Some Semester One Massey distance students have been shocked by a lack of printed study material and, in their view, the late opening of Stream sites. To students, Massey appears to have covertly reduced the amount of papers that provide printed study material. Massey is the only New Zealand University to publish information on a papers’ online learning environment, but students say it is not stated clearly that this is where they find how study material is provided for individual papers. Hard copy notes are not automatically provided to papers described as ‘fully online’.
Students, just a few days before the start of semester, having received no study material and no Paper Guide (as they had in previous years), and having no access to their courses on the web, were naturally confused and concerned.
But it gets worse: as well as reducing the distribution of print resources, it seems Massey failed to recognise the importance of access to course web environments (Stream) in lieu of printed study material. Although over 95% of papers with Stream environments were available on the first day of the semester, distance students say they need ‘weeks’ of preparation before the start of semester in order to familiarise themselves with the site, check the contact course and assignment dates, and introduce themselves to other students on the course.
Students, just a few days before the start of semester, having received no study material and no Paper Guide (as they had in previous years), and having no access to their courses on the web, were naturally confused and concerned. EXMSS received a barrage of enquiries as the Contact Centre was overloaded prior to semester opening.
As a student representative I was concerned to find that the process of online migration had progressed without full and frank discussion with students or their representatives. If consulted, the issue of communication to students would have been my first concern. Many students’ issues presented to EXMSS revolved around knowing what to expect; communication is vital.
The support that distance students received in the past through early provision of study material made a real difference to students’ ability to cope with the balance of work, family and study. Has Massey forgotten who distance students are? Or is Massey aligning its provision to a less part-time-student-focus, in line with Government expectations?
The transition to an online study environment is inevitable. It is in the way change is managed that Massey has room to distinguish itself. To students Massey appears to be offloading a problem; the problem of printed material. I understand they need to do this in order to embrace the opportunities provided by new digital media and provide Massey students with more engaging, interactive and media rich learning experiences, but they have a responsibility to students to provide, and adequately communicate, a solution alongside this problem.
If Massey is going to transition to a model of predominantly fully online courses, I feel they need to offer some sort of media solution to students. A solution that allows students to access high quality print, CDRom, audio, and intelligent PDF’s as they need them and at a reasonable cost. Massey can then focus on improving their digital study environments, while students retain some support as they come to terms with web-based distance study.
This year has begun poorly for some Massey distance students. Without adequate communication the study environment had changed, offering less flexibility, and without Massey providing solutions. For these distance students Massey has come across as self-serving and uncaring of students and their needs.
I continue to speak on behalf of students in the committees and meetings I share with the University, and we make good progress towards common goals of student success and student support. But underpinning these discussions must be the intention of the University to uphold the Student Contract. That means no surprises and no changes to the rules of the game without adequate communication.
Thanks, Off Campus, for the opportunity to respond to the concerns that have been expressed here. Before putting forward some information in response, I want to say that we recognise and take seriously the concerns expressed. We can always improve communication. If you experience difficulties, I want to hear about them. If you have suggestions for improvement, I want to hear them. Please feel free to email me or to contact Rebecca Argyle (firstname.lastname@example.org) for any specific requests for printed study materials.
This information may help to clarify some points:
- There is no change in policy or approach to the provision of printed study materials in 2012. Students who request printed copies of the learning resources associated with their Stream papers are provided them without charge.
- There is no change to our existing policy in terms of ‘Streaming’ papers – we made a commitment in the March 2010 issue of Off Campus to pilot the digitalisation of study resources. This included the continuing provision of printed study materials. I made the comment then that it’s “not about wholesale going online, but about providing an appropriate balance of print and digital”.
- In a formal evaluation of the pilot initiatives 85 per cent of distance students reported they preferred a combination of digital and printed study resources. Only 6 per cent wanted an “all print” experience.
- In March 2011 a Reference Group, which included EXMSS representation, began developing draft policy and guidelines for the use of Stream and the provision of study resources. Students were engaged throughout the consultation process. The recommendations include new categories to more clearly signal online learning expectations and commitment to providing ‘hard copies of any online resources required for the successful completion of a paper.’ This commitment was reiterated in a statement to EXMSS at the end of January 2012.
- In 2012 for the first time the official ‘Offer Letter’ advised all students to access Stream and to check if some of their study resources were available online and in 2012 for the first time we have prepared and distributed a Stream brochure to all students new to Massey.
- Over 500 distance students attended one of our regional workshops throughout the country leading up to the start of Semester 1. The use of Stream was a key feature of the workshop.
- In 2012, 95% of Stream sites were available by semester commencement. In 2013, a new Interim Policy – developed in consultation with student presidents and academic staff on the Teaching & Learning Committee – will expect that they be available 2 weeks prior (lecturers are not expected to be available until semester commencement).
- We pay close attention to feedback from students via Paper evaluations (MOST), the Student Experience Survey (SES) and various other avenues. In 2011 90% of distance students rated our services as good or very good.
- Massey is firmly committed to continuing its provision of quality distance (extramural) education. Distance students have long been, and remain, a vital dimension of Massey’s teaching and learning endeavour.