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Towards a multiversity: A keynote session with Professor Paul Bacsich

Although Ed Flagg passed away, his erudite posts are still part of the online world of learning. As such, I would like to share another gem of his from the archive.

Professor Paul Bacsich was our first keynote speaker at this year's [2012] Distance Education Association New Zealand (DAENZ) conference in Wellington. Professor Bacsich, from the University of Canterbury, provided a grand overview of the state of eLearning on a global perspective, providing a brief critique and some suggestions about how to move beyond the current landscape: the 'Multeversity'.

The Multeversity (then called "Multiversity") started off life as an analytic container to bring together a lot of my work on virtual universities, colleges and schools over the last four years, but as I got into a number of related projects (OER, retention, funding, VLEs, etc) my former worries about the long-term health of the university sector began to surface again. I see the Multeversity as a university for the 21st century which will be both better and cheaper than the current models (both distance and campus).

It should make best use of distance learning, web 3.0 technology and open educational resources to reduce the system cost (to government and student) of gaining a degree, while maintaining or even improving the quality (measured by international benchmarking where feasible) by appropriate (not obsessional) use of learner analytics including to increase the personalisation by data-driven AI.  Fostering of social skills and the 21st century skills relevant to employers and citizens should not be neglected.

University-level education (broadly constructed) would be the core mission of the Multeversity but we need to assess the value of including vocational and professional education (including teacher training) as well as better facilitation of the school-university transition (preparatory courses, credit recovery, fast study of missing material from school etc)

- From Professor Bacsich's blog (4th August 2012)

The talk was engaging. Globally, eLearning has encountered what Professor Bacsich refers to as a ‘spaghetti junction’, with many converging and sometimes competing interests, directions and visions. The questions that governments and institutions are asking themselves and issues they should be dealing with include:
  • Confusion about whether the eLearning focus should be broad or narrow
  • There seems to ge a lack of clarity of purpose
  • Retention is bad in many countries
  • Funding governments cannot or will not pay
  • Lack of research on the role, funding and relevance to teaching
  • Understanding the student life, including study life

He notes that the lack of progress into these and other issues in eLearning is startling.

What is needed?

  • Research into time effectiveness and learning for both students and staff
  • Reconceptualising assessment
  • Research into student satisfaction, we must better understand student life situation
  • Develop the research/teaching links
  • Research has value for the nation but not for the student/course/institution

Where is the step-change? Prof. Bacsich suggests:

  • Weave together colleges, polytecs & Universities and senior secondary schools with blended learning
  • Make teaching and learning broad spectrum and multimode, covering synergistic areas, bringing T&L into and from upper secondary; generate liberal arts thinking yet make students business-ready; link with international partners to lobby governments at ensuring true benchmarkable quality; and join with employers to set school-lever exams

How to do it:

  • Start now
  • Know thyself
  • Incremental approaches
  • Change-management tools
  • Compelling vision and will
  • Leadership at all levels, especially middle managersacsich, eLearning


For more, please see 'Researching Virtual Initiatives in Education'. 

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Comment by Hazel Owen on April 16, 2012 at 15:12

A really useful synopsis, thanks, Ed. I wonder, what with the funding model currently in place in NZ and other parts of the world, if any true 'weaving together' is actually possible? It might sound quite negative, but while much of education provision is seen as a competition with league tables etc etc is there really a chance for collaboration, or will it be, at best, cooperation?

Thanks for sharing this post, and really looking forward to reading about the other sessions that you attended at the DEANZ 2012 conference.

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