Collaborative distance-education project launched at UNE

Published 10 March 2010

btynanA collaborative research project that is paving the way for 21st century developments in distance education, both within Australia and abroad, has been officially launched at the University of New England.

The project – led by UNE and named “DEHub: Innovation in Distance Learning” – involves UNE, Charles Sturt University, CQUniversity, the University of Southern Queensland, and New Zealand’s Massey University. Together, these universities form a “hub” of research-based expertise on new developments in distance education practice. Work on the project began last year with Commonwealth Government funding of $3.5 million.

The Vice-Chancellor of UNE, Professor Jim Barber, who officially launched the project during the ceremony at the end of last month, said the “Hub” was a “research-and-development engine” behind a global educational movement towards distance education. He said he was very pleased that UNE was “part of a consortium at the forefront of this development”.

Professor Barber said that the reality of education today was that people could be “separated by space and time and nevertheless be part of the same learning network”. “It is now possible, through technology, for students to do all of the social networking – and for academics and educators to exert all of the personal influence – that they have traditionally engaged in,” he said. “We can talk, we can interact, and we can do it in real time.”

The guest speaker at the launch was Professor Asha Kanwar, Vice-President of the Commonwealth of Learning – an international organisation that, by encouraging the development and sharing of open learning / distance education knowledge, resources and technologies, aims to improve access to education and training in developing nations.

“Distance education at every level – even non-formal education – is a major tool in the development of these nations,” Professor Kanwar said. “We need high-quality distance education – with research to support it. This is where DEHub comes in; I’m very glad that Australia has taken a leadership role in this respect.”

Professor Kanwar, who is based in Canada, said that the project was particularly exciting because of its collaborative nature – something relatively new for higher education institutions.

UNE’s Professor Belinda Tynan, the Director of DEHub, said that she and her colleagues were hoping to be able to work with the Commonwealth of Learning in helping to provide access to education for “a whole range of people”.

Professor Tynan (pictured here) confirmed that the DEHub project was a true collaboration, with the participating institutions “leading it together”.

The representatives of those participating organisations who attended the launch were Professor Phil Candy, the University of Southern Queensland’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Global Learning), Professor Mike Keppell, the Director of the Flexible Learning Institute at Charles Sturt University, Dr Leone Hinton, Director of Strategy, Quality and Review at CQUniversity, and Associate Professor Mark Brown, Director of Blended and Distance Education at Massey University (NZ).

Other special guests included representatives of the Cunningham Library (Australia’s most comprehensive educational research library), Victoria University, and AARNet (Australia’s Academic and Research Network).

THE PHOTOGRAPH displayed here shows Professor Belinda Tynan speaking at the launch of the DEHub project. Clicking on this image reveals a photograph of Professor Tynan with (from left) Professor Jim Barber, Professor Graham Webb (UNE’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor), and Professor Asha Kanwar.