Assembling the heterogeneous elements for (digital) learning

Build it and they will come – starting with the institution

In the last PhD update I outlined a change to tack. I’ve moved from working on chapter 2 (the lit review) to working on chapter 4. Chapter 4 is the first of two chapters, each describing one iteration of the 2 action research cycles that make up the core contribution of the thesis. Chapter 4 focuses on the period from 1996 through to 1999 and is titled “Build it and they will come”.

The following is the introduction and first part of the first major section of that chapter. Most of the content seeks to describe CQU as it stood in 1996. i.e. it’s attempting to outline the context in which the development of Webfuse arose. The next post/section will offer a description of the state of “e-learning” use at CQU by the end of 1996.

You should be aware, as with previous posts containing sections of the thesis, the following is at a rough draft stage. Most of the prose is there, in the right structure but it hasn’t been gone over with a fine tooth comb.


The aim of this work is to formulate an Information Systems Design Theory (ISDT) for e-learning within a university setting. As outlined in Chapter 3, the work has used an iterative, action-research process over a number of years to develop and evolve a real information system with thousands of users and to provide the foundation and insight to formulate the ISDT. Previous publications (Jones & Gregor, 2004, 2006) have described the formulation of the ISDT using three separate phases, this thesis will use two. This chapter describes the first phase of ISDT formulation from 1996 through 1999 and its use of a somewhat unique technical solution married with fairly naïve, traditional and misguided approach to dissemination. Chapter 5 takes up the story from 2000 through 2004 and adopts more informed approaches to both technology and process with improved outcomes.

Both chapters use a common structure adapted from the synthesised design and action research approach proposed by Cole, Purao, Rossi and Sein (2005). This structure starts with a definition of the problem (Section 4.2) to be addressed in terms of the context in which this work commenced in 1996 and the organisational requirements at that stage. Next, section 4.3 describes the design and implementation of the information system designed to fulfil those organisational requirements. Section 4.4 presents an evaluation of the resulting system and its use from 1996 through 1999. The chapter closes with a reflection and learning section (Section 4.5) that seeks to abstract the knowledge gained during this intervention with the aim of making a practical and theoretical contribution. For this work this abstraction will take the form of the first generation of the ISDT using the anatomy of an ISDT proposed in Gregor and Jones (2007).

While originally conceptualised in 1996 (Jones & Buchanan, 1996) as a research project, the implementation of the system discussed in this thesis was not initially seen as a process that would produce an ISDT. This is one reason why the first three sections of this chapter do not mention design theory or design research. Instead, they seek to describe the principles, ideas and approaches taken as expressed during 1996 to 1999. This description draws upon a number of publications from that time (Gregor, Jones, Lynch, & Plummer, 1999; Jones, 1995, 1996a, 1996b, 1999a, 1999b; Jones & Buchanan, 1996; McCormack & Jones, 1997), supplemented with email and log archives. This description has also been shared with other individuals involved in the activities. The abstraction into an ISDT is outlined in Section 4.5 and is being written in 2009 and has been informed by prior attempts to abstract the principles and processes from 1996-1999 into an ISDT (Jones & Gregor, 2004, 2006; Jones, Gregor, & Lynch, 2003).

Section 4.2 – Problem definition

This work commences in mid-1996 within the Department of Mathematics and Computing (M&C) at Central Queensland University (CQU) with the recognition that the department needed to make greater use of the World-Wide-Web and other Internet-based technologies in its teaching and learning. This need arose due to the increasing quantity and diversity of the department’s students, prior experience with e-learning, increasing interest in the Web and perceived limitations with traditional teaching methods. The problem was how to enable the department to adopt e-learning across its teaching and learning. This section provides more background to this problem by first describing the institutional context (Section 4.2.1) within which this research takes place and the experience with e-learning within this institution in the period leading up to 1996 (Section 4.2.2). Section 4.3 moves onto to describe the design and nature of the intervention undertaken to address the problem.

