The introduction of eLearning at the University of Glamorgan was integrated in a strategic reorientation. The new teaching and learning strategy aimed at promoting greater flexibility in learning styles and strategies and supporting them through staff development programmes. Lecturers in many departments were starting to explore computer-supported learning to meet the aspirations of new students, however many of them complained about the lack of direction or support for development in this area. The university then got a structural fund from the European Union which led to the foundation of the ‘E-College’, a collaboration in business and management education with six partners of the university across Wales to offer full online programmes.
During the transition from traditional learning arrangements to eLearning a couple of (unexpected) issues arose: While in the prevailing administrative structures the boundaries between academic departments and support departments were well protected by tradition and culture, the development of an eLearning environment led to the creation of multi-disciplinary teams from different academic support and administrative departments. These changes were posing challenges to heads of department who might have seen this blurring as a threat to their power. Changed roles of the staff in further education threatened the existing hierarchies and pre-conception about the status of further education in comparison to higher education. Another challenge for faculty was the new practice of dealing with colleagues without an academic tradition from outside the security of shared assumptions of the own discipline. Legal issues emerged, such as the problem of obtaining copyright clearance, and the lack of knowledge of academic staff regarding rights regulations. Also the debates on intellectual property rights were underestimated. Issues of staff compensations, incentives and timetables had to be addressed. The financial implications of eLearning, i. e. the necessity to allocate resources away from traditional delivery, have a far-reaching impact on the culture and morals of the university.
The authors conclude that a dynamic and flexible interplay between deliberate and emergent strategies is needed to manage change in universities. To deal with the various issues that eLearning brings up major shifts in human resources policies in universities are required.
This article depicts candidly the manifold cultural challenges of the integration of eLearning in the case study university. This unusual forthrightness of sharing “lessons learned" makes the article worth reading especially for strategic planners in higher education. In the description of the strategic challenges the authors merge literature references and the results of the case study. A drawback of the article seems to me, that it doesn’t always become clear to the reader whether a proposition is based only on literature or refers to the results of the case study. It will be interesting to follow up the further developments at E-College after the ending of the European funding program in October 2005.
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