TeleEducation NB: Developing a Provincial Learning Industry PDR
The maritime Canadianprovince of New Brunswick has recently created the TeleCampus, aneconomic development initiative that supports the creation of anon-line virtual learning environment. The TeleCampus supportspublic-private sector cooperation, and the seeding of small companiesto develop exportable education and training content for marketingworld wide. This initiative is a manifestation of the New Brunswickview that education and training is a growth industry with greatpotential for job creation. As such, the New Brunswick government, incollaboration with the private sector and the Regional DevelopmentCorporation, is supporting the TeleCampus initiative with aninvestment of more than CDN$15 million.
This initiative is beingadministered by, and integrated with TeleEducation NB, aprovince-wide distributed learning network, which promotes educationand training and supports the development of the provincial advancedtraining technology sector of the economy. TeleEducation NB is abilingual (French/English) distributed learning network that has nowbeen in existence since 1993. The network provides technical andpedagogical support, training and financial aid to public and privatesector education and training institutions. It facilitates thedelivery of courses to more than 100 remote sites in 47 communitieswithin the province (see http://teleeducation.nb.ca/).
The TeleCampus initiativeis an integral component of the economic development strategy of theprovince, which is promoting the development of knowledge industries.The world economy is moving from its traditional manufacturing,primary industries base into one that is based on knowledge. Theknowledge economy means that most economic activity will be based onthe creation, transmission and transformation of knowledge. This isnot an ephemeral concept. Education and training are taking a centralposition in the economy. This new economy relies heavily on theability to produce a well-trained and educated workforce. The firstregions that can provide a thriving environment for continualtraining (whether on the job or in the home) will enjoy significantadvantages. Jobs will be attracted to the regions with qualityknowledge economy work forces.
Entering into the1890s, the North American economy was dependent on the horse. Placeslike Kentucky and Georgia prospered from their expertise in raisinghorses and building carriages. By the early years of the twentiethcentury, however, this economic "driver" had been displaced by theautomobile. In out-of-the-way backwaters in Michigan and Ontario,eccentrics were tinkering away building "horseless carriages".Investors, looking for profits, began to realize that money could bemade from these new concepts in transportation. They naturallygravitated towards those areas where people had the expertise, andbrought their capital with them. This established the region as theleader in the automobile manufacturing economy, which was theeconomic engine for the twentieth century.
In the same way, thelearning industry is now poised to be the economic driver of thetwenty-first century. Savvy investors are beginning to search forwise investments in new economy industries. New Brunswick, a smallCanadian province about the same size as its neighbor, Maine, has apopulation of 760 000, many of whom are tinkering with courseware andon-line content development and delivery.
TeleEducation NB throughthe Telecampus is creating an on-line environment that will supportthe development of multimedia courseware and the on-line delivery ofcourses at all educational levels, involving public and privatesector training organizations and courseware developers. Eachgovernment department is identifying training priorities that can bemet through the development of on-line courseware and delivered on adistributed network. The implementation process itself is promotingeconomic development through broadening access to learningopportunities, training teachers and students in using the new media,and developing provincial expertise in information technologies. Themultimedia content area is one of the fastest growing sectors of theworld economy. The provincial government is stimulating the growth ofsmall entrepreneurial courseware development and training companiesby specifying their own training priorities and guaranteeing aninitial market for the courseware that is produced.
New Brunswick, through theefforts of NBTel (The New Brunswick Telephone Company) and FundyCable, has gained international recognition as a leader because ofits advanced telecommunications infrastructure. To date, the provinceis the only province or state that has a 100% digital fiber opticinfrastructure connecting all towns. Through their collaborativeefforts, the provincial government and NBTel have succeeded inpositioning New Brunswick as a North American leader in hostingtelephone call centers. TeleEducation NB has added to this reputationin the training technology/distributed learning field. Already, as adirect result, the Information Technology sector has grown from threesmall companies in the province in 1992 to over 200 companies in1997, including Canada's largest courseware development company,First Class Systems, and the world's largest on-line trainer -Scholars.com. The TeleCampus initiative is designed to build on thislead and use the advanced infrastructure and available expertise toestablish New Brunswick as a key player in the advanced trainingtechnologies industries.
The TeleCampus initiativewill be used to further seed the development of small private sectorlearning technology companies. Companies are partnering with theTeleCampus for specific projects that can benefit provincialresidents, while having marketability outside the province. Throughthe TeleEducation NB Program Development Fund, small companies in theprovince have been supported in starting up their businesses. In somecases, companies have been able to lever their original aid to winnew contracts. For example, Applied Courseware Technology, a smallstart-up company, has since won major defense contracts and has nowdeveloped a world-class instructional design tool called Mystro thatis being used by major companies across North America.
Scholars.com is a small company that received initial aid fromTeleEducation NB. Through its partnerships with CBT Systems,Microsoft and the Microsoft Online Institute, it is now deliveringMicrosoft Certified Professional and Novell Certification coursesinternationally to more than 1000 students at any one time. It is now(considered) the largest on-line training company in the world (seehttp://www.scholars.com).
Training is beingdelivered to students in a number of different environments. Many arefull time students in private training companies, community colleges,universities or high schools. Others are studying from their homes orusing community centers to access the Web. The environments areflexible enough to accommodate both systematic programs andon-request learning. A major principle behind the new TeleCampus webenvironment is that any provincially-based organization will be ableto access it for the delivery or reception of courses. This commonenvironment for public and private sector organizations facilitatesthe development and delivery of these programs.
