In our last round of negotiations for the OCADU/OCADFA Memorandum of Agreement two years ago, OCADFA tabled proposals to set fair terms and remuneration for OCADFA members doing online learning courses at OCAD University. OCADFA had received questions from members who had been approached by various administrators to sign so-called “Developer Contracts” to “develop” e-learning contracts. OCADFA felt it prudent to set clauses into the MOA. However, the University rejected all the proposed clauses, terminating all discussion. At Mediation, with William Kaplan as Arbitrator, the two parties agreed to a joint committee to discuss a policy on e-learning. In four months, the committee only met twice – with no fruitful discussion. Consequently, Bill Leeming, OCADFA delegate to the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations (OCUFA) Collective Bargaining Committee, raised the issue provincially. He found that similar arrangements were happening at other universities. But nobody seemed to have a clear idea what was going on behind the scenes. Consequently, OCUFA launched an investigation.

 As part of the investigation, last Friday (March 20, 2015), 56 representatives from universities from all over Ontario – including myself and Professor Therrien from OCAD U – met with Peter Gooch, Senior Director of Policy and Analysis, Council of Universities (COU) and Coordinator of the Ontario Online Learning Consortium (OOLC, formerly Ontario Online Institute). The purpose of the meeting was, first, to get clarification of the goals of the provincial government and OOLC, and, second, begin listing concerns. Details of what we learned and listed are summarized below.

Ontario Online Learning Consortium

OOLC is a member organization funded by the (Ontario) Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities (MTCU). Membership is made up by mostly Ontario Universities, including OCAD U.  In October, 2014, COU issued a “Request for Proposals.”  The stated goals of the initiative included “leveraging existing online strengths in the sector and developing new opportunities for collaboration,” and “improving institutional productivity and the efficient use of resources.”  Eligible online course proposals were to be designed either (a) “for high enrolments, including introductory or foundational courses,” (b) “to improve sustainability of a low-enrolment program across more than one institution,” or (c) “to facilitate the development of fully online degree programs.”  And universities proposing courses had to commit to offering accepted courses each year from 2015-16 through 2019-20. OCAD U has been funded to produce courses such as: “Colour & 2-Dimensional Design,” “History and Evolution of Typography,” “Creative Practice: Preparing for a Changing World.” There have been two “competitions” (see below) thus far. There will be a third in the near future.

OOLC Rules and Requirements

Member universities compete for provincial funds to develop online courses. MTCU has set the rules and requirements for receiving funding. These include:

A. Developers of courses are required to “surrender” Intellectual Property rights in courses created for online delivery.

B. Requirements include “non-compete” provisions which state that there can be only one version of a course delivered in Ontario at a single university. The course is “centralized” to one university, but available to students at all member universities for credit. All member universities will have access to each course “without charge.” (Hence the need for the surrender of IP rights by developers.)

C. Students at all member universities register for “the” course on a “portal” that is currently being built by OOLC.

D. Online courses MUST be delivered by “facilitators.” The arrangements do not recognize the people delivering the courses as “teachers” or “faculty.” Online courses on the OOLC portal will have pre-set curriculum, learning outcomes, lesson plans, weighted assignments, and set criteria to evaluate student work. They will also have prearranged textbooks. There is a stipulation that newly created online courses must be taught every year for five years for reasons of cost. This suggests a locking-in of course contents and approaches.

Follow-up Discussion & Concerns Raised by Attendees on March 20, 2015

After Peter Gooch departed, the rest of the attendees remained to share information on what is going on at their universities, and highlight concerns about the future of online learning in Ontario. Below I lay out a modified (and supplemented) list of concerns written up by Mark Jones (Queen’s University) and Glenna Knutson (Lakehead University). I have tried to do so from the perspective of what is going on at OCAD U.

