In tech we trust: A teacher’s perspective on INLOGOV’s e-learning (r)evolution

Dr. Abena F. Dadze-Arthur


INLOGOV’s first online Masters

It was a historic moment for INLOGOV – even by the standards of the Institute’s long and eventful history. For the first time ever, INLOGOV was to design and deliver an online International Masters in Public Administration (MPA). The new MPA was to be delivered wholly online with students doing all their classroom activities outside the traditional classroom, at a distance from their school or college, and supported by interactive technology tools. The programme was to be targeted at adult learners across the world, specifically those already working in the public sector, who wish to study part-time while maintaining their career paths. It marked INLOGOV’s accession to the new club of educational institutes partaking in an evolution of a rather revolutionary nature, which is interchangeably termed e-learning, distance learning or online education.

A worldwide (r)evolution

Indeed, in offering the new MPA, along with two other online postgraduate programmes, the University of Birmingham joined the ranks of other prestigious tertiary educational institutes that have embraced the challenge of delivering e-learning courses. After all, the business case is compelling. Online programmes are rapidly becoming not only an inevitable but also rather lucrative part of mainstream education. The worldwide market for e-learning already reached $35.6 billion in 2011, and generated estimated revenues of some $51.5 billion in 2016, boasting growth rates of 17.3% in Asia, 16.9% in Eastern Europe, 15.2% in Africa and 14.6% in Latin America.

International organisations, such as UNESCO and the International Council for Open and Distance Education, conclude that the revolutionary explosion of e-learning is down to two key factors: First, and perhaps most obviously, the technological advances of the Internet and web-based technologies offer learners and teachers a considerable range of affordable tools and resources. These enable novel approaches to networked learning, change the ways in which knowledge is being imparted and open up new means of engagement. Second, online education allows professionals all over the world to upskill and pursue further qualifications while continuing to work in their jobs. Moreover, working professionals from Africa and Asia are now able to overcome the inadequacies and asymmetries of local educational provisions by enrolling in e-courses delivered by internationally renowned universities.

But who teaches the teachers?

Indeed, a whole new way of learning that is free from the constraints of time, space and pace – but also a whole new way of providing education! Helpfully, from the learner’s perspective, there is a lot of information out there about the ways in which this type of education differs from traditional ‘brick-and-mortar’ programmes, and what to consider when registering for e-courses. However, from the teacher’s perspective, surprisingly little has been published about designing and creating online education, and finding practical solutions for pedagogical and technical challenges. Tasked with authoring and tutoring the very first module of INLOGOV’s online MPA, my co-convener and I felt like two fishes out of water. Although, as university teachers and researchers at INLOGOV, we have had much experience of designing and delivering public management programmes for mid-career public servants on a ‘face-to-face’ basis (both in the classroom ‘on-campus’ and ‘in-house’ for sponsoring client organisations in the public and voluntary sectors), the new online MPA seemed a daunting endeavour. Preparing and providing an ‘online’ distance-learning module for a more diverse international group of practitioners, drawn from a wider range of public service contexts and experiences, certainly raised new and partly unexpected challenges for us that called for fresh approaches. Since then we have delivered the module twice – and learned something about how ‘to do’ online education.

‘Doing’ online education from a teacher’s perspective

Working in partnership with the international education and publishing group Deltak-Wiley, we realized early on the need to research and write much of the MPA programme anew. Our existing PowerPoints, although helpful in visually highlighting or synthesizing complex arguments presented in a classroom lecture, were unsuited and reductionist for this mode of teaching. Hence, we spent weeks producing fully scripted learning materials of a high quality and publishable standard, which also featured animated videos and interactive diagrams, timelines and theoretical models that could be expanded or collapsed at the click of a mouse.

Mindful of the international nature of the student group for whom the programme is intended, we recognized the need to ‘internationalise’ our curriculum. This was achieved by several means: we added new literature on international public management and governance in the reading lists; we included a variety of contemporary examples of public management from around the world; we produced a series of short, BBC-documentary-style videos featuring practitioners and researchers from across the globe who discussed their particular experiences of public management and governance in their respective home countries; and we used an array of photo images to portray global diversity in public service delivery.

Encouraging critical reflection in relation to the students’ own experiences of working in public management posed another challenge that required fresh thinking. We tackled this issue by including weekly formative assignments, which asked the participants to share and discuss issues and examples from their own country contexts in ‘Discussion Forums’. These forums enabled us to get course participants critically to engage in the activities, rather than simply to absorb ideas from the text, animated videos, or short film clips. In addition, it firmly placed the students at the heart of learning, thus achieving learner-centricity.

Not having the classroom interaction meant that we needed to find different ways by which the students could develop rapport with, and respect for, one another and so learn from each other. We solved this challenge by making the ‘Discussion Forums’ interactive. In order to attract a good grade, our online students were not only expected to ‘post’ their contributions (by particular deadlines) on the ‘Discussion Forums’, but they also had to respond to the ‘posts’ of at least two others (by further deadlines). For the formal assessment of these postings, we chose to use two criteria: a) ‘intellectual contribution’ to the discussion, and b) ‘contribution to the learning community’ focusing particularly on responsiveness to colleagues’ ‘posts’. We thereby incentivized the learners carefully to read each other’s contributions and offer thoughtful and thought-provoking feedback, constructive advice and mutual support – all of which led to the development of a strong learning-community. We also built in two synchronous sessions, which are specified times when students and instructors hold virtual ‘meetings’ online in real-time. However, what can be done so easily in a face-to-face classroom environment proved rather difficult online. Following initial difficulties in identifying meeting dates and times that suited every student in three different continents and time zones, we encountered even more serious problems during the meetings with both the audio (delays and echoes) and the webcams (requiring too much bandwidth). Clearly, online instructors are not the only ones who still need to mature – the technology does too!

