THE MASTER'S DEGREE PROGRAMME IN TELECOMMUNICATIONS REGULATION AND POLICY
The University of the West Indies (UWI)’s Master’s degree programme
in telecommunications regulation and policy, the MRP (Telecommunications), (http://mrp.uwi.tt)
is a multi-disciplinary Master’s degree programme developed to strengthen
the capacity of national telecommunications regulators and policy makers. It has
a strong developmental focus, both policy and practice, contextualized by contemporary
global concerns. The programme recognizes the many dimensions of societal development,
and pays particular attention to the respective impacts of policy and regulatory
The MRP is the first programme to be delivered over the Internet from UWI’s
St. Augustine campus (http://sta.uwi.edu).
It is also the first programme on the campus to feature online application and
The MRP represents the triangulation of regional needs relating to the evolving
telecommunications sector and UWI institutional priorities. In particular, its
formation was motivated by (i) The UWI’s emphasis on programmes of direct
regional relevance met by (ii) the regional call for Human Resource Development
programmes in telecommunications regulation and policy and at the same time
by (iii) The UWI’s focus on expansion of its reach through distance education.
The MRP student body comprises mature professionals, many executives, in the
telecommunications sector. They hail from over thirty developing countries around
the world and bring to the programme various disciplinary backgrounds. Their
wherewithal to access distance education programmes is varied: some only having
access to very basic telecommunications infrastructure and services with others
having access to far more sophisticated facilities.
The process of MRP programme design has incorporated comprehensive stakeholder
input to ensure that its aims are consistent with the developmental needs of
the societies it serves and that the programme’s delivery schemes are
well suited to its target students.
The programme was designed and introduced in 2003 in response to the pressing
needs of the telecommunications sector during the transition from monopoly to
open markets. Recognizing the evolving nature of the telecommunications sector
and of its human resource needs, the MRP has been designed to run for a finite
number of cohorts. The first MRP cohort is due to graduate in November 2006.
The final cohort, Cohort 3, will graduate in 2008. A self-evaluation and needs
assessment, to be conducted by the first quarter of 2007, will inform how best
The University can continue to meet the evolving needs of the sector.
The MRP has motivated the re-thinking and re-design of many UWI policies and
processes. Its programme planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation
along with its policies and practices have been designed and documented on the
programme’s Quality Assurance website as a template for the development
of similar programmes on modest budgets.
PROGRAMME STRUCTURE AND OPERATIONAL FRAMEWORK
The MRP is delivered in English over two calendar years. It comprises eight
3-credit online courses, a 9-credit project and 3 credits worth of seminars
delivered through a mix of face to face and online modes. A postgraduate diploma
in Telecommunications Regulation and Policy, the DRP (Telecommunications), features
six of the MRP’s eight 3-credit online courses with no seminar or project
Central to the MRP administrative and academic framework is a comprehensive
staff team assembled to support the programme’s aims and objectives. The
respective roles are tied together as depicted in the core organizational chart
illusrated in Figure 1. The team is grounded in shared programme values that
relate to academic integrity and to 360? of support for teaching staff and learners.
Academic integrity is a core value of the MRP programme yet online delivery
offers many avenues for dishonesty. The programme has, therefore, produced a
wealth of resources that are intended to deter incidences of plagiarism, and
to provide information on avoiding unintentional plagiarism. The MRP Academic
Integrity Policy, and other related resources, are prominently featured on all
course websites and are shared with staff and students through handbooks as
well as through orientation and readiness programmes. All students are required
to sign an Academic Integrity Pledge when they first register and the electronic
Plagiarism checker, Turnitin, is used to filter student assignments and alert
staff to violations of professional ethics.
A great deal of guidance is provided to teaching staff to ensure that they have
a shared view of programme values, aims, objectives and academic standards as
well as the importance of responsiveness and fostering interaction. Tutor and
Course Director handbooks and orientation programmes provide comprehensive guidance
on these issues.
The distance teaching coordinator, who has experience in academic matters and
in distance teaching methodologies, provides guidance individually and collectively
to course directors and tutors. She delivers online readiness programmes before
and during each semester and communicates regularly with individual tutors as
they are a key programme resource on account of their direct interaction with
A key focal point for academic staff support is the 9-credit MRP project which
follows all course work. Project supervisors are guided through a comprehensive
orientation programme followed by an ongoing support programme throughout the
project execution phase.
The cornerstone of the MRP is its learner support. The programme recognizes
the challenges of distance learning and the particular demands made upon the
busy professionals who participate in the MRP. It therefore puts great emphasis
on the support systems required to ensure that students can access whatever
they may require of the programme efficiently and effectively.
