The challenges and opportunities created by advances in information and communication technology in higher education in a globally competitive environment, with special reference to the University of West Indies Distance Education Centre

Professor Stewart Marshall

Faculty of Informatics and Communication

Central Queensland University




ICT is an increasingly powerful tool for participating in global markets; promoting political accountability; improving the delivery of basic services; and enhancing local development opportunities. But without innovative ICT policies, many people in developing countries - especially the poor - will be left behind (UNDP Barbados, 2003).



As with other universities, the University of West Indies needs to tackle the question - "How do we secure sustainability in the current environment, where innovation, change and uncertainty are the natural state of things?" Some refer to a phenomenon called "The Red Queen effect" after the Red Queen in Through the Looking Glass remarks "It takes all the running you can do to keep in the same place". Long-term sustainability isn't possible without continual "responsiveness to the external and industry environment and opportunistic strategic management to leverage from changes in this environment" (Gregor, et al, 2002). So the University must operate in a way that incorporates continual adaptation to pursue emergent directions but which also emphasises the distinctive strengths and values of the University. In the University, we need to cultivate evolving populations of strategies. Kauffman (1995) refers to this evolutionary process as the "development of fitness landscapes" where the corporation will search for the high points on their fitness landscapes. This process of evolutionary search is continuous and also multiplex – and it requires a strategic approach to diversity to successfully explore the terrain.

The use of new information and communication technologies (ICTs) is central to both the reason for the constantly changing educational environment and to our responses to those changes. Using the new ICTs in the global learning environment requires both staff and students to cross new socio-cultural borders (Jegede, 2000), acquire new literacies and learning skills (Wallace and Yell, 1997), and facilitates massive change in existing work practices (Coaldrake and Stedman, 1999).

This paper considers some of the transformations necessary for universities to meet the challenges arising from global competition and advances in information and communication technology (ICT). In particular, the paper outlines the ICT facilitated paradigm shifts in the:

As a case study, I describe the transformations that have occurred at Central Queensland University (CQU), Australia, in responding to the challenge of remote education and operation on a national and international basis. CQU has been a distance education and on-campus education provider since 1972 and is now Australia’s fastest growing university. Inherent in all CQU’s operations is a model in which the organization, its members and its partners are all constituents of a network of learning facilitators. This network is simultaneously global and local - hence the portmanteau expression ‘glocal’ is used to describe this ‘glocal’ model for higher education in a borderless world. The paper also describes an "emancipatory" approach to online learning that uses ICT to enable students to work collaboratively in virtual groups.

A key factor in the success of the ICT transformations has been the adoption of an "emergent" or "evolutionary" philosophy of change management. These transformations or changes are not solely ‘technology led’ or solely ‘organizational/agency driven’. Instead, they arise from complex interactions between technology, people and the organization, and are encouraged to "emerge" or "evolve" over time by identifying and supporting early adopters and innovators. Another key factor is that of embracing collaboration at all levels, e.g., international, national, societal, organizational, faculty, and student.

I believe these key factors and the other lessons from the virtualization experiences of CQU and other organizations, together with the literature reviewed in this paper, may provide useful perspectives on the challenges and opportunities facing the University of West Indies Distance Education Centre.


As the world witnesses the globalisation of the economy, communication and education (Gregor, et al, 2002; Marshall & Gregor, 2002; Tsichritzis, 1999; Duderstadt, 1999), a paradigm shift is occurring in higher education. Daniel (1996, pp.16-17) lists the challenges facing the current model of the campus university, including: The cost being too high for students in a large part of the world; the shortage of trained academic staff; lifelong learning; part-time students; need for flexible education; difficulties of travelling in very large cities; customer attitudes and expectations; difficult for institutions to guarantee quality, coherence and consistency; and that the essence of higher education is connecting people into learning communities. The paradigm shift is caused to a large extent through the evolution of new systems of 'mass higher education' in response to the threats and opportunities presented by globalisation and the use of new ICTs (Daniel, 1999).

Open and distance education are central to this evolution, because they

represent a significant force in late modernity. Their means of disconnecting contiguity and proximateness from the education process make them a potent globalising force and means of accommodating the demands of globalism. Forms of open and distance education, from schooling through to postgraduate levels, are embracing the communications and media technologies of late modernity to "construct" the new students of the times (Evans, 1995a, p.260).

Increasingly, the 'new students of the times' will require their 'service' and 'support' for learning at a time and place convenient for them rather than at the convenience of the providing institution. Also, because of the changing nature of knowledge, ways of communicating and work practices, the 'new students of the times' will need to learn throughout their working lives instead of current practice which is still essentially in a short concentrated block at the end of secondary schooling. "The term 'lifelong learning' is now part of the vocabulary of the industrialised world" (Daniel, 1996, pp.6-7) and this "casts a different light not only on teaching, but on the role of other university services and functions ... in pursuing the role of facilitating learning" (Candy, et al, 1994, p.186).

