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The UAW/Ford University
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI

Year: 1999
Status: Laureate
Category: Education & Academia
Nominating Company: Sun Microsystems, Inc.

Computer and two-way video brings college courses to automobile plants, enabling workers to develop the critical thinking skills needed in a rapidly-changing work environment.
UAW-Ford University is part of an ongoing effort by the United Auto
Workers and Ford Motor Company to provide innovative educational
programs for its workforce. Both management and labor recognize the
importance of education to the workforce of tomorrow-to work in a rapidly
changing technological environment, to be effective participants in
self-directed work-teams-particularly in the highly competitive auto
industry. UAW and Ford have been pioneers in developing joint
union-management programs to address issues of common concern,
including building educational opportunities for the workforce. The 1996
collective bargaining agreement between Ford and the UAW called for
creation of

...a new program dedicated to a
university-style approach to workplace education and training: one that
recognizes and rewards group and individual achievement, provides
research and development on advanced education, training and
communication technologies and helps prepare UAW-represented Ford
employees for the workplace of the next century.
UAW-Ford University
is an expression of this broad objective. It was created by the UAW-Ford
National Programs Center (NPC) to address a range of educational
issues, from getting college credit for work-related education and training,
to developing new degree options, to doing research on educational
directions for the future. The UAW-Ford NPC is partnering with the
University of Michigan to implement a number of these initiatives.
Developing a Degree Program for UAW-Ford Employees One of the key
elements of UAW-Ford University is the development of a liberal arts
degree program oriented to the auto industry. It seeks to build
perspectives on the organizational and competitive context of the auto
industry, while developing critical thinking and problem-solving skills. To
that end, the University of Michigan is augmenting its traditional role in
education by bringing its classrooms to factory workers via computer and
two-way video technology. This project began in 1997. By the fall of 1998,
courses in a new degree program were being
offered on a pilot
basis in three auto plants. The plan is to expand this pilot to additional
plants, eventually making courses available throughout the UAW-Ford
system nationally. The University has drawn upon the resources of both
its Ann Arbor and Dearborn campuses in developing this program. The
overall project grew out of a long experience of the
School of Social
Work and the Institute of Labor and Industrial Relations (Ann Arbor
campus) with education and workplace issues. The degree itself was the
creation of the faculty and academic administration of the Dearborn
campus. The process of developing the degree program began with a
team from the UAW and Ford and a group of faculty and staff at the
University. Working with a basic outline which
grew from the union
and management leadership, information gathering (essentially, an
educational needs assessment) was undertaken with local plants.
Workers, trainers, and union-management leaders in selected plants
were interviewed and a survey of educational interests was undertaken.
Simultaneously, a faculty member from the Dearborn
assumed responsibility for leading the curriculum
development process within the University. As an economist with
research and teaching experience relevant to autoworkers, he was in an
excellent position to address the range of pedagogical issues associated
with this new endeavor. A faculty advisory committee, representing the
humanities, physical sciences, behavioral sciences, and social sciences,
was formed
at the Dearborn campus. The University of
Michigan-Dearborn combines a rigorous liberal arts tradition with a
history of reaching out to nontraditional students. Faced with the
challenge of designing a liberal arts approach that would fit with the
needs and interests of the auto industry, the faculty committee created a
bachelor's degree program in
"Work, Technology, and Society." This
program was specifically designed for UAW-represented Ford
employees, although it is open to others. It combines the traditional
principles of a liberal arts education with the special experiences and
training offered in the auto industry. The goal was to create a degree that
was relevant to the lives and experiences of workers employed in the auto
industry and focused on broad-based skills necessary in the changing
world of work. Two versions of this degree are being implemented: a
Bachelor of General Studies (B.G.S.) program for those who have an
associate's degree and a Bachelor of Liberal Studies
(B.L.S) for
those without an associate's degree. There are three areas of focus
intended to increase the student's understanding of the organizational
dynamics, the technical structures and changes in manufacturing, and the
history and current situation of the auto industry. Certificates will be
conferred to recognize the accomplishments of students who complete
various phases of the program. The curriculum was built around the
existing strengths of the liberal arts, the particular expertise of the faculty
