CTR Home Internal  Relations and Communications Home About CTR Publication Schedule CTR Archives

January 24, 2002 EConcordia takes off online



by Barbara Black

The first 100 students of an engineering graduate course met one evening this month for an orientation session, but they won’t meet again until their mid-term exam. The course, whose content was provided by recently retired professor Jeremiah Hayes, is being given on the Internet by a private company called eConcordia.

Andrew McAusland is chief executive officer of eConcordia, which is owned by the Concordia University Foundation. He sees the new venture as a great opportunity to advertise Concordia programs and attract thousands of students. Its future is open-ended, and likely to include academic and interest courses, plus technical and professional courses specifically designed for client businesses.

The Faculty of Engineering and Computer Science was a good candidate for this pilot course, since its enrolment has mushroomed and no courses have so far been delivered online.

A cap was set at 100 students for this first course, Introduction to a Telecommunications Network (ELEC 6861), and there was no difficulty in reaching that number. Two teaching assistants have been hired, and at least one can speak Mandarin, an asset given the Chinese origin of many of the students. A help line is available, and eConcordia staff will edit and make adjustments as the 13-week, four-credit course proceeds.

EConcordia is not a “virtual university”; degrees can only be conferred by the university itself. McAusland stressed that only the university can grant academic credits, and these can only be earned by bona fide students.

However, another course in the works will likely be a non-credit course in investment aimed at the general public. As well as finding a broad audience, such interest courses give users a taste of the university experience, and may draw some of them to enrol in conventional academic programs.

Students expect to have the option of online courses

Learning digitally is definitely here to stay, said McAusland, and students expect it. He is also Executive Director of IITS, Concordia’s computing services department, and teaches several computer courses in the Faculty of Arts and Science, where he is Director of Academic Technology. He has about 250 students in each of his online courses, and said that 25,000 students have registered via the university’s new Web registration facility, despite minimal publicity.

A participating faculty member is likely to license his intellectual property to eConcordia rather than selling the material outright. Course content, particularly of the kind that suits this kind of delivery, has a relatively short shelf life.

“We will look for courses with potentially wide audiences, and a professional edge.” McAusland said eConcordia is also looking for content that is unique to the teacher, not simply based on a textbook.

Finance Professor Arshad Ahmad, who is working on a course for eConcordia in managing personal finances, has the following advice: “Ensure that the technology will enable or leverage learning. Be prepared to give a lot of time. Don’t compromise on creativity or quality. Look for a long-term partnership. Take manageable risks.”

Ahmad has a good experience with eConcordia so far, and he hopes to remain active, to continue updating and fine-tuning his material, and possibly develop complementary courses.
Once they’ve acquired the content, the eConcordia designers go to work. Packaging the course may involve all sorts of media — text, audio, video, even animation.

The real challenge to the new concept is bureaucratic and legal, and it has taken more than a year to get the project up and running. The staff of eConcordia, housed in the Faubourg Tower on Ste. Catherine St. W., is small now, but likely to grow.

Besides McAusland, the staff comprises Caroline Danis, Director of Business Affairs; Christine Daviault, Production Manager; Kaoru Matsui, Marketing Coordinator; Anita Gulens, Web Developer; and Samar Mattar, Web Programmer. The Web site is at http://econcordia.concordia.ca/.