12 May 2012


I'm reading Out of Hours ... e-Teaching leadership: planning and implementing a benefits-oriented costs model for technology enhanced learning [PDF], a report by Belinda Tynan, Yoni Ryan, Leone Hinton & Andrea Lamont Mills for the ALTC (now defunct as a result of short-sighted cost-cutting in tertiary education).

The authors question the notion of e-learning or e-teaching as a quick fix for the contemporary enterprise university, commenting that
Our main conclusion is, unsurprisingly, that workload associated with online and blended teaching is ill-defined and poorly understood. As more new technologies impact on the sector more generally, it is timely to reconsider and audit practices to ensure future innovation and sustainability of work practices.
The report provides several propositions and recommendations, as follows, on the basis that
If teaching online is to become sustainable, attention needs to be paid urgently to how staff workloads are constructed. It is no longer possible to work in ways that belong to a transmission era of university teaching. As access and connectivity penetrate deeply into our personal, transactional, work and learning lives, interactivity and constructivist pedagogies must be considered routine, not ‘add-ons’ in teaching, and must therefore be reflected in prospective workload models which recognise the higher quantum of teaching tasks associated with e-teaching, and students’ needs for a teacher to ‘be there’. ...
Our research has investigated a topic that is of concern to numerous stakeholders. The approach taken in this project is robust and the conclusions and recommendations fairly represent the voices of staff across four institutions who experience online learning as a key aspect of their work. While some may argue that these universities are not representative of the sector, the findings will no doubt ring true to many. As the higher education sector moves toward an increasingly competitive market place, the inclusion of more diverse students and the increasing use of technology to serve student learning, online workload needs to be reconsidered.
Proposition: Teaching online and in blended modes creates different types and numbers of work activities that require consideration when developing workload models.
Recommendation: Acknowledge that ‘flexibility’ costs, and will impact fixed, variable and opportunity costs.
Proposition: Staff are generally supportive, even enthusiastic, about teaching online. They have concerns about appropriate feedback to students, changing technologies, adequate infrastructure, professional development, access to support staff, large classes and assessment. At times they are not sure if what they do ‘online’, in the time that they allocate or over-allocate, is good enough to support quality learning outcomes. Some academics do not have the time to update materials, develop innovative approaches to learning, take up professional development opportunities, or attend to research demands.
Recommendation: Staff should be enabled to participate actively in their professional development and have their work recognised and valued within performance assessment, development and review. Institutions should ensure business processes and infrastructure are adequately resourced.
Proposition: Workload models are not well-understood by staff teaching online and not adequately broken into specific components, nor implemented transparently and consistently across school areas. Workload models do not reflect what staff perceive they do. Many staff do more than is required and are not prepared to compromise quality of materials or interaction.
Recommendation: Institutional management perceptions of teaching online should be more closely aligned with the reality of the workload as perceived by teaching staff within current workload models. Staff require more transparent participation and negotiation about appropriate workload models.
Proposition: Staff perceptions are that EFTSL is not a clear measure for allocating workload when teaching online. These workload formulas fail to take into account variable costs, for example, multimedia delivery formats; other support such as educational development, IT equipment (software and hardware); additional staff; staff development; opportunity costs (early adopters and innovation); diverse student cohorts; the advent of Work Integrated Learning; committee work; the plethora of additional ‘coordinator tasks’ such as ‘Study Abroad Convenor’.
Recommendation: DEEWR in tandem with Universities Australia and other agencies should initiate a multi-level audit of teaching time and WAMs. This would accurately identify the roles and responsibilities of teachers, and their actual time using various applications and their perceived cost-benefit, in order for universities to develop more appropriate yet efficient workload models.
Proposition: The appropriation and use of technology into curriculum requires a recasting of the role of academics within universities.
Recommendation: Since almost all staff are involved in teaching online, appropriate selection criteria, probation criteria, performance indicators and a commitment to professional development in e-teaching by institutions and their staff are imperative.
Proposition: Teaching online has numerous definitions and perceived understandings. There is an inconsistent terminology and staff cannot articulate or communicate the multitude of issues involved in their teaching.
Recommendation: Define clearly what it means in each program to teach online for staff, learn online for students and manage staff allocation within higher education institutions so that all stakeholders as well as Finance Officers can participate in workload model development.
Proposition: 2011 has seen a surge of concern about the impact of online purchasing (especially from overseas) on the Australian economy, with bricks and mortar businesses being threatened. Many see this as a precursor to online services supplanting physical service industries, including higher education; among these are some Vice Chancellors (Campus Review, 27 June 2011) and the majority of IT executives, including Bill Gates. Others are more sanguine, envisaging a future where the campus still attracts school leavers seeking a vestigial ‘university experience’, through a blended education of independent learning online plus some face-to-face interactions, but where the majority of adults transact their learning ‘at a distance’. For the moment at least, the blended model remains the predominant ‘delivery’ mode in higher education, despite an increasing number of fully online programs.
Recommendation: Develop Workload Allocation Models (WAMs) which acknowledge the greater number of tasks associated with a blended pedagogy, as indicated in table 1 in Part 2, reproduced below.
If and until a wholly disaggregated model of academic work (separating the discrete tasks of content expert, educational developer, multimedia designer, graphic designer, tutor and marker) is adopted (as is suggested by successful models such as in the OUUK), institutions must acknowledge in their workload models the greater number of tasks associated with online and blended development and delivery. Teaching workloads need to be adjusted to acknowledge the greater number of tasks associated with new technologies being incorporated into education systems.

Greater use should be made of multimedia resources which have already demonstrated their efficacy for teaching complex/threshold/key concepts, so that individual teachers do not have to develop resources on core concepts in their discipline. However, the work involved in locating these resources, and then contextualising them to particular professional and institutional programs should not be under-estimated. A one size unit on Statistics 101 does not fit all programs. For example, of the universities involved in this study, ACU subjects must contain a specific community engagement or social justice component, so any ‘core unit’ curriculum must be adapted.