Introducing the World Association for Online Education (WAOE)

Update of an article in ONLINE-ED, University of Melbourne, Australia (16 May 1999)

The World Association for Online Education (WAOE) is an educators' organization dedicated to turning online education into a professional discipline. WAOE has already been recognized as a non-profit public benefit corporation (NPO) by the state of California, even though WAOE operates almost entirely online. Moreover, officers hail from eight countries thus far, so WAOE is not dominated by any geographical region. WAOE is open to all those who are committed to pedagogical principles and interested in networking with other online educators worldwide.

Educators concerned with Online education in the broadest sense see their institutions making deals and their scholarly judgement over the curriculum undercut. Web-literate educators have their regional and disciplinary organizations, but when they reach out to the wider world through the Internet, they sense that the new medium holds great promise but at the same time, essentials are lacking in comparison to the face-to-face medium. Wandering from list to list, Website to Website, like so many nomadic masterless samurai, what online educators have been missing is a real organization.

This need was realized at the Third Annual Teaching in the Community Colleges Online Conference based at the University of Hawaii. The TCC98 conference discussions continued for months, resulting in an international Steering Committee that submitted Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws to the State of California in Sacramento. California soon approved epoch-making Bylaws stating that WAOE will be fully operational in electronic media. It may therefore be fitting that WAOE is pronounced "Wowee!"

Since being widely announced in late November of 1998, WAOE has grown to over 800 members from dozens of countries, which shows that a need was answered. WAOE brings online educators together for mutual support as well as to evaluate online courses and resources in any branch of education. With the cooperation of many educational institutions already, a minimum of expenditures on material items and the voluntaristic spirit of educators, it was possible to eliminate dues in mid-2000.

WAOE aims to be global and accessible to non-Westerners and non-native users of English, promoting multilingualism and intercultural understanding. Focusing on online education since the advent of Web-based approaches, WAOE is working to turn online education into a new professional discipline. Furthermore, WAOE is a non-profit organization of the membership type, less common and more challenging than organizations employing staff. WAOE founders believe that the aspirations of educators can best be reflected in a participatory democracy.

On top of all the concrete progress in a short amount of time, WAOE has afforded social opportunities among its multicultural membership. The first annual meeting for members in 1999 was combined with a world culture festival synchronized by the global standard of GMT. Cultural presentations provided spice for members who voted in sufficient numbers to ratify WAOE as a charitable non-profit educational corporation of the type governed by consent of the members. While the meeting took place asynchronously via e-mail and Web forms, synchronous MOO and Web chat sessions were also conducted. Web-based presentations included the Brazilian Carnival, Japanese Doll Festival, Estonian and Indian festivals.

Officers have been discussing how to conduct the whole organization like a global virtual university, reflecting the interest of members in mastering online educational environments. One such benefit of membership will be a teacher training course on international collaborative tutoring online, currently being piloted (contact Nick Bowskill at the University of Sheffield, England). With so much happening already, in March 1999 a fortnightly e-mail newsletter entitled the WAOE Electronic Bulletin or WEB was inaugurated by WAOE Membership Chair David Wyatt in Australia.

WAOE Internet sites are decentralized and can be found in a rapidly increasing number of countries and languages. WAOE information is beginning to become available in many languages, and a WAOE Chapter functioning in Spanish is underway in Mexico. WAOE has a flexible process to encourage members' initiatives, which are unlimited with so many cultures represented. Online Course and Resource Evaluation Workgroups (O-CREWs) can be based on any field or level of learning; cultural, linguistic or geographical chapters; and project-based or oriented to timely online issues of interest to members.

Among the projects already underway, WAOE is collaborating to improve access for the visually impaired to online education (contact David Wyatt). WAOE could also host an online conference to disseminate such research. Emanating from Canada, WAOE has a Web Design Committee and an Educational Software and Courseware Online CREW, both of which are looking for more active members (contact Robert Luke). The Educational Standards O-CREW (contact Jenna Seehafer) is one of the workgroups under the umbrella of the WAOE Online Educator Development Committee (OEDC) (contact Roberto Mueller). Another such O-CREW, recently reported upon by the Chronicle of Higher Education, focuses on online educational issues at the intersection of Industry and Academy (contact Ken Plant).

WAOE is also blessed with the WWW Journal of Online Education (JOE) based at New York University. Julia "Evergreen" Keefer has developed a creative and colorful journal that is diverse in both cultures and genres.

Whether WAOE becomes a or the voice or guild for online educators, WAOE volunteers will continue to support the profession. The essence of WAOE Online Course and Resource Evaluation Workgroups (O-CREWs) is that they are member-initiated. The possibilities are therefore unlimited, with the flexibility to galvanize support for special projects, online conferences, online teaching apprenticeships, and linguistic or geographical WAOE chapters as members see fit. The paradigm is not one of dominance from an assumed standpoint of knowing better. In fact, it is the very lack of knowledge and access to the best educational technologies that spurs members from various regions of the earth to collaborate for mutual support through WAOE. Focusing on online education since the advent of Web-based approaches, WAOE is working to turn online education into a new professional discipline.