David Cummings was the first person in his family to attend university.
In England at the time, he undertook a degree in chemistry, but it wasn’t what he really wanted to do, so through Open Universities, he returned to study English.
The idea of “openness, offering everybody education” stayed with him, and having moving to Australia in 2006, he is now Innovation, Quality and Review Manager with Open Universities Australia.
When he first arrived he was impressed with how much more the education was advanced than in the UK.
In particular, distance education was well established with many universities finding it quite easy to switch “from a print base to electronic”.
As well, Australians were taking on the world in creating e-learning software platforms such as Moodle (modular, object-oriented, dynamic learning environment) and Lectopia, an online lecture platform, both created in Western Australia.
“Australia is at the foreground of embracing e-learning,” he said. “It really is at the vanguard of distance education and e-learning.”
At OUA, Mr Cummings designs units and courses that will “scaffold students to success despite their different ages and cultural backgrounds”.
Mr Cummings said many students returning to study had memories of the “chalk and talk experience” of days gone by.
“The teacher stood up the front of the class and said ‘this is what you will learn’.
“Primary and secondary school teaching has changed. It is much more student-centred and the student is at the heart of the design.
“We need to look at how we can motivate students to work with each other while facilitated by lecturers.
“Universities have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on creating creative spaces – small groups of students, who can be set a task to work on together.
“The students are learning from each other as well as from the teacher. And online we have systems that parallel that.”
Mr Cummings said while in the past, universities had been hampered by a lack of applications to support online learning, using perhaps just PDFs and videoed lectures, the tools now available were myriad.
Of course, that offered challenges to staff who needed to stay up-to-date to be effective in their teaching roles, he said.
“I sometimes feel sorry for those at the chalk-face,” he said.
“But our response here is professional development for staff who are new to online in a pragmatic way.
“Last year we had 200 academics taking our professional development course, a supported program, over four weeks.”
Mr Cummings said Open Universities Australia and its providers recognised that its students faced real challenges as well.
“You have to be really, really committed to do this work and carve out real time for it.
“From my perspective we have to set our students up for success – and offer them the best learning experience.”
* This article was written by an independent journalist as part of a commercial agreement with Open Universities Australia.