Messages through the long white cloud


In From a Distance (published in 2010 to mark the 50th anniversary of the distance education programe of Massey University New Zealand, Aotearoa) Emeritus Professor Tom Prebble noted that the use of television by the OU (the educational significance of which he may have overemphasised) had an influence on this New Zealand university’s distance education programme.  

‘When the British Open University began in the early 1970s, it made extensive use of television to support its teaching programmes. These programmes were also available to the general public on a free-to-view basis and they did a lot to publicise the new institution. By the mid 1980s there was a widespread belief that television should be used to deliver distance education in New Zealand. At Massey, this viewpoint found an enthusiastic champion in Terry Povey [who established] a Television Production Centre [p.79]’.    

He also presents university education on a continum between the OU, which was ‘organised, managed and resourced specifically with distance teaching in mind’ and Massey University which is also open to students regardless fo their formal qualifications (p.119) but where ‘the planning, development, teaching and assessment of distance education courses are carried out by the regular teaching staff of the institution’. He gives an account of the development of the model employed by Massey:    

From the outset of the programme, it was critically important to establish academic credibility. Given the serious doubts across the university sector about the academic rigour and value of correspondence study, it was seen as vital that the programme should be firmly rooted in a traditional campus-based university. It was important that the programme should be taught by academics engaged in campus-based teaching and scholarly research. From a pragmatic point of view, the fledgling programme needed the resource and infrastructural backing of a recognised university (pp. 17-18).  

Prebble goes on to suggest that one weaknesses in the dual mode has been ‘the teacher-centric model of extramural delivery’. This problem has remained, despite visits from Dr Fred Lockwood of The Open University in the 1990s (p.37). Perhaps is is because the OU’s open learning is structured as it is that, compared to its older sibling, it is relatively student-centred?

See Tom Prebble, From a Distance 2010. Copies are available for purchase through Massey University. Electronic copies can be downloaded for free from here.

Leave a Reply