White Paper on the Role for
Distance Learning at Skidmore College:
A communication from IRC to CEPP

(draft 5.1 of 5/5/2000)

Introduction

Distance Learning is a means of education that is capturing the attention of colleges and universities. The rapid evolution of digital technology has delivered powerful and ubiquitous resources for teaching distance learning courses. The impulse to develop distance learning courses is growing within higher education; Skidmore College must be alert to this impulse and prepared to deal with the challenges that distance learning will inevitably deliver to the following considerations:

  • the College curriculum,
  • the ways in which faculty work,
  • issues of credit for courses,
  • degree requirements,
  • new educational opportunities for students,
  • and matters of intellectual property rights.

We should begin now to discuss these and other related issues. One need only read the nearly continuous stream of news on distance learning and observe the actions of colleges and universities to understand why it is important for the College to explore and develop policy on distance learning. IRC requests opportunity to meet with the Committee on Educational Policies and Planning so we may begin a discussion on distance learning. We would hope that such discussion will lead reasonably soon to policy designed to guide development of all forms of distance learning offered at Skidmore, and to assure uniformity of quality among all College distance learning courses.

The issues related to distance learning are many and complicated. Indeed each new generation of technology increases our capacity to teach and learn in this way, calling into question our capacity to ignore innovation while standing behind a cloak of tradition. We will do better if we acknowledge the growing influence of technology, and use that influence to help our traditions evolve rather than allow those traditions to be threatened by forces that we have disregarded. The balance of this white paper speaks to major questions that have occurred to IRC in its considerations of distance learning. We hope that this document will be read as an invitation to discussion, as suggestions of issues that are worthy of exploration, and most surely as as work in progress.

When reviewing potential roles for distance learning technologies at Skidmore College, one encounters a combination of several distinct questions.

  • Who owns the intellectual property rights associated with distance learning courses?
  • Should Skidmore students be permitted to take courses via distance learning?
  • Should Skidmore College offer individual courses via distance learning?
  • Should Skidmore College offer degree programs via distance learning?
  • Should Skidmore faculty be permitted to offer courses via distance learning through other institutions?

This report addresses each of these questions individually.

Who owns the intellectual property rights associated with distance learning courses?

The intellectual property rights associated with distance learning and other online courses should be assigned in a manner analogous to current practices with non-technology based scholarship. In particular,

  • Faculty shall have 100% ownership of all materials where the College's support does not extend substantially beyond that provided as part of normal and customary activities. This includes, for example, office space, library facilities, faculty development grants, and other similar services.
  • In situations where major College support is necessary in order to develop the materials, then shared ownership should be negotiated between the College and the individual faculty members.
  • CFG should recommend to the Dean of the Faculty the conditions whereby institutional support transitions from the first to the second of the above situations.

Should Skidmore students be permitted to take courses via distance learning?

Skidmore students should be allowed to take courses offered by other institutions via distance learning. These should be reviewed in a manner consistent with the existing practices for awarding degree credit for courses transferred from other colleges and universities. Typically, this review includes a close examination of the course syllabus, consultation with the faculty advisor, and -- where needed -- consultation with discipline experts. The Registrar's decisions are reviewed by the Committee on Academic Standing (CAS) along guidelines established by CEPP and the Curriculum Committee.

Some examples of why Skidmore students might enroll in a distance learning course.

Should Skidmore College offer individual courses via distance learning?

It is appropriate for the College to offer individual courses via distance learning, provided that the participants recognize that such courses are largely experimental, and that the courses conform to the following conditions:

  1. Course proposals are reviewed by the Curriculum committee to assure that they meet the existing College standards for excellence in content and pedagogical interaction.

  2. The intended audience for the course be matriculated undergraduate students. It is not appropriate for the College to sponsor courses whose primary audience are people with no existing relationship to the College.

  3. The course materials shall bear the name and sponsorship of Skidmore College.

Should Skidmore College offer degree programs via distance learning?

The subcommittee believes that Special Programs is the only appropriate unit within the College to create or offer degree programs whose content is delivered predominantly or exclusively via distance learning.

This recommendation is based on both pragmatic and philosophical considerations. These include:

  1. It makes no sense for the main college to duplicate the services already provided via the UWW and MALS.

  2. At this time, the technology for distance learning is not sufficiently robust to replicate the close personal interactions among students and faculty that form the hallmark of the undergraduate curriculum.

Should Skidmore faculty be permitted to offer courses via distance learning through other institutions?

The College has a long-standing practice of forbidding full time faculty from offering courses at other institutions without prior consent by the Dean of Faculty (Faculty Handbook, p.101). The same principle should apply for distance learning courses.