Teaching and Learning in a Net-Centric World

Order of Athabasca University

Yesterday at Convocation in Athabasca, I was deeply honoured by my former colleagues at Athabasca by being installed into the Order of Athabasca University. Most other members have been individuals from the community who have made exceptional contributions to the University. I was the first Faculty member (other than Dominique Abrioux, who also served as President) to be so honoured.  The hupalo started with the blurb below published in the Edmonton and Calgary daily newspapers.image003

It continued at Convocation where Rory McGreal made a terrific and over flattering introductionIMG_0928 to me at the beginning of the  ceremonies. Rory’s introduction contained comments from Mark Brown, Alan Tait, Morten Paulsen and Wayne Macintosh – thanks to each of you.  The life stream of the whole convocation ceremony is streamed at goo.gl/ZziwsG . Rory and my part begins around Minute 53

The celebrations ended  with a banquet. All very moving, and I am trying hard to not leave with a swollen head! But thanks to all who have helped make my time at Athabasca very personally rewarding and recognized!!

It was also flattering to have AUPress over 40% discount on three of my authored, edited or co-authored books.IMG_3962


I was asked to do a 3 minute speech which I addressed to the graduates and to the wider Athabasca Community. Here is the text;

Madame Chair;  Mr. President;  Distinguished guests;  Members of the Platform party;  GraduandsLadies and gentlemen:

Thanks to each of you!

I think I am the first faculty member (who wasn’t also a president) to win this award, and so I feel very deeply honored for your recognition—of not just my contributions—but of our work, together, here at Athabasca University.

Today is a day primarily for the graduates—and thus, I would like to use this time on the stage to congratulate each of them—and their family members and friends networks that you created —who have helped to get them here today.

All of my research has been focused on the distance learning experience. One of the most common questions is:

“Is distance education as good as campus-based education?”

Well … my colleagues and I have been asking this question for more than 30 years! And in roughly 90 per cent of studies, the results have shown that there is NO significant difference in learning outcomes.

And even when there is a difference it is likely to be in favour of distance learners. However, there is certainly more to being educated than just simply ‘learning outcomes.”

What distance education students build—and usually in larger doses than campus students—is self-efficacy. The belief in yourself and the knowledge that you can succeed in the tasks you set for yourself.

Distance learning builds knowledge and belief in yourself and an empowered understanding that you can achieve your goals.

You didn’t earn a distance education degree without being—or getting—good at creating and meeting deadlines and producing quality output—usually without the help of peers or classmates.

And so, today I celebrate your earned increase in self-efficacy!

But, to be sure, this graduation milestone does not mark the end of your learning. Technological and social change continues to happen—and more rapidly than in it changed in the past.

Luckily, I know this for sure: Because of your experience with AU, you are armed with the confidence and the knowledge that you can learn—and learn successfully.

You have self-efficacy. You can succeed—and you will succeed—as life-long learners.

Finally, I want to speak to my colleagues and friends in our broader Athabasca University community:

Bear with me as I don my sailor’s cap,—one of the pleasures of retirement! —obviously, as an institution, we’re continuing to sail through some rough waters. We are facing weather winds and that are very hard to predict. However,  “the glass is rising”. Certainly there is value and risk in every decision we make.

But I want to continue to urge us to use the ever-increasing power of networks—and importantly, our own networking skills—to work together to build a new kind of university: A university that is not like the Athabasca University of 1970, nor that of 2016, for that matter.

But one that marries academic knowledge, collegial support and governance with cost-effective ways to study and teach. Alone, and together, we need to support and create better and more effective personal, academic, administrative and community networks.

These networks have demonstrated they produce the power to be critical components of the new ‘net-era’ university—and thus, they are a challenge for each of us to navigate—but a necessary one.

Oh, have I mentioned the Athabasca Landing yet?

Thank you very much!

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