University of Alberta Senate

Senate Task Force on Technology in Learning

Executive Summary
22 September 1995

Student learning styles and needs are highly individualized. Universities are facing new challenges as they attempt to assess and meet growing demand for full- and part-time, distance and remote learning opportunities; internationalized curricula and study opportunities; work- based study and ongoing professional development; and special needs of disabled students. Interest in distance learning particularly is growing, and postsecondary institutions and the private sector are entering that market in increasing numbers. The resulting "mobility" of students is placing renewed emphasis on quality and suitability of the institution's programs to attract students.

Societal needs are also changing, bringing increased needs for lifelong learning and learning on demand. There are increasing pressures to provide affordable access for more students to postsecondary education. Under severe financial constraints, universities are being called on to deliver the very highest quality of education in more efficient ways than ever before.

The predominant face-to-face, contact-hour model of instruction has been effective in the past, but it cannot be scaled to accommodate larger numbers of students without increasing instructional hours, physical plant and capital resources. Alternative delivery methods are made possible by technology, and these, combined with new capabilities for student services and communication, may lead to a technology-enabled, learner-centred and learner-controlled paradigm of learning.

The University of Alberta is able to meet these challenges. Through telecommunications and information technologies, the University can remove barriers of time and space that are inherent in the face-to-face model. Through advanced instructional design and multimedia delivery, it can enhance effectiveness, quality and access to education. The options and opportunities have never been greater. To incorporate technology in teaching and learning successfully, the University will need to:

  • commit firmly to the use of multimodal and technology-based educational delivery and support mechanisms to meet changing student needs.
  • provide or seek partnership resources to meet the challenge.
  • be willing to adapt organizational structures and services to provide flexibility in design, scheduling, delivery and accreditation of courses and degree programs.
  • conduct ongoing research into the effectiveness of various modes of delivery and existing and emerging technologies for learning.
  • work collaboratively with other institutions, governments and the private sector at local, provincial, national and international levels to facilitate development of infrastructure, resolve technology-related legal and social issues, and develop new funding and coordinating mechanisms for an evolving postsecondary education system.

It is the view of this task force that universities are on the brink of an education "revolution". Through technology, institutions can serve their clients in effective, exciting, and flexible new ways. Opportunities are emerging to share resources and vastly increase access to global knowledge. The technologies and the opportunities they create are already being incorporated by institutions which strive to be leaders in their selected fields. There is a window of opportunity for universities with the will and creativity to harness technology for the benefit of the student, the learning community and society.

Just as there are great opportunities for institutions that rise to the challenge, there will also be a cost to those institutions which do not. Students will "go" where education best suits their needs, and provides them the greatest return for their investment. The University of Alberta's success in meeting this challenge is critical to its future.


1. A vision for the future

The task force believes that technology goals should be based on organizational goals. The task force offers the following vision of the learning environment at the University of Alberta in the year 2005. This vision statement expresses what this task force sees as possible and necessary for the University of Alberta to achieve its overall mission of becoming an institution that is universally recognized for the excellence of its degrees in a knowledge-based global economy.

By the year 2005...

The University of Alberta will incorporate a learner-centred instructional model which integrates multi-media and technology-based delivery methods with traditional classroom instruction to serve students who are locally, regionally, nationally and globally based. This model will feature a variety of opportunities for lifelong learning that are rich in content, widely accessible and affordable.

Learning will take place in an environment that emphasizes quality of instruction using research-based program content. The role of the teacher will increasingly be that of a learning facilitator and guide, within an area of subject expertise. Instructors will develop and use technology-based, learner-controlled educational materials and communications media. Through excellent instructional design, the time and expertise of the teacher will be used to the greatest advantage for the learner, the teacher and the institution. Through collaborations, exchanges and partnerships with other institutions, governments and the private sector, students will be given access to the best resources and learning opportunities available, both on and off the campus.

As more students choose to study from remote locations, on their own schedules and for individual purposes, course content, student-faculty interaction, library and other student support services will be provided electronically as well as in person. Programs will become more flexible to accommodate life-long learning for a variety of students: on- campus and distance learners, full- and part-time students; those requiring ongoing professional development and those requiring special access due to disabilities.

Ongoing research into the feasibility and effectiveness of existing and emerging technologies and their applications in learning will be part of the University's commitment to lifelong learning, adding to the capabilities of University of Alberta faculty and to the body of knowledge available to global educators. Such research, together with leadership in technology-enabled teaching, will enhance the University's reputation as a globally-renowned centre of learning.

The University's administrative systems will accommodate and support both faculty and students in this technology- enabled, "learning-on-demand" environment. The Administration will ensure that the technology infrastructure is both functional and widely available to support its use by students and staff.

