Campus News - January 29, 2001

Howell builds inroads to distance learning
Faculty involved in intellectual property issues

By Carolyn Gonzales

Richard Howell, special assistant to the vice provost, was hired this fall to make Extended University the all-terrain vehicle providing access to teaching, research and learning to towns, villages and isolated pockets of the state and beyond.

Howell, a New Mexico native, came back to the state from Ohio State University in Columbus, where, he says there are as many people as there are in the state of New Mexico.

He says, “The demographics and geography of the state make distance education the preferred educational mode.” He points out that UNM has been involved in distance education for many years – through ITV (Instructional Television) and correspondence courses – and now because of the available technology of the Internet, UNM provides interactive online distance education.
Some of the rough spots in the road to accessible distance education in New Mexico include providing the infrastructure necessary for Internet access in rural areas and affordability of access and the product. Howell says that Internet infrastructure is not yet available statewide.

“Telecommunications, industry and government must work together to provide high speed transmission beyond the Rio Grande corridor,” says Howell, who says that the corridor is the “spine” with branches coming off it to allow for remote access. Howell indicates the possibility of an alternative, “Wireless communication may be the way to go in New Mexico.”

He says that the wiring and computers themselves are the cheapest part of the equation. “Providing technical support and sustainability are the most expensive aspects long term,” he says.

But even if the infrastructure is in place, there will still be people in the state who will not have access. “Many citizens in New Mexico do not have the resources to make the technology available in their homes. However, institutional access and support may help fill the need. Chapter houses on the Navajo reservation have Internet access as a result of a collaboration between the federal government and Northern Arizona University,” he says.

“UNM must play a part in creating the rural infrastructure and sustaining it. We need to work with the CHE [Commission on Higher Education], state government, industry and those in telecommunications to define the problems. We can make the finest products in the world, but without delivery mechanisms, they will die,” he says.

Howell is aware of faculty concerns about intellectual property rights for courses and materials offered in partnership with Extended University. He sees faculty engagement and involvement as essential.

“I chaired the faculty technology committee at OSU and firmly believe that UNM’s Faculty Organizing Committee is a critical partner in examining the roles and responsibilities of each of the players. I understand faculty concern over ownership of the content of their courses. Faculty invest a lot of time both teaching and learning to form course content. It is, in fact, a ‘child of their labor,’” he says. He adds that intellectual property agreements must be worked out with faculty and that a win/win formula results between administration and faculty.

Howell says that there are ways to work toward co-ownership. “Everything we do is as a team. We, as a university, maintain and support faculty work. We no longer live in an environment where a single individual does it all.”

The UNM library makes “the single most substantial contribution to distance education,” says Howell, adding that the electronic library is critical to the success of future distance education programs. “E-services must be extended in other areas to create a robust virtual environment that provides online tutoring, advisement and other needed student services.”

Howell says the virtual world offers research and learning opportunities never before available to faculty, staff and other learners.

“We can perform discourse analysis, conduct surveys and create textual archives of all online interactions for later analysis. We can conduct interactive research and collaborate with colleagues around the world,” he says.

The road to the future may have a few bumps and potholes, but the Extended University team will successfully navigate and blaze new trails on the information superhighway.

The University of New Mexico
Albuquerque, New Mexico USA
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