The Casual Academic in University Distance Education: From Isolation to Integration – A Prescription for Change

The Casual Academic in University Distance Education: From Isolation to Integration – A Prescription for Change

Katrina Higgins (Central Queensland University, Australia) and R. E.(Bobby) Harreveld (R. E. (Bobby) HarreveldCentral Queensland University, Australia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-3978-2.ch016
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Contextual changes in Australian universities such as the growth of the Internet, a new student population, and an emphasis on re-education and lifelong learning are manifest in a repositioning of distance education from the margins to the centre of concern. In addition, recent reform imperatives have future implications for distance education as it is considered integral to delivering on Australian Government policy in terms of increased socially inclusive engagements in university education. However, there is scant policy conversation about the experiences of academics who deliver distance education programs. In addition to this, the delivery of distance education is often undertaken by academics employed in a casual capacity. The experiences of the teaching workforce in distance education need to be explored and issues addressed if the future of distance education in higher education is to be a sustainable one for meeting the needs of university education in the new millennium.
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Distance Education And Higher Education Reform In Australia

Distance education has been slowly evolving since the 18th century, beginning with correspondence study and evolving into the 21st century electronic forms that deliver education at a distance (Harting & Erthal, 2005). During this time, distance education was repositioned from an ‘alternative’ form of education for learners isolated from educational institutions to mainstream integration, due in part to the emergence of the Internet/Web, which has continued to change the way information is provided and the ways people interact with that information (Kearsley, 1998, p. 22). Technology and the growth of the Internet has been a key trend that has not only changed distance education but also changed the ways in which all universities now operate (Folkers, 2005; Yick, Patrick, & Costin, 2005; Wheeler, 2004). More than three quarters of all higher education providers now offer online courses and this is set to increase (Yick et al., 2005). Dual mode institutions, which teach both on-campus and distance students, are now the norm in Australia (Stacey & Visser, 2005).

The current main-streaming of distance education has also been, in part, driven by market forces over the last decade during which students demanded learning that is accessible and flexible. This new demand for convenience has been fuelled by adult learners requiring part-time learning; they represent the emergence of a new student population (Kearsley, 1998). Adult learners have a continued need for knowledge acquisition in order to keep skills up to date in a quest for greater job security, the result of which has been significant growth in the numbers of mature age students in universities. This trend also ensures adults have ongoing relationships with higher education as they seek lifelong learning throughout their careers (Folkers, 2005). As a result, a new type of university student has emerged: one that is older and typically studying part-time in order to incorporate full-time employment and/or families; the result being a demand for flexibility and convenience in their ongoing lifelong learning experiences (Folkers, 2005). Therefore, distance education’s real force lies in its flexibility in meeting the needs of 21st century societies (Kearsley, 1998).

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