4.2.1 – The institution

Central Queensland University (CQU) is an Australian university which started life in the town of Rockhampton in 1967 (Bowser, Danaher, & Somasundaram, 2007). Since that time it has undergone a series of name changes starting with the Queensland Institute of Technology (QIT) Capricornia in 1967, Capricornia Institute of Advance Education in June 1971, the University College of Central Queensland in 1990, the University of Central Queensland in 1992, Central Queensland University in 1994 and CQUniversity in 2008 (McConachie, Harreveld, Luck, Nouwens, & Danaher, 2006; David Oliver & Van Dyke, 2004). as the Queensland Institutue of Technology (Capricornia) in 1967. It became the Capricornia Institute of Advanced Education in 1971 and the University College of Central Queensland in 1990 (Central Queensland University, 2006). The 1990 name change was part of the abolution of the binary system within Australian higher education and marked the institution transition to full university status. Full university status was achieved in January 1992 with the initial name the University of Central Queensland which was changed to Central Queensland University in 1994 (Central Queensland University, 2006).

Throughout the 70s, 80s and 90s significant changes were made to how and where the institution drew its students. These changes arose from a combination of institutional need, environmental and sector influences and an on-going need to increase student enrolment to ensure long-term viability. Three significant shifts in student population and methods of learning and teaching experienced by CQU included: the adoption of distance education; development of additional Central Queensland campuses; and expansion into international campuses through commercial partnership. Each of these is briefly explained in the following.

The adoption of distance education. The large geographic distances and small population based within the institution’s local area made distance education an appropriate response to community needs for higher education (Dave Oliver & Romm, 2001). In 1974 the institution became the first Australian provider of a Bachelor of Applied Science via distance education (David Oliver & Van Dyke, 2004) with Biology, Mathematics and Management following in subsequent years. By 1983 the number of students enrolled to study via distance education exceeded the number enrolled as on-campus students (Cryle, 1992). By 1995 of the approximately 9000 people enrolled with CQU, 4500 were studying by distance education with many of these unable to easily access the various sites supporting distance education (Davison, 1996).

The development of additional Central Queensland regional campuses. From the mid-1980s a variety of community pressures contributed to the establishment of additional campuses in the Central Queensland towns of Mackay (350 kilometres to the north), Gladstone (120 kilometres to the south), Bundaberg (330 kilometres to the south) and Emerald (280 kilometres to the west). This produced a network of campuses covering a geographical area of some 616,121 square kilometres (Dave Oliver & Romm, 2001). Until 1996, these campuses only offered the first year of courses with students having to move to Rockhampton or study by distance education to complete their studies (Luck, 1999). This resulted in some students transferring to other universities after their first year. To address this attrition and become a true regional institution second and third years of some degress were introduced on other regional campuses (David Oliver & Van Dyke, 2004). Interactive videoconferencing facilities (discussed in more details in the Section 4.2.2) were implemented to support the necessary multi-campus teaching of advanced courses (Luck, 1999).

The development of the international campuses through commercial partnership. During 1998, CQU’s Vice-Chancellor continued an on-going argument that the survival of regional university, like CQU, was dependent on it being able to raise funds from a non-government source. At this time CQU had commenced planned growth into overseas student markets, both internationally and within Australia, in order to strengthen CQU’s local campuses (Singh, 1998, pp. 13-14). Throught the 1990s CQU formed partnerships with a small number of overseas companies to teach students within Singapore, Hong Kong, Fiji and Dubai. In the early 1990s, through a commercial partnership with a private company, the institution established a number of campuses in major Australian cities – Sydney (1994), Melbourne (1996), Brisbane (1998), Fiji (1998) and the Gold Coast (2001) – to cater specifically for overseas students (David Oliver & Van Dyke, 2004). Students at these campuses are tutored by locally appointed academic staff, specifically employed for teaching rather than research, giving face-to-face tutorials and lectures supplemented with distance education materials (Marshall & Gregor, 2002, p. 29). Consequently, it was possible that some courses with large enrolments at multiple campuses could have 40 or more academic staff teaching the course in different locations.