at the University of
Michigan-Dearborn, and access to resources
(e.g., Henry Ford Museum, Reuther Archives). The results of the local
plant studies were provided to the faculty advisory committee to help
inform them of the interests of the potential target students. In the spring
of 1998, about one year after beginning the process, the new degree
program was formulated and approved by the Dearborn faculty. Distance
Learning for an Industrial Workforce Offering a degree to UAW members
in Ford plants around the country presents logistic and pedagogical
challenges, particularly for a university that is based on traditional
face-to-face classes. This challenge was intensified because the target
audience - industrial workers - is seldom the focus of instructional
innovations. Creating the means of delivering this customized approach
required significant adjustments for all parties: the plants, the workers,
and the professors. For example, although information systems for
production and communication in the plant are very sophisticated,
educationalapplications have not been a focus of computer use. Local
plants typically had a few computers for educational purposes, but there
no connections to the Internet. On the other hand, the University
of Michigan had a well-developed computer network, but it was almost
completely oriented toward a resident student body. Although instructional
technologies had seen expanded use for on-campus students, distance
learning classes were still rare. The development of a new degree
program, offered to a geographically dispersed population,
major changes. Decisions had to be made about technologies to use,
delivery systems, and support services for a target group including many
students who had never used instructional technologies or, in some
cases, computers. Several principles set the stage for development. First,
there was general agreement that the courses should use Internet
technologies. Second, two-way video technology would be used as a
transitional approach, providing faculty and students an educational
context that would be similar to a traditional classroom, yet could
introduce the new technologies needed to expand course offerings to a
larger number of sites. Third, courses based on CD-ROM and the Internet
would be developed as models to be tested for future expansion. From
the beginning of the project, the interrelated challenges of technical
development and student support were key to this new program. All of the
courses, including those based on two-way video, were to use
for assignments, access to research collections, class
discussion, communications with professors, and other traditional parts
of teaching. It was decided that the common look and feel of having all
applications accessible by Internet browser would ease the technical
burden on users
and provide them with computer skills transferable
to both job and daily life. A technical team was formed at the University,
involving faculty, instructional designers, and systems personnel, to
design and implement the instructional technology. At the time, the
University's e-mail system was not Web-based. Integrated Web systems
were only slightly past
the beta testing phase. To create the overall
structure, the team used Lotus cc-Mail for the World Wide Web to provide
Internet-based e-mail. Lotus Notes was used to set up Course Web
Spaces (CWS), which were used for class discussion, assignments, and
readings. For most classes, the asynchronous CWS work area was
combined with a PictureTel videoconference, which provided live
interaction with faculty. This project brings together two very different
paradigms for the "openness" of information technology. Within a
corporate environment, security and system control are central concerns.
Production needs and the potential for industrial espionage are important
considerations in system architecture. In contrast, the University, while
concerned about system security generally, is more oriented toward open
systems for education and research. Reconciling these two approaches
has required considerable cooperation and joint planning. For example,
the computer environment in Ford plants is protected by a "firewall" which
strictly limits
communications outside of the system. Many of the
commonly used methods of connecting computer users from one system
to another are not readily available from within the plant. As a result,
designing distance learning approaches has been an iterative process,
involving close cooperation between the corporate systems personnel
and project staff. Student Support as a Key Element Student support
services are a key area for the success of any distance learning
enterprise. The UAW-Ford University project has taken advantage of the
educational counseling and academic support which have been a part of
UAW-Ford plants for over a decade. In addition, we have added personnel
specializing in this new distance learning initiative. These resources
include: * Education
Training Coordinators (ETCs)-in-plant
education advisors who assist in recruiting and registering students and
provide a range of individualized support, and coordinate the use of
classrooms and equipment. Their presence in the plants, available for
personal contact, is an important element in the students' integration with
UAW-Ford University. * Skills Enhancement Program (SEP)-an in-plant
education center which provides general educational support and
assistance with