  1. Diminishing IP Rights: IP rights are one of the cornerstones of Academic Freedom. If you don’t control the rights to IP, you have no control over what you intend to teach, how you teach, what happens to your work or how it is used. Under the Intellectual Property Policy negotiated by OCADFA with OCAD University, our members cannot be required to participate in any project or program that would require them to surrender IP and licensure. However, our Admin has exploited a clause whereby our members can, essentially, develop courses on a “work for hire” basis by signing a “developer contract.” (See Section C under Appendix F of the MOA.) Faculty who voluntarily sign a contract for hire to develop an online course receive a sum of between $2,500 and $7,500 and are required surrender of IP and licensure as per OOLC requirements. They also give up their status as Faculty and become an independent “Developer.” (This is different from a “Facilitator.” See below.)
  2. Enforcement of Licensure: At OCAD U several faculty, with the requested assistance of OCADFA, have re-written “developer contracts” in ways that have protected their IP and licensure. This raises several questions: For courses that have been taken up by OOLC, have the faculty been contacted by the University for permission to share their courses with other universities? Are they now receiving remuneration according to the licensure provisions? Because they signed on as independent “developers,” OCADFA cannot ask these questions on their behalf.
  3. The Erosion of Academic Freedoms:  Facilitators are not the same thing as Sessionals, CLTAs, Teaching Intensive Stream, Continuing Faculty, or Tenured Faculty. Faculty have Academic Freedoms. Facilitators just facilitate the delivery of work some “developer” created for hire. University courses are traditionally integrally designed, taught, and revised by one academically qualified person, and offered within one academic program and/or faculty.  In contrast, courses developed for online delivery with OOLC are disintegrated by a division of labour, mandated by MTCU, created by an “instructional designer” (i.e., “developer”) and a content provider; “administered” by an extra-departmental university office or the OOLC; and “taught” by facilitator who may be and often are different from the course creators.  Facilitators do not have to be academically qualified persons. Such disintegration compromises our members’ control over the content and pedagogy of courses, and facilitates the piecing-out and contracting-out of teaching functions to casualized employees. Is it unreasonable to ask whether outsourcing to “call centres” may conceivably be the future of online learning in Ontario?
  4. Course Oversight and Approval.  Whereas traditional courses are generally subject to oversight by an academic department and to approval by curriculum committees, online courses circumvent such controls.  At Queen’s, for instance, Continuing and Distance Studies operates on the assumption that once an on-campus course has been approved by the curriculum committee, an online variant of that course requires no separate approval.  Yet the online variants differ widely from traditional classroom courses even when they share the same course name and course number.  This irregularity compromises faculty control over their work and removes a critical safeguard for academic quality.
  5. Managing (Reducing?) Faculty Complements: MTCU is very concerned about the high percentage of university budgets made up by teaching salaries. This is talked about extensively in the provincial Liberal’s Paper on Differentiation of Ontario Universities. It speculates on a future in which we have a strict division between Research and Teaching Universities. Core tenured faculty who do research will be required to bring in research dollars and commercial partnerships. It is foreseen that their salaries will be, in part, paid for by money brought in for research. Teaching, on the other hand, will be done mostly by contractually-limited faculty who focus on teaching and administration rather than research. Here’s some questions: If a university owns the IP and licensure for a sufficient number of courses in a program, why would they need to populate that program with tenured faculty? Why would they not simply have people who “facilitate” programs through the OOLC portal – people who may be facilitating courses “developed” at other universities?
  6. Facilitation vs. Imposition.  Attendees at the Friday meeting believed that use and sharing of online resources can be positive, but should be initiated at the grass-roots level to address pedagogical needs – which are best identified by Faculty and students.  When OOLC and the COU solicits offers of online courses, when it specifically calls for high-enrolment courses, and when it specifies the purpose of  “improving institutional productivity and the efficient use of resources,” they raise concerns that online learning is being promoted from above for cost-cutting purposes only.  The rise of activity-based budgeting (now in use at McMaster, Queen’s, U of T, and York University), similarly raises concerns that academic units may be pressed to use online resources, not primarily for pedagogical enhancement, but to increase student-faculty ratios and tuition income.
  7. Compensation Inequity: Individuals creating online courses in Ontario have been treated inconsistently:  Some have been promised $25,000 for developing an online course, while others have been offered the equivalent of teaching one overload course (about $8,000). As noted above, at OCAD U it is between $2,500 and $7,400. Again, “developers” voluntarily operate as “free agents” outside of the MOA.
  8. Workload:  Compensation for instructors of distance and online courses may be at the same rate as for overload teaching of conventional courses, whereas the workload demands may be considerably greater.  Reports by attendees included: (a) around-the-clock schedules dictated by globally dispersed online students; (b) excessive time commitments due to online queries by students which frequently include not only academic content questions but also requests for technical advice related to the online medium; (c) additional marking due to use of asynchronous teaching-learning strategies requiring additional grading and feedback; and (d) in some cases, additional time for course preparation and/or developing new technological skills (e.g. real-time distance technologies such as Cisco WebEx).
  9. Loss of Diversity: OCAD U faculty should be concerned about the loss of diversity among personnel, intellectual approaches, and cultural points of view when courses that used to be offered in multiple versions among (and even within) universities are replaced by one monological province-wide online course.  In this respect the project for standardized, province-wide online learning resembles the efficiencies of monoculture.
  10. Locking-in of Course Contents and Approaches: OCAD U faculty should also be concerned about the mechanization involved in online teaching, and also to the loss of dialogue and competition among versions and viewpoints (see concern #8). OOLC’s online courses will be slow to change, whereas in-class courses and distance-delivery courses at many universities are different with each iteration. The current stipulation that newly created online courses must be taught every year for five years for reasons of cost suggests this kind of stasis.