Institutional Planning for E-Learning Case Study (Assignment #2) Doug Connery Rebecca Jacobson Sean McMinn Cecilia Tagliapietra ETEC 520: Planning & Managing Learning Technologies in Higher Education Submitted to Tatiana Bourlova July 11, 2010



The management of e-learning at the institutional level of higher education is no easy task, considering the complexities involved with managing higher learning alone. Issues often arise around faculty autonomy, student access, training, funding, pedagogy, and learning environments. And, often at the forefront, is the debate of whether to adopt a centralized or decentralized approach to managing educational technology initiatives within a higher education institution (Bates, 2000). All these issues are included in recent events at the University of British Columbia, starting with the planning process for the reorganization of distance education at the university. For this case study, two important documents and processes are considered. The first process resulted in the ACCULT Discussion Paper and Final Report; this process is related to the development of alternatives to use learning technologies on campus in a more effective way (ACCULT, 2000, 2002). The second process involved the development of strategies in relation to the development and improvement of distance education at UBC. This process resulted in several reports categorized under the Distance Education and Technology (DET) name: DET Strategic Plan (DET, 2002), DET External Review Report (Anderson, Hartman, Pratt and Stanton , 2003), DET Response to the External Review (DET, 2003) and the UBC Provost’s Committee Report (UBC, 2004). Haughey (2007) gives a concise one page summary of these activities from 2000 to 2005. However, in the end, whether the two processes were closely linked, consistent with each other, and logical is uncertain. Furthermore, the case ends with the Office of Learning Technology (OLT) taking over DET and the merger of OLT with the TAG Institute and Telestudios, outcomes which seem to disregard any recommendations from the previous two processes and move, surprisingly, to a more centralized



model. This paper will analyze, discuss, and assess the two processes and the final decision for adopting a centralized model to manage distance learning and e-learning at UBC, focusing on: the motivating parties, identification of problems, coordination of the two planning processes, the sequence of events, the recommendations made, and the recent events involving various mergers.

Motivating Parties

Both planning processes are related to the integration and improvement of the use of technologies at UBC and an attempt to align a vision for e-learning and distance education with the university’s strategic plan, TREK 2000; however, the processes appear to be guided by different motivations, which are not always clear. ACCULT Motivation The first process resulted in the ACCULT Discussion Paper – Report to Senate and the ACCULT Final Report. Careful review of the ACCULT documents suggests that plans for the integration of IT to campus life were motivated the needs of: 1. UBC’s Strategic Plan, TREK 2000, calling for integrated IT sustained by educational (rather than technological) factors (ACCULT, 2000);



2. UBC’s desire to fully integrate and articulate information technologies (IT) creatively in instruction in all areas (Trek, 1999; ACCULT, 2000) in order to be able to compete with other universities that have already fully integrated IT to their “daily” practices; and 3. Information obtained from future students during workshops and surveys where "the most common learning requirement [...] was the need for increased flexibility in the delivery of teaching, and learning technologies were considered essential for providing this flexibility” (ACCULT, 2000, p. 7). The ACCULT Creative Use of Learning Technologies report (2000), suggests that current UBC students “expect quality, state-of-the-art education and they anticipate learning technology will be a key component of their education” (p. 5) – although, they did not want or expect a “replacement” of face-to-face interactions.

These motivations are sustained throughout the ACCULT reports. The ACCULT Final Report (2002) stresses that learning technology should transform learning beyond posting basic course materials on a website, indicating that the “strategy must enhance learning for students” ( p. 5).

One of the most important factors behind this process was the emphasis placed on student learning and how the technologies should be used to facilitate and enhance the learning process. For this integration, the ACCULT Final Report (2002) identifies four core principles that guide the development, use, and integration of technologies within UBC’s practices: 1. 2. enhance quality student learning; decentralized initiative and control – pedagogy drives learning technologies;

INSTITUTIONAL PLANNING FOR E-LEARNING CASE STUDY 3. 4. centralized facilitation – central body should support localized activity; and coordinated LT and IT


These core values stress the focus on quality of student learning, making pedagogy the guiding principle to the use of LT. DET Motivation In the DET planning process, which includes documents used to develop recommendations for how to improve the development and delivery of distance education at UBC, the motivations are not quite as clear or guided by pedagogical elements. However, it is clear that DET was motivated by the institution’s need to grow and “do more with less” as the Canadian government was appearing to “pressure” higher education institutions to admit more students directly from high school, while encouraging life-long learning and continuing education services (a strong market for the university). According to the DET strategic plan (DET, 2002), the major motivation was to meet the needs of increasing student numbers. A second important motivation behind this planning process was the desire for a small centralized unit that would maintain, guide, or consult e-learning initiatives to remain in order to focus on the needs of lifelong learners, an important and increasing student population (DET Plan).