Table 4.1 provides an overview of the student cohort at CQU during the time period 1996 through 1999. The overview shows the percentage of individual students enrolled at CQU through the various modes. Distance education students relied on primarily on print-based materials and rarely attended a campus. Regional campus students attended one of the institution’s Central Queensland campuses. International campus students attended one of the campuses within Australia, created by CQU’s commercial partner primarily for international students. During this time period only the Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane campuses were operating. Overseas international students were studying in Dubai, Singapore or Hong Kong using CQU learning materials and supported by a local, commercial partner of CQU.

Table 4.1 – Overview of CQU student numbers (1996-1999) by mode
  1996 1997 1998 1999
Distance education 59.4% 55.6% 53.7% 52.3%
Regional campus 34.7% 34.7% 32.6% 31.1%
International campus 4.4% 7.7% 10.5% 13.1%
Overseas international 1.6% 3.1% 3.3% 3.6%

In 1996, CQU’s academic units were broken up into six Faculties (Arts, Applied Science, Business, Education, Health Science and Engineering) made up of departments. The Department of Mathematics & Computing (M&C) at Central Queensland University (CQU) was part of the Faculty of Applied Science. The Department had a history of teaching programs in Mathematics and Information Technology (applied computing) to students studying on-campus or via print-based distance education. Distance education students rarely, if ever, set foot on a university campus. M&C had significant experience in print-based distance education, becoming amongst the first in the world to offer a professional computing course via print-based distance education when it offered Computer Science I in 1975 (Hinz, 1977).

Many of CQU’s distance computing students are mature, highly motivated people many of whom have already completed previous tertiary studies or have worked in the computing industry. The majority (87%) of CQU distance computing students study part-time while working full-time (Philip Farrands & Cranston, 1993) and in many cases supporting a family. By 1996, CQU was essentially a second generation distance education (Nipper, 1989) dual-mode provider. This means that the same courses were delivered to both on-campus and distance students, generally by the same teaching staff. With distance education students relying predominantly on print, in the form of study guides, textbooks and resource materials books, as the primary teaching medium (Jones, 1996b). University policy required that all courses offered by distance education must pass through the DDCE system (Macpherson & Smith, 1998).

The reputation of CQU’s pre-dominantly paper-based distance education resources is a result of a mostly collaborative effort between academics, instructional designers, editors, printery staff and other employees such as maintenance workers and administrative staff (Davison, 1996). In 1996, the Division of Distance and Continuing Education (DDCE) was responsible for the production and distribution of all distance learning material and consequently the specification of deadlines and the style of distance education material (Jones, 1996a). DDCE also offered a range of services including and instructional design, editing, management of assignment submission, and various other student support services. A wide range of computing and communications facilities were provided and maintained by the Information Technology Division (ITD). However, a small number of academic departments, such as the Department of Mathematics and Computing, funded and maintained their own information technology resources.

During 1997 and 1998 the institution undertook a comprehensive review of academic structures. The primary intent was to make the institution more competitive in an increasingly aggressive higher education marketplace (Macpherson & Smith, 1998). As a result of this review, a new structure of faculties of schools was created through innovative combinations of complementary disciplines that offered potential synergies that could be exploited to improve both teaching and research programs (Higher Education Division, 1999). The original six faculties were reduced to five through the combination of some existing faculties and the creation of a new one. The Department of Mathematics and Computing was moved from the Faculty of Applied Science to the Faculty of Informatics and Communications (Infocom). Infocom brought together the discipline areas of information technology, information systems, communication, cultural studies, journalism, mathematics and health informatics (Condon, Shepherd, & Parr, 2003) At the same time, the institution introduced a change from a two-semester academic year to a four-term academic year with the intent of attracting new students by enabling them to complete degrees over shorter periods of time (Macpherson & Smith, 1998).

