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Technology Principles Approved By the Board of Regents

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Atlanta — April 21, 1999

Britain’s Sir John Daniel told the Board of Regents today that “mountaineers say that they climb mountains ‘because they are there’,” but that’s “not good enough as a reason for investing public money” in distance learning technology.

One of the United Kingdom’s leading thinkers and higher education administrators – knighted by Queen Elizabeth for his service to the profession in 1994 – Sir John Daniel is vice-chancellor of the Open University in the United Kingdom and president of the United States Open University. After having served as president of Laurentian University in Ontario, Canada, and now in his current posts, he may be the first person ever to head universities in three countries: Canada, Britain and the U.S.

Sir John’s presentation, which emphasized the impact and implications of instructional technology, was delivered to the Board of Regents’ Strategic Planning Committee (also known as the Committee of the Whole). It served as the backdrop for the final approval of the regents technology principles, which are aimed at enhancing educational delivery and access to the academic programs of the University System of Georgia. Titled “Distance Learning and Clear Thinking,” the pointed presentation focused on the critical questions of cost, access and quality which permeate higher education worldwide.

According to Sir John, distance learning initiatives that “are based on (a) single technology are implausible,” because a broader context is needed. “The notions that ‘the Web will solve that’ or ‘videoconferencing is the answer’ simply don’t stand up,” he stated.

“Distance learning uses a combination of hard and soft technologies,” he stated. “Hard technologies are bits and bytes, electrons and e-mail, satellites and search engines. Soft technologies are processes, approaches, sets of rules and models of organization. The most important key to using distance learning in a way that is both intellectually powerful and competitively cost-effective is to get the soft technologies right. The hard technologies change.”

Sir John highlighted the Open University’s success, and the quality measurements and statistics that validate that success. He said the Open University – first established in 1969 and headquartered in Milton Keynes, England – ranks 11th out of 98 universities in the UK. With 160,000 students in degree credit courses, including a graduate school of 30,000, and about 1,500 research students, it is the largest university in that country. The institution employs 3,600 full-time staff members and 7,000 associate faculty. The majority of its students are aged 25-45, yet 800 enrollees are over age 80. Last year, 30,000 people took OU courses outside of the UK, and wrote their exams in 111 countries.

Sir John cited that the U.S. Open University, which is registered in Delaware, achieved candidacy for accreditation status with the Middle States Association of School and Colleges this past February. He said the University will seek licenses to operate in other states as the need arises. Currently, the University is seeking partnerships with American universities and community colleges “in the joint development of distance learning programs that reach beyond individual states.” Partnerships have already been developed with Florida State University and the Western Governors University.

Sir John’s comments were the precursor to the Board of Regents passage of its technology principles, which were read for the first time in April, and received final approval at today’s meeting. The principles are titled “Education Enterprise and the Age of Learning: Transforming the Enterprise,” and are organized under four headings, which include:

  • Expanding access, which is aimed at minimizing prohibitive student technology costs, and developing and maintaining “anytime/anywhere” access to the System’s educational offerings and support services;
  • Enhancing learning via active student involvement in career planning, faculty training and development, electronic library services, and life-long learning;
  • Enriching opportunity by responding to workforce development needs and fostering the transfer of new business technologies and applications; and
  • Shaping effective financing and innovative governance, by creating fiscal and academic policies which support on-campus, off-campus and on-line education; and encouraging collaboration which optimizes the University System of Georgia’s fiscal and administrative operations.

Since September, the Board of Regents has engaged in an extensive study of technology’s impact on higher education, first reviewing the current landscape and the entrepreneurship that has taken place on the University System of Georgia’s campuses. The principles approved today will be followed by the development of action items, which will be presented for first reading at the May board meeting and potentially adopted in June 1999.

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