Inter-institutional planning of online programs in higher education
Lasseter, Marie Rodgers
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The purpose of this study is to understand the factors in inter-institutional program planning that affect the design of online programs. The questions that guided the study were: 1) Why do educational institutions form inter-institutional partnerships to plan online programs? 2) What educational program issues were negotiated when planning inter-institutional online programs? 3) What social and political relationship issues were negotiated when planning inter-institutional online programs? This study employed a qualitative design using interviews and documents as data sources. The data were analyzed using a constant comparison method. Twelve participants were interviewed representing nine inter-institutional online programs in higher education institutions located in the Southeast, Southwest, and Midwest of the United States. The data revealed findings related to each of the three research questions that guided this study. Educational institutions form inter-institutional partnerships to plan and develop online programs because they do not have the resources or expertise to offer the programs alone. Six factors were negotiated in inter-institutional online program planning: 1) program support, 2) funding, 3) operation and administration of the program, 4) admissions and registration, 5) curriculum and course development, and 6) technical considerations. Program planners designing inter-institutional programs negotiate online program issues across institutional boundaries, within institutional boundaries, and with other planners at the planning tables. This study revealed ways in which the social and political relationships among the program planners strengthened or hindered the planning efforts and negotiation of the educational program issues including: 1) organizational identity, 2) leadership roles, 3) the value of relationship building, and 4) commitment to the goals of the program. Three conclusions emerged from these findings. First, resource scarcity is the primary motivating factor for forming inter-institutional partnerships to expand access to online programs in higher education. Second, educational planners must negotiate a variety of administrative, pedagogical and technical issues related to the design and delivery of inter-institutional online programs. Finally, social and political relationships, especially those around organizational identity, are central to the planning process in inter-institutional collaborations in higher education.
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