The most important lesson

With our first cohort of students soon due to graduate from INLOGOV’s online MPA, we are expecting systematic feedback and more lessons on what worked, or not, about our online teaching from the participants’ perspective. Not to mention that, as we mature as online teachers and are given the opportunity to tweak and adjust our online classes, and deliver them to new and different student cohorts, our insight and understanding as e-learning providers is bound to increase. However, since I first set out, armed with skepticism and furrowed brows, to join the e-learning (r)evolution, the biggest lesson I personally have learned is how rewarding and of high educational quality an online course can be.


If you are interested in more details about our authoring and tutoring of the first module of INLOGOV’s online Masters in Public Administration (MPA), please download our chapter by clicking here.



Following a ten-year professional career as a public policy specialist working for various governments across the world, Dr Abena F. Dadze-Arthur switched to an academic career in public administration, and is currently a lecturer at INLOGOV. Abena teaches courses on various aspects of public management and governance. Her research mainly focuses on non-western and post-western public management approaches.

Why sharing is the future: A public administration perspective on the mesh economy

Tutik Rachmawati

It is common knowledge that in the study of public administration, initiatives for improving the performance of public organisations are very much borrowed from the private sector. In 1993, Osborne & Gaebler, for instance, established ten principles to reach entrepreneurial government. They offered ways to develop entrepreneurial, flexible and outcome-oriented organisations in the public sector.

Furthermore, the concept of New Public Management, which emphasises economic rationalism and private sector management practices, has also been adapted across nations. The implementation of information technology into business practices has also driven public organisations to launch e-government to transform the way they engage with citizens and business. Recently, under the ideas of entrepreneurial government and New Public Management, the duties of many public organisations have been commissioned to other parties, including in the private sector.

It can be argued that the principles of Mesh Economy can appropriately be applied in public organisation for several reasons. Firstly, the principle of partnership and other parties’ involvement. Strategic Commissioning in public organisations stresses the importance of partnership and involvement of other parties. It aims at reducing overlap and duplications, and further creating scope for efficiency and savings. This is an idea that is very much in line with Mesh Economy which highlights business operation through a collaborative approach to providing organisations with better ideas that then allows customers to receive flexible and more sustainable products and services.

Secondly, the principle of sustainability and the global anti-waste approach in the Mesh Economy is similar to the principle of sustainable management of services and assets demands in strategic commissioning. Strategic commissioning focuses on the quality and value for money – not necessarily at lowest cost- so that more is achieved with less in an environmentally friendly way.

Thirdly, consumer driven free economy in the Mesh Business is similar with co-production in strategic commissioning of public organisations. While the Mesh Business sends people recommendations and/or advertising messages based on their personal behavioural patterns, co-production service users know things that many professionals do not know – hence services can be produced more effectively. Co–production conceives the services users as active asset-holders rather than passive consumers. Therefore, both Mesh Business and Co-production empower and build trust in customers/consumers. Customers in Mesh Business build trust by disclosing personal behavioural patterns, while in co-production users, citizens, partners and voters build trust in the work of the public sector including the risks of losing the shared assets with other parties.

Sharing is the future business of private sector, and it will also be the future of public organisations as both share common characteristics. However, there are lessons to be learned for public organisations from the Mesh Economy.

Firstly, the mesh economy is based on strong relations with customers, as it is through more frequent contact with customers that a greater flow of customer data is produced which at the end makes the business successful by making more profit. Even though profit is not the raison d’être of the public organisation, it is still valid to have good relations with citizens. Public organisations also generate large amounts of citizen data which eventually will be useful to perfect the public organisation’s performance in providing public services. Public organisations need to learn from the Mesh Business on how to utilize the ongoing connections with citizens and to use citizen data constructively to serve citizens better.

Secondly is the issue of managing resources efficiently. The rule of thumb in mesh business is ‘ownership is out, access is in’. It means that mesh business can and does deploy assets they don’t own but can easily access. It is rightful for public organisations to apply this as the potential for efficiency and saving a huge amount of money is high. Learning from this will enable public organisations to channel their budget for the betterment of public service provision. Furthermore, as public organisations, governments and local governments suffer from financial burden, the need to share rather than buy and own is more appropriate.

Thirdly, public organisations will need to learn from the mesh economy on how to design a public services that is more resilient so that they could last longer even after multiple uses by different members or users. Every public service needs to meet the four criteria of mesh products: it should be durable (well-built and safe), flexible (accommodates different users), repairable (has standardized parts that allow easy repair) and sustainable (reduces natural resources waste).

To conclude, sharing as the core concept of the mesh economy should be applied in public organisation settings. Its core principles are needed for public entrepreneurs to level up public organisations’ performance.


Tutik Rachmawati is a PhD student at INLOGOV, University of Birmingham, and is a Japan-Indonesian Presidential Scholarship Awardee. She has research interests in public entrepreneurship and local economic development.

This post previously appeared on Puzzle Minds.