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  • Lee_Kyungmee_201511_PhD_thesis

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Discourses and realities of online higher education: a history of [discourses of] online education in Canada’s Open University

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

Publication date2015
Number of pages249
Awarding Institution
  • University of Toronto
  • University of Toronto
<mark>Original language</mark>English


My dissertation research aims to develop a comprehensive account for the current state of online higher education beyond the common social and educational expectations about the adoption of online education.
Online education, according to dominant discourses in higher education, is commonly expected to (a) enhance educational accessibility to university education and (b) improve the quality of university instruction. And, this expectation further produces an imperative for its rapid adoption across all higher education institutions. However, my research fundamentally challenges these two rhetorical discourses, by providing an in-depth description of the disjunction between such discourses and the realities of praxis.
Drawing on key concepts from Michel Foucault and Mikhail Bakhtin, I trace the historical development of these two discourses as two institutional principles of openness and innovation in an open university. The complex relationships between the institutional discourses and peoples’ practices, mediated by multiple factors are carefully addressed. My analysis reveals that multiple understandings of openness and innovation co-exist within the university, and members take different pedagogical approaches to online education according to their own understanding of those two principles. As a result, openness and innovation often conflict with each other at the operational level, and the conflict is also visible within the ongoing struggles between instructors and learning designers, with regard to the adoption of a particular form of online pedagogical practices.
In summary, my findings demonstrate how the adoption of online education may introduce new problems and potentially oppressive power relationships among stakeholders in higher education, unlike the rhetorical claims that simply promote online education as a revolutionary solution for diverse social and educational problems. This disjunction continues to increase and is intensified by the existing instructional theory-practice gap in the academic field of online higher education. I urge that researchers and educators in online higher education as a united group, to make a collective effort to better understand and resolve the ongoing conflicts among the stakeholders and ultimately better serve our online students.