Sunday, June 8, 2008

Week Ten: Issues with flexible learning - access and equity

Now I thought it was interesting that in the week titled Access and Equity I try to access the Willems (2004) article to read, "OLT2004 is no longer available to students on OLT". I see we need a password and I'm not sure I have one. Now I realise that I am a few weeks late in my blog but did we always need that or am I just late?

As a result I have headed into the article written by Zondiros (2008).

The focus of this article is to discuss Online and Distance education as being both a product and producer of globalisation. It starts by defining a number of terms and concepts and defines Distance Education as

Distance Teaching + Distance Learning = Distance Education

The article starts by saying that with the ever increasing technologies in the area of "Information and Communication Technologies - ICTs" the world is getting a smaller place. With these developments it is expected that barriers to education (by increasing access for those in locations not easily accessible) will be reduced. This however assumes that all people are equal and both have the knowledge of the developments and the ability to take advantage of the developments. It is interesting how this assumption can be made when Reddy and Manjulika in Zondiros (2008) state that 80% of the earths population have actually heard a dial tone. As a result the technologies that are developed to increase access can in fact highlight inequalities in a different sector of people. For example those people who do not have the means to purchase equipment needed to gain the benefits of the ICTs.

The article states that online students are expected to demonstrate a range of academic literacy's. Online and distance education tends to be restricted to learners with certain characteristics and as a result there are only a selected number of people in the world with these characteristics. From an economic point of view, space, time and money are sources of value and power and the vast majority of the workers in the world do not have them. As a result their employment is unstable which makes them vulnerable and the danger to exclusion is evident.

From a technological point of view the article states that demand for education is created less about providing people who are socially and economically disadvantaged with educational opportunities and more about focusing on those with the social and economical standing with opportunities to develop their professional and technical knowledge and skills. This is in contrast to the first paragraph of article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

It identifies both challenges and opportunities when trying to incorporate Open and Distance Learning into a Flexible Learning context. It is important that pedagogy is seen in a wider context than just the classroom, in fact it is able to accommodate different people with different needs, again as outlined in article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Access, inequality and exclusion are topics of significant importance in both developed and developing countries. Access is often given higher priority because inequality and exclusion is more deeply rooted. Universities are attempting to address this, as seen in their mission statements, response should be more tailor-made pedagogy that is aware of students needs and alternative Open and Distance Learning and Flexible Learning.

My thoughts on access and equity
Now this is an interesting topic especially in regards to the postgraduate programmes at the School of Occupational Therapy. I see it that at times when solutions have been produced as a way of combating limited access it produces more inequalities. For example, by making all the courses 100% distance this has enabled a large number of potential students enrol in courses. Both from a financial and time and sustainability angle. No longer are students expected to pay for flights or take time away from families to come to Dunedin to teaching. They can do their work in their own homes and at times that suit. However, a large part of the courses now require students to go online, to use blackboard and to access databases and catalogues via the web. Now for many that seems really straight forward and simple, remember that OT is a developing profession and many of the registered therapists working for decades don't have degrees but diplomas and have not completed any type of study since they got their diploma. The thought of postgrad study can be overwhelming by itself, completing it without face to face can double that anxiety.

With the introduction of the Health Practitioners Competency Assurance Act (HPCA), there is an expectation for all OT's to continue with their professional development, as a result these students look to us (the school) to provide them with those opportunities. We need to ensure that as much as possible is done to elevate concerns and anxieties. This is why I am keen to get the librarians on board, not only because Dunedin students are not treated equally with the other distance students but also as a tool to elevate anxiety when researching literature, answering those questions that may very well benefit a large number and to keep the students aware of any changes or new information that comes to light in regards to the library service.

This is of course only one area which I work in at the school, the bachelors programme has its own issues and opportunities too.

1 comment:

Bronwyn hegarty said...

hello Pen it looks like the conference organisers have closed the website with the proceedings. a pity as it was a good article.

I really enjoyed reading your critique of Zondiros. It is a challenge to provide education to all people in all settings when many places in the world do not have electricity. Northland has areas like that as well. I will have a better read of your post and leave another comment later.