Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Week Four: Examples of Flexible Learning - distance, correspondence, online

How can distance, correspondence and/or online learning create flexible learning opportunities in your context?

When I was spending time thinking about this question I was automatically drawn to the postgraduate programmes we offer at the School of Occupational Therapy. These courses are run by distance and all but one are 100% distance based. That one course requires students to meet for a 3 day face to face (usually in Auckland). They are required to do this because they are to learn the hands on component of the assessment tool they are being trained in. Now this may seem inflexible and pretty restrictive (especially if you are coming from Invercargill) but the reality is students need to see real clients, to practice with tutors being on site. They complete 10 assessments and these results (along with the ones they do at their place of work) get sent to America (via email) for marking and calibrating. The good thing now is students are no longer required to go to the USA for training in this very specialised assessment tool.

Getting back to the other courses - a combination of correspondence and online teaching methods are used. Students are sent CD's of readings, they participate in blackboard discussions and each course has regular, pre-organised teleconferences. On the whole these work very well. It enables therapists (who work full time) to participate in study. Like Moran and Rumble outline, the invention of the personal computer and the Internet has been key elements for this educational programme. However there are always challenges and I think for the most they still stand, this will just give me more of an opportunity to work on them!!!

One of the big challenges have been the access to library resources. Now for the most part students living outside of Dunedin have not had difficulties. They can access the remote library service for all their needs and will have books, journal articles etc emailed or sent to them. The challenge has been for the students who live in Dunedin, because though they are participating in a distance course they are classed as being a Dunedin student so can't access the remote library. These students for the most (yes I've said it numerous times) work full time and have family and other commitments to consider too. If they want a book or a journal article from the library (and its held at any of the University libraries) then they are expected to come in to get it. Now to get books from the library the students are then required to get an ID card. For our postgraduate students this isn't a priority for them. Of recent, accessing the databases from the Bill Robertson Library has also been a challenge. I have spent considerable time talking to the staff to look for solutions to this problem. We all agree it appears unfair for Dunedin distance students to be penalised solely because they live here. I have found myself photocopying articles etc, scanning them and then emailing them out to students so they don't have to find time to actually come into the library. One thing we are now investigating with the library service for the future is having a staff member attached to each of our courses that students can have a person to go to directly. It will also allow them to then comprehend the difficulties that some of the students have.

Annand (2007) talks about the silent struggle to implement the use of technology in academy is far from resolved. This is something I certainly agree with and see evidence in with the above example. I see it as the blurb for this week - its about changing these problems into challenges and working to find solutions to the barriers!

1 comment:

Bronwyn hegarty said...

Pen some great examples from your discipline and a good critique of the pitfalls.

It is a great pity that libraries haven't caught up with the idea that distance for some is not just about geographical location. It does seem ludicrous that students enrolled in a distance course get treated differently depending on where they are located.

I had the opposite problem as a distance student enrolled with the university of Wollongong. I could happily request material from NZ and have it sent, but when I set foot on campus once per year, I find it incredibly difficult to access the materials in the library.

There is so much red tape and ID cards are needed - you are right people do give up. One thing that needs to be considered in any flexibly offered course, as you have mentioned, is good support not only for the students but for the staff.

It seems as if the innovative staff who offer distance programmes before the organisation is fully on board with it, have to battle constantly to get support from the basic services.

We are still very much set up as an on-campus provider. Some services for distance students have improved e.g library, but others such as 24/7 tech support, learning services are still lagging.

Your dept seems to be very caring towards students and has found some very workable solutions and lept over the hurdles. Good to hear.