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Corona virus exposes ineffectual Universities

How a pandemic exposes unacceptable e-learning

I make no apologies for this post – which is definitely an ‘opinion piece’.

Over the past few weeks we have seen the spread of corona virus.

John Allen posted a great article here: https://www.elearningworld.org/school-closures-elearning-and-the-coronavirus/

Here in New Zealand, the government took steps in February to stop students travelling from China (the originating location of coronavirus) back to the New Zealand Universities.

New Zealand Universities have steadily come to rely on student income from Chinese students, as New Zealand is relatively close to China, and a reasonable option for students not good enough to gain entry to USA, Canada, UK, or Australia.

A group of Universities went to the government and asked them not to stop student travelling back to New Zealand, because it would affect their income.


They clearly place their income above the importance of controlling the spread of the virus. In a way, as a business person, I can understand this.


These are organisation that have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars, and probably millions of dollars, in building e-learning systems. Whether that be Moodle, Canvas, Blackboard, or another solution.

There have also been millions of dollars of public money given to these institutions by way of various grants and seed projects and the like over the years, including an e-learning Capability Development Fund.

And now, in a situation where e-learning could be a major part of the solution, allowing students to continue studying while temporarily unable to attend on campus, it seems this cannot be done!


This is EXACTLY the type of situation where the investment in e-learning technology should be winging it’s way to the rescue.

What’s wrong with teachers:

  • Uploading all their content
    • Handouts, slides, links to reading
  • Quizzes
    • Every e-learning system allows for self-test quizzes
  • Recording a video
    • Moodle can record a short video right in the editor
    • Most laptops can record a video
    • Mobile phones can record a video
  • Scheduling a video-conference
    • Skype?
    • Zoom?
    • Other? – plenty of free tools to do this exist!
  • Support for questions via forums and messaging – basic e-learning tools

With the huge investment in technology, training, and lots of ‘e-learning specialists’, ‘instructional designers’, etc. etc. WHY is it not possible to get through a few weeks / months with students studying remotely?

The only conclusion I can reach is that the investment that has been made is essentially ineffectual in terms of addressing this need.

There is no revolution here in terms of technology supporting learners, and some people and organisations should be taking a very close look at how they are actually operating, and exactly why e-learning is not able to respond immediately to the current needs given the investment that has been made.

Stuart Mealor
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Stuart Mealor

Stuart is interested in all things e-learning, with specific interests in Moodle, e-learning strategy, and business development. His experience in education over 30 years, MBA in International Business, and knowledge of e-learning systems implementation, together with graphic design background, give him a unique skill set for e-learning projects.

2 thoughts on “Corona virus exposes ineffectual Universities

  • In the majority of cases EdTech has done nothing more than replace the photocopier and paper assignment submissions.

    Universities don’t have the organisational culture to leverage technology nor the resolve to change their culture.

    Teaching hasn’t fundamentally changed for 100 years, its the most change averse sector in the economy.

    If you were to spend time in the Universities you mention you would find a dogmatic can’t do won’t do attitude obfuscated by fluffy language about pedagogy. Most academics would rather stick pins in their eyes than make a video lecture.

    • Yes, I noted that here in New Zealand: “A group of law students at AUT have sent a letter to the Law School Dean Professor Charles Rickett, saying that the university’s policy of in-person teaching was putting people at risk.” [Source: https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=12318549%5D
      Meanwhile “University of Auckland said it had suspended classes across its campuses next week because of the Covid-19 outbreak. It was calling it a Teaching Free Week. Students would not be required to attend campus…” It appears UoA are spending the coming week getting staff up-to-date on how to teach online, if that is required (which I suggest it will almost certainly be). At least this is a positive step, and realistic, and gives staff some of the support they clearly need to transition.

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