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Otago Polytechnic is working towards a future where students from around the world enrol in its "virtual campus", a portfolio of programmes being fully taught over the internet.
Otago Polytechnic director of learning and teaching Prof Sally Pairman said the polytechnic was hiring four staff to make up a new unit called "OP Online" and aimed to have its first internet-based course up and running next year.
After setting up its first course, the new unit would look at what the polytechnic was teaching at its physical campus and see what subjects would be appropriate for the online teaching model.
"We will also investigate new programmes and courses that can be delivered online," Prof Pairman said.
The unit would put the polytechnic at the cutting edge of what was a growing trend in tertiary education worldwide, she said.
"What we envisage is that we will have our on-campus experience for students that want to come and have face-to-face [teaching] ... and then we will be building up a virtual campus for students that are looking for a total online experience."
This would not be at the expense of its physical campus, she said.
"It's not that we are going to shrink what we do on the campus.
"We are just building a new area of our business."
Asked if there would be problems associated with not having face-to-face contact, she said: "What we are doing is providing a whole range of learning opportunities ... and [students] are the ones that need to decide what's best to meet their needs.
"Not everyone can afford to be a full-time student ... There are millions of learners around the world who don't have access to any tertiary education - for them this is an opportunity."
The polytechnic would develop its business model as the number of programmes grew, but some courses would be delivered for free, only those seeking assessment on the material covered charged, while other courses would be based fully on fees.
The unit's first course - tentatively called the "graduate diploma in tertiary teaching" - would be aimed at educating Otago Polytechnic's new academic staff, but would also be open to people outside the polytechnic.