Hidden Aspects of Administration: How Scale Changes the Role of a Distance Education Administrator
Distance education research literature tends to focus on building economies of scale as a way to improve efficiency and effectiveness. However, the smaller scale distance education operation has a place and there are institutions, such as the one where the current study was set, that, while being keen to improve efficiency and effectiveness practices, do not wish to scale up. This paper reports an investigation of the unique small scale distance education context at one university in New Zealand. The purpose was to reflect on the operations from the perspectives of those involved in distance education at the institution. Interviews held with students, lecturers and administrators of distance courses provide insights about how those groups experience distance education and how distance education ‘works’ in the institution. Analysis of the data revealed that it is the administrators who play a key role in areas of relationship-building, mediation and bridging. The outcomes contribute to the ongoing review and reflection of practices at the institution. In addition, the study adds to the current literature about distance education, because it provides insights into the key, often hidden role of staff providing administrative support that is needed to ensure high quality courses and student experience. In this way, the study provides some much needed evidence about small scale distance education and how it can be organised to contribute to the achievement of institutional and national imperatives, as well as student learning needs.