Today’s post-secondary students are a combination of the traditional school leavers and the non-traditional student seeking access to learning generally not available through the traditional classroom and study schedules. In this context the following trend regarding the nature of our future students was predicted by Farrell (1994):

This trend has gathered momentum in an information age in which the demand for manual skills is declining. Reform in education and training has been called for to explore and implement ways of educating and training the 21st century work-force and ways to provide life skills for citizens in an information society (for example, Microsoft, 2003). The demand for learning by adults has been demonstrated by data from the National Centre for Education Statistics (NCES), which indicted that in 1999 – 2001, seventy three percent of all undergraduates were in some way "non-traditional" (NCES, 2002). Many higher institutions, such as CQU have a large percentage of their student population classed as "non-traditional students". However up to this time the culture of ICT remains young, middle-class, male and western based (e.g., Holderness, 1998). The challenge of educators, policy makers, governments, industry and society in general is to develop models for access to education and training that will reach all in both developed and developing countries.

Leaders from all walks of life, the world over, recognize that all citizens must have access to education and training if they are to be equipped to shape their own destiny and meet the social, economic and personal challenges of the global knowledge-based economy. To achieve this objective, governments will need to look beyond the conventional model for providing education. They will need to draw on the opportunities afforded by distance and open learning (Commonwealth of Learning, 1999).

In many countries distance education was identified with "correspondence education". There was also an assumption on the part of many (especially university academics) that on-campus face to face education was "real education" whereas distance education was an inferior system of education. According to Sewart (1983, p.52) until the 1970s this belief received almost universal credence and was "'substantiated' by reference to drop-out statistics". Sewart goes on to comment on how this changed to a great extent with the success of the UK Open University:

Here, instead of the ninety per cent drop-out confidently predicted in the educational press when the University first began to offer courses, we find that up to sixty per cent of finally registered students are graduating, and, moreover, that a very significant proportion of the forty per cent of 'drop-outs' is in any case unavoidable, ranging from obvious cases of death, through movement outside the United Kingdom, significant changes in domestic circumstances and satisfaction with the completion of a part rather than the whole of a particular programme (Sewart, 1983, p.52).

Distance education is now a priority for many developing countries (Chandra, 2000; Gomez, 1999; Perez, 1997). It is seen by some "as a means by which developing nations can 'leapfrog' some stages in the development of their educational infrastructure by importing courses (and sometimes adapting them) for use locally" (Evans, 1995b, pp.312-313). But there is evidence that the face to face approach is still seen as "the superior mode of offering education" (UWIDEC, 2000; Morgan, 2000). It has also been suggested that because "educational transactions tended to be closed ones and distance education threatened to make them far more open" educators might feel threatened and hence resist adopting distance education (UWIDEC, 2000, p.6).

The globalisation of knowledge and educational products and services means that all countries can, in principle, be both providers and consumers. However, given the existence of greater production capacity, powerful alliances, and high volume markets, it seems more likely that larger developed countries (and to some extent, larger developing countries) rather than small developing countries will become the major producers of distance education products and services. By using division of labour (some people developing learning materials, others supporting students, others providing logistic support, etc.) and the specialisation that this permits, the 'mega-universities' (Daniel, 1996) have been able to develop a model of supported open learning which can operate flexibly at large scale, with low costs and high quality. This can pose an economic, political and cultural threat to small developing countries and small states (UWIDEC, 2000, p.6). Small state economies such as those of Swaziland and the Caribbean find it difficult to respond because their inability to access economies of scale make "the creation and delivery of distance material constitute a substantial investment, which is difficult to quantify and equally difficult to recoup" (Morgan, 2000, p.107).There are those who fear that globalised open and distance education will amount to cultural importation/invasion/imperialism (Evans, 1995b, pp.314-315).

The particular social, cultural and political context may also make it difficult for small state economies to introduce distance education. Morgan (2000, p.107) points out that although distance delivery is ideally suited to the island chain of the Caribbean, "there is still the propensity to treat this mode as the despised poor relation of face-to-face teaching". Perraton (1983) makes the more general point that the success or failure of a distance education project will depend at least as much on its political context as on its methods because

The ways in which distance teaching is used are, of course, politically and culturally determined. If, for example, society rewards credentials and the diploma disease is rife, then it is extremely difficult for a distance-teaching institution to set off in a different direction... Distance-teaching institutions inevitably reflect the values of their societies... (Perraton, 1983, p.36).

Organizational culture can also affect the success or failure of a distance education project. Morgan (2000, p.108) describes the introduction of distance education at the University of the West Indies as "fraught with difficulties, ranging from lack of conviction as to the viability of the distance mode, to the disparity between the responsibility placed on the Distance Education Centre and its funding and positioning within the university structure".

ICTs make possible new learning environments. In Australia, online and videoconferencing systems are being developed as alternatives to face-to-face communication where the people are physically dispersed. The alternative learning/teaching approaches using ICTs include: the Internet (facilitating synchronous and asynchronous interactions between learners); video-conferencing (facilitating tutorials comprising distributed groups of students, and also remote access to live lectures); digital libraries (as knowledge repositories); computer simulation (substitutes for laboratories); and many others (Evans & Nation, 1993; Evans & Newell, 1993; Asensio, et al, 2000; Jegede, 2000; McAlpine, 2000; Devi, 2001; Williams et al, 2001; Discenza, et al, 2002; Ruth, 2002). Overall, these new technologies create a learning environment in which learners, tutors and learning resources can all be networked.

