Distance, Climate, Demographics and the Development of Online Courses in Newfoundland and Labrador

Distance, Climate, Demographics and the Development of Online Courses in Newfoundland and Labrador

Scott Reid (Department of Business Administration, Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John’s, Canada)
DOI: 10.4018/jantti.2013040102


One of the assertions of the Actor-Network Theory is that physical factors can be actors within a network of other factors which determine the development and use of technology. This paper documents the impact of climate, distance and demographics on the adoption of online courses at Memorial University of Newfoundland in Canada. The qualitative study demonstrates that these physical factors did influence professor’s decisions to use online courses. The findings support the Actor-Network Theory and provide insight into the interaction of physical and human actors within a network that facilitated the adoption of online courses at the university being studied.
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Memorial University is the largest university in Atlantic Canada and the only university in Newfoundland and Labrador. There are 18,000 students engaged in full- and part-time studies at undergraduate and graduate levels at the university. The university employs 950 full-time faculty, 850 sessional instructors, and 2,300 administrative and support staff (Memorial University, 2009). It has campuses in St. John’s, Newfoundland, Corner Brook, Newfoundland, and a smaller campus in Harlow, England. Undergraduate and graduate degrees, as well as diploma and certificate programs, are offered in the faculties of arts, business, education, engineering, medicine, music, nursing, pharmacy, physical education, science, and social work. The institution was founded in 1925 as Memorial University College and was granted university status in 1949 when it was rededicated to honour the province’s casualties from the World Wars.

Newfoundland and Labrador has a sparse population of 508,944 (Newfoundland and Labrador Statistics Agency, 2009) spread over a huge geographic area. The province is also faced with variable and often harsh climatic conditions. These geographic and climatic conditions may have provided the impetus for the university to become a leader in the development of distance education. The province is located on Canada’s East Coast, with the island portion of the province located in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the larger Labrador portion on the Canadian mainland. The total area of the province is 405,720 square kilometres, which is more than three times the size of the other Atlantic Provinces combined (Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island). If it were one of the United States, Newfoundland and Labrador would rank fourth in size behind Alaska, Texas, and California. It is almost one and three quarters the size of Great Britain. The early settlement patterns of the province were influenced by the reliance on the fishing industry, which resulted in most of the population being widely spread in small communities along the more than 17,000 kilometres of coastline (O’Flaherty, 1999). The enormous but sparsely populated area of Newfoundland and Labrador, with its severe geographic and climatic conditions, has posed a number of challenges to the traditional on-campus mode of university education.

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