Identification of Problems ACCULT The ACCULT discussion paper (ACCULT, 2000) clearly opens by acknowledging the problems it initially set out to address. We are told that, while technology has been used successfully, this use and success has been limited to relatively few “inherently enthusiastic” (p. 1) faculty members. This committee’s key concern, we are told, was to devise a way to make



“learning technology attractive for faculty who wish to use it” (p. 1). This implies that the current process of individual faculty finding their way alone was cause for concern. DET The DET Strategic Plan (DET, 2002) does not open by explicitly identifying the problems with current processes and organizational structures that it is attempting to address; however, these are initially implied and later overtly stated. For example, initially the Plan acknowledges that DET is fairly autonomous and envisions itself becoming “more integrated with other related central units” (p. 2) and the Faculties. This implies that a centralized unit is not ideal. Bates (2000) confirms that this can be a problem: “Too often these central services have had little impact on the core teaching activities of an institution, partly because academics have felt that they had no control over them” (p. 184). Once it has outlined its proposed changes, however, the Plan (DET, 2002) explains that the changes are necessary because “the current organizational structure at UBC will not be able to meet the growing demands for access, flexibility and diversity in university education at UBC” (p. 4). The Plan also acknowledges the necessity of change to accommodate life-long learners and the pressure the institution was experiencing to recruit more students directly out of high school. While it could be argued, then, that the problems with the current processes and organizational structures could have been more clearly identified at the outset, these are nonetheless addressed.

INSTITUTIONAL PLANNING FOR E-LEARNING CASE STUDY Coordination of the Two Planning Processes ACCULT Process The ACCULT Discussion Paper (ACCULT, 2000) presents a vision for learning


technologies at UBC into 2005. It is not clear in the discussion paper or in the ACCULT Committee Report (ACCULT, 2002) why they are developing this vision or how it is connected to the UBC TREK 2000 strategic plan (UBC, 1999. Strong (2007) and Bates (2000) present strategic planning frameworks for institutions to deal with technological change. However, ACCULT seems to have jumped into the middle of the process by ignoring the current state and the identification of the issues that need to be addressed. Perhaps they were relying on the issues identified by TREK in 1999, yet these issues would have been very high level, and, by the publication of the ACCULT paper in early 2002, many of the technology issues would be out of date.

The ACCULT process looked at learning technologies across UBC and made reference to the many stakeholders. The strengths that DET brought to UBC appeared to be undervalued by ACCULT and in several instances DET is referred to as a support group even though they were adding academic credit to the institution. There are a couple of places in the ACCULT report were DET could have had a stronger profile based on their expertise but they were excluded. For example, the ACCULT report mentions opportunities to collaborate with external partners but fails to connect these opportunities with the expertise of internal stakeholders such as DET. DET Process The Distance Education and Technology group developed a strategic plan in late 2002 (DET, 2002) and provided a rationale for why the plan was developed and how it was integrated



with Trek 2000, the Academic Plan, and the ACCULT committee report. The DET strategic plan presents a vision to 2008 for a centralized/decentralized model for UBC that includes all learning technology stakeholders. Based on the timing of the publication of the DET strategic plan of approximately one year after the ACCULT Committee report, DET was probably reacting to recommendations of ACCULT that threatened the future existence of DET.

