The following history of ODLAA is largely extracted from an article commissioned for ODLAA's 25th anniversary and published in Distance Education in 1999. More recent updates are attributed to Wanda Jackson, Vice President of ODLAA 2007–2009 and Secretary 2001–2005.
Inglis, A. (1999). Looking back, looking forward: Celebrating a quarter century of serving distance education ‘down under’. Distance Education, 20(1), 7–30.
The idea for an association was conceived at a forum on external studies held at the University of New England in 1972 attended by 68 educators representing 25 institutions from all Australian States and from New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and Fiji. The following year, at the University of Queensland forum, ODLAA's parent organization, the Australian and South Pacific External Studies Association (ASPESA) was formed for the promotion of external studies at the tertiary level.
For the first half decade of ASPESA’s existence, the membership was dominated by heads and senior administrators of central external studies sections and its main function was sharing of information. A Biennial Forum and quarterly ASPESA Newsletter were established. The association began directly responding to national initiatives with its 1974 workshopped response to the Committee on Open University Draft Report, and the 1975 biennial forum ‘Implementing the Open Tertiary Education Report’.
During the boom period for distance education, from 1977 to 1987, ASPESA also grew, and the composition of the membership changed to include more teachers and a developing cohort of instructional designers whose needs were centred on professional development in relation to external teaching and on the pursuit of scholarship in distance education. Professional development workshops were instituted in 1978 and a program of National Workshops continued unbroken until 1990.
Responding to an internationally recognized need for a research journal in distance education, ASPESA took up the challenge, and Distance Education was launched in 1980 with Ian Mitchell and Desmond Keegan as executive editors. After two years as the initial publisher RMIT handed the baton to Deakin University Press for three years until publication was taken over by what has now become the University of Southern Queensland where it remained for many years. Current publication details are available from the Distance Education page.
During the 15 or so growth years of ASPESA, paralleling the growth of distance education, it had developed strong links with tertiary institutions, a closer relationship with educational providers than was generally the case for professional associations. This may have been partly because it met a professional development need that institutions were unable to meet and partly because the distance education function was itself an organisational function and ASPESA was able to bring the staff of different institutions together. The central external studies units had the flexibility to absorb the costs of newsletter printing and distribution into their own budgets. By this means the Association was able to leverage its relatively modest financial resources to achieve considerably more than would otherwise have been the case. The Executive was largely made up of operational heads and senior managers of central external studies units and in serving the Association, they were at the same time serving their institutions.
The next five years corresponded to a period of rationalisation. Multiple government reports and an ethos of economic rationalism saw establishment of a system of Distance Educations Centres (DECs) and dramatic changes. The stresses of the period took their toll on the distance education profession and on ASPESA. The spirit of cooperation that had been built up in the growth years was undermined by the feelings of uncertainty and suspicion. The energies of ASPESA’s members had been absorbed in coping with institutional change. ASPESA retreated back to its core activities: conduct of the Forums, publication of Distance Education, ASPESA News and ASPESA Papers. The National Workshop program lapsed; and the SIGs ceased to operate except in nominal form.
The demise of the DEC system marked the start of a new era for distance education in Australia, and, perhaps coincidentally, the appropriateness of ASPESA as a name was being called into question. New words were being used nationally and internationally to express changed emphases on learning, on openness, on distance, and moves were even made to drop an ‘Australian’ emphasis in favour of more regionally inclusive terms. Members accepted a motion at the 1993 Biennial General Meeting to adopt the name Open and Distance Learning Association of Australia.
With a new name and a new logo, in a positive political environment of increasing national and international commitment to promotion of equity and access in higher education, and a positive technical environment of increasing feasibility of online learning, ODLAA was able to reinvigorate in the mid-1990s. The Research SIG, which had been reactivated with Olugbemiro Jegede as convenor, launched the RESODLAA list serve and compiled a directory of research in distance education in Australia. Biennial awards for excellence in completed research were introduced and in 1997 parallel awards for excellence in practice were introduced. A Code of Ethics for the conduct of distance education research was drawn up and adopted. The National Workshop program resumed.
Since the late 1990s ODLAA’s task of differentiating itself from other professional associations has become increasingly challenging. The same forces which led to reinvigoration have also led to mainstreaming of many of the concerns and interests which were previously distinct to ODLAA. Developments in technology are blurring the boundaries of distance education. Distance pedagogies have become less of a concern than technology-based pedagogies, instructional design is a more mature profession less in need of professional development, issues of equity and access have their own institutionally-based advocates. More specialised associations have developed niches in what ODLAA would once have addressed and online sources provide much of the information sharing and professional development opportunities that newcomers to the field may once have sought from a professional association.
Looking forward, there are still many unanswered needs for case studies, for research into and critical examination of the applications of technologies for particular educational purposes, for policy and practice guidelines, benchmarking, and readily accessing research findings at the point of need. Globally, distance education continues to be a growth market. Increasingly, the technical response to the challenges of distance and open learning require both quick answers and sustainable professional development for teachers, instructional designers, and managers.
The International Higher Education Teaching and Learning Association (HETL) is holding its 2014 conference in Alaska. See the website for details.
Call for papers
Special issue of Distance Education journal on massive open online courses (MOOCs) — see the flyer for details.
IRRODL special issue on OER
The special issue of the International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning (IRRODL) (Vol 14, No 2, 2013), Open Educational Resources: Opening Access to Knowledge, is now available.
Call for book chapters
Open Learning and Formal Credentialing in Higher Education: Curriculum Models and Institutional Policies (Eds. Childs, Keppell & Reushle)
Call for papers
Summit 2013 keynote addresses
Over 1000 views for the Summit 2013 keynote addresses on SlideShare!
ACODE 2013 Learning Technologies Leadership Institute
Registrations are now open for the ACODE 2013 Learning Technologies Leadership Institute to be held 18–22 August, at the Gold Coast.
Moodlemoot AU 2013
Registrations are now open for Moodlemoot AU 2013, Australia's largest and most comprehensive Moodle conference.
3rd Annual International Conference on Engaged Management Scholarship
The 3rd Annual International Conference on Engaged Management Scholarship will take place 19-22 September 2013, in Atlanta, Georgia. See the flyer for more details.