Senate discusses changes in online course delivery 

eConcordia structure has evolved since it first began in 2002

By Karen Herland

Provost David Graham presented the relationship between Concordia University and eConcordia, the online course delivery system, at the Nov. 6 Senate meeting.

His thorough presentation traced the history of the relationship, outlined issues that had arisen and described the rationale for changes in the new structure through an agreement signed in September 2008.

The current arrangement, which will operate on a two-year trial basis with the possibility of renewal, is intended to resolve issues arising from the previous system. Chief among them were concerns about academic oversight and the quality of the courses delivered, and questions about the distribution of revenues. The subject raised a lot of questions and discussion from senators, who echoed many of these concerns.

Graham presented very clear charts that demonstrated the sharp growth curves for registration for online courses since eConcordia first began to offer online courses in 2002. Since then, eConcordia course registrations have exploded from under 2 500 to over 25 000. “It is clear that students are choosing online courses for their flexibility,” he said. “If we don’t meet this need, other universities will and we risk losing students.”

Graham also asked the Institutional Planning Office to verify the academic standards of the courses offered online.

The office compared a random 10% sample of students in the same course offered both ways and found no significant difference either in grade distribution or retention.

In tracing the history of the relationship between Concordia and eConcordia, Graham acknowledged that the initial system was tentative in some respects, since it was unclear how popular online courses would be. Faculty members were approached to develop and deliver courses on their own, over and above their regular teaching load. There was little coordination through Faculties of what courses would be available, nor was there any effective way to monitor quality.

Graham explained that the new agreement, which includes letters of agreement with CUFA and CUPFA is “more in line with university governance models.” A separate entity called KnowledgeOne will deliver other non-Concordia courses (corporate training programs, courses developed by other universities, continuing education courses) as a profit-making corporation. Any profits derived from KnowledgeOne will ultimately make their way back to Concordia.

As a non-profit corporation, eConcordia has strong representation from Concordia on its nine-person board of directors, including the President, the Provost, the Vice-President, External Relations, and Secretary General, and the Dean of the JMSB.

In addition, a separate Academic Liaison Group, chaired by the Provost, and including all Concordia Deans, and the President of eConcordia is now responsible for determining the course offerings available through the system.

Overall, it seems clear that online learning works best for general, 200-level courses in fields that require familiarity with basic information or concepts. “Any kind of technologically-mediated teaching can make it harder to transfer critical thinking skills,” said Graham.

The letters of agreement establish eConcordia courses firmly as part of the regular duties of faculty who participate. The course development and teaching engagement for these courses will be treated as comparable to other university courses.

As before, eConcordia receives from the university payments essentially equivalent to the tuition paid by students registered in courses delivered by eConcordia, while the university receives the provincial FTE allocation, which represents about three times the tuition revenues. For each student registered, $20 is returned back to the academic budget, to be allocated appropriately. Previously, that amount went directly to instructors, who will now be compensated as part of their regular workload or in accordance with policies on overload teaching.

In addition to more direct participation by Concordia University in eConcordia governance, the structure establishes a clear model of course design and revision that will sees courses renewed on a regular cycle. Existing courses will be integrated into the program and renewed in the same way.

Graham summed up the importance of the system by saying, “We can respond to student needs without sacrificing academic quality and generate revenue to support academic priorities.”


Concordia University