University participation rates in North West Tasmania are still below state and national averages. Over the years various projects and schemes have been initiated to address the problem. In 1993, the situation was reassessed. Instead of continuing an extended campus approach through regional study centres, the University of Tasmania has decided to create a special learning environment designed to provide a focus for the University in the region. A centre for research and learning, incorporating a quality conference, seminar and exhibition venue for the North West community is being created. The University's agricultural research arm is being extended into the region in a joint venture with the State Departments of Primary Industry and Fisheries, Vocational Education and Training, and with major industry groups.
The ethos driving the centre is that it will not form a campus of the University, but will, via electronic data transmission and audiovisual communications system provide direct access for teaching and facilities for researchers, students and the local community. The centre will be a major point of access to the University's activities. In an audiovisual presentation, the planning and development cycle of the centre will described and critically assessed. There will he particular emphasis on the way the functions of the building were determined, the building design, and the incorporation of new information technologies and telecommunications to create a learning environment which is truly part of a university for all Tasmanians.
The purpose of this paper is to provide background information on and details of progress towards the development of the University of Tasmania's proposed centre for research and learning at Burnie in the North West region of Tasmania. The ethos driving the concept is that the centre will not form a campus of the University. Rather, it will, via electronic data transmission and audiovisual communications systems, provide direct access for teaching and facilities for researchers, students and the local community. The function of the centre is to provide a major point of access in the region to the University's activities.
As well as describing the background to the decision to create a special learning environment, this paper will outline an analytical framework to assist in assessment of the planning and development cycle of the centre. This framework is based on the perceived future outputs of the centre. In addition, potential barriers and obstacles which have or may emerge will be identified.
At the Conference itself, in an audiovisual presentation, the criteria used to determine the functions and design of the building and selection of information technologies and telecommunications systems, as well as the planning and development cycle will be described and critically assessed within the parameters of the analytical framework.
Higher education opportunities in the North West region of Tasmania are limited. Previous efforts to reverse this trend have not met with much success. The creation of this learning environment involves changing the culture both in terms of the University's perception of its role in the community and the local community's perception of the role of the University in the region.
Largely as a result of these activities, the Launceston based (northern) Tasmanian State Institute of Technology established a strong base in the region, particularly in providing venues and staff for tutorials, examinations, and support for external students. Thus it extended regional accessibility to higher education. For various reasons, mainly political at national and local levels, the nature of development of study centres in Burnie (1982) and Devonport (1984) developed into a "blurred" mode of course delivery which came to be known as "extended campus studies" - a mix of distance education and face to face delivery. Teaching styles and levels of support evolved in an ad hoc and inconsistent manner. In 1984, the former University offered a selection of first year programs but this was abandoned in 1988 in favour of an intensive recruitment campaign in secondary schools and colleges.
These programs achieved limited success in reaching distinctive audiences. The Study Centres, accommodated in inadequate facilities (converted private residences) attracted limited numbers of mature age students to courses in Business, Humanities and Applied Computing. Recruitment programs have resulted in greater participation of school leavers at Hobart and Launceston. However, participation rates remain low and higher education opportunities in the region are limited.
Subsequently, after amalgamation of the Tasmanian State Institution of Technology with the Hobart based (southern) University of Tasmania in 1991 to form a new University for Tasmania, a review of provision of higher education in the region raised issues about the future of extended campus studies as a form of teaching, as well as the direction the University should take within the region. At the same time, the draft McColl Inquiry into agricultural and related education recommended that undergraduate agricultural science courses cease in Tasmania. The University undertook extensive provision into state wide provision which involved senior industry, government and community representatives as well as University personnel. University policy for the North West region was announced in 1992, which reflected its view that the long term problem of low participation rates could only be addressed by the establishment of an effective presence in the region, centred on a substantial building in the developing educational precinct at Burnie and closely linked to TAFE and secondary colleges. The research focus would be on agriculture.
The facility in Burnie involves the creation of a learning environment designed to provide a focus for a university culture. A centre for research and learning, including a quality conference, seminar and exhibition venue tor the local community is being developed. The University's agricultural research arm is being extended into the region (one of the most productive agricultural regions in Australia) in a joint venture with the State Departments of Primary Industry and Fisheries, and Vocational Education and Training, together with major industry groups.
The University has made it quite clear that the establishment of a third campus in the North West, duplicating courses available in Hobart and Launceston is not an option in the foreseeable future. However, it will, via electronic data transmission and an audio visual communications system provide direct access for research staff, distance education students, and the local community to the University. It is anticipated that the first phase of the building project will be completed by the beginning of the 1995 academic year.
Detailed planning for the facility began in 1992 and funding for phase one of the project was secured in 1993 with $1.51M from the DEET Capital Development Pool and $0.7M from the University's Special Fund (University of Tasmania, 1994).
The framework has five aspects:
It will be shown that in creating a learning environment for a specific purpose, the culture will need to be changed. This involves changing the University's perception of its role in the community and the community's perception of the University's role. At present both are based on traditional face to face models, which is not an option.
University of Tasmania (1991). Review of the Provision of University Education in North West Tasmania. September.
University of Tasmania (1993). Reviewing Quality. Submission to the Committee for Quality Assurance.
University of Tasmania (1994). North West Centre. Burnie Project Sub Committee Meeting. 17 March.
|Author: Dr Judith Walker, North West Centre, University of Tasmania, PO Box 447, Burnie, Tasmania 7320. Ph: 004 31 7644; Fax: 004 31 2401; Email: J.Walker@human.utas.edu.au
Please cite as: Walker, J. (1994). Creating a learning environment: Focus on a region. In J. Steele and J. G. Hedberg (eds), Learning Environment Technology: Selected papers from LETA 94, 348-350. Canberra: AJET Publications. http://www.aset.org.au/confs/edtech94/rw/walker.html