These same ICT possibilities also permit new working environments for those responsible for the facilitation of learning. Thus lecturers can use the Internet for synchronous and asynchronous communication with colleagues, video-conferencing for meetings, digital libraries for research, etc. The interaction of these new technologies with the people creates a teaching environment in which lecturers, tutors and teaching resources can all be networked. But to achieve maximum advantage from the use of these ICTs, it is necessary to re-engineer work practices. The ‘mega-universities’ (Daniel, 1996) use division of labour (some people developing learning materials, others supporting students, others providing logistic support, etc.) and the specialization that this permits, to develop a model of supported open learning which can operate flexibly at large scale, with low costs and high quality (Daniel, 1999).

Traditionally, universities have carried out all the functions relating to the provision of higher education: content production; packaging content; credentialing programs; presentation to students; marketing; registration, payment and record keeping; and, assessment. In the online world, these functions can more readily be disaggregated and the university can specialize in those functions that it regards as its ‘core business’, forming alliances for other functions or outsourcing to new intermediaries in the value chain. The communication options offered by advances in information technology facilitate the required changes in inter-organizational relationships.

The advantage to the ‘non-mega-universities’ of these alliances is the opportunity to improve the quality of the educational experience through the aggregation of expertise from different sources. Thus, the marketing of a university’s programs can be outsourced to a company that specializes in researching the market and promoting the university. Recruitment can be better done close to the students, and can even be conducted in the students’ languages by agents in the relevant countries. Library facilities can be provided by new intermediaries close to the students or provided online by cybermediaries. Fee–payment, especially online payment, can similarly be outsourced to a cybermediary.


CQU is a regional university in Australia that is responding to the challenge to provide education and training sought by the people alluded to above using ICTs in the online world.

With nearly 23,000 students in 2002, CQU is Australia’s fastest growing university in terms of international students. CQU has the largest percentage of international students (41%, or 9389 students out of the total) of any university in Australia. By comparison, in 1996, international fee paying students comprised only 7.3% of the total number of students (DETYA, 1997). These figures are the basis for the claim that CQU is a virtual organization that is successful commercially.

In Central Queensland, CQU’s traditional catchment area, Rockhampton is the location of the main campus, Mackay campus 350 kilometres to the North, Gladstone campus 120 kilometres to the South, Emerald campus 280 kilometres to the West and Bundaberg campus 330 kilometres to the South. A key component of this integrated network of campuses is the Interactive System-Wide Learning system – a synchronous video link that facilitates networked learning. Thus, on these campuses, classes are taught using combinations of synchronous video delivery of live lectures, videoconferencing to connect distributed groups of learners, web-delivery, email discussion lists, chat rooms, bulletin boards, and face-to-face classes. Distance education students are serviced with a combination of printed, CD-ROM and web-delivered material, as well as electronic asynchronous communication for class discussion and mailing lists. Thus, for both on-campus and distance education modes, CQU has moved to a networked education model that uses ICTs to link learners, teaching/learning resources, lecturers, and tutors. In effect, it has used ICTs to network its teaching/learning locations and collaborative partners and hence create a virtual organization.

CQU formed an alliance with a commercial partner to establish campuses at Sydney in 1994, Melbourne in 1996, Brisbane in 1999 and the Gold Coast in 2001, specifically to provide educational services for international students. In addition, alliances have been formed with partners to create educational delivery centres in Singapore, Malaysia, China and Hong Kong, and a full campus in Fiji. Inherent in all these educational partnerships is a model in which the function of content production has been detached from other functions (for example, lecturing) traditionally carried out by the university. At all these locations, the flexible learning resource materials produced by the CQU academic staff in Central Queensland provide the global content for the teaching, which is conducted by locally appointed academic staff, specifically employed for teaching rather than research. The model is a ‘glocal’ networked education system – an education system that uses a global approach to the delivery of higher education in which global learning resources and networks are used, but local academic and administrative support is provided for student learning (see Figure 1). Hence the portmanteau expression "glocal" – it is global and local at the same time.

Figure 1: The "Glocal" model of networked learning

(Figure from Marshall & Gregor, 2002)

Figure 2: The "Glocal" resource development process

(Figure from Marshall & Gregor, 2002)


Thus, as represented in Figure 2, a CQU academic development team is responsible for the design and development of the ‘global core’ (for example, the course profile, CQU learning resources) for the supported online course. The global core is then made available electronically to the local partner, who is responsible for adding the local education interface to the global core by creating a website with a culturally appropriate, local ‘look and feel’. The CQU academic development team in Australia works electronically with the local development team to maintain quality control of this locally added component.

As regards the facilitation of learning during the presentation of a particular course, a lecturer on one Central Queensland campus is designated as the Coordinator, and that person, together with the administration multi-campus support team, coordinates the activities of the learning facilitators/tutors on all the other campuses on which that particular course is taught. Thus, rather than dealing directly with a thousand students on campuses all over the world, the CQU coordinator deals only with the in-country tutors who in turn facilitate the learning of the students. The local campus/centre acts as a hub for the local learning network – as shown in Figure 3. Through the coordinator in Australia, CQU is responsible for quality control of the facilitation of the learning process. By using this globally created and validated, but locally mediated and supported system of open and distance learning, CQU is able to cater for the needs of its diverse student body.

Figure 3: The local learning network linked to CQU

(Figure from Marshall & Gregor, 2002)



Roberts et al (2000) describe four models of online teaching currently in use within the Faculty of Informatics and Communication at CQU: the naïve model, the standard model, the evolutionary model, and the radical model.  

