There’s a gap between the goals of academics and those of their institutions when it comes to teaching and learning.

Added to this, staff workload and the requirements driven by the Performance Based Research Fund are having a significant impact on teaching practice.

Those are some of the findings of a PhD recently completed by Tertiary Education Union (TEU) Crozier Scholarship recipient Belinda Dawson.

Dawson’s thesis - Individual,Institutional and Environmental Factors Influencing Online Distance Tertiary Teaching in New Zealand- unpacks the experiences of staff when designing and teaching online distance courses.

Dawson gathered data from Massey University, Victoria University of Wellington, and the Open Polytechnic on the impact of systemic as well as individual factors on course design and teaching in the online distance learning environment.

“At an institutional level, workload allocation and processes around the division of labour in course design had the most impact for participants. Staff frequently felt they did not have sufficient time to effectively teach, due to demands of the administration and service aspects of their role. Although I looked at only a small number of staff at each institution, what I found when I presented these findings at conferences was that the challenges and influencing factors identified in each case resonated with many staff teaching at other institutions, both within New Zealand and overseas”.

Dawson also found government funding models impacted on staff through organisational pressure to achieve certain pass rates for their courses, and to produce sufficient research outputs. She also found the implicit notion of students as consumers affected teachers’relationships with both students, and management.

The findings suggest that an optimal solution to providing quality online courses would involve sufficient resourcing for online courses to be created collaboratively between teachers and educational designers.

Dawson’s research also recommends greater professional development for staff, and the need for staff consultation in both policy development and implementation.

The results echo those of the TEU commissioned State of the Public Tertiary Education System which showed the tension between system-wide rules and processes and the academic and professional values held by staff.

The Crozier Scholarship was established for the support and encouragement of postgraduate research into aspects of university (or higher)education, union involvement in higher education, and issues relating to the health and well-being of staff and students.

For more information on the research into online delivery please contact Belinda: Belindajane.lawrence@gmail.com