An interesting story from Athabasca University about its two-year transformation into a virtual university. Three leaders of the campus team share the story, lessons learned, and even a couple of "unexpected outcomes."
Athabasca University (AU) is reinventing itself as a 21st century e-university. Its road to transformation involves not only integration of technology into classrooms but also a cultural shift requiring the wholesale integration of systems, skill sets, and processes across the entire organization. This transformation was greatly accelerated by two recent externally funded university programs (video 3:26 minutes): one to increase systems capacity and currency for research, collaboration, learning, content management, and student support; the other to digitize all AU course content. The programs, which had a total budget of $14 million, were part of two separate national economic stimulus initiatives under Canada's 2009 Economic Action Plan.
The sheer size, complexity, and deep institutional implications of this undertaking — coupled with the short time frame (24 months) — represented an unprecedented challenge for AU. Although these programs and their technologies are major characters in the central plot, focuses on how to effectively lead and manage large-scale change initiatives. Accordingly, here we analyze how the start-up and operation of these two major programs affected AU, focusing on project management, organizational change, acceptance by the academy, and the absorption of additional work. We also offer lessons learned for successful systematic integration of information and communication technologies (ICTs) within a large educational organization.
Side note: $7.6M in government funding that had been traditionally used for physical facilities development was made available for development that was unrelated to physical facilities. This happened because the government recognized the work as infrastructure for Athabasca:
Knowledge Infrastructure Program (KIP)
Federal and provincial governments provided $7.6 million in funding, which was channeled into more than 30 complementary projects 7 to support AU's Online Knowledge Environment (OKE). The goal was to remodel and expand research and related activities through the OKE to greatly increase capacity and currency in research and collaboration, learning and content management systems, and student support. A key point is that the funders recognized ICT as infrastructure for AU. Although many other institutions used KIP funding for buildings and physical infrastructure, information technology is the bricks and mortar of an online university. Figure 1 shows some of the subprojects, demonstrating their breadth and depth across and within the respective student lifecycle phases.