The University of NewBrunswick is offering first-year university courses on the Internetto students at Community Access Centres around the province. Yearly,it hosts the international NAWEB conference for World Wide Web coursedevelopers. The Université de Moncton offers an MBA programon-line to other provinces and to students in France. At itsEdmundston campus, it hosts the International Centre for theDevelopment of the Electronic Highway in French(CIDIF).
For provincialinstitutions, both public and private, commitment to the TeleCampusentails little risk, few up-front costs and can be approachedincrementally. Institutions retain local control of their programs,and businesses can participate fully or just use particular featureswhile maintaining full control over their own activities. They can beas independent as they choose, specializing in their areas of maximumstrength. In addition, support and training is provided by the staffof TeleEducation NB.
TeleCampus funding isbeing provided over three years from three principal sources: TheRegional Development Corporation (CDN$6.5 million), the provincialdepartment of Advanced Education and Labour, and TeleEducation NB(CDN$6.4 million). The private sector must supply more than 50%funding in the projects in which they participate. This will be atleast CDN$3.6 million. It is significant that more than half thefunding will be used for content development.
The TeleCampus consists offour units: Service Delivery, Content Development, Marketing andResearch. TeleEducation NB provides central coordination, usersupport, facilitation and consulting services, training for trainers,distance education information, and financing for projects. TheCoordinating Committee is composed of ten private sectorrepresentatives and ten from the public sector. This committee hasthe responsibility to ensure effective public and private sectorpartnering at all levels, including the creation of the on-lineenvironment, the infrastructure and content development.
The Service Delivery Unitmaintains more than 100 audiographic teleconferencing sites in 47communities around the province and is collaborating with the federalCommunity Access program to open up another 100 sites with Internetaccess. In this way, the people of New Brunswick - no matter wherethey live or their social status - will have convenient access tocourses as they become available.
The Content DevelopmentUnit is responsible for the Program Development Fund (CAN$ 5.4million), which supports content development projects for exportingprograms on-line. There are two lead projects. The New BrunswickCommunity College Miramichi is developing a series of programs foron-line delivery in Multimedia Learning, Electronic Game Design,Knowledge Engineering, Courseware Authoring, Artificial Intelligenceand Educational Technology. The other project is a French languageprogram from the College Communautaire de Nouveau-Brunswick Bathurstcalled Bureautique (Office Technology).
Funding of up to 50% ofthe initial cost of a project (maximum CAN$100,000 per project) isbeing provided through a Program Development Fund for targeted coursedevelopment. Projects aimed primarily at the New Brunswick market arenot supported. Participants must present a business case for themarketability of a program outside the province.
The Corporate MarketingUnit is responsible for strategic marketing for the TeleCampus. It isworking in close collaboration with the New Brunswick Training Group,which represents provincial trainers and courseware developers, theprovincial Department of Economic Development and private sectorcompanies. Together, they are developing a comprehensive marketingstrategy.
Researchand Development Unit
Research and Developmentis being conducted by TeleEducation NB staff in liaison withprovincial universities and companies. New tools for the developmentand delivery of courses are being examined. In addition,TeleEducation NB is an active participant in the pan-CanadianTeleLearning Research Network of Centres of Excellence and theEducation Committee of CANARIE (Canadian Network for the Advancementof Research, Industry and Education).
The TeleCampus is beingcreated with the participation of public and private institutions inthe province. A common on-line environment that can be adapted to theindividual style of each participating institution is now beingassembled. Gateways to the delivering schools and companies areavailable from the TeleCampus. A student records system includingfacilities for on-line registrations and payment of fees is a keycomponent. This is essential for encouraging companies to try out andexperiment with on-line course delivery without making a largeinvestment. Student loan information for New Brunswick applicants isavailable, while the on-line student support system is currently indevelopment. Various development and delivery tools are beingresearched for inclusion in the common environment.
The bilingual(French/English) home page (http://telecampus.com)leads to separate areas for visitors, students andinstructors/developers. A separate non-public gateway is availablefor administrators. The Visitors page includes links to informationabout courses as well as general information about the TeleCampus andstudying on-line. A database of all on-line courses available on theInternet is now being created. The student area includes a supportsection, a "coffee shop" asynchronous discussion area, chat roomsutilizing Internet Relay Chat, and library links. Theinstructor/developers area also includes areas for discussion andchat as well as instructional design, web design and graphic designinformation. A tools area with links to useful tools for on-lineinstruction is also accessible.
The provincial advancedtraining technology sector gains enormously from the TeleCampusinitiative. Opportunities for profit are increased as on-linetraining projects that are exportable outside the province aresupported. Moreover, the public sector guarantees a local market forthe courseware that is developed, while also working with localcompanies to promote exports. This minimizes the risks involved withcontent creation, while maximizing the profit potential. Financingfor projects is made available through a special fund on acost-sharing basis. The inter-provincial and internationalpartnerships negotiated by the TeleCampus with other public andprivate sector educational and training organizations will help toexpand access to a larger distributed market. This will lead to newmarkets for New Brunswick organizations as programs become acceptedinternationally.
Rory McGreal ispresently the executive director of TeleEducation New Brunswick, aprovince-wide, distributed, distance learning and training network.He has worked in Canada as a teacher and teacher representative andabroad in the Seychelles, the Middle East and Europe in variouscapacities as a teacher, ESL technological training coordinator,instructional designer, language and computer laboratory coordinatorand educational advisor. He is serves on numerous provincial andnational committees concerned with education, training and theinformation highway. He is working on a Ph.D. in Computer Technologyat a distance from Nova Southeastern University. E-mail:[email protected]
This article originally appeared in the 01/01/1998 issue of THE Journal.