E-learning 'to cater for whole world'

Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology (NMIT) aims to be part of a growing e-learning movement which offers affordable education around the world, in an effort to be ahead of the game in a rapidly changing learning environment.

NMIT is a founding partner of the Open Education Resources (OER) University, scheduled to be launched in November next year.

OER is an international innovation partnership aiming to provide free learning opportunities for students worldwide. The foundation was launched in 2009 to help develop the OER university, described as a "virtual" collaboration of like-minded institutions committed to creating flexible pathways for OER learners to gain formal academic credit.

NMIT has come on board to ensure it continues to source and deliver content to learners, chief executive Tony Gray said. The aim is to work in collaboration with a range of overseas and New Zealand organisations to increase its range of learning opportunities.

Mr Gray said NMIT recognised the world of tertiary education was changing quickly in terms of demand from learners and the way in which it needed to deliver to learners.

"Technology is changing and the way in which governments can fund tertiary institutes is changing. This is a way for us to concentrate on making sure we are also sourcing the very best content we can for our programmes," Mr Gray said.

OER University foundation partners from New Zealand include Otago Polytechnic, Canterbury University, NMIT, the Open Polytechnic of NZ and North Tech.

A selection of equivalent tertiary level institutes from Australia, the United States, Canada and South Africa have also become foundation partners.

Prototype courses are running in a number of founding partner institutes this year. The OER will not confer degrees as that will remain with individual partner institutions.

NMIT said it recognised the advantages to educational organisations of improving the cost effectiveness of providing education, and to the millions of people who will potentially benefit from greater access to learning.

OER Foundation founding director Wayne Mackintosh was in Nelson as a keynote speaker at the national tertiary learning and teaching conference.

Dr Mackintosh is director of the International Centre for Open Education at Otago Polytechnic and is a board member of the OER Foundation. He is also the founder of international online community project WikiEducator and is co-ordinating the establishment of the OER University.

He said the cost of replicating digital knowledge was "near zero" but access was being denied to those who could not afford it.

"There are existing protocols that allow the model to work. It's feasible to provide education for students worldwide."

Dr Mackintosh said the foundation believed WikiEducator was the solution to a sustainable model. It was "low cost, low risk but high-impact innovation", he said.

He said the question institutes should be asking is how they will remain sustainable without OER.

At the moment a four-year bachelor degree in the US costs US$26,312 ($32,190). The equivalent in Otago is US$19,452 and through OER a four-year degree at current costs would be $6759, Dr Mackintosh said.

He said OER had its "red herrings" in that "the sky will fall and institutes will lose students", but there was no evidence of that.

He said there was also a fear educators would lose their jobs but the workforce would need to triple to accommodate demand.

"There's no risk of job losses, but we will see changes," Dr Mackintosh said.

His advice to institutes which feared losing [international] students was to "come and join us because we will take those students".

Mr Gray said polytechnics and institutes of technology in New Zealand were faced with making sure content they delivered was "absolutely the best possible".

"Our priority is the region and things important to this region but at the same time we have to take a world view," Mr Gray said.

The Nelson Mail