Distance-Education Manager Gets a Grand Welcome in Hawaii

U. of Hawaii Center

Kenneth (Marty) Fletcher
April 28, 2014

Kenneth (Marty) Fletcher learned the ropes of delivering online courses to any corner of the globe while in Australia.

His many years of doing such work led in March this year to a Kipaepae Ho‘okama‘aina for him from members of the campus and local communities in Kealakekua, on the island of Hawaii. That was when he arrived to take up the position of director of the University of Hawaii Center-West Hawaii, one of three regional units of Hawaii Community College.

A Kipaepae Ho‘okama‘aina is a ceremony designed to make a newcomer to the island one with its natural geological forces and ancient culture. In Mr. Fletcher’s case, it was a welcome home. He grew up largely on another Hawaiian island, Oahu, with military-child’s stints in Seattle and elsewhere.

Since moving to Australia in 1982 to play semi-professional basketball, he has spent much of his adult life there, most recently as senior lecturer and program director of Open Universities Australia at Griffith University, in Gold Coast, Queensland. There he developed global online-degree programs, with about 10,000 course enrollments a year, and led a small campus degree program for Aboriginal and Pacific Islander first-generation students.

Hawaii has similar underserved students, says Mr. Fletcher, who is 56.

He has returned to Hawaii in part to be closer to remaining family members. To overcome a sense of being as much Australian as Hawaiian, he says, "I talked to people of a similar age who’d found their way back."

He sees Hawaii as more than a near paradise for tourists. "There’s growth here in a lot of less-heralded, forward-looking industries such as sustainable energy, oceanography, and biomarine industries."

Both Australia and Hawaii were early adopters of distance education, so he can rely on students to be comfortable with techniques such as teleconferencing. The challenge for Mr. Fletcher and his 12 staff members is to provide technical support and a variety of services to students who may be enrolled in on-campus courses, attending classes by video hookups, or taking fully online courses. The last may be beaming out from his campus, or from anywhere in the University of Hawaii system of three university campuses and seven community colleges.

Along with delivering online courses, the University of Hawaii Center is emphasizing "experiential learning" in such forms as putting marine-biology students on research vessels for weeks rather than just a day or two, he says.

Soon, it is more-traditional methods of delivery that will look suspect, he suggests: "Listening to a lecture to 500 students from the back row of a lecture theater. … You don’t get more distant than that."