The naïve model may be characterised as "putting the lecture notes on the Web". No extra facilities are provided, and the notes used in live face-to-face lectures are transformed with minimal alteration into a web-based format accessible by a standard browser (such as Internet Explorer or Netscape Communicator).

The standard model attempts to actively utilise the advantages provided by the technology to allow a significant degree of communication and interaction between students and staff. Features of the standard model include the following:

The evolutionary model takes the standard model as a basis and supplements it with many other features to enhance both the teaching and learning environment. Aspects that distinguish the evolutionary model include:

The radical model dispenses with lectures entirely. Instead, students are formed into groups, and learn by interacting amongst themselves and using the vast amount of existing Web-based resources, with the instructor providing guidance as and when required. Distinguishing features of the radical model include:

Taylor et al (2003) describe this radical model as an "emancipatory" approach to online learning. This approach, used at CQU at both the postgraduate and undergraduate levels, employs ‘one to many’, ‘one to one’ and ‘many to many’ forms of interaction with students. Students are expected to subscribe electronically to the class email list. They are then encouraged by the lecturer to introduce themselves online by informing the class about themselves, their interests, their current work or study areas and their backgrounds. This helps to contextualize the backgrounds of the class members and hence provides a framework for discussion, interpretation and linking across the whole class. The students are allocated to ‘virtual groups’ in the second week of the semester. As shown in Figure 4, a virtual group may comprise students who are studying on-campus or at Study Centres at various CQU locations and also students who are studying in distance education mode anywhere in the world. Students then establish contact with their virtual group members and start working on their assessment tasks. This time is also used to seek out incompatibilities in the groups, try to resolve any conflicts and help people to learn to work together. Any traditional cultural or ethnic differences are treated with immediate sensitivity. In week 3 of the semester, the first group makes its presentation to the class online. The presentation consists of a critique that links an article with the reading in the book for the week. Feedback from students contributes to the mark for the presentation. The above process is repeated for ten weeks until the end of the semester, with each week dedicated to an in-depth discussion on a different topic that is related to the reading for that week.


Figure 4: A virtual group of students collaborating online


Taylor et al (2003) describe six major advantages of the approach:

Students have interaction with the teacher in the traditional ‘one to many’ mode when they interact with the course material and the lecturer in normal post and electronic interactions. Students have the immediate possibility of ‘one to one’ interaction with the lecturer by mail, telephone or email for points of clarification or detailed discussion. However, the bulk of the interaction is through the ‘many to many’ mode where students interact through their groups in the development of their presentations to the class and in commenting on other group presentations. This mode recognizes the emergence of the "non-traditional student", many of whom have current work-based skills in the subject matter for which they are seeking accreditation. The ‘many to many’ mode captures this contextualized information in the learning process.

Supplementary readings are chosen by the students to allow contextualization of the material and to increase discourse around different world-views. Temporal effort is negotiated within groups and this allows the pressures of modern life to be accommodated. All of these negotiations are carried out within the group and the lecturer is only involved as a last resort. This process embeds the concepts of plurality, which recognize different worldviews. The approach also provides flexibility for the lecturer in that the weekly assessments can be conducted online from any physical location with Internet access. The model also ensures that the work for the lecturer is the same regardless of class size.

Because the students are geographically isolated within groups, meaning is negotiated every week within the context of the subject matter. This ensures that different ethnic backgrounds can be more easily accommodated in the learning process. The process of discussing meaning of applications allows the terminology to be contextualized and shared meaning to be developed within the learning subgroup and subsequently within the whole class group.

Whilst asynchronicity has been a component of traditional distance learning for sometime, some online approaches have in fact provided pressure for synchronous availability of student and lecturer. This is often out of step with modern requirements, which need to accommodate different time zones, employment status, family commitments etc.

Social presence has been found to be an inhibitor to communication, understanding and learning. Social presence also fundamentally affects how participants sense emotion, intimacy and immediacy and depends not only on the words people speak but also on the verbal and nonverbal cues, body language and context (Rice, 1993). Social presence is also ethnically heterogeneous. In researching online groups, Wellman et al. (1996) found that limiting social presence is a factor in removing inhibition, increasing creativeness and strengthening weak social ties in narrowly focused groups such as learning groups. Hence the non-visual online medium is likely to increase learning outcomes across class, culture, gender and age.

The model outlined by Taylor et al (2003) provides training in processes which facilitate increased learning through collaboration, discourse and different world–views. Students learn important online skills, how to be citizens of an online community, and how to contribute to a virtual team, including dividing the work between the team members, resolving conflicts, developing ideas and projects, and providing positive feedback to others about their work.

Online distance education courses can take many approaches and include new forms of interaction that involve learners in open discourse providing increased contextual and emancipatory dimensions. In the provision of a distance education, new approaches can involve an open discourse approach as a part of the delivery mechanism. Such an approach can also address issues of differences in understanding brought about by cultural diversity. The "emancipatory" approach outlined, provides a mechanism for a wider engagement in, and interpretation of, the learning process through use of ICT which reduces the negative impact social presence, increases the use of weak ties in the learning process and provides a degree of anonymity to increase contribution. It recognizes the reality of power relationships, politics and conflict in the learning process and brings them into the process rather than ignoring their existence. Thus, the approach also develops skills, which are becoming increasingly important in the application of knowledge and learning in a community setting. It encourages a pluralistic interpretation, which allows learning to be discussed, and locally contextualized across wide variations in culture and experience.

