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JILT 1998 (2) - Abdul Paliwala (1)

John S Daniel's

Mega-Universities and Knowledge Media:

Technology Strategies for Higher Education

Kogan Page, 1998, £19.99
212pp, ISBN 0-7494-2634-9

Reviewed by
Prof Abdul Paliwala
University of Warwick

Daniel's is the second key book from the UK Open University on the link between technological change and educational change. The first is Laurillard's (1993). The two complement each other. Laurillard was largely concerned with pedagogical issues, Daniel's gaze is a wider concern with the infrastructure of teaching and learning. It is already a success as the 1996 hardcopy version was reprinted last year, and now we have the paperback. Laurillard's impact has been obvious, with her key role in the Dearing Committee. Daniel's book was equally timely for Dearing.

From his vantage point as Pro-Vice Chancellor of the OU and also as a 'life-time' learner in educational technology (he completed a masters degree in the subject in 1994 which he commenced in 1971) Daniel analyses the challenge of the 'knowledge media' (combination of computers, communications technology and the cognitive sciences) for both campus and 'mega-universities' – the latter defined as distance teaching higher education institutions with more than 100,000 students.

There is an obvious reason for the influence of work written from an OU perspective for our educational planners. The mega-universities began with an innovative challenge of providing high quality education using industrial production techniques which involved juggling with technology and resources. It is not surprising that the crisis of transformation of our 'handicraft' sector would inspiration from outsiders' views of ourselves.

Daniel's main thesis is that the knowledge media hold the key to the renewal of higher education and in this respect the Campus universities have much to learn from mega-ones, particularly as campus-universities by becoming involved in 'distance' and 'open' learning are already beginning to blur the boundaries between the two types of institution. He suggests that campus universities should tread with care the path of distance learning. It is easy to plan high tech distance learning programmes, but difficult to implement them successfully. The key chapters deal with challenges facing campus universities, the development of mega-universities, the essentials of distance learning, the innovative mixture of technology, teaching and administrative techniques by which mega-;universities maintain their competitive advantage, the challenge of making technology attractive for the learner and the teacher, the ways in which knowledge media can contribute to university renewal and, finally, the development and implementation of a technology strategy for universities. An appendix provides useful profiles of the variety of mega-universities both in the developed and developing countries.

He describes two main forms of distance education, the 'correspondence course' in which the student learns from supplied materials, does exercises and obtains feedback; and the 'remote-classroom' in which the student is presented with a distance class either via audio, video or synchronous computer conferencing. His key argument is that strategically planned and cost-effective 'mediation' of these two forms and their integration into 'flexible' learning holds the key to the renewal of all types of university. The pedagogic reason for this is that the best learning techniques in distance learning promote 'independent' or 'resource-based' learning within an 'interactive' framework.

I would enthusiastically support the central argument, but to the extent that it does not undermine the value of campus learning. Up to now, the reason why distance learning is cheaper (the figures suggested by Daniel vary between 40 and 80% of the cost of campus learning depending on type of cost) must mainly be the infrastructure cost of maintaining campuses. In distance or life-time learning, this cost is met mainly by the student herself, her employers, public libraries etc. The downside of this is that learning has to share time with work or family and often takes place in its interstices – involving large attrition rates. More significantly, there is the lack of the concentrated time needed by most mortals to develop as intellectuals, with the danger that such learning is merely another form of intensification of labour. This is not an absolute argument against 'distance' or 'life-time' learning but one against seeing it as an entire substitute. Cheaper is not necessarily better.

Another issue is that the quality of analysis of the issues facing developing country mega-universities. The intentions are good, but Daniel does not fully appreciate that the global free-market model of learning he takes for granted has particular problems for developing country institutions.

Yet, this must not undermine the value of Daniel's work, whose central lessons remain current even in the instant-change environment of the knowledge media: the insistence that pedagogy, resource management and knowledge media need to be combined effectively to meet the new learning needs.

This is a Book Review published on 30 June 1998.

Citation: Paliwala A, 'John S Daniel's Mega-Universities and Knowledge Media: Technology Strategies for Higher Education', Book Review, 1998 (2) The Journal of Information, Law and Technology (JILT). <>. New citation as at 1/1/04: <>.

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