The alert reader (blithely assuming that there’s at least one) will have noticed a change of name for this blog, from the ODLAA President’s Occasional Blog (hence the ‘opob’ in the URL) to David’s Occasional Blog (how’s that for creativity!).
The simple reason is, unsurprisingly, that I am no longer President of the Open and Distance Learning Association of Australia (ODLAA). Although I was elected in December 2007 for a two-year tenure of office, I discovered the end of a year that I had not achieved anything like I had initially envisaged, and so sacked myself (well, resigned) on December 8 (my birthday) 2008. It is my fervent hope/belief that the new Executive will be able to get ODLAA back on track, whatever track that might be!
I say that because the organisation is clearly at something of a crossroads, as the interim President has outlined succinctly in her message to members. Membership is small, and it is increasingly difficult for overworked academics to find the time and energy to devote to the demands of a professional body. As well, as more than one person has observed, Australia doesn’t have the numbers to support the current crop of such bodies, the main three being HERDSA, ASCILITE and ODLAA.
So, should ODLAA strive to maintain its independence, or align itself with one of the others? There are of course valid arguments either way (which I shall not detail here – I’m sure that ODLAA members will thrash it out), though it would be a shame for it to become a minor appendage of another organisation. Should amalgamation be the preferred pathway, a better solution would be for ODLAA and another organisation to jointly form a new body. This was recently achieved by CADE (the Canadian Association for Distance Education) when it joined forces with the Association for Media and Technology in Education in Canada (AMTEC) to become the Canadian Network for Innovation in Education (CNIE).
The present dilemma is also a reminder of the challenge faced a few decades ago by leading proponents of distance education who were striving to achieve greater academic credibility. Should they devote their efforts to research and publish in established journals, or seek to establish distance education as a separate discipline with its own journals, associations, conferences, etc? We know the answer to that one – distance education is now well established as a strong and viable field of education.
But what of the future? Will it remain separate (it’s already taken a slight turn with the current apparent dominance of ‘open and distance learning’), or rejoin the mainstream? This question has been around for yonks (remember Smith and Kelly’s Distance Education and the Mainstream? It’s now more than two decades old!), and is likely to challenge the leaders in the field for yet a while.
So, back to the title. Will there be a change of name for distance education? Peter Smith and Mavis Kelly, along with their contributing authors, were looking forward to this decade in their book, with one of their number, James Hall, noting that “the technology-pedagogy gap … must be overcome if the use of telecommunications in serving distance education is to be effective”. Many would now claim (rightly, IMHO) that the gap has been overcome. Does this give us a clue to a new name? Just what will we be calling our educational endeavours in 20 years’ time?
Finally, if you’ve got a better title for my blog (at least reasonably polite, please!), let me know.