The nature of a dual-mode, second generation distance education institution, the capabilities of the existing technologies, and the resulting organisational policies and processes necessary to support this practice across a large number of courses created a range of problems. These problems were widely known within the distance education literature (Caladine, 1993; Galusha, 1997; Jones, 1996a; Keegan, 1993; Sherry, 1995) and included, amongst others: high attrition in initial courses; loss of student motivation; significant up-front costs; limited interaction, collaboration or active learning; inflexibility in processes and materials; limited recognition and reward for staff; the out of sight, out of mind problem; and constraints of the print medium. The existence of these problems and the availability of a range of technologies and media have led members of the CQU community to undertake a range of experiments with e-learning. A brief overview of these experiments leading up to the start of this project in 1996 is provided in the following section.


Bowser, D., Danaher, P., & Somasundaram, J. (2007). Indigenous, pre-undergraduate and international students at Central Queensland University, Australia: three cases of the dynamic tension between diversity and commonality. Teaching in Higher Education, 12(5), 669-681.

Caladine, R. (1993). Overseas experience in non-traditional modes of delivery in higher education using state-of-the-art technologies: A literature review. Canberra: Department of Employment, Education and Training.

Central Queensland University. (2006). The history of Central Queensland University.   Retrieved 9 Jan, 2007, 2007, from

Cole, R., Purao, S., Rossi, M., & Sein, M. (2005). Being proactive: Where action research meets design research. Paper presented at the Twenty-Sixth International Conference on Information Systems.

Condon, A., Shepherd, J., & Parr, S. (2003). Managing the evolution of a new faculty in the 21st century. Paper presented at the ATEM’2003.

Cryle, D. (1992). Academia Capricornia: A history of the University of Central Queensland. Rockhampton, QLD: University of Central Queensland.

Davison, T. (1996). Distance learning and information technology: Problems and solutions in balancing caring, access and success for students. Distance Education, 17(1), 145-158.

Farrands, P., & Cranston, M. (1993). Computing facilities of distance students. Paper presented at the Distance Education Futures, 11th Biennial ASPESA Forum.

Galusha, J. (1997). Barriers to learning in distance education. Interpersonal Computing and Technology, 5(3-4), 6-14.

Gregor, S., & Jones, D. (2007). The anatomy of a design theory. Journal of the Association for Information Systems, 8(5), 312-335.

Gregor, S., Jones, D., Lynch, T., & Plummer, A. A. (1999). Web information systems development: some neglected aspects. Paper presented at the Proceedings of the International Business Association Conference, Cancun, Mexico.

Higher Education Division. (1999). The quality of Australian higher education: An overview. Canberra, ACT: Department of Education, Training and Youth Affairs.

Hinz, T. (1977). Teaching computing subjects externally. Paper presented at the Conference on Research in Mathematics Education, Melbourne.

Jones, D. (1995). 1000 users on a 486. Paper presented at the SAGE-AU’95, Wollongong.

Jones, D. (1996a). Computing by distance education: Problems and solutions. Paper presented at the Integrating Technology into Computer Science Education.

Jones, D. (1996b). Solving Some Problems of University Education: A Case Study. Paper presented at the AusWeb’96, Gold Coast, QLD.

Jones, D. (1999a). Solving some problems with university education: Part II. Paper presented at the Ausweb’99, Balina, Australia.

Jones, D. (1999b). Webfuse: An integrated, eclectic web authoring tool. Paper presented at the Proceedings of EdMedia’99, World Conference on Educational Multimedia, Hypermedia & Telecommunications, Seattle.

Jones, D., & Buchanan, R. (1996). The design of an integrated online learning environment. Paper presented at the Proceedings of ASCILITE’96, Adelaide.

Jones, D., & Gregor, S. (2004). An information systems design theory for e-learning. Paper presented at the Managing New Wave Information Systems: Enterprise, Government and Society, Proceedings of the 15th Australasian Conference on Information Systems, Hobart, Tasmania.

