UniServe Science News Volume 17 November 2000


Moving Online: A conference to explore the challenges for workplaces, colleges and universities

Anne Fernandez
Educational Technologist, UniServe Science

The Moving Online conference was organised by the School of Social and Workplace Development at Southern Cross University. It was held on the Gold Coast, August 18 and 19 and was attended by 120 delegates representing 61 institutions and organisations.

The conference was organised in response to a growing need for management within institutions to address issues, such as quality control, as the boundaries between full time/part time, on-campus/off-campus, etc. become less meaningful, the constraint of pre-requisites is removed, the educational product is unbundled and the spread of delivery via the Web gains momentum. On-line delivery is seen to be a reasonable substitute for face to face with mature age students as this offers greater flexibility in terms of when, where, etc. However, more caution is recommended with the use of on-line delivery for transition students as they are more in need of the social contact and are still learning to manage their studies.

Academic Boards are facing a huge challenge with retention of quality and effectiveness as courses are delivered globally and in a variety of ways. Partnerships to share resources are being established locally, globally and across sectors. However, academics still need time to reflect on their courses.

The programme included 4 plenary sessions, 24 papers covering four themes (management, teaching and learning, research and case studies) and posters.

Plenary sessions

Shirley Alexander (University of Technology Sydney) in her session entitled Teaching online: Repackaging or rethinking learning stressed the need to refocus on:
  • theories of learning;
  • what students are doing; and
  • that the primary use of the Web should be communication and collaboration.
In her session entitled Research in online education, Joan Cashion (Swinburne University of Technology) noted that there have been very few longitudinal (over time) case studies in this area. She also questioned:
  • whether students were ready to take on the responsibility for their own studies; and
  • do we know what the effect of on-line learning is on study hours, student learning and retention rate?
Other plenary sessions addressed issues such as:
  • Change management models for e-learning in education (Paul Bacsich, Sheffield Hallam University); and
  • Flexible learning within the Australian Army (Colonel Wayne Sercombe, Department of Defence).


The following papers were seen to be of most interest:
  • 'Shovelware' as staff development: A useful introduction to moving online, Heather Sparrow, Jan Herrington and Anthony Herrington, Edith Cowan University
    One of the strategies adopted by Edith Cowan University includes simple conversion of print-based units to overcome the problems of large numbers of staff with limited on-line experience and significant pressure to get many courses on-line. Although not ideal it is producing some positive outcomes for students in terms of increased communication, accessibility and encouragement to use technology in learning. Once the material is on-line staff are encouraged to improve/remodel it. This experience of involvement in the project, and associated development opportunities, has resulted in substantial benefits for staff, as a first tentative step towards moving on-line. It has provided low risk entry and low demand on academic time but has given the academics ownership and control over content. The project has been much more effective staff development than conducting a workshop on moving to on-line delivery.

  • After the breakup: Responding to centralisation, Leura Cathcart and Michael Gleeson, TAFE Queensland on-line
    It is important that the department who owns the information is also responsible for it. However, it is also important to have some kind of overall process control, i.e. a standard look and feel. The central service group must manage the business process for the on-line operation, offer a support service to the departments and be seen to enhance the capabilities of the departments. It is also able to act as a focus for knowledge gathering and dissemination of information throughout the organisation thus allowing for the possibility of tapping into expertise across the organisation when required.

  • Course planning and design: Does a distance education model apply to online course planning and design, Val Clulow and Jan Brace-Govan, Monash University
    A distance education planning and development model was used as a management guide during the development of a protocol designed to assist academic staff when they are faced with the planning and design task of either converting traditional course material and communication strategies or creating new resources for on-line delivery. With on-line courses there is often a significant difference between the students' expectations and staff expectation of the students. There are also a greater number of stakeholders in the outcome and skills in managing their demands in relation to the outcome are a very visible challenge. Technical support and service are vital in the delivery of on-line courses, however, for many academics, the need to interact regularly on a technical level poses a constraint to progress. This paper raised many of the issues faced by academics (and students) confronted with the task of delivering part of their course on-line.

  • Management of change, especially relating to work practices, Julie Jackson and Jacqueline de Ferranti, La Trobe University
    The move to on-line learning at La Trobe has been accompanied by considerable technical and pedagogical training for staff and assistance in the use of technology to deliver courses.

  • Championing change to flexible learning in the tertiary sector: A journey beyond the comfort zone, Marie Kavanagh, The University of Queensland
    Universities must develop creative solutions in order to cope with the changing educational requirements of both domestic and international students. How flexible a course is depends on the subject, the skills of the staff and the skills of the students. The process of developing and offering a program for flexible learning involves: development (planning and design); delivery; evaluation; refinement; and maintenance. The learning curve is often very steep. The goal should be to achieve an appropriate balance of technical and professional support which enables both staff and students to use the new technologies to achieve enriched learning experiences in an environment that is complex and demanding.

  • Flexible initiatives in physics at ADFA, David Low, Alistair Drake and Peter Lynam, ADFA
    Three different approaches to flexible delivery of undergraduate physics courses have been trialled. Two of the course designers have opted to put most content and formative assessment on-line and to run classes as optional workshops or tutorials and to encourage group learning. The third has retained conventional lectures but is supplementing them with an evolving on-line resource of lecture summaries, links to relevant on-line materials and Frequently Asked Questions. Evaluations suggest that all three approaches have been welcomed by students and have enhanced learning.

  • Flexible assessment for flexible delivery: On-line examinations that beat the cheats, Jeremy Williams, Queensland University of Technology
    A commitment to flexible delivery necessarily requires a commitment to flexible assessment. The Flexible Assessment Model used gives students the choice of completing all, or some combination of a series of optional assessment items, such that it is possible that the final examination may be worth between 50 and 100 per cent. It is not up to students to nominate their preferred assessment combination in advance but a spreadsheet is used to identify which combination of assessment items maximises a student's mark. Any assessment item that yields a lower final mark is simply disregarded, and a summative assessment item is treated as formative assessment. In this way, a student can take advantage of the feedback they receive and avoid making the same mistake in the final examination. By electing not to complete the continuous assessment, a student foregoes this opportunity. Providing this flexibility in assessment caters for student diversity and different learning styles. There are significant benefits to be gained by both students and academics from setting on-line (open book) 'take-home' examinations.

Selected Poster

Contextualised professional development using peer on-line coordinators, Mary Hanrahan, Michael Ryan and Margot Duncan, QUT
Professional development for on-line teaching is provided by taking academics located in different schools and assisting them (e.g. technically and financially) to facilitate moves to on-line teaching by other academics within their areas.

Papers from Moving Online I are available in pdf format from

Moving Online II will take place on the Gold Coast from September 2 to 4, 2001. Further details are available from

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UniServe Science News Volume 17 November 2000

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