Award for Best Feature Article
At the OPSEU Editors’ Weekend, Local 110’s newsletter The Educator won an award for Best Feature Article. The winning piece was published in the March 2014 issue, co-authored by Jennifer Boswell and Darryl Bedford. Congratulations!
Here’s the original story as published:
What is Ontario Online— And why does it matter to you?
By Darryl Bedford and Jennifer Boswell
On January 13, 2014 Ontario Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities (MTCU) Brad Duguid announced a new institution called Ontario Online. The announcement, moderated by a student from Carleton University, was livestreamed and posted on Youtube under the title “MTCU Google Hangout.”
After a short speech by Duguid, one question each was posed from student panels at MacMaster, Confederation College, St. Clair College, Queens University and the University of Waterloo. Afterwards, questions from the media were allowed.
Who wasn’t part of this announcement? Faculty. Neither college faculty with OPSEU nor university faculty with the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations (OCUFA) were involved.
This is not surprising since neither group was consulted on the plan.
WHAT IS ONTARIO ONLINE?
Here are the basics:
- Dozens of Ontario post-secondary credits are to be centralized in one bureaucratic entity called Ontario Online
- $42 million dollars is being dedicated over 3 years to launch the site
- The site is scheduled to go live for the 2014/2015 academic year, with growing postsecondary participation expected over time
- Students will be able to access Ontario Online to take online courses offered by a range of colleges and universities
- Students will immediately know which institutions will recognize the credit, so credit transferability is key to the plan
- This “collaborative center of excellence” aims to improve the learning experience and provide better access to high quality post-secondary education from anywhere in the province.
Besides what is in the YouTube announcement, OCUFA (Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations) has published a leaked confidential memo from Deputy Minister Deb Newman with further details–http://ocufa.on.ca/wordpress/assets/Leaked-Memo-Online-learning.pdf
The Newman memo promises that, over time, there will be “increased productivity gains through collaboration, and an enhanced national and international profile for Ontario in the online learning landscape.”
Near the end of the YouTube announcement, a reporter referenced how far online technology extends reach. Duguid answered that there is no reason why Ontario Online can’t be global.
WHO DEVELOPED ONTARIO ONLINE?
This is a program developed collaboratively by ‘representatives’—without faculty or other support staff—from Ontario’s colleges and universities. Discussions were held in the summer of 2013.
Duguid says that all Ontario colleges are on board, as they had already organized themselves in preparation for this initiative. Some universities are also ready to participate. It is expected that more universities may come on board as the program gets up and running.
Discussions in summer 2013 were so positive, in Duguid’s words, that the minister expects Ontario Online to be embraced by most if not all Ontario postsecondary institutions. Although Duguid says in the video that no institution will be forced to participate,
one leaked document makes it clear that every college and university will be forced to accept each others’ courses for credit.
From the student perspective, improved and transparent credit transferability seems a significant improvement.
STRUCTURE OF ONTARIO ONLINE
From another leaked document, see on this page a visual depiction of Ontario Online.
At the top of the chart sits a Board of Directors, and directly beneath the board are two committees. There aren’t any college or university faculty on the Board of Directors, nor any indication that they may be on the Course Committees.
In his announcement Duguid explained that the Course Hub will coordinate shared courses. The central point is to “maximize scale in mutual recognition of academic credit.”
The Knowledge Hub will develop and share best practices, research and data.
The Support Hub is the only place faculty are mentioned in the leaked document. In Duguid’s presentation, he noted it will offer “centralized support for students, instructors and institutions while reducing costs through collaboration on tools, services and technology.” This online portal will ensure one-stop access to courses, research and teaching resources. As online programs need to be accessible, this support structure will ensure that “students, instructors and institutions” can get to the available resources.
WHERE WILL THE COURSES COME FROM?
One of the colleges has disclosed that each college will be paid $75,000 to develop each of two courses. Proposals have already been submitted, midterm reports are due to the Ministry of Training Colleges and Universities (MTCU) by March 14, and all development activities will be complete by September 1, 2014.
Instead of college faculty making decisions as to which courses will go online, it is clear that the decisions are being made by the bureaucrats.
One college’s administration has disclosed that their two courses will be electives. At first thought, perhaps a college offering two electives online is no big deal. However, consider that the other 23 colleges may do the same with their two course contributions. That would be 48 electives that each college may be required to recognize. What impact will 48 online electives have on a department such as Fanshawe’s School of Language and Liberal Studies?
No faculty participation: A steering committee will have representatives from OntarioLearn, Ontario Universities Online, and Contact North. Again, there is no mention of college or university faculty.
Job security and/or job losses: What will happen to people employed across the post-secondary education sector? Duguid stated that Ontario Online will eliminate duplication in “developing material, learning techniques and technology.”
Duguid also mentioned “intellectual technology,” (whatever this means) noting that it will be shared in terms of costs, and “formulas will have to be worked out with the organization.”
Job losses seem an inevitable consequence of “reduced duplication” across institutions.
JP Hornick, OPSEU College Faculty Divisional Executive Chair expressed, “We are concerned that the Ontario Online initiative is primarily a cost-cutting venture intended to facilitate larger class sizes and increased hiring of part-time and contract teaching staff.”
Use of term ‘instructor’ rather than ‘faculty’ or ‘professor’: The teaching and subject expertise of college faculty is being undermined in our colleges, particularly through management intervention in areas that aren’t their purview. The persistent use of the term ‘instructors’ throughout Duguid’s presentation coupled with the absence of faculty participation exposes the continued undermining of faculty’s expertise and qualifications.
Education: What will happen to student success and retention? Actual learning? Actual education? St. Clair College asked a question prefaced by the statistics regarding low student completion rates (about 15%) for MOOCs (massive open online courses). Given this grim statistic, the students asked, “how will quality and relevance be maintained?” The minister’s answer repeated previous assurances of quality and the mantra of “student choice.” The courses would be “implemented thoughtfully.” Duguid noted that research will be a part of this initiative also.
Intellectual property rights: If faculty members are asked to do this work, who will own the intellectual property rights? Will existing curriculum be uploaded to be used over and over again? Will faculty be properly compensated for its usage?
Business/customer-service model: The jargon of business and innovation-speak peppered Duguid’s talk: “excellence,” “innovation,” “high quality,” “globally competitive,” “maximizing scale,” becoming “leaders rather than followers.” There wasn’t one reference to educational principles or theory.
Duguid noted that he was previously the Minister for Economic Development and Innovation, and that Ontario Online offered great opportunities in these areas. The University of Waterloo panel noted that Waterloo was known for its expertise and entrepreneurship, and asked pointedly “how can entrepreneurs get involved?” Duguid was very enthusiastic. “We need you!”
Cost driven: Duguid asked the rhetorical question “do savings drive this?” No, he answered, “quality drives this,” but we can’t deny that “there will be savings to the system and we don’t shy away from that.”
FACULTY ARE THE EXPERTS
Online teaching can have its place. However, education will not be advanced through a centralized post-secondary credit-granting organization run by bureaucrats and accountants. College and university faculty who are “on the ground” in contact with the students and who have teaching and subject expertise should be assessing the learning needs. We are the experts.