Jones, D., & Gregor, S. (2006). The formulation of an Information Systems Design Theory for E-Learning. Paper presented at the First International Conference on Design Science Research in Information Systems and Technology, Claremont, CA.

Jones, D., Gregor, S., & Lynch, T. (2003). An information systems design theory for web-based education. Paper presented at the IASTED International Symposium on Web-based Education, Rhodes, Greece.

Keegan, D. (1993). Theoretical princples of distance education: Routledge.

Luck, J. (1999). Teaching and learning using interactive videoconferencing: screen-based classrooms require the development of new ways of working. Paper presented at the AARE-NZARE, Melbourne, Australia.

Macpherson, C., & Smith, A. (1998). Academic authors’ perceptions of the instructional design and development process for distance education: A case study. Distance Education, 19(1), 124-141.

Marshall, S., & Gregor, S. (2002). Distance education in the online world: Implications for higher education. In R. Discenza, C. Howard & K. Schenk (Eds.), The design and management of effective distance learning programs (pp. 21-36). Hershey, PA, USA: IGI Publishing.

McConachie, J., Harreveld, R. E., Luck, J., Nouwens, F., & Danaher, P. (2006). Editor’s introduction. In J. McConachie, R. E. Harreveld, J. Luck, F. Nouwens & P. Danaher (Eds.), Doctrina perpetua: brokering change, promoting innovation and transforming marginalisation in university learning and teaching. Teneriffe, Qld: Post Pressed.

McCormack, C., & Jones, D. (1997). Building a Web-Based Education System. New York: John Wiley & Sons.

Nipper, S. (1989). Third generation distance learning and computer conferencing. In R. Mason & A. Kaye (Eds.), Mindweave: Communication, Computers and Distance Education (pp. 63-73). Oxford, UK: Pergamon Press.

Oliver, D., & Romm, C. (2001). Integrated systems: Management approaches to acquiring them in Australian Universities. In K. Pearlson (Ed.), Managing and using information systems: A strategic approach: John Wiley & Sons.

Oliver, D., & Van Dyke, M. (2004). Looking back, looking in and looking on: Treading over the ERP battleground. In L. von Hellens, S. Nielsen & J. Beekhuyzen (Eds.), Qualitative case studies on implementation of enterprise wide systems (pp. 123-138). Hershey, PA: Idea Group.

Sherry, L. (1995). Issues in distance learning. International Journal of Educational Telecommunications, 1(4), 337-365.

Singh, M. (1998). Globalism, cultural diversity and tertiary education. Australian Universities Review, 41(2), 12-17.


ePortfolios in universities – forget it?


PhD update #18 – moving along


  1. jffsunrise

    I was having a conversation at Council regarding the closure of the Printing, Registration & Despatch unit. My comment was that this was the last of the ‘print’ distance ed., and sadly an index of the decline in CQU’s status as a first rate distance ed. provider (USQ now claim that status). The instructional designers provided the interface between cutting edge pedagogy, academics and the students. Unfortunately, the online world (and the loss of the IDs) turned all this on its head, and the whole thing got away from us. Lots of room to debate all this, of course. However, I was wondering whether in anything you’ve written, or anyone else, whether this story has been told – I mean in a way that might be convincing for the boffins to invest a bit more in the DE/ Online arena. If you know of anything, I would appreciate it. What you have written above is a good start.

    John Fitzsimmons

    • G’day John,

      Given the amount of feedback I gave during the “DTLS” process and the somewhat less than successful impact of that feedback, I don’t think I’m the one to ask. I’m also not sure that there would be any thing that would work. One of the currently unwritten parts of the people section of chapter 2 looks at what the literature says about people not being rational decision makers. Personally, I think this is a situation where rationality doesn’t apply.

      Personally, I think most of the literature and certainly most of what is happening draws on fairly traditional, out-dated and inappropriate models of systems and processes. I’ve been trying to make that point for almost 10 years, without any noticeable success, especially recently. Not sure I’m the one to ask.


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