A philosophy of "emergent" or "evolutionary" change underpinned the development of the models discussed above. Online components were progressively added to the DE teaching model. This same philosophy applied to the development of the technical system required to support the online components. The ability of a technical system to adapt to support emergent and evolutionary changes is very important. The technical system used in the Faculty of Informatics and Communication is Webfuse, developed by a staff member of the Faculty (Jones, 1999a; 1999b). Webfuse is a web-authoring tool that integrates a collection of support tools behind a common interface. The support tools are hidden behind hypermedia templates (Catlin and Garret, 1991) which simplify the authoring process while ensuring good design principles. Additional functionality can be added as requirements change by developing new hypermedia templates. The use of a scripting language means that Webfuse is not restricted by a single platform or component model. All of the existing Webfuse hypermedia templates allow the quick integration of most Web-based software into a common management framework, which has further increased the ability of Webfuse to adapt to changes and provide additional functionality (Jones, 1999a; 1999b). Examples of Websites constructed with Webfuse include:


From the huge volume of written material, there can be no doubt that the Internet has huge and unprecedented implications for society at large. However, the uneven adoption of Internet technologies across the world is great cause for concern to international collaborative bodies whose efforts are related to global inequity (UNDP, 2001; DOTforce, 2001). Despite the huge potential of Internet technologies to assist communities to increase their overall well-being through community development, there are relatively few examples of sustained community networks built around Internet technologies when compared to commercial applications, even in the developed countries where the technology has been increasingly available for up to 20 years. Early work in the field has had mixed success (O’Neal, 2001) and researchers report a wide range of potential success factors and impediments (see for example, Byrne and Wood-Harper, 2000; Gurstein, 2000; Pigg, 1999; Rosenbaum and Gregson, 1998; Schuler, 1996; Shearman, 1999). However, despite the lack of emergence of useful generic theories or models from the current work in community informatics, there are some common elements beginning to emerge. Pre-eminent amongst these is that social network strategies and the building of social capital at the local level are key issues for the successful adoption of Internet technologies for development (Shearman, 1999; Horrigan and Wilson, 2001; Harris, 2001). Also whilst the lack of external funding for equipment can be a barrier to success, provision in itself is no guarantee of successful adoption in community (Harris,2001; Byrne and Wood-Harper, 2000).

As a result of this, the Faculty of Informatics and Communication at CQU sought to establish an action research centre to simultaneously implement and study community informatics in a provincial regional environment. Essential to this approach was the recognition that the effort must be collaborative with community in neither ‘top down’ nor ‘bottom up’ approaches but in a combination recently described as ‘inside out’ (Nyden, 2001) which recognises the needs for existing structures to extend their resources to address integrated community needs in equal partnerships. The action research centre was located in Rockhampton, a city with a population of 65,000, which has been the traditional service and administrative centre for a large sparsely populated geography dependent upon mining, light metals processing, power generation and agriculture. When compared to national and state averages, it has comparatively lower levels of formal education, income, people in the 26-55 year age bracket and home use of the Internet (25% less) when compared to both State and National averages (ABS, 2000; CQSS, 2000). It has correspondingly higher proportions of people over 55 years of age. Despite the city being both the home base for a vibrant regional University which is the largest employer in the city and it being a substantial base for regional public service administration, home connection to the Internet was approximately 34% which is 20 points below that of capital cities and substantially below adoption rural areas in Australia. Significantly, those over 55 years of age had home connection rates of 16% compared to 44% for the preceding cohort in the 40-55 age bracket.

In order to overcome what was seen as a major obstacle for Rockhampton to engage with the information society, the University proposed an action research project to:

The project commenced in mid-1999, as a joint venture between the Faculty and the Rockhampton City Council. A Steering Committee comprising three representatives each from the Faculty and the Council was established and a Memorandum of Understanding between the Faculty and the Council was signed. This approach reflects the key finding from a recent workshop examining the digital divide in that useful approaches to addressing the digital divide require ‘organisations in a strategic compact set off a development dynamic’ (Cohen, 2001). The COIN Internet Academy was opened in mid 2001 with two project managers, administration support, two post-graduate researchers, (all on short term funding) a ten-seat training facility and a nine-seat telecentre. At the end of June 2003, the COIN Internet Academy had 109 community groups with 951 people registered as members for a wide range of programs including ‘train the trainer’ programs to provide for wider diffusion. The Faculty, Rockhampton City Council and the various groups are now collaborating to progressively create a site for vibrant online communities <> that extends and supports the development needs of their geo-physical counterparts (see Figure 5).

Figure 5: The collaborative model of Rockhampton online communities

Because CQU has a campus in Rockhampton, the COIN Internet Academy was not established in order to provide access to its educational programs. However, similar telecentres which were established in more remote locations in Central Queensland, did serve this purpose. These were established in collaboration with the local Councils and in some cases with non-government organizations.


The People First Network, or PFnet <>, is a UNDP-established Information and Communications Technology project, which aims to facilitate rural communications and information flows across all communities in the Solomon Islands, particularly with respect to rural development and peace building. PFnet is a project of the Rural Development Volunteers Association and is affiliated with the Rural Development Division of the Ministry of Provincial Government and Rural Development. In October 2001, the PFnet Internet gateway base station was established and the country’s first rural community email facility was opened at Sasamungga, Choiseul. It has now established five community-run rural email stations, and over 25 planned nationally. PFnet also runs the Internet Café in Honiara.

