TeleLearning NCE considers new networking mechanism to sustain research activity beyond current funding period

Guest Contributor
October 10, 2001

Researchers from the TeleLearning Network of Centres of Excellence (TL-NCE) are exploring the feasibility of creating a new networking mechanism in the wake of Network’s failure to obtain Phase II funding. Tentatively called the TeleLearning Alliance, the new network would help bridge the gap that will be left when federal funding runs out March 31/02. It would also provide researchers with a forum for exchanging information and a focal point for interaction with their client community.

The decision earlier this year to deny future funding from the Simon Fraser Univ-based TL-NCE has been met with disbelief and frustration throughout the research community, particularly given the positive endorsement it received from the NCE expert panel charged with evaluating its research activities. Despite letters of appeal and trips to Ottawa to meet with key bureaucrats and politicians, the decision will unlikely be reversed. Wind-down funding of just under $1 million is being provided and an interim CEO has been hired to wean the TL-NCE off the NCE program in an orderly fashion and explore alternative funding mechanisms. Peter Guest, a turnaround specialist and mentor from the Toronto-based consulting firm Osborne Group, has been engaged for six months (with an option for another six months).

“We have to find out if there is some way for the research to be moved ahead under another umbrella organization that is more profit based,” says Guest. “Right now we’re still trying to sort out the requirements for winding down our involvement in the NCE.”

Part of that orderly transition entails exploring ways in which graduate students are permitted to complete their degrees, making sure the appropriate reports are published and that any outstanding technology transfer activity is satisfactorily completed. The Phase II proposals aimed to create four self-supporting sectors, replacing the research themes of Phase I.

“Clearly a lot has been gained from TeleLearning that Canada will benefit from,” says former board chair Ian Dodswell. “The question now is, is there enough time to make that happen?“ We have four strong leaders so there’s a good chance, but it’s a huge challenge.”

The TL-NCE’s expert panel report, while not uniformly supportive in its assessment of the Network’s activities, nonetheless concluded that the Phase II funding request “has considerable merit though aspects of the Progress Report and Strategic Plan lack critical self-reflective balance”. It declares that the Network has made “remarkable progress with their relatively small budget” of $3.5 million annually in the first funding cycle, and argues that it requires Phase II funding levels even higher than that proposed.

“The requested 2nd cycle budget (approx. $5.5M per year) appears modest given the massive funding being provided to TeleLearning initiatives world-wide,” the report states. “The TL-NCE is attempting to create an approach to educational research and development that has great potential for success. Rather than adhere to an outmoded approach to education R&D … (it) has embarked upon a research and development program situated in and on practice. It is messy; it is difficult; it is fraught with conceptual challenges and empirical difficulties. But it can succeed where decades of prior, misguided educational research approaches have failed.”

But the report was obviously not strong enough for the NCE selection committee to follow suit and recommend additional funding. TL-NCE was one of two NCEs that failed to win Phase II funding, the other being HEAL Net (R$, June 13/01). The selection committee urged telelearning researchers to continue their good work under other funding arrangements. But the absence of future funding through the NCE program poses significant challenges to continuing research activity, particularly in a sector that’s spread across such a large geographical land mass.

The TL NCE board of directors and program committee met late last month in Toronto to chart a future course for telelearning research, in effect acknowledging the finality of the decision of the NCE selection committee. That doesn’t mean that the decision is being accepted without question.

“People are confused by the rationale of the selection committee. They (the selection committee) misunderstood what this research is about. It comes back to the real differences between the natural sciences and the social sciences,” says Dr Tom Calvert a co-founder of TL-NCE and its director of technology. “This is like clinical research and it’s a lot harder to do than controlled experiments in a chemistry lab. It’s difficult to get really clean ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ answers that we would all like to have.”

Calvert says there’s little doubt the TL-NCE’s members will continue to secure research funding given the high quality of research being conducted. He adds that substantial benefits have already accrued to telelearning research as a result of seven years of NCE funding, but without a networking mechanism the gains made in the field over the past seven years are in danger of being diluted or lost.

“The principal disadvantage (of no NCE funding) is that without a mechanism we lose the ability to coordinate the research across Canada. The NCE program is meant to develop critical mass and we need an alternate mechanism now,” he asserts. “Right now we have to flesh out the concept, share information with the research community and try and identify new funding sources.”

Most of the TL-NCE’s intellectual property was in the methodologies, approaches and software developed by its researchers, much of it web-based. Calvert says that while such research will prove extremely valuable in an emerging era of on-line and distance leaning, it is difficult to market, depriving TL-NCE of one of the most potent methods of demonstrating concrete results.

Telelearning researchers contend that the benefits of conducting research through the NCE program have already yielded substantial benefits. These include technologies that have been transferred to a variety of recipients and the open source distribution of telelearning tools. Perhaps the most impressive outcome of Network activity is the creation of the Technical University of British Columbia (Tech BC), where Calvert is a professor as well as VP research and international relations. He joined the faculty after 25 years at Simon Fraser Univ and he says the new institution embraced the example of the TL-NCE.

“We have adopted on-line learning as a major mode of training here,” says Calvert. “ “You could say one of the major outcomes of the Network is Tech BC.”


Other News

Events For Leaders in
Science, Tech, Innovation, and Policy

Discuss and learn from those in the know at our virtual and in-person events.

See Upcoming Events

You have 1 free article remaining.
Don't miss out - start your free trial today.

Start your FREE trial    Already a member? Log in


By using this website, you agree to our use of cookies. We use cookies to provide you with a great experience and to help our website run effectively in accordance with our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service.