computer skills. The Skills Enhancement Program
center provides key support in the pilot plants (e.g., administering
computer skills assessments and placement tests, providing tutoring,
and proctoring exams). * Education Resource Specialists
(ERSs)-advisors from the University of Michigan who work directly with the
UAW-Ford University program. They provide academic advising relating to
the program,
beginning with outreach/marketing and information
sessions to explain the program to interested workers and help them
decide whether distance learning is appropriate for them. They also have
a range of administrative and program development responsibilities.
Students can turn to their assigned ERS for support with regard to
academic problems
and questions. For most potential students,
distance learning is a new experience and most are not experienced
computer users. Training and support services are key to successful
participation. Project staff have developed a range of support materials
designed to smooth the transition. These include specially designed
manuals, computer skills
self-assessments, workshops, and
individual interventions. The ERSs, working with SEPs and the ETCs,
form a network of support staff that engages in active outreach to provide
assistance to students. During the pilot stage, the UAW-Ford University
has used two-way video in addition to CD-ROM and the Internet. One of
the central challenges facing the
program is designing an approach
that can offer the degree program to a widely dispersed student
population beyond the current pilot plants. This new degree program
represents the latest innovation in a history of partnerships between
UAW-Ford and higher education, combining new technology with
traditional educational methods to build a two-way street of opportunity.
UAW-Ford University offers a way to provide
interested workers with
the skills that are needed for the 21st century and the flexibility to adapt to
a rapidly changing workplace and society.
As technological advances change the way work is done, there is an
ever-growing need for better-educated workers. By providing a liberal arts
program that incorporates skills and interests already developed on the
job, in a format more accessible to workers than the traditional college
classroom, UAW-Ford University courses offer workers the means to
develop their potential. Because it is still in the pilot stage, the UAW-Ford
University project is constantly evolving, seeking the best methods for
attaining its goal of educating the workforce. Reaching out to workers,
uncovering the challenges they face, getting feedback, and modifying are
all a part of the process of design and development, which
goes on
simultaneously with the delivery of the first course offerings. Because
computer technology is an integral part of the distance learning process, it
becomes a familiar tool for students rather than a subject to be studied
and perhaps forgotten. Use of the Internet for class assignments opens a
window on technology for people who might otherwise be left behind as
younger generations grow up with it as a matter of
course. UAW-Ford
University students get a close-up, hands-on
introduction to new
developments as they arise, through the process of adapting to changes
in the structure of their educational environment. Most employee training
programs focus on skills needed on the job. The UAW-Ford University
degree program, as a liberal arts curriculum, takes a broader approach,
emphasizing critical, analytical thinking and
problem solving. The
application of these capabilities is not limited to the auto industry, but
extend well beyond the work place. The program also has benefits within
the workplace that reach beyond those who are taking the courses. The
structures that have been designed and implemented-in-plant student
support, introductory workshops and classes, a computer
self-assessment-provide an instructional technology
that can be used for a range of other education and training programs.
The use of instructional technologies and distance learning also has
spillover benefits for the families of workers. Most of the workers
surveyed, as part of a program needs assessment, have
living at home with them. By bringing a distance learning application into
the home, they can be role models for their children, not just supporting
the importance of education, but demonstrating it. The UAW-Ford
University distance learning experience also benefits the University by
challenging the paradigm of the traditional research
university. The
Internet offers new alternatives for providing information and assignments
for students. It also changes the faculty-student relationship. Although
in-person contact with professors is lessened, instructors may actually be
more accessible through electronic communication. Indeed, work
schedules in the plants are such that without the flexibility of the distance
learning format, many workers would not be able to attend class.
Without information technology, the UAW-Ford University project would not
exist. Courses can be offered simultaneously to workers in their work
environment and to students on the UM-Dearborn campus. The same
courses can be offered in different time zones and to workers with
changing work schedules. And computer communications provide one of
the principal ways by which in-plant support personnel collaborate with
support personnel at the University. The technologies used are
summarized in the table below.

