QUFA Propositions for Virtualization / Online Learning (4 February 2013)

Memo sent by Paul Young, QUFA President, to the Senate Academic Planning Task Force, which is drafting a section of the Academic Plan for Virtualization and Online Learning:

To:                        Academic Planning Task Force 2012-13
From:                  P. G. Young, QUFA
Re:                        Propositions for Virtualization / Online Learning
Date:                    4 Feb. 2013

Further to our discussions in our meeting with your committee.

QUFA members have a broad interest in curriculum development including various forms of online, distance and blended learning. The QUFA Executive endorses the following suggestions and cautions for the development and use of online resources within our curriculum. We are also aware of a number of potential issues relating to IP and workload associated with some of these endeavours although we have not directly addressed them here.

v/ol = virtualization / online learning

1.  Rather than promote v/ol in general, Administration should put emphasis on facilitating initiatives for v/ol that are generated by faculty to improve the learning experience.

2.  V/ol should be pursued for purposes of academic enhancement, not primarily to cut costs or stretch resources.  Administration should encourage and support strategies to verify academic enhancement.

3.  Academic planning and policy about v/ol should be evidence-based.  That is, introduction of any course or programme involving v/ol should be based on persuasive evidence of v/ol’s effectiveness for that application.

4.  Queen’s must be sensitive to disciplinary and other situational differences, i.e., it must recognize that v/ol may be suitable for some situations but not for others.  To that end, individual units should be allowed to set limits on the type and number of online courses that may be applied to their degree requirements.

5.  Queen’s should rewrite its current institutional definition of “blended” learning, which stipulates that online components are added to offset reductions in face-to-face time between professors and students.[1]  In other words, “blending” should involve the adding of v/ol, or the use of v/ol to substitute for text-book learning, but should not entail reductions in contact hours between students and professors.  The definition should highlight academic benefit rather than focus on cost-reduction.

6.  Just as Queen’s used to limit the number of off-campus courses that could be counted toward a Queen’s degree, it should consider limiting the number of applicable online courses; one way to do this while allowing for disciplinary differences would be to allow units to set an upper limit to the number of online courses applicable to each of their Major, Medial, and Minor degree plans.

7.  Online courses and “blended” courses (so long as the latter continue to be defined as involving reduced contact hours) should be considered as course variants and should be vetted separately by curriculum committees.

8.  Variant courses (as per recom. 7) should be indicated as such in Queen’s calendars and on transcripts.

9.  Online variants of courses also offered on campus at Queen’s should be reviewed periodically to ensure academic equivalence.


[1] e.g., “Blended courses may retain lectures, but they usually play a different role, and, in order to ensure the number of student learning hours remain within the normal range, blended courses have fewer contact hours than traditional lecture courses.” (Faculty of Arts and Science, “Call for Proposals for Course Redesign Project,” 24 January 2013)

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