Posts Tagged ‘distance education’

face to face?

Monday, April 14th, 2008

I met with some people from South Africa last week who were doing a benchmarking exercise on the use and development of multimedia materials for distance education (only). They were keen to hear how we did this sort of thing but the scale was so different (and we do teach face to face) that our conversation/experience only intersected a couple of times. Having students on-campus makes it much easier for us to be responsive and contemporary (to the day/week rather than semester/year) with the ability to provide students with commentary (recorded audio/podcasts) and even other digital objects (newspaper, TV, scans, and broadcasts etc) to support and enhance learning. While we do have off-campus students, the mix of materials we need to develop and the way we (often) integrate both modes into the online environment, mean we do things quite differently. They did want to know how to support students at a distance through online communication and it was good to be able to tell them a little about our experiences with a large corporate learning management system and our recent excursions into using open source social software (more on that in later posts).

It was interesting to hear their story and aspects of the logistics when delivering courses (and relevant material) to over three hundred thousand students (yep, 300,000)! Make a mistake with stock control and the extra mail-out will eat into the profit quick smart. There would certainly be some economies of scale with regard to return on investment for course development by selling it to so many students, but some of the logistics issues sounded scary. They did seem to have a nice model for course/material development which reminded me of we used to do it … ahhh, the good old days.

I also attended a seminar where someone shared their experience of a visit to the UK and meeting an academic from the Ultraversity. He had been quite taken with their model of offering one degree only (BA (Hons) Learning, Technology and Research) and wholly online. It does seem like it fills a market niche with three exit points and is full fee, with those living in the EU getting a good discount. Many of the students are encouraged to ‘earn while they learn’, there seems to be a focus on ‘action to improve your own workplace’ and the study is asynchronous to allow for flexibility and self-paced learning. The curriculum model is action research and involves personalised learning (negotiated with the student), inquiry/project based learning, online units of inquiry (with expert witnesses), and the assessment of learning is by e-portfolio and an exhibition for dissemination. This is sharing the inquiry finding with stake-holders and evaluated for input which all provides for real, authentic and potentially valuable learning/contribution. I like it!

Anyway both experiences were useful in exposing me to a couple of other models for doing education and learning and provided a bit of litmus test to help me see what we are doing. Looking through a different lens is always useful and you never know who you’ll meet.