Teaching Technology
Characteristics Example of Use
CD-ROM Asynchronous, any place

Foundations of Academic Success with Internet connectivity in
Distance Learning Two-way Video Synchronous broadcast to Economics
of the Auto Industry

Ford-UAW pilot plants Internet
Asynchronous, any place English Composition for the with Internet
connectivity Workplace Videotape Asynchronous, any place Psychology as
a Behavioral Science Other Communications
Characteristics Example of Use CC Mail for the
Correspondence between students Worldwide Web
faculty, students and support staff UM Web Tools Internet-based
courseware Class syllabi, schedules, assignments, developed Lotus
Notes for chat-room Domino Internet (general) Internet connections
Research on various web sites, Use of UM-Dearborn library

The use of information technologies for course delivery has
required a number of adaptations. Because of technical limitations
imposed by the Ford "firewall," Web interfaces
were limited to those
that used only html (hypertext mark-up language), precluding the use of
audio or video components through the Internet. (Audio and video
elements were introduced through the use of CD-ROM and PictureTel
video technology. Plans are currently underway to expand the
capabilities through adaptations to the firewall.) Because the students
usually are relatively unfamiliar with Internet technology, the primary
concern has been to develop courseware that was easy to learn and easy
to navigate. The target students, UAW-represented Ford employees, differ
greatly in their experience and sophistication with
computers. Many
have had little exposure to computers, while others have integrated
computers into their lives. Computers are now common tools for salaried
personnel in plants, but their use by hourly workers is usually limited to
highly circumscribed, specific applications. As a result, work-based
exposure to computer use tends to be very narrow. This is in sharp
contrast with the University community, in which
computers-at work
and at home-have become ubiquitous. This widespread adoption of
computers in the academic community is the result of computers
becoming integrated as tools in the everyday work environment. Prior to
that, computer use was limited to scientists and aficionados. It was only
when they became tools in the daily lives of individuals that they achieved
more widespread adoption. The UAW-Ford University
courses that
use computers and information technologies represent a significant
broadening of the exposure of hourly workers-and a significant challenge.
Using e-mail, conferencing, and linking applications (e.g.,
word-processing a document and then sending it via the Internet) are new
experiences for most participants. As more and more people gain
experience with the use of information technologies as
a tool in their
everyday life, we can expect participation in distance learning to increase
The originality of the University of Michigan-Dearborn degree as part of
UAW-Ford University lies in the response to organizational, technical, and
pedagogical challenges posed by targeting a university-based
educational innovation to an industrial workforce. The project combines
the resources of a large-scale joint labor-management initiative and a
major university to offer higher education opportunities
UAW-represented Ford employees. This partnership has created
a liberal arts bachelor's degree program for auto industry workers that
recognizes the value of work and builds upon current workplace education

The three areas of focus relating to the broad
theme of Work,
Technology, and Society are:
(1) Organizational
Change in a Multicultural and Global Environment;
(2) Technological
Structures and Technological Change in Manufacturing; and
(3) Auto
Industry Studies: History, Current Challenges, Future.

