Athabasca University Needs Substantial Change

September 20, 2016


Metrics of financial sustainability, technological modernity, effective pedagogy, staff morale and stagnant or declining enrollments all suggest that recent AU administrations have left this institution in dire need for change.  No more “same as we have been doing” because same hasn’t worked and we’re falling further behind other institutions that are offering more contemporary and interesting courses; and therefore students have myriad options for taking courses.


Why Change Will Be Successful Now


At no time in recent memory have there been so many circumstances that favor success:  AB Government publicly and repeatedly states it is committed to better funding and fundamental changes to promote long-term AU viability and a return to excellence; there is public and government support for close examination and reversal of the burgeoning and expensive administration at AU and other public universities; and, change will happen because almost all of the various AU communities, for their own reasons, see it as in their best interests for change to happen.


There will be change but the question for us is whether we will lead, or be the passive recipients.


Your Responsibility

  • Take the time to question yourself about why you think what you think and then have the courage of your convictions to express your opinions and be willing to work for their implementation.  Otherwise you are sitting on the sidelines and waiting for rescue.

  • Write a supportive email and volunteer to work on an issue; talk/write to some friend and/or colleagues about this and energize some change efforts.  Do something….no matter how small or seemingly insignificant. 

  • Try to keep up on the issues however you define them (by your particular course(s), by Faculty, etc.)

  • Phrase suggestions for actions as constructively as possible.  Don’t be a Pollyanna but ask yourself if there is a constructive and actionable path you can suggest that will honor your opinions…..and then state it to those who can help to make it happen.

  • Frame your issues from two perspectives: what this means to your students and what will make you a better teacher.

What I Think Successful Change Will Look Like


Changes will primarily improve students’ educations rather than improve our work situations but the two are just the opposite of mutually exclusive. 


Technologies at AU verge from OK to dysfunctional and need to re-focus on helping us educate our students and do research.  The tech silos need to be integrated with each other and should take their proper place as crucial but adjunctive aids to our teaching and research.  Institutional needs for managerial information are real and important but should not be of paramount importance. 


Modern, effective course design should result in course changes such that we avoid what was boring 20 years ago and is even more so today; we must engage our students in multiple ways and modalities.  Dressing up poor course content (due to age, inaccuracies, biases, etc.) with good course design won’t work.


Teacher-student communications and interactions should be improved by increasing numbers of ways we can interact and should be kept as direct as possible; students receive better educations generally if they are dealt with as people.  Changes should not result in robotic, production-line interactions between teachers and students.  There is a place for mechanized communications in the interests of efficiency and fairness but we’ve overdone that at AU and need to capitalize on our person-to-person strengths that occur as a result of the tutor model (including designated faculty serving that role). 


Every student at AU should have individualized relationships with people who can answer their questions and encourage them to continue their educations.  We should be trained in what to do when we think our students need help beyond that which we can provide. The most accessible help is likely to be the most useful help.


Some Likely Barriers To Change


It is naïve to believe that vested interests will cease so we should assume that all (including us) will see situations with inherent biases. 


Reflexive defensiveness by us and others should be seen as likely and avoided.  We understand why but still should avoid it.


Administrators at AU should be helped to see that administration is bloated and too expensive.

A lack of transparency will be a problem, so transparency should be the rule in all but the usual sensitive matters.


What is good for the student should be the goal that is paramount when we seek to change courses, programs and/or procedures.  Of course, there will be varying interpretations of what that is and that will likely be a source of difficulty during the change process.


I’m asking for you to support the changes that need to be made. 


Send an email to me directly ( or to the local at

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