In BUFA President

Recently, Brock University announced a call for faculty members to submit proposals for the development of one or more online courses.  This call was made in the context of the emerging “Ontario Universities Online” project.  This provincial initiative will create a new infrastructure that is intended to facilitate collaboration among universities to develop, deliver, and evaluate online courses.  

Ontario Universities Online will “introduce a new pathway for university education, through open access to a range of courses” (COU, March 2013) by establishing a hub of ”shared” online courses. Offering only one centralized version of each course will eliminate duplication among universities and thus increase efficiency and reduce costs. All participating institutions will be required to give credit for completion of these courses.

In January 2014, the Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities announced that it would provide a total of $42 million dollars in start-up funding for Ontario Universities Online, including initial grants to support the development of specific online courses (see News Release:  Province Improving Online Learning).

In many ways, Brock’s internal call for online course proposals provides an exciting opportunity for faculty to gain skills in online teaching and increase the capacity for Departments and Centres to offer excellent courses.  The University definitely will benefit from the development of a bank of online courses that can be delivered efficiently to large numbers of students without the need to add classroom space or new faculty.  Further, the

University will need to have faculty participation in order to be eligible for provincial funding related to online learning, meet provincial expectations for the postsecondary sector, collaborate in the Ontario Universities Online project, and reach its own SMA objectives.

However, in exchange for its resource commitments to faculty who develop online courses, the University is imposing a number of conditions. These restrictions raise some important short and long-term issues for individuals, Departments, and Centres.   Before you sign a contract for developing an online course or your Department/Centre commits itself to adhere to these conditions,

BUFA suggests that you think carefully about the issues and consider the possibility of negotiating changes in the proposed contract. We also encourage individuals and Departments to consult with BUFA about the details of the contracts before signing.  Please read below for more detail.

ProceedWithCaution

A number of the criteria that Brock will use to approve online course proposals are based on those proposed by the Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities (see Calls for Candidates for Ontario Online).  Some of these criteria are listed below, along with several of the concerns associated with them (in italics).

(a) Courses must be “exclusively asynchronous”.  This means that, apart from possible common assignment and evaluation dates, students must be able to access course components on their own schedule.  Although this format offers many advantages (e.g., self-paced learning, time for reflection in asynchronous discussions), some faculty members may find this requirement limiting.  For example, it essentially eliminates the possibility of hybrid courses or may not be suitably motivating for some types of students.

(b) Faculty members must commit to online teaching of the course every year for three years.  This requirement is a problem from both academic freedom and logistical perspectives. Our Collective Agreement protects our rights to be “…free in the choice and pursuit of teaching methods and content…” (Article 11.04).  However, because the contract requires that the proposed course be taught three times, faculty members would be prevented from changing the format or organization of the course (e.g., to offer it as a hybrid course or use a traditional lecture/seminar format) during this period, even if, in the faculty member’s judgment, the first offering of the course in the asynchronous format was a pedagogical disaster. Potential logistical difficulties may occur if this three-year teaching commitment, for example, interferes with sabbatical plans, unexpected non-academic leaves, changes in departmental staffing, or the Dean’s exercise of his or her responsibilities to make teaching assignments.  Further, the University’s proposal does not address the role of Senate as having the ultimate responsibility and authority with respect to course approvals and program changes.

(c) Departments and Centres must commit to offering the course either three times over the next five years or for three consecutive years (both are proposed by the University in different documents) as part of its regular course offerings.  In accepting the University’s contract, Departments and Centres must give up options to change course offerings  (e.g., in response to student demand, program changes, recommendations from external evaluators in program review) that would interfere with the offering of the online course.  It would constraint the rights and responsibilities of Chairs (Article 27) in making course assignment recommendations to the Dean and Departments/Centres in approving their Annual Department Workload Plans (Article 24). Thus, both Departmental and individuals’ flexibility to respond to changes in academic priorities and needs will be limited.

(d) Student evaluations of the course must be submitted to the E-Learning Steering Committee.  Under the Collective Agreement, course evaluations are the property of the faculty member and are to be used for purposes of annual performance reviews, as well as promotion and tenure decisions. The “handover” of course evaluations to the E-Learning Steering Committee is a new requirement.  We recommend that faculty members establish control of which questions are asked in the student evaluations, how the information will be used, and the extent to which this personnel information will be distributed.

(e) Once all assignable costs have been recovered, the University will receive 25% of the royalties or other incomes and the remaining 75% of the royalties will be distributed to the faculty members “commensurate with their contribution to the copyright work”.  In the call for proposals and the contract, there is very little information about how royalties will be earned (e.g., is the University intending to sell the course to other universities?) and how the “assignable costs” will be calculated.  The contract also provides no detail about how decisions regarding the remaining royalties will be made.  BUFA recommends that you do not sign a contract without having these details specified and without knowing the content of the royalty packages that have been offered to other members under this program.

(f) The contract specifies that the faculty member shall retain ownership of the intellectual property of the course material, “however the faculty member may relinquish such ownership, use and rights to the course material”.  BUFA strongly recommends that you do not sign away your copyright, intellectual property, or ownership rights.  Once such control is relinquished, for example, the University may alter the course content without consultation with you, may allow the course to become out-of-date and an embarrassment to its creator, and/or may have the course taught by causal and unqualified instructors.

Please contact the BUFA Office if you have any questions or concerns.

Regards,

Linda Rose-Krasnor, Ph.D.
Professor, Department of Psychology
President, Brock University Faculty Association
Brock University
500 Glenridge Avenue  St. Catharines ON Canada  L2S 3A1
Phone: 905-688-5550, ext. 3870  |  Fax:  905-688-6922
[email protected]

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