Sequence of Events The sequence of events during the two planning processes was logical but not well coordinated. ACCULT started first by creating a plan in response to TREK 2000; they recommended a centralized/decentralized plan for the institute. DET created their strategic centralized/decentralized plan next; perhaps, in response to the ACCULT documents which largely ignored the DET e-learning expertise that was built up over the years. But the logic behind the sequence of the next steps is not clear. For example, it is not explained why the visiting team performed a review of DET; furthermore, the reviewers’ concluding observations are vague. DET replied to the external review pointing out that the review in some way contradicted itself and clarified aspects of their strategic plan. The report to the Provost in 2004 (UBC, 2004) weighs heavily on recommendations from the ACCULT report and the External Review Team. It recommends that the OLT and DET be merged in a centralized/decentralized model; a compromise that all stakeholders could live with.

After the Report to the Provost was completed in 2004 and planning for the merger was implemented, a complete change of direction occurred in 2005 with the OLT takeover of DET.



This change of direction is not explained very well in communications from Anna Kindler. This indicates that some closed door meetings were held and some decisions were made, or perhaps, disagreements between stakeholders could not be resolved and the resulting plan to centralize was the compromise.

Centralization continued in 2010 with the addition of the OLT to the Centre for Teaching and Learning (CLT) thus creating the Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology (CTLT) and the take over and elimination of Telestudios by CTLT. In the end, the proposed strong centralized/decentralized models envisioned by ACCULT and DET were lost and all technology services become centralized into one unit to serve the institute. In the process, Faculties would have lost any type of influence and control that they could have retained with the envisioned model.

Management of the Two Processes Both the ACCULT process and the DET process appear to be internally (ie. individually) consultative. ACCULT The ACCULT process, for example, included: university wide public meetings: students, staff and faculty consultations with Ed Tech support staff; comments on video and ACCULT discussion paper; presentations and comments from Senate and board of governors (BOG); student focus groups;

INSTITUTIONAL PLANNING FOR E-LEARNING CASE STUDY reviews from peer institutions; ACCULT committee regular meeting discussions and debates; and visits to peer institutions.


While this process was championed by the Vice President and the Provost, because of this wide consultation, it was not essentially top-down; however, neither was it bottom-up. We would argue that this process ended-up a combination of top-down and bottom-up as it was careful to include the appropriate players from both ends of the spectrum. DET The DET process is somewhat more complex. Like the ACCULT process, it was internally consultative; however, it was not as widely inclusive of the university at large. This was a process that included those in DET only and was, in fact, a “preemptive response to the impendnging [sic] review” (Bullen, 2010). In other words, DET knew that an external review was going to take place and created the Strategic Plan (DET, 2002) as a way to be “on record with a clear plan” (Bullen, 2010). The same can be said for the DET response to the external review; the department was internally consulted and the process does not appear to be either topdown or bottom-up.

The problem here is not that each of these lacked the appropriate organization, but rather, that the two processes were not coherently linked. For example, both the DET Strategic Plan and the Response to the External Review were initiated by DET itself. The ACCULT process and all the players involved should have requested these types of documents; it is to the credit of DET that it attempted to get involved and have a say in the process. Unfortunately, the end result of both of these processes was a top-down decision to ignore the plan for decentralization without



an explanation. We would add that this is not surprising; after all, Tony Bates (2000) reminds us that plans such as these are often “subjected to attempts by deans to break them up and reallocate their funding back to the faculties” ( p. 184). This, it appears to us, is precisely what happened when DET attempted a form of decentralization.

Recommendations Made It appears that both ACCULT and DET discussed and planned for a centralized/decentralized model, and, in theory, were consistent with each other and TREK 2000. However, how a blended centralized/decentralized model would be implemented, what parties would contribute (and how much), how funding would be handled, how student access would be affected, and how a learning or institutional environment would change sometimes differed between the two. Three major elements need to be considered: 1. Faculty funding and training; 2. Learning environment; and 3. Student access. Faculty Funding and Training First, TREK 2000 calls for enhancing faculty teaching skills; this is outlined in the Operational Timetable 1999-2000 and 2002-2003. The ACCULT discussion paper (ACCLT, 2000) stresses the importance for spending “in people, not in equipment or buildings,” (p. 18), the need for a “strategy to both raise and allocate revenue” (p. 15) for faculty support for “qualified education and technical support people” (p. 15) to avoid faculty overload, and to recruit or retain such support people. This raises questions about who should receive training and by whom. This is relevant because, as Bates (2000) points out, management of educational