Each member of the MRP team is committed to clarity, responsiveness, tracking
and follow up actions related to his or her portfolio. The Administrative Assistant,
in the frontline, provides personal guidance to new applicants as well as ongoing
support for registration and other administrative matters including fees. She
interfaces with university services and staff to ensure that the MRP maintains
a tight schedule. A number of practices have been introduced to ensure that
the programme’s administration runs smoothly with rapid response. The
Administrative Assistant’s persistent and comprehensive follow-up are
key to the success of these practices.
Fundamental to MRP learner support is the establishment of personal relationships
between students and the programme’s various single points of contact.
The programme places a great deal of emphasis on communication. Interaction
between students and staff, as well as amongst the student body, is key to MRP
learner support. The regular form of programme communications is via e-mail
and postings to course websites, with a nominal commitment from academic staff
to respond within two days and from other programme staff within one day. Staff
and students communicate by phone as the need arises. Many students attend the
annual three-day face to face seminars, which are very useful in establishing
personal relationships and building the MRP community.
General academic and pastoral support for learners are provided by the distance
learning coordinator whose academic and professional background are in education
and counselling. Before courses start, she introduces herself to students and
provides guidance on the Student Manual and Online Orientation Course. During
the semester, she monitors student performance weekly, providing individual
follow-up, and issues regular reminders on course and programme related matters.
She also provides personal counselling. Together with the programme coordinator,
editor and librarian, she provides comprehensive scheduled programmes of support
for students leading up to and during the execution of their projects. The progress
of all project students is closely tracked and regular individual as well as
group support and guidance provided.
Course directors and tutors are sensitive to the challenges of distance learners
and therefore make a special effort to personalize their communications, such
as opening their courses with welcome messages. Tutors provide feedback and
guidance on content issues through the semester while the editor provides ongoing
support with respect to academic integrity, citations and references. The librarian
provides support on issues relating to research, e-resources and document style
and the MRP Web engineer / systems administrator provides direct support to
learners on all technical matters and passes their assignment submissions through
the programme’s electronic plagiarism checker, Turnitin.
The multidisciplinary teams that develop MRP course materials and resources
bring together diverse strengths in curriculum development, academic content,
online pedagogy and online course management. These teams work successfully
at a distance to develop materials cooperatively in a process that parallels
the challenges that course participants face in the online environment, which
assists in ensuring that materials that are presented in a user-oriented manner.
The team approach also ensures that course material is routinely checked through
several iterations from many perspectives.
Course websites provide a variety of facilities and resources for content,
interaction and academic guidance. Materials have been designed to encourage
students to build and access these resources through independent research as
well as through networking within and external to the programme community. Course
expectations are comprehensively articulated in the introduction to courses,
and rubrics for each type of assignment as well as samples of assessed student
work reinforce expectations.
The preparation of online MRP course materials follows a structured, iterative
process led by the programme’s multi-disciplinary/gender/racial/national
course development teams. The steps, key staff and staff competencies are illustrated
in Table 1.
||Programme coordinator in consultation with stakeholders
||Rich academic and public/private sector experience.
||Course outline and content preparation
||Course directors in consultation with programme coordinator
||Technical writing/editing, distance learning materials preparation.
||Selection of appropriate technologies
(inputs: student and staff feedback from mid and exit surveys each semester
in each course/QA assessment)
||Mechanical / visual critique
|Distance Learning Coordinator
||Student experience critique
|Distance Teaching Coordinator
||Scheduling / assignments / academic critique
||Quality Assurance (QA)
Table 1: Course Development Process and Team Competencies
As the MRP is delivered primarily over the Internet, online tools feature prominently
in the programme. Some are used to support all MRP courses while others are
used for selected courses, depending on their thematic content and particular
All online courses are delivered through the course management system, WebCT,
and all course websites feature access to the programme’s electronic reserves
(“e-reserves”). The MRP e-reserves comprise a collection of electronic
books, journals, databases and a rich selection of other documents which provide
primary as well as secondary support for MRP courses and the final project.
Printable pdf documents are also used in all courses to accommodate MRP students
who are primarily mature professionals with busy work and travel schedules.
Offline, asynchronous access to course materials suits these students well.
Various online engagement methods have been used to cater to the diversity
in course content and objectives as well as of skills, experience levels, learning
styles and technology wherewithal of MRP students. For example the course materials
for RPTL6801, Contemporary Telecommunications Networks and Technologies, include
a rich portfolio of animations and interactive Web resources which facilitate
individual visualization and hands-on exploration of technical concepts. RPTL6812,
Online Seminar, on the other hand, emphasizes the building of an online community
and therefore incorporates communication tools and strategies that encourage
interactivity and personal expression. These tools have included discussion
boards, wikis, blogs, and audio recorded lectures, as well as assessed discussion
contributions, e-folios and e-presentations.
