The implications of a boom in the number of students securing
their education online will not spare Dunedin's tertiary
institutions and they will need to ''sharpen their act'' if
they want to continue to thrive.
That is the message from Otago Polytechnic chief executive
Phil Ker and Prof Kerry Shephard, from the University of
Otago's Higher Education Development Centre.
Mr Ker said the delivery of courses on the web was already
transforming tertiary education overseas and before too long,
New Zealand would experience a similar shift.
''It's the most rapidly growing form of education delivery in
North America,'' he said.
The growth was occurring in both the provision of free online
courses and ''full service'' courses where students enrolled
with an institution in an ''online equivalent of a
People in the second category paid as little as a third of
the cost of enrolling in an equivalent course at a
Mr Ker said the growth of both types of delivery would
eventually shift some of the focus away from the ''bricks and
mortar'' model as growing numbers of students learnt online,
instead of in campus lecture theatres.
''I don't think we will see anything like the growth in
bricks and mortar campuses that's been happening [up until
now],'' he said.
The shift to online learning meant Dunedin institutions, like
those in the rest of the world, would need to sharpen their
act if they wanted to continue to attract large numbers of
people to study at ''physical campuses''.
''If we don't want it to have a negative impact, then we have
got to sharpen our act. We are going to have to really get
our act together, in the sense of having compelling
programmes, with features in them that say in a very crowded
market, `come to us'.''
Prof Shephard, who specialises in ''eLearning'' among other
subjects, shared a similar view, saying the growth of online
education would provide universities with a ''wake-up call''.
''This is going to provide a bit of a wake-up call for
universities to be mindful about what they do ... which is
different from the sort of things that these massive online
courses can offer.''
This meant they would need to ''add substance'' to the claim
that ''face-to-face'' education at universities had
advantages which large online courses could not easily
Prof Shephard said aspects of the existing university model
gave it advantages. These included the staff-student ratio
and the ''traditional quality assurance process''
Asked if universities would also need to offer some courses
using the online model he said:''I think that's not only
necessary but it's inevitable.''
He said it was too early to say how much of an impact online
learning would have on the tertiary sector.
''In a way, the real question is are we going to have a
progressive change or an absolute revolution? My guess would
be a progressive change.''
Mr Ker said Otago Polytechnic had already responded to the
challenge presented by online learning by setting up an
online-only course of its own, which it would be offering for
the first time this year.
This was part of a wider initiative called OP Online. The
institution planned to scale up the number of online courses
it offers over the next few years. The polytechnic would be
spending about $500,000 on OP Online over the course of this
''OP Online is about us developing our online learning
business in terms of qualifications that you can do wholly
online without ever having to come to the polytechnic.
''We figure we should be part of ... [online learning] both
for defensive reasons and because if in fact there is a
growing worldwide market for online learning we may as well
be part of that,'' he said.
The polytechnic risked losing out to other providers if it
did not provide online courses itself.
''The question is will, for example, a North American college
or university decide that the New Zealand market is worth