PFnet enables remote locations on islands across thousands of square kilometres to have access to Internet emails using a simple computer, short-wave radio, and solar power (Leeming et al, 2003). It aims to:

This project aims to utilize an existing rural Internet connection through the rural-development and peace ICT initiative PFnet, to pilot a distance learning facility in one of Solomon Islands’ rural Community High Schools in partnership with the University of South Pacific (USP) Centre of Honiara. It will create a computing centre at the community school close to the email station utilising existing solar power. Local capacity will be built to sustain the facility working in cooperation with the PFnet programme. The project will also study the impacts of the email station on the wider community, focusing on particular vulnerable groups such as women and young people. In doing so, this project will provide invaluable baseline data for the further expansion of PFnet to all rural areas of the country, and provide an excellent example of an application serving the needs of education users and providers.


The use of an ICT-based education at CQU as described in this paper offers increased flexibility for both the learner and provider. The approach of using the model of a "glocal" networked education system has the advantages of being able to provide a high quality education course for persons "across the globe" which at the same time is able to "customize" the education program to meet the local needs and demands of students. Importantly the model can accommodate the specific education and training nuances of a country as well as cultural and religious needs and demands. It recognizes the emergence of the "non-traditional student", many of whom have current work-based skills and knowledge which can be utilized in the learning process.

Much of the success of the model rests on the separation of four educational functions:

By collaborating with others to fulfill these functions, CQU has progressively grown to be a large virtual organization.

Collaboration will undoubtedly be an important factor in UWIDEC’s successful future. Internal to UWIDEC’s operations, there needs to be collaboration between academics to prepare materials, between sections in the University to support learning, and collaboration between students in learning groups. But I would also suggest that the following external collaborations need to be pursued by UWIDEC:

An important success factor in the Faculty of Informatics and Communication at CQU has been the use of an emergent methodology in the virtualization process and in the development of the ICT system. Traditional information systems development methodologies generally include the following steps (Jones et al, 2003):

  1. A significant period of analysis and design to generate a formal specification of the required system;
  2. The construction or purchase of the system;
  3. A sign-off stage where the system is checked against the formal specification;
  4. A long period of operation and maintenance.
  5. Return to step 1 when the system no longer matches the needs of the organisation.

But organizations with continual "responsiveness to the external and industry environment" (Gregor, et al, 2002) are unlikely to experience the sustained periods of stability required for steps 1 and 4. Such organisations are continually undergoing social negotiation and consensus building and thus are "emergent" rather than ever "fully formed" (Truex and Klein, 1999). Emergent development rejects the goals of traditional information systems development and replaces them with new goals, which include (Truex and Klein, 1999): continual analysis; dynamic requirements negotiation; useful, but incomplete specifications; continuous redevelopment; and, the ability to adapt.

Jones (2000) provides the following useful principles to support emergent virtualization:

I believe these principles would be useful for the online developments in the UWIDEC environment.


ABS (2000). Australian Bureau of Statistics Annual Economic Activity Survey. Sections 31-2, 41-2.!OpenView.

Asensio, M., Foster, J., Hodgson, V. and McConnell, D. (2000). Networked learning 2000: Innovative approaches to lifelong learning and higher education through the Internet. Proceedings of the 2nd International Conference on Networked Learning, held at Lancaster, UK, 17-19 April. UK: Lancaster University and University of Sheffield.

Byrne and Wood-Harper, 2000; Byrne, B.K. and Wood-Harper, T (2000). Community Regeneration and ICT: Is this the answer ?. In Proceedings of the Australian Conference for Information Systems (ACIS). Brisbane 6-8 December. Published at:

Candy, P.C., Crebert, G. and O’Leary, J. (1994). Developing Lifelong Learners through Undergraduate Education. NBEET Commissioned Report No. 28. Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra.

Catlin, K.S. and Garret, L.N. (1991). Hypermedia Templates: An Authors Tool, Proceedings of Hypertext'91, ACM, 147-160.

Chandra, R. (2000). From dual-mode to multimodal, flexible teaching and learning: Distance education at the University of the South Pacific. Distance Education in Small States. Proceedings of the Conference held in Jamaica, 27-28 July. Barbados: Distance Education Centre, University of West Indies. 31-47. Published at:

Coaldrake, P. and Stedman, L. (1999). Academic Work in the Twenty-first Century: Changing roles and policies. Department of Education, Training and Youth Affairs (DETYA), Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra. Published at:

Cohen, N. (2001). Director Digital Dividends Project, World Resources Institute, in summing up the Getting beyond the Digital Divide after the Genoa G8 Summit workshop, Zurich, 12 October 2001. Published at:

Commonwealth of Learning. (1999). Report to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, Executive Summary, p. 1 November. Published at:

CQSS. (2000). Central Queensland Social Survey. Population Research Laboratory, Central Queensland University, Rockhampton, QLD.

Daniel, J. (1996). Mega-Universities and Knowledge Media: Technology Strategies for Higher Education, Kogan Page, London.

