Mark Jones, On Virtualization at Queen’s and Beyond (29 July 2011)

As sent to campus lists, 29 July 2011. To download the draft report, click here:

On Virtualization and Differentiation of Ontario Universities

Dear Colleagues:

I am writing to share with you a report, recently drafted for the Senate Academic Planning Task Force (APTF), on the subject of virtualization at Queen’s and beyond.  The report situates recent initiatives at Queen’s within the context of recent proposals for an Ontario Online Institute and for “greater differentiation” (i.e., specialization) among Ontario’s post-secondary institutions.   The report outlines ways in which our present Administration has sought to coordinate Queen’s with these developments at the provincial level.

Given the present polarized state of Queen’s campus, with maybe fifteen hundred employees represented by QUFA and CUPE “no-boarded” and contemplating lockout or strike as a real possibility, it is clearly both a bad and a good time to send you this.  Bad because, with so much happening, who has time to read 45 pages on virtualization and the “greater differentiation of Ontario’s post-secondary sector”?  Good, because the picture that emerges here fits with and enlarges the picture on campus.

Briefly put, Ontario appears to be contemplating a restructuring of post-secondary education in which the stripping of campuses of certain academic units and functions will be facilitated by the creation of an “online institute” and of more efficient inter-institutional credit-transfer mechanisms.  Thus, students at Queen’s may no longer need departments of, say, Italian or Film, since our students will be able to take these subjects online from U of T or Western or somewhere else in Ontario for credit at Queen’s.  This way of doing “less with less”  envisions that future students would routinely take a certain portion of their courses online.

The assumption that online learning is adequate as a substitute (as opposed to supplement) for the interaction of students and teachers in real classrooms is highly problematic.  Yet the province and the university appear to be proceeding, full steam ahead, with initiatives that will significantly expand and normalize this practice as an element of post-secondary education.  I hope some of you will share my view that students and faculty need to be aware of this picture and to exert pressure on the Administration to reconsider the direction it has been taking.

Thanks for your consideration.


P.S.  I should emphasize that this is a draft submitted to the APTF.  I am now on sabbatical leave until January 1, and therefore not actively engaged with the task force.  It remains to be seen whether or how fully this draft makes its way into the final version of the Academic Plan.
This entry was posted in Academic Planning Task Force, Context - National, Provincial, Governmental, Differentiation of Ontario Universities, Ontario Online Institute, Open Letters, Virtualization / Online learning. Bookmark the permalink.

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