Distance education has tremendous potential. It can provide access to higher education and it allows for new approaches to teaching and learning. This being said, distance education also presents unexpected challenges.

Though there are positive outcomes, others require caution. Introducing new methods requires changes to existing practices and to the roles of teachers, and professional and support personnel. As for school management, it must integrate these activities using existing budgets and ensure services are provided in collaboration with other college and university institutions.

Required investments

The myth of financial optimization in education by digitizing the learning environment is far from reality on the ground. Developing new pedagogical methods and implementing distance courses requires time and the addition of short, medium, and long-term resources.

These projects generate costs as they require additional technical support as well as the acquisition of new equipment and upgrades to existing equipment. Furthermore, there are no savings in infrastructure costs as students often take online courses in the cégeps and universities themselves.

 And the competition?

In the cégep network, there is tremendous pressure to seek out new revenue sources. Offering distance courses is an interesting option, but in this context, poorly planned implementation of services will inevitably create unhealthy competition between institutions. The development of new distance education programs should promote coordination and collaboration rather than stir up competition.

Building on staff expertise

Efforts to integrate new teaching methods should be based on the expertise and knowledge of personnel. It is by developing local competencies rather than the piecemeal use of private third parties that we will be able to support the long-term evolution of these activities.

The progress of distance education in the curriculum is not a temporary phenomenon, and classroom teaching, which makes up the majority of educational services, is not endangered. We need to continue the democratization of access to higher education, enhance the quality of the educational relationship and ensure the success of an increasingly diverse student population.

The Platform

Driven by the desire to make up for a perceived delay in Québec, notably compared with our Ontario neighbours, the MEES1 announced the creation of the eCampus platform in August 2017.

Designed to group and facilitate access to distance education courses offered by Québec’s higher learning institutions, this virtual campus is one of the measures included in the government’s Digital Action Plan for Education and Higher Education.

"Quality distance education requires close collaboration with support personnel. Our contribution is critical to the success of these new approaches."
– Valérie Fontaine2
“We need to use the expertise of professional personnel on site and equip them first so that they can, in turn, train and support other workers.”
– Suzanne Tousignant3
“We believe that protecting the pedagogical relationship must be prioritized in order to encourage educational success and safeguard the integrity of the teaching profession.”
– Lucie Piché4
“The organizers of the eCampus project spoke of a process of co-construction of the platform. But, the results haven’t been very convincing so far.”
– Stéphane Lapointe5

1 Valérie Fontaine is president of the Fédération du personnel de soutien de l’enseignement supérieur (FPSES-CSQ).
2 Suzanne Tousignant is president of the Fédération du personnel professionnel des collèges (FPPC-CSQ).
3 Lucie Piché is president of the Fédération des enseignantes et des enseignants de cégep (FEC-CSQ).
3 Stéphane Lapointe is president of the Fédération du personnel de l’enseignement privé (FPEP-CSQ).
4 Ministère de l’Éducation et de l’Enseignement supérieur.