Distance Learning at the University of Otago – A History
The Distance Learning Programme of the University of Otago was established in the
mid-1980’s, and was administered by a central body, the Distance Teaching Unit,
based in Scott and Shand Houses at the north end of the Quadrangle. Mr Peter
McMechan, Director of University Extension, oversaw the beginnings of the Distance
Learning Programme, with Dr Claire Matthewson as the first Head of the Unit.
In 1985, the first courses to run were what might be termed bridging courses, intended
for older students who had missed an earlier opportunity to take up University study
or who in retirement wished to advance earlier interests. The Diploma and Certificate
courses in Humanities drew on the knowledge and teaching experience of academic
staff in Languages, Classics, History, Geography, Literature, Art History, Music and
other disciplines. Many Humanities students enjoyed these early courses so much that
they then came to the University as full-time mature students to complete degrees.
Other early courses such as the Diploma and Certificate in Theological Studies also
aimed at the mature student returning to study, and these evolved into today’s
Bachelor of Theology programme, still the only qualification available “at a distance”
that leads to an undergraduate degree.
The Certificate in Social Work was the third main subject area for Distance students
in the early days of the Distance Learning Programme, also an undergraduate
qualification but one with a vocational direction.
A smaller programme offered postgraduate papers in Clinical Dentistry, a forerunner
of the several postgraduate Health Sciences programmes that were to be developed
over the next few years by the specialist Schools of the University, in particular,
Medicine and Pharmacy. Medical Laboratory Science also used the audio-conference
network to teach their fourth-year students based in Community Laboratories around
The teaching was by “mixed media” - principally by audio-conference (at