2. Realizing the vision

In order to achieve this vision, the following measures are recommended:

2.1 Senior administration should formally state its commitment to the development and optimal use of technology to support a student-centred, technology-enabled learning environment.

2.2 Policies should be developed and communicated which reflect the commitment and intentions of senior management toward achieving the desired learning environment.

Examples of policy issues include:

  • the University's commitment to reallocating resources and seeking partnerships and development support for production of technology-based learning materials and applications.
  • the responsibility and accountability of faculties and individual staff members in implementing technology in the learning environment and curricula. This includes the need for academic staff to have sufficient skills to develop technology-based learning materials in conjunction with technical staff and to teach effectively using a variety of educational media.
  • the acknowledgement, support and rewards that will promote teaching innovations and the development of effective and cost-efficient electronic resource materials and courseware, in keeping with the value that the University places on excellence in teaching, and in balance with the value it places on research.
  • the ongoing institutional commitment to ensure that an adequate technology infrastructure is in place to support a technology-enhanced learning environment, and to ensure adequate, reliable access to that infrastructure from on and off the campus on a continuous basis.
  • requiring students to purchase or arrange adequate access to computers and applications that are appropriate to their programs of study, and the commitment of the University to facilitate student access to computing resources.

2.3 Responsibility should be assigned within the Vice-President (Academic) portfolio for the development of a strategic plan to ensure that the institution's instructional vision and goals are clearly formulated, articulated and realized within its constituent faculties. The urgency of the need to make the transition to a multimodal, technology-intensive delivery model requires that the plan be developed and implemented quickly; however, the magnitude of change and the significant initial investments that are inherent in the transition may require that the plan take a phased approach where possible. Because the transition will affect all faculties and will pervade the campus culture and operations, there is a strong need to maximize commitment to, participation in, and support for this initiative among the majority of academic staff.

Elements of the strategic plan could address, but are not limited to, the following issues:

  • learning and client-service goals of the institution that will be supported through technology.
  • institutional performance measures which will be used in evaluating progress toward academic and program goals.
  • roles and commitments of Deans and Chairs in designing and implementing faculty and department goals and strategies, developing leadership teams, and fostering individual initiative in applying technology in learning.
  • evaluation and alignment of existing service and educational delivery units in the University to improve cohesiveness, reduce duplication and improve service.
  • the types, levels, priorities and methods of evaluating the computing and online services required by both the institution and the student to support alternative delivery, such as Internet access; email; off campus access to computing services; computer labs and walk-up connections to the campus backbone; library access; advice to students on computer requirements; student information systems; etc.
  • training and support for faculty including training in a variety of instructional media techniques and design, to enable them to teach effectively in a technology- enhanced environment.
  • computer training and support for students.
  • review and revision of hiring and performance evaluation criteria to reflect institutional priorities on effective use of technology for teaching, and to promote a better balance of reward structures between research and teaching activities.
  • communication mechanisms and team approaches to promote interdisciplinary exchange of information and sharing of developed resources such as educational databases, software applications, course modules, and equipment.
  • a plan for upgrading of classrooms, laboratories, workstations and other facilities to accommodate alternative delivery of course materials and lectures, and to allow staff and students to take full advantage of available and emerging technologies. Analysis of classroom requirements, ranking of needs, budgeting, and sourcing of significant funds for upgrading need to be part of the planning process.
  • resource planning which identifies opportunities for reallocating existing resources, as well as potential development activities, partnerships, collaboration, grant opportunities, product marketing and other revenue-generating activities that will allow the University of Alberta to meet its academic goals.
  • strategic alliances within the postsecondary education community, with governments and the private sector to support technology-enabled learning.
  • collaborative development of research activities that add to existing knowledge about learning effectiveness using alternative delivery techniques.
  • priorities and time frames for initial and subsequent development of the learning environment, teaching tools and technology-based curriculum, as well as for development of organizational supports and services.

3.Establishing leadership

3.1 The University should immediately establish an "Instructional Innovation Hub" to promote initial leadership, coordination, staff training and demonstrations of technological innovation for teaching and learning. The Hub would promote campus-wide communication and information sharing among departments and faculties. Its goals would include promotion of self-sufficiency among faculties and departments in using technologies for effective learning.

3.2 The University should consider creating a multidisciplinary degree, for example, Technology Industry Studies, or Global Technology Studies, that would allow students to combine technology skills with subject knowledge, and permit them to enter the global knowledge industry from a variety of disciplines.

3.3 The University should consider adding a requirement within all doctoral programs that the student complete a course on effective instructional design using alternative delivery methods. This measure would place the University of Alberta in a leadership position, by being the first to place a priority on advanced pedagogical training in the use of technology.