Since 1993, the University of South Australia has been delivering an educational environment which recognises the significance of information and communications technologies in supporting student access and learning (King, McCausland and Nunan, 2001).
The authors describe the university?s approach to converting its distance education programs to online delivery.
Five key areas of challenge are characterised as:

  • Tension between the paradigms of on- and off-campus delivery

  • Divergent capabilities of staff and students in using online modes of teaching and learning

  • Provision of appropriate resourcing for online teaching and learning (eg access to appropriate equipment, training, development and support)

  • Provision of appropriate objects to students and staff to facilitate online authoring of and interaction with teaching and learning resources, and

  • Management of the implementation and maintenance of online modes.


  • The University recognised the centrality of hardware, software and networks to a successful conversion to an online teaching and learning environment.
    Standardisation of IT provision was undertaken, with software upgrades based on central decision-making.
    Further, it was recognised that the technical platform chosen would need to be centrally coordinated, able to satisfy the needs of both the technically-minded enthusiast and the non-technical academic staff member.
    An online teaching and learning environment (UniSAnet) was developed as a corporate resource to address the University community?s online needs.

    The University adopted a model for instructional design aimed at supporting its academic staff to becoming literate distance educators, rather than leaving the construction of learning materials to instructional designers.
    The pedagogical approach was thereby placed in the hands of academic staff.

    King, McCausland and Nunan (2001) note the following outcomes of the conversion to flexible learning, some clearly positive or negative outcomes and others which are neither negative nor positive:

    Positive
  • As at August 2000, the university had 411 courses with online study guides, 90 of which had a range of self-assessment quizzes and automatic feedback for students while 264 offered discussion groups.

  • A 24-7 student support service had been established (Learning Connection) with a similar level of technology backup.

  • Greater discussion and deliberation on the appropriate technology for the learning task was a result of the transition to online delivery.


  • Negative
  • Print costs had been passed in some instances to students at a distance and to the ITS unit ? some academic staff seemed to be putting materials on the web to avoid producing handouts for face-to-face classes.

  • There were initial problems with bandwidth capacity.

  • Course delivery costs had increased.


  • Other outcomes
  • The project generated a demand for other areas of the University's operations to be more accessible online. (eg e-business, submission of assignments).

  • The project enabled the development of other online tools, such as an online survey instrument and a tool for recording generic attributes.

  • The course approvals process was modified to take account of flexible delivery issues.

  • Responsibility for the quality of learning resource production was passed back to academic staff (rather than administrative staff in the distance education division).


  • The University of South Australia summarised the critical incidents in its conversion to online delivery as:
  • An articulated, university-wide vision of its future learning environment, characterised by flexible learning strategies and ICT's applied appropriately to teaching and learning.

  • Creation of the Flexible Learning Centre, to bring about changes in staff development and student support.

  • University-wide budget restructuring to facilitate a communications and IT infrastructure supporting large-scale online teaching and learning initiatives.

  • Establishment of a common platform for developing online programs (UniSAnet).


  • The authors summarise the factors involved in the University of South Australia?s successful conversion from distance education to online delivery as: central planning; a commitment to a student?centred view of teaching and learning; and adequate resourcing (both infrastructure and professional development).

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