Daniel, J. (1999). Distance learning in the era of networks: What are the key technologies? (and reflections on ten years of The Commonwealth of Learning), Pan Commonwealth forum on open learning: Empowerment through knowledge and technology - a celebration of ten years of The Commonwealth of Learning, Universiti Brunei Darussalam, March. Published at:

DETYA (Department of Employment, Education, Training and Youth Affairs) (1997). Learning for Life Review of Higher Education Financing and Policy: A Policy Discussion Paper (The West Review). Canberra: Australian Government Publishing Service.

Devi, P. (2001). Information and communication technologies in the South Pacific: Satellite-based regional network at the University of the South Pacific. In Marshall, S., Taylor, W., & Yu, X. (eds.). Proceedings of IT in Regional Areas Conference: Using informatics to transform regions. Central Queensland University Press, Rockhampton, Australia.

Discenza, R., Howard, C., and Schenk, K.D. (eds.) (2002). The Design and Management of Effective Distance Learning Programs. Idea Group Publishing, London.

DOTforce. (2001). Digital Opportunities for All: Meeting the Challenge. Published at:;template=blank.htm

Duderstadt, J.J. (1999). Can colleges and universities survive in the information age? In Katz, R.N & Associates, Dancing with the devil - information technology and the new competition in higher education. Jossey-Bass, San Francisco.

Evans, T.D. (1995a). Globalisation, post-Fordism and open and distance education, Distance Education, 16(2): 256-269.

Evans, T.D. (1995b). Thinking globalisation: Issues for open and distance educators in Australia and the South Pacific. In Nouwens, F. (ed) (1995) Distance education: Crossing frontiers. Papers for the 12th Biennial Forum of the Open and Distance Learning Association of Australia, Vanuatu, September. Central Queensland University, Australia. 312-316.

Evans, T. and Nation, D. (1993). Adapting classroom technologies for distance education: telematics in Victoria. In T. Nunan (ed.) Distance Education Futures: The Proceedings of the Australian and South Pacific External Studies Association Biennial Forum, University of South Australia, Adelaide, 105-113.

Evans, T. and Newell, C. (1993). Computer mediated communication for postgraduate research. In T. Nunan, (ed.). Distance Education Futures: The Proceedings of the Australian and South Pacific External Studies Association Biennial Forum, University of South Australia, Adelaide, 81-91.

Farrell, G. (1994). "Open Learning - A challenge of vision".  Paper presented at the Open Learning '94 Conference, Brisbane, 1 - 3 November.

Gomez, J. S. 1999. Communication and information technologies development: A system of distance education for Colombia's Carribean region. PhD Thesis, Department of Communication, University of Utah, USA. UMI Number: 9917673.

Gregor, S., Wassenaar, A. & Marshall, S. (2002). "Developing a virtual organization: Serendipity or strategy?" Asian Academy of Management. 7:1, 1-19.

Gurstein, M. (2000). Community Informatics: Enabling communities with communications technologies. IDEA Group Publishing. Hershy, USA, ISBN 1 878289 69 1 pp 1-20.

Harris, R. (2001). Research Partnerships to Support Rural Communities in Malaysia With Information and Communication Technologies. In Lazar, J. (Ed.) Managing IT/Community Partnerships in the 21st Century. Idea Group Publishing.

Holderness, M. (1998). "Who are the Worlds Inforamtion Poor". In Loader B.D. (Ed.) Cyberspace divide: equality, Agency & Policy in the Information Society. London: Routledge.

Horrigan, J.B. and Wilson, R.H. (2001). Telecommunications Technologies and Urban Development: Strategies in US cities. Pew Internet and American Life Project. Published at:

Jegede, O. (2000). The wedlock between technology and open and distance learning. In T. Evans and D. Nation (eds.). Changing university teaching: Reflections on creating educational technologies. Kogan Page, London, 45-55.

Jones, D. (2000). Emergent Development and the Virtual University, Learning'2000, Roanoke, Virginia.

Jones, D. (1999a). Solving some problems with University Education: Part II. Proceedings of Ausweb'99, Balina, Australia.

Jones, D. (1999b). Webfuse: An integrated, eclectic Web authoring tool, Proceedings of EdMedia'99, Betty Collis, Ron Oliver (editors), June, 1999, pp 1799-1801.

Jones, D., Lynch, T. and Jamision, K. (2003). Emergent Development of Web-based Education, Proceedings of Informing Science + IT Education Conference, Pori, Finland.

Kauffman, S. A. (1995). Escaping the Red Queen Effect. The McKinsey Quarterly, No 1, pp 118-129.

Leeming, D., Biliki, R., Dennis, M., Kenilorea, M., and Pitia, P. (2003). Applying Information and Communications Technology to Education in Rural Solomon Islands. National Education Conference, Solomon Islands College of Higher Education, September 22-26. Published at:

Marshall, S & Gregor, S. (2002). Distance education in the online world: Implications for higher education. In R. Discenza, C.Howard and K. Schenk (eds). The design and management of effective distance learning programs. London: Idea Group Publishing. Pages 21-36.

McAlpine, I. (2000). Collaborative learning online. Distance Education, 21:1, 66-80.

