Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Vendor?

It’s coming. We’re in the last stretch of ’99 folks—the 21st century is quickly arriving. Things we formerly read about, saw in futuristic movies, heard from trend predictors is actually going to be our reality, and soon.

Our ability to successfully compete in a global economy depends on a well-educated, well-prepared workforce. The knowledge and skillset required for the preparation of these people—right from entry level through top management—is technology-based.

Enter … the virtual campus. It’s today’s multi-purpose solution for a multi-dimensional society. The question is, how to choose the system that properly meets each users needs for today and tomorrow?

Distance education providers are arriving in droves and they’re coming on strong. Those institutions inclined to accept this technology into their traditional onground curriculum can be easy prey to the ambitious sales tactics of some technology vendors.

It’s an all-out bidding war between the distance education service and technology providers. Free stuff. Signing bonuses. There’s a virtual wide world of educational opportunity out there and suppliers are grappling for a piece of the world wide web of business.

Guess what? There is no smoke and mirrors folks … but … and there is a but—sometimes what you see is not always what you get in this business.

This industry, which merely existed three years ago is doing a great job of making themselves indispensable. One has to ask, however, have the vendors simply done a phenomenal job of self-promoting and scaring educational administrators into change? Or, is there a real market for alternative access to education?

As with any major purchase it’s buyer beware, so be cautious if vendors are offering ‘all-in-one solutions.’ Just as course content changes from year to year, the same applies to technology. In fact, the same services offered by some

vendors at the beginning of the semester may not be the same by the end of the same semester.

If the school wants to see an immediate return on their investment, perhaps they’re swayed by the aggressive vendor’s sales pitch. This could equate to a large number of initial users. However, enrollment could level off or decline by as early as semester-end, due in part to reasons of dissatisfaction, exorbitant technology fees, lack of customer service, and frequent add-ons necessary to run the platform. Administrators may get more than bargained for, as vendors failed to reveal, and buyers failed to assess the true cost of operating such technologies, resulting in hidden expenses.

If the investor (school) chooses a more conservative vendor approach, the initial financial output may be larger, true. However, what you see is what you get in this case. Meaning, no hidden costs. Schools pay a one-time set-up fee for the technology, design, hosting and maintenance of the website, faculty training in electronic course conversion—with emphasis on ownership where it belongs—with the faculty, and charges based on a per-student basis. The learning curve with these web-based services is low, plus, there’s a 24/7 live help desk to answer and assist users with any queries day or night. These platforms help to secure and maintain an enrollment which is consistent, flexible and grows over time. Sound like your financial advisor speaking?

The results in each case speak for themselves.

Faculty Pros and Cons

We’re in the middle of an educational revolution—bringing with it both those who support and those who rebel against virtual learning. The traditional teaching methods of college professors is being challenged to meet the technological evolution and to address the needs of the student body for the new millenium.

Once a two-party relationship between student and institution this liaison now involves a third party: the vendor and what’s in it for them.

We must practice the philosophy that education is a business, and universities and colleges--for profit. Without students (customers) there would be no profit. Therefore, these institutions have to start running themselves more like competitive industry, offering their clients a selection of both on-ground and on-line accredited courses, competitive fees and excellent customer service.

Some advice for faculty entering into the transitional period of online teaching: embrace it.

When was the last time something this influential was pioneered that we actually got to be a part of?

Not since the introduction of the first personal computer has something so huge had the potential to change the face of education and industry as we know it.

Through an intensive five-week facilitator-training online course, offered by leading multi-service distance education providers: such as, Embanet and Convene, you can enable faculty to put themselves in the place of student (once again) as they learn proven online teaching practices and a true student-centered model of learning.

After completion of this training, teachers can take pride in ownership of their new and portable online courses. If the college decides to switch technology providers, or should a professor want to offer a course independently, each is now prepared to do so.

The pressure to move online is now. That’s not a bad thing. We’ll adapt. Some will divide – some will conquer. For faculty, students and technology providers, we’re armed for the educational future. Lets use our tools wisely, to become even better at what we do. We’ll make mistakes along the way. But, most importantly, as we go -- we’ll learn.

*Some distance education providers take possession of course content. Therefore, to avoid this, it is recommended to go over all licensing terms before signing the contract.