Students examine the evolving technological, organizational,
and economic environment of the workplace, with special emphasis on
the auto industry. Faculty members visit the plants to meet students in
their work context, and they come
away with valuable insights and
substantive examples that add to their course content. The originality of
technology use in UAW-Ford University is in using a variety of
technologies to implement a streamlined user interface with a range of
face-to-face support systems. Course spaces are simplified so that
students can concentrate on the very demanding task of completing
college-level courses without having to acquire a
great deal of
Internet literacy in the process. Screen clutter is kept to a minimum, the
navigation is consistent from screen to screen, and the repetition of
navigational design elements within the course spaces serves to teach
people to use the spaces as they go. Modular elements
allow faculty
to create pages and modify course spaces easily; they don't need to know
the underlying computer language or server processes. We have been
able to provide a flexible course space that can accommodate faculty
interests in a variety of fields from the humanities, to basic writing, to
economics, to history and mathematics, while also retaining key common
navigational icons and formats that
students can identify and use.
In-plant personnel are trained to provide face-to-face support in the
workplace. Instructional and support tools have been created so that
workers can diagnose their current computer skills and pursue training to
address their needs. If students are having problems with the
technologies, there are personnel on-site to help and there is a special
telephone help line at the university.
The UAW-Ford University is still in the pilot stage. During the first year, four
courses were offered in the fall semester and five courses in the winter
semester. These courses used two-way video, CD-ROM, and the Internet.
The major accomplishments have been to create the degree, design and
implement the technology, and develop the range of student support
services needed for distance learning. Within six months of the formal
agreement, the University, the UAW-Ford National Programs Center, and
three local plants had to work together to meet a goal of putting four
distance learning classes in place. Equipment had to be
and installed in the plants. Instructors had to develop new
courses or significantly adapt previous courses to fit the new methods of
delivery. Web sites had to be designed and created, a task complicated by
the need to link radically different computer systems. Promotional
materials had
to be developed and disseminated. Students had to
be recruited, advised, and registered. That all this was done and the
program put into operation is a success story in itself. The UAW-Ford
University student services infrastructure combines a number of elements
that provide
students with direction and a safety net. Each semester
begins with a series of orientations: for students, who are given an
introduction to course requirements and University expectations; for
faculty, so that they gain an understanding of the population, the
UAW-Ford culture, and project protocols; and for local in-plant education
staff, so that they understand the student requirements and the support
role they need to play. A sequence of three advising sessions, at the
beginning, midpoint, and end of each semester, allows for proactive
contact with students, determines special areas of need, and identifies
resources for assisting them. Apart from the actual implementation of the
project, one of its greatest accomplishments is that it has functioned as a
catalyst for
change in the major systems involved with it-Ford Motor
Company, the UAW-Ford infrastructure, the University of Michigan. The
primary objective of the auto industry is to produce cars; its processes are
not designed to deal with education. The primary objective of the
is to educate students; its processes are not designed to
deal with the requirements imposed by the production of automobiles.
Both cultures, the corporate and the academic, have had to bend and
adapt to each other's needs and demands. Discussions about the
benefits and limitations of technology have had to take place on every
level, from the in-plant support personnel, to the registrar's office at
University of Michigan-Dearborn, to the faculty teaching in the
program, to union and management leadership. As a result of this project,
the union, the company, and the university are positioned to expand the
use of information technologies and all are far better prepared to adapt to
the changing work and education environments that await us in the
One major difficulty was deciding on the overall direction for UAW-Ford
University - the place of a degree program in the larger UAW-Ford
University project, the kind of degree, and how it would be offered. This
presented a challenge both for the UAW and Ford leadership and for the
University of Michigan. From the University's point of view, launching such
a program represented a new educational approach. Although
instructional technologies were increasingly a part of
teaching, distance learning was still only sporadically a part of the
teaching repertoire of the University. The introduction of distance learning
into the pilot plants presented a whole set of organizational challenges.
Although there was strong interest on the part of the local plants,
participation in the pilot presented
challenges. Space had to be
allocated, classrooms constructed, and communication lines
established. The new program also required cross-department
cooperation among functional units that did not have a history of
interaction. For example, the computer systems personnel at the plants
were seldom directly involved with those responsible for
and training programs. Providing hourly workers with access to the
internal network for educational purposes required adjustment of
computer security provisions. As in other corporate environments, access
to the Internet was limited to those who need it for their work.
it up for participation in college programs represented an
expanded conception of its use at work and raised concerns about
possible misuses. Increasing participation in the distance learning
courses presents a set of challenges arising from the nature of the
workplace and the work situation of potential students. Incentives for
seeking a
degree are an important challenge in itself. Traditional
students (18-24 years of age) view university education and a degree as a
ticket to personal and financial success. In contrast, UAW-Ford workers
are already successful; they have well-paying jobs, providing for their
families and contributing to the common good through participation
their communities, churches, and political and
organizations. Job assignments for hourly workers
seldom have
education-based qualifications and there are relatively
few supervisory (salaried) openings in most plants. A logical question is:
Why would workers take on the challenges of a rigorous academic
program offered through distance learning? The answer includes some
mix of career issues (e.g., jobs after retirement, possible promotion at
Ford) and personal
motivations (e.g., long-held goals, providing a
role model for children, a desire for learning). For the workers who want to
participate, there are barriers that arise from their personal situations as
well as from the technologies used. Interviews, focus groups, and surveys
all reveal that time pressures are a major difficulty in taking courses.
schedules can be changed on short notice and overtime is a
common feature in the industry. Workers with limited time have to juggle
priorities to include formal education in their lives. Work-site students
borrow from limited free time or from time allocated to families. Formal
education often becomes a family affair (or source of tension) as spouse
and children adapt to the need for studying. Even with adaptation, many
industrially based students cannot keep up with the demand for regular
class attendance. While distance learning holds the potential for greater
time flexibility, that does not solve the problem of working fifty hours or
more a week Teaching and learning through distance learning technology
presents a difficulty in itself. It forces both faculty and students away from
some of the assumptions about
traditional learning. Students and
faculty must move from the comfort of a traditional classroom to a
distance learning environment, from the familiarity of doing research in a
library to using the Internet, and from relying on oral communication to
communication in writing. While a major thrust of the project has been to
minimize the negative effects of these adjustments, the shift to
information technology and distance learning remains a continuing