Microsoft (2003). "Educating the 21st Century Citizen". (White Paper). Published at:

Morgan, P. (2000). Strengthening the Stakes: Combining Distance and Face-to-Face Teaching Strategies - Preliminary Discussion Issues. Distance Education in Small States. Proceedings of the Conference held in Jamaica, 27-28 July. Distance Education Centre, University of West Indies, Barbados. 106-112. Published at:

NCES (National Centre for Education Statistics) (2002) "Special Analysis 2002: Non traditional undergraduates". Published at:

Nyden, P. (2001). University and Community Engagement: The view from Chicago and the US. Keynote address presented at the Inside Out: Higher Education and Community Engagement Conference. 16-19 July 2001. Community Service and Research Centre, University of Queensland, Ipswich, Australia.

O’Neal, D. (2001). Merging theory with practice: Toward an evaluation framework for community informatics, paper presented at Internet Research 2.0: INTERconnections, the second conference of the Association of Internet Researchers (AoIR), October 10-14, 2001, The University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Perez, L. G. (1997). Testing the systems model in Mexican Distance Education: The case of the Virtual University ay the Instituto Technologico Y De Estudios Superiore De Monterrey. Doctor of Education Thesis, Graduate School, University of Massachusetts, USA. UMI Number: 9721449.

Perraton, H. (1983). "A theory for distance education". In Sewart, D., Keegan, D. & Holmberg, B. (eds) Distance Education: International Perspectives. Croom Helm, Canberra, Australia. 34-45.

Pigg, K. (1999). A Demand Side Policy Needed to Extend the Information Superhighway. Community Technology Review. Summer-Fall 1999. pp 45-46. Community Technology Centres Network, Newton, MA.

Rice, R. (1993) Media appropriateness using social presence theory to compare traditional and new organizational media, Human Communication Research, 19(4), 451- 484.

Roberts, T., Jones, D. and Romm, C.T. (2000), Four Models of Online Education, Proceedings of TEND 2000, Abu Dhabi, UAE.

Rosenbaum and Gregson, 1998; Rosenbaum, H and Gregson, K. (1998). A study of State-Funded Community Networks in Indiana: Final Report. Submitted to the Indiana Department of Education, Center for School Improvement and Performance.

Ruth, A. (2002). Paradigms and models of online learning: A review of the literature. In S. Marshall, W. Taylor and C. Macpherson (eds.). Proceedings of IT in Regional Areas Conference 2002 - Using IT: Make IT happen. Central Queensland University Press, Rockhampton, Australia.

Schuler, D. (1996). New Community Networks: Wired for Change. Addison-Wesley, Reading. MA.

Sewart, D. (1983). Distance teaching: A contradiction in terms? In Sewart, D., Keegan, D. & Holmberg, B. (Eds) (1983) Distance Education: International Perspectives. Croom Helm, Canberra, Australia. 46-61.

Shearman, C. (1999). Local Connections: Making the Net Work for Neighbourhood Renewal. Communities Online. London. Published at:

Svensson L, Andersson R, Gadd M, and Johnson A, (1999), Course-Barometer: Compensating for the Loss of Informal Feedback in Distance Education, in Collis B & Oliver R (eds), Proceedings of EdMedia ?99, pp1612-1613, Seattle, Washington.

Taylor, W., Dekkers, J. & Marshall, S. (2003). "Community Informatics - Enabling Emancipatory Learning". In T. McGill (ed) Current Issues in IT Education. IRM Press, Hershey, PA, USA, 367-375

Truex, D. and Klein, B. (1999). "Growing Systems in Emergent Organizations". Communications of the ACM. 42(8): 117-123.

Tsichritzis, D. (1999). Reengineering the university, Communications of the ACM, 42(6): 93-100.

UNDP (2001). (United Nations Development Program). The Human Development Report. Published at:

UNDP Barbados. (2003). Information & Communications Technology. UNDP Barbados and the Organisation of Eastern Carribean States (OECS). Published at:

UWIDEC, (2000). Summary of Discussions (prepared by Claudia Harvey). Distance Education in Small States. Proceedings of the Conference held in Jamaica, 27-28 July. Distance Education Centre, University of West Indies, Barbados. 6-10. Published at:

Wallace, A. and Yell, S. (1997). "New literacies in the virtual classroom". Southern Review, 30:3. Published at:

Wellman, B., Salaff, J., Dimitrova, D., Garton, L., Gulia, M. and Haythornthwaite, C. (1996). "Computer networks as social networks: Collaborative work, telework, and virtual community", Annual Review of Sociology, 22, 213-238.

Williams, S., Watkins, K., Daley, B., Courtenay, B., Davis, M. and Dymock, D. (2001). "Facilitating cross-cultural online discussion groups: Implications for practice". Distance Education, 22:1, 151-67.




Professor Stewart Marshall is the foundation Dean of the Faculty of Informatics and Communication at Central Queensland University in Australia. Although originally an electrical engineer with the Central Electricity Generating Board in the UK, Professor Marshall has worked in higher education since 1973 in England, Papua New Guinea, Australia and Southern Africa. He was the foundation Professor of Communication at the Papua New Guinea University of Technology, foundation Professor of Communication Studies in the Faculty of Arts at Monash University, and foundation Coordinator of Academic Studies and Professor of Distance Education at the Institute of Distance Education at the University of Swaziland in Southern Africa. His research interests are in the role of communication and information technologies in distance education, especially in developing countries. Professor Marshall has published several books and over 90 refereed articles, book chapters and conference papers.