Table 2 summarizes the technologies and tools common to all courses and those
used for two example courses, RPTL6801 and RPTL6812. The table identifies the
purpose for which each technology is used and provides the considerations for
each choice. It also provides a sense of how effective each particular technology
or tool has proven for its purpose on the St. Augustine campus. The MRP Web
engineer manages the primary and backup websites with the assistance of the
programme’s network engineer. This technical team has developed the Web
utilities to support online application and registration along with other electronic
productivity tools including an e-resources database application and a Web-based
system for tracking the progress of project students. They have also developed
electronic claim forms, electronic grade slips, data security and backup systems
as well as emergency cross-over systems which are activated in response to infrastructure
The MRP Technical Handbook documents all electronic policies and practices
as well as the roles and responsibilities of the programme’s technical
||Uniform, full featured, intuitive user interface
||Very effective. Well liked.
||Adults from developing countries. Busy work / travel schedules,
unable to devote long, regular periods online.
||Very effective. Flexible access highly rated.
||Content delivery and communications
|e-reserves: e-books/ journals, databases etc
||Access by students from diverse developing countries
||Very effective in principle. Somewhat cumbersome to navigate.
||Visualization of, and interaction with, complex principles
||Interdisciplinary background of students
||Very effective. Well liked by students
||Immediate feedback on basic content
||To develop a repository of course resources by student community.
||Enabling rich interaction across different learning styles
||Varied success. Substantial learning curve for some students,
in part due to technical issues as well as to discomfort with unfamiliar
types of communication.
||For reflection and to facilitate learning in affective domain.
||To demonstrate individual learning journeys
||Student and demonstration presentations
||Opportunities for delivering and assessing presentations.
||Some students unable to submit oral presentations.
|voice overlays on Powerpoint presentations
||Creation of a seminar atmosphere
||Well liked but in some cases quality limited by low bandwidth.
Table 2: Technologies Used in Course Delivery and their Rationale
The programme’s academic, human resource and administrative frameworks,
policies and processes are comprehensively documented on the MRP Quality Assurance
(QA) site. The results of regular student and staff surveys are also documented
for each semester of the programme’s delivery. The QA site serves multiple
purposes, the major ones being:
- To provide a 360° view of the programme for the external quality assessments
- To provide a 360° view of the MRP for internal review and revision
and to act as the palette for continuous programme development
- To function as a repository of programme information for archive purposes
and for continuity in the event of staff discontinuities of any kind
The MRP QA site provides a snapshot of the entire programme that could serve
as a very valuable resource for new programmes.
SUCCESSES AND SHORTCOMINGS
The MRP programme has many dimensions of diversity:
- Student body representing over thirty countries
- Staff from Africa, UK, North America, Caribbean
- Disciplines including law, economics, engineering, policy
- Content covering theoretical, practical, academic, professional materials
- Media comprising modern and traditional technology mix.
These diversities have led to the establishment of a formidable international
community of practice in which informal learning reinforces formal learning.
In its short life, the MRP has had some significant successes. It enjoys an
89% retention rate over two cohorts, with its learner support highly rated by
students. MRP final projects relate directly to practical sector needs and therefore
feed into the development process in the represented jurisdictions. The programme
has received positive multi-stakeholder feedback and is recognised by leading
sector agencies (International Telecommunication Union, Caribbean Telecommunications
Union, Caricom Secretariat and Caribbean Association of National Telecommunications
Organizations) which feature it on their websites.
The programme’s key shortcomings relate to its limited ability to sustain
student participation in online discussions and to its variations in the richness
of feedback from tutors and course directors. Work continues in exploring and
developing ways of overcoming these difficulties.
The MRP programme has impacted development directly through its curriculum and
the particular student body it has been able to reach. Its thematic content,
telecommunications regulation and policy, is pitched at policy makers and regulators
whose responsibility it is to establish the environment for social and economic
development. The programme places a great deal of emphasis on the values of
the Millennium Development Goals, the progress of WSIS and the societal realities
of the developing world. There is a strong pro-poor theme that runs through
the programme’s courses.
All MRP students are from the developing world, most from policy making or regulatory
agencies. While building human capacity in the public and private telecommunications
sectors in represented developing countries, the MRP programme has facilitated
the development of an enduring international community of practice. Among the
key lessons that graduates and students bring to their respective professional
port folios are the many ways in which regulatory and policy intervention can
impact societal development.
Although originally developed for Caribbean professionals, the MRP has attracted
a global audience. It has been able to reach its student body, which comprises
professionals of influence in national and global developmental agendas, because
of its asynchronous, online mode of delivery. Online delivery has enabled the
participation of these working professionals in a way that would otherwise be
The programme uses a mix of traditional and contemporary media to accommodate
the realities of developing country professionals who are committed to lifelong
learning. It targets these societal change agents and offers a model for the
design and delivery of suitable distance education programmes that can be delivered
within institutions which lack the requisite institutional framework.