Faculty role key to quality of distance
learning, says Bulger
R. Buchholz, Chronicle staff
William M. Bulger addresses a Sept. 28 forum on proposed distance
learning programs. (Stan Sherer photo)
ourses and degrees for the new system-wide distance-learning initiative
will be subject to the same faculty governance procedures as other
University courses, President William M. Bulger and Vice President
for Academic Affairs Selma Botman told a crowd of about 260 at a
Sept. 28 meeting. Botman also underscored the role of individual
faculty in developing and delivering courses as a source of quality
Education is part of the University of Massachusetts," she
said, referring to the division which is likely to oversee distance-learning
offerings. "Those same procedures [for course approval] will
apply to UMass Online. The content developers are ... the faculty."
protection for the reputation of the University is to anchor the
quality control within the faculty of a department or campus or
cross-campus group," said Lowell campus Chancellor William
across the five campuses will be invested with quality control,"
Botman and Bulger each also asserted that there will not be a system-wide
degree, a suggestion that appeared in the original Pricewaterhouse
Coopers report on the feasibility of a system-wide distance-learning
initiative commissioned by the Board of Trustees.
not be a system degree," Botman said. "We do expect that
there will be joint degrees, so campuses that want to collaborate
... will be encouraged to do so."
Faculty, staff and students crowded into a Lincoln Campus Center
room, standing across the back and overflowing several rows deep
at all four exits, to observe and ask questions of the panel.
William M. Bulger, Vice President for Academic Affairs Selma
Botman and UMass Lowell Chancellor William Hogan listen to a
speaker during last week's forum on distance learning. (Stan
K. Scott moderated, and Bulger, along with Botman and Hogan, who
are co-chairing the Professional and Distance Education Transition
Advisory Committee, made up the panel. The function of the advisory
committee is to move the University from its tentative, general
plan to pursue the creation of UMass Online to a specific, fixed
plan of action.
The panel fielded
questions about quality control within UMass Online, funding sources
for the initiative, governance of online courses and degrees, the
impacts on faculty workloads and on-campus students, the possibility
that faculty will become isolated from each other, and accessibility.
Botman said the
goal of the distance-learning initiative is three-fold: to reach
students who would not otherwise have access to the University system;
"to generate revenue through Continuing Education for faculty,
departments, colleges, and programs"; and "to create a
technologically sophisticated institution."
professor of English, asked about the effect of the initiative on
the number of classes faculty would be asked to teach and whether
additional classes would mean increased remuneration. Botman said
faculty will be paid for delivering and developing courses.
But when Steven
Brewer, a lecturer in Biology, asked whether faculty will retain
intellectual property rights, Botman said that because the transition
committee wants more input from faculty and administrators before
deciding how to proceed on that "critical question, ... We
have deliberately not taken a policy decision yet."
expressed concern that funds used to invest in UMass Online could
be spent better on the campus to support programs like English as
a Second Language, which they said is being cut.
Bulger said that
the initiative will be funded through cash reserves as an investment
that he is confident will generate substantial revenue, much of
which will be returned to the campus that produced it. He said that
the use of funds for UMass Online will not affect the state appropriations
the campus receives.
Botman said another
source of revenue might be the $6 million distance education initiative
by the U.S. military, which has called for proposals from universities
and others involved in distance learning. The University is looking
into participating in that program, she said.
repeatedly questioned the wisdom of proceeding with UMass Online
and even Bulger and Scott's intentions, Bulger made it clear that
the issue at this point is not whether to join the distance-learning
business but how.
competitor [is doing it]," Bulger said. "I think we have
to because I think people want it. Every single indicator is that
more and more people are coming online.
"Have some confidence that people are trying to work their
way through this thing. We want to adopt positions based on the
collective input [of the campuses]."
and students asked about accessibility issues. Some wondered whether
distance education would become the poor person's university, others
that it would be too costly for many students. Some asked about
accessibility for students with disabilities, and one student expressed
concern that the University might cease providing "live"
accommodations for students with disabilities if educating them
through online courses became cheaper.
earlier remarks by Scott that distance learning would likely be
used by a wide variety of people. Bulger acknowledged that there
may be problems with cost but said, "We would like to make
it more accessible." Both said that specifics are still being
worked out and that the forum was part of that process.
will be very important to us," said Hogan, referring to issues
of cost. He said the Lowell campus has had success with charging
higher prices for electronic professional education and more moderate
prices for traditional undergraduate courses. He said his campus
has followed the socioeconomic profile of its distance learners
by checking their ZIP codes.
a mix," he said.
a senior in Computer Science, asked about financial aid and student
services, such as advising, for online learners. Botman replied
that student services are critical and that all services one expects
to find in a university environment will have to be considered as
the plan develops. But she also stressed that the most likely users
of UMass Online will not be people pursuing an undergraduate degree
from scratch, but those wishing to complete a degree or to get master's
or certificate-level education, presumably people who are already
familiar with higher education.
for Outreach Bob Helgesen told the audience that the Faculty Senate's
Outreach Council has a subcommittee of faculty and students which
will continue to examine issues around the creation of UMass Online.
The subcommittee includes members of the advisory committee chaired
by Hogan and Botman, director of Continuing Education Kevin Aiken,
who is the campus representative on the transition team in the President's
Office, and campus representatives on the search committee for the
CEO of UMass Online: Computer Science chair Jim Kurose and Journalism
professor Ralph Whitehead. The campus representatives on the transition
advisory committee are Massachusetts Society of Professors president
Jane Giacobbe, School of Nursing dean Eileen Breslin, director of
Libraries Margo Crist, Marketing professor Eric Berkowitz, director
of Applied Management Linda Enghagen, and Whitehead.