in some UK and Canadian universities. The results are usually unimpressive on a global scale but may give the illusion of progress internally. I do not recommend this model. Internal big-bang with no reorganisation This is the model which the Open University has taken. The Knowledge Media Institute (KMI) was set up, a large number of new staff (over 30) were appointed to KMI and other faculties, some new money was found; but the major spending units went on pretty much unchanged. It is likely that good research will come out of KMI – the intellectual talent there is impressive; it is less clear that good implementation will come out; but it was a matter of some hard debate whether that should or should not be in the mission.

Paul Bacsich

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“Learning in a Global Information Society”

Internal big-bang with reorganisation I do not have a convincing example of this from universities in Europe. Perhaps that proves how far we still have to go. Outsource Re-engineers are keen on outsourcing. Thus it is a natural idea to decide that the challenges of creating an Internet University are too great to be solved internally – then one calls in outside experts. To general surprise, these outside experts now exist. (I am excluding several famous commercial firms and consultancies coming from a non-educational background from my definition of “expert”, as I have yet to be convinced that they understand much about higher education.) One outside expert firm gaining prominence at present is RealEducation Inc., who have developed the Electronic Campus for CU-Online, the Internet campus of the University of Colorado.4 Consortium This is where universities band together in a group to implement together what they feel that they do not have the resources or talent to implement separately. The model is beloved by the EU and by national governments in Europe, including the UK, one suspects because it gives the appearance of activity and avoids making distinctions between institutions (such as who should run the national open university, a tricky issue in some Scandinavian countries). There is little evidence that consortia have ever achieved any industrial-strength results, although from time to time under a charismatic and powerful head, they can become highly visible and achieve useful smaller-scale effects. (Examples include EADTU – the European Association of Distance Teaching Universities – in its heyday, and EuroPACE more recently.) Joint venture This is a neglected model. It should be pointed out that the UK Open University started as a joint venture with the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation). Now that various telecoms companies and IT companies are getting interested in Internet-based education, we are likely to see more of these.

References
Hammer and Champy (1994) Re-engineering the corporation. The fount of wisdom in this area.

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Amazing what is on the WWW – see http://contracts.onecle.com/ecollege/colorado.lic.1998.05.22.shtml. Any expert reader will know, and others can easily find out, what happened to RealEducation – the name has gone, due to takeovers. but the approach is enduring.

Paul Bacsich

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Bacsich and Mason (1995) “Telematics for Distance Education in North America: Report of a Study Visit Summer 1995”, KMI Tech Report KMI/EMRG/95/1. See especially the report on George Washington University. Bacsich (1996) “The Future of Educational Television”, KMI Tech Report KMI/EMRG/96/1. Talk given at the launch of the Finnish Open University television service – see especially the concluding section. Hammer and Stanton (1996) The Reengineering Revolution Handbook, Harper Collins. See especially Chapter 16, “Beyond the Bottom Line: Reengineering in Mission-Driven Organisations”; but their university example is not convincing. Hypertext Reference: http://www.cms.shu.ac.uk Sheffield Hallam University Virtual Campus Home Page Copyright Paul Bacsich (C) 1997. A version of this paper was first created for the Social Sciences Research Centre of Hong Kong University.5 The author assigns to educational and non-profit institutions (including Sheffield Hallam University, Hong Kong University and LearnTel) a non-exclusive licence to use this document for personal use and in courses of instruction provided that the article is used in full and this copyright statement is reproduced. Issue 16&17 “Learning in a Global Information Society” 25 March 19986

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In connection with a presentation at the 4th Hong Kong Web Symposium – http://www.ssrc.hku.hk/sym/98/ See http://www.pjb.co.uk/LIGIS_index.htm

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