technology should encourage teaching units to be innovative and enable them to respond quickly to changes in subject matter, student needs and technologies Learning Environment TREK 2000 places a lot of emphasis on the enhancement of f-2-f learning, the improvement to all aspects of the learning environment, and the improvement of digital environment sites at UBC. The TREK 2000 Operation Timeline 2002-2003 calls for the implementation of information technology with the learning environment and targets for the completion of the university networking project, including campus-wide “wireless” development, an increase in classroom applications of new learning technologies, including the development of mixed-mode courses. Student Access Student access to technology is alluded to in TREK 2000. For example: the goal for a completely wireless campus. There seems to be a lack of recommendation regarding this within the ACCULT papers and UBC Provost’s Committee Report. As Bates (2000) suggests, necessary steps are needed to ensure that academic priorities for the use of technologies are welldefined and integrated into technology infrastructure planning. Communication and collaboration among all Faculties would be needed in order to measure the importance, cost, and scope of student access.

Assessment of Recent Developments The decision announced by the Associate Vice President not to proceed with the dissolution of DET was arbitrary and entirely top-down, which left those involved with no choice but to speculate on why the decision was made. In addition, the decision to dismantle DET had a profound effect on those who worked in the department; as Mark Bullen (2010) tells



us, “from a human perspective, it was disastrous” Both of these processes represent many months of work by many people, yet the carefully crafted plans were summarily dismissed. While this in itself is unfortunate, the more important point here, in our opinion, is that this offers an example of how difficult institutional change can be and it calls into question the idea of a transparent and consultative approach. Indeed, many critics agree that change is difficult; Ben Miller (2010), for example, notes that “[r]eluctance to change is hardwired into many of the structural features that define today’s colleges and universities […]. The root of the dilemma lies with the decentralized and inherently conservative nature of the modern higher education institution.” p. 13).

Conclusions The main reasons for the sudden change and the further move to a more centralized approach (although not official or explicitly announced) seem to be financial and (perhaps) human resources related. Much of this is a result of the points made above regarding the recent developments. What does this mean? The new model may weaken the control of faculties over the teaching process - especially for faculty who are unfamiliar with e-learning. However, the duty of the new Academics Director for CTLT is to provide guidance to Faculties and university senior administration on the design and implementation of initiatives/practices/programs that support research-based approaches to teaching and learning, suggesting a central managerial approach to e-learning at UBC. Yet, as Bullen (2006) suggests, “despite the growth in the influence of the managerial culture in universities and colleges, the collegial culture still dominates academic life of these institutions.” (p. 171). And, more importantly, in “collegial



culture major emphasis is placed on independent work” (Bullen, 2006, p. 171). In short, the newly formed CTLT may threaten faculty autonomy.

Another issue, also mentioned earlier, is staff training and support. As Bates (2000) notes, with a decentralized approach, there is no professional center to provide standards and career support and development for support staff and no strategic or regular funding to support technology-based initiatives; with a centralized approach, there is insufficient support close to faculty members. Furthermore, one goal expressed in TREK 2000, encouraging life- long learning, appears to be ignored through the entire process; although, it is mentioned in the DET report. Still, it appears that nothing was thoroughly planned. This, as Bates (2000) explains, is an important category that will be growing in the future. The recommendations may sound practical and sensible to us but clearly they were not acceptable to the institute and the individual deans/faculties.



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16 Haughey, M. (2007). Organizational Models for Faculty Support: The Response of Canadian Universities. In M. Bullen & D.P. Janes (Eds.)Making the Transition to E-Learning: Strategies & Issues (pp. 17-32). Hershey, PA: Information Science Publishing. Miller, B. (2010). The Course of Innovation: Using Technology to Transform Higher Education. Retreived from Education Sector website: Strong, Bart. (2007). Strategic Planning for Technological Change, Educause Quarterly, Volume 7, Number 3, 2007.pp 48-51University of British Columbia President’s Office. (2000). UBC,(1999) Trek 2000: the story so far. Retrieved from ETEC 520 website: UBC. (2004) Report of the Committee to Consider the Evolution of the Distance Education and Technology Unit at UBC. (2004). Report prepared for Vice President Academic & Provost. Retrieved from ETEC 520 website: