Monthly Archives: June 1999

Foundations of Open and Distance Education

Introduction

The assignment is as follows.

Part 1 asks us to select and briefly describe one real or hypothetical example of a distance learning course and its target group that exemplifies each of the following orientations:

(a)    technical – vocational

(b)    liberal – humanistic

(c)    emancipatory

Part 2 requires us to look at the above courses and imagine and describe the experiences of the following students:

(1)    one with a personal/intrinsic orientation starting the liberal-humanistic course

(2)    one with an academic/intrinsic orientation starting the technical/vocational course

(3)    one with a vocational/extrinsic orientation starting the emancipatory course

Part 3 asks us to look at in what ways might one of the courses be modified, by introducing typical elements from other orientations, to accommodate a wider range of students with different orientations. We are also asked to assess how practical it might be to implement the possible modifications.

Orientation definition

The word orientation has crept up twice through this part of the course and I shall take the advice of Nigel <msg #199, Nigel’s Tutor Group> and use ‘curricular orientations’ in conjunction with Elli Chambers use, and ‘motivational orientation’ in conjunction with Alistair Morgans use.

Part 1

Curricular orientations to education

I have described three different hypothetical courses that categorise the different curricular orientations to education as listed in the above brief.

(a) Audio Electronics Engineering HNC

Course philosophy

A course built around the technical – vocational curricular orientation. The course is two years duration, requiring approximately ten hours a week, practically based, and having a background in the science & technology school of thought. The explicit rational for course existence being the preparation of students for employment. Focus is aimed toward competence and performance, giving students key skills within specific technological areas. Students who successfully complete the course will have a practical knowledge base that can aid them in the search for employment within audio related disciplines.

Tutorial support

This is provided by telephone support and counselling at local regional studio centres. The centres double as drop in open access workshops, which are equipped with high quality industry standard audio electronic equipment, available for student use. The centres have specialist tutors and engineers available to help with student projects.

Learning environment

The learning environments are practically based with a clear hands-on approach. The emphasis being on how to do. Practical problem based learning situations are suggested providing students with the opportunity to gain key skills that are deemed observable in the work they submit for assessment. Kits, incorporating source material and audio engineering software are distributed to students that provide the platform for edit, design and build techniques. Assignments are centered on a PC workstation.

Assessment

Students are assessed against clearly defined objectives, course aims and learning outcomes that are stated prior to enrollment. Although updated and modified from year to year to reflect the changing needs of the industry, the course content is fixed and rigid throughout the course, giving students clear skills to be mastered.

Submitted work is compared to set industrial standards and considered good enough, or

Target groups

Individuals currently in the electronics industry wishing to achieve a specialist qualification relevant to their job are encouraged to enroll, along with candidates from other areas of technology that have an interest in the subject wishing to take it onto a further level.

(b) Italian History and Culture PGdip

Course philosophy

A course set in the liberal-humanistic curricular orientation. A programme of studies nine months in duration, at post-graduate level, focusing on Italian culture and history. Students join a family home in a variety of
historically relevant cities throughout Italy, allowing themselves to become absorbed in the culture and community of that area.

Tutorial support

Tutorial support is available through telephone, and three visits over the nine months are made to the students’ temporary home.

Learning environment

Course materials are supplied and posted to students. A variety of media are available such as: course notes, set books, relevant papers along with compact discs for aural appreciation and analysis. Reading/listening lists are available and specific museums/places to visit etc. are recommended.

Students are very much on their own, but are encouraged to make contact with each other to pool resources and establish studying relationships for the transmission of knowledge and shared ideas, beliefs etc. Active engagement in the reading, evaluation and interpretation of texts, which are taken from a variety of historical periods, is the focus.

Assessment

Students are assessed through academic essays that reflect the experience gained from the course and from their encounters of living the Italian life. Primary assessment criteria looks at the way students have addressed issues of cultural understanding, depth of experience, along with the ability to appreciate the development of common beliefs.

Target groups

Graduated students wishing to deepen their intellectual capacity and appreciation of Italian history and culture are encouraged to enrol. The programme provides the opportunity to broaden the experience of life and enlightenment through the study and attainment of cultural and social understanding. Students from a variety of backgrounds have gained great satisfaction from this course, many of which having taken a year out from full time employment, and then used their experience gained in Italy as credit transfer to a masters programme in the arts.

(c) Social Critique Lifelong Learning

Course philosophy

A course set in the emancipatory curricular orientation. The program me is open to all, and has as its chief concern the emancipation and empowerment of the self. Explorations of definitions, syntax, and the relationship of knowledge/power provide a framework and vehicle for engagement. The academic level of the course is dependent on the students that enrol and create the group dynamic. The social nature cultivated is paramount to learning; academic exclusion is not considered in-line with the ethic of the programme. We see ‘education as the vehicle for bringing about a relationship between a whole group of people (and the individual at the same time, why not?) and their social, economic and political reality, in order to understand their disadvantage and defeat It.’ <Cecillia-l, Plenary Area, #375>

Tutorial support

Both fellow students and programme facilitators provide support. All participate in an online message board system and the use of e-mail. Also, face-to-face relationships may well flourish if participants are geographically close to one another.

Learning Environment

Internet access is a necessity as the point of contact for the programme is a web site containing questions and responses. Facilitators set topics at the beginning of every month that are then opened up for discussion to all
who have subscribed. The messages are then condensed and summarised at the end of each month indicating the general outcomes of debate.

Assessment

Assessment is through self-assessment and peer-evaluation. Participants submit their work through web forms for the message system. The facilitators are fellow students who assess each other in the same capacity. There is no pass and there is no fail, the idea being that a continual process of emancipation takes place. When the programme reaches its time allocation (usually change of topic), peer evaluation is shared and all participants are encouraged to reflect. The group is continually working towards social consciousness and the emancipation of its members.

Target
groups

The programme is open to all, globally, and hopes to attract people from
many walks of life, and from many different cultures. However, with written English being the main tool for communication, it would be beneficial for students to be fluent in the language. No qualification is gained through completing the course, the experience of taking part is considered of higher value. The goal is in achieving self-emancipation and an understanding of one’s true interests. Students are free to come and go as and when desired.

Part 2

Motivational orientations to education

1) Personal/intrinsic motivational orientation, starting course (b)

Before the course

I was at a point in my life that was not presenting me with a great deal of satisfaction, my job was boring, and I felt as if I had become stale and a little introverted. All around me were things that I had become uninterested
in. I was looking for a change and something that would give me a feeling of satisfaction, something that I, and only I could be proud of, something that I could look back on as a life changing experience, a milestone of achievement.

I saw the course advertised and immediately knew I had to get on it, when I finally got accepted I was deeply excited and couldn’t wait to get to Italy.

In Italy

My temporary family is ideal. I am staying with a husband and wife who are both lecturers at a local university here in Rome; they teach the humanities and are always willing to engage in debate about the arts. Their English is first class, although we have times when only Italian is allowed in the house, after three months I am finding that my basic knowledge has improved dramatically, not to mention my appreciation of the Italian etiquette.

The course

The course is brilliant, the written texts are stimulating and it’s very easy for me to imagine myself in these historical periods that are being analysed, I guess because I am actually here. The Museums are incredible and really stimulate my interest in how these people actually thought at the time of creating such masterpieces. I have been to many of the suggested concerts
and met other students there, this experience has been very enlightening, as we have gone on to socialise and had some wonderful debates about the course topics.

The essays are quite demanding but that’s ok as I feel I am improving myself. Once completed and returned with my tutor’s comments I feel a sense of achievement. I am getting something I feel I need, in that I am seeing things from other points of view.

Reflecting

This is certainly proving to be a milestone and it’s the best thing I have done for years, I’d certainly recommend this to anyone who’s at a crossroad in his or her life. I feel rejuvenated and able to discuss cultural and social topics with my new friends. I see life differently now and I will certainly carry on with the broadening of my perspective on life when I return home.

2) Academic/intrinsic motivational orientation, starting course (a)

Background

I chose this course because I have a deep interest in electronics. I do work in the field of electronics but I don’t always get to experiment and to discover new ideas, especially audio related circuits. This course seemed the closest to my interests and would allow me access to some state of the art technology in the regional centers. I live in a remote area and there is not a great deal of sophisticated equipment available around here.

Course structure

The course is very well structured and all topics are just what I am interested in, we have a lot of circuits to build and test. The assessment criteria are very clear; it’s very obvious what we are supposed to achieve. However, I find that I don’t have anywhere near enough time to take my interest beyond what is required for the course. We seem to move through the material far too quickly and appear to be cramming many of the concepts into a time frame that could do with widening. Some of my peers don’t seem to mind this, they are only interested in gaining a qualification, but I didn’t enrol for that reason.

Broad based knowledge

The trouble with me is I like to dive right into a subject and get to the root of it, I don’t like skimming and only touching on certain aspects of a
subject if I have an interest in them. I don’t think the course is particularly well designed for me, for that reason, I’d much rather have a situation where I can pick and choose exactly what I’d like to learn and how far. I know we have to be assessed and the tutors need some means of comparison between us, but, it’s not ideal for me. My way around this is by doing what is necessary for the
assignments and no more, and then devoting more time to the areas I enjoy. My tutor usually comments that I appear to do just enough to pass, and always points out that the course is designed to give students a broad based knowledge, rather than a deep understanding.

Work placement

This placement is much more up my street. My placement supervisor understands my needs and is very accommodating in allowing me to pursue my genuine interests, he then observes me in that capacity so enabling me to gain my certificate of competence, a requirement for course completion. He gains too, as he benefits from my depth of research and can use it to improve his production methods and cost effectiveness in the market place.

3)
Vocational/extrinsic motivational orientation -starting course (c)

b>Background

I’m trying to get noticed and climb up the ladder of promotion in my work. The bosses always seem to look at my CV and suggest I need to do something about my lack of qualifications. I want something on paper that helps me gain status and weight within my company.

I chose the course of social critique because I like people and one of my friends has gone back to university to study a sociology degree, I thought I might like it too. This leaflet came through the letterbox and I thought I’d give it a go. I understood that there was no formal qualification at the end of it, but I thought that as I had done nothing since school it might help me to get used to studying again, without having to worry about passing anything.

Course experience

I’ve made a wrong decision and I don’t think this course is going to help me at all. I mean there is no formal qualification, so how on earth can that help anyone? I thought that without this I’d get used to learning, but I need to know how I am doing. I’ve done three weeks and all the topics seem
really airy-fairy. Some of my friends and other people on the course suggest that what I may need is a change of attitude in life, but I tell then that what I need is a better salary that I won’t get through taking this course. They suggest that a change of thought may help me to discover what I really want and need from life, and that a better salary may not really be the important thing to strive for.

I sometimes get lost in the course conversations and uncomfortable too, many of the people on the course seem anarchistic and have some pretty wild ideas about life and people. They seem to analyse words so much, aren’t words just words?

Dropping out

I will look for another course that’s going to give me a formal qualification, I don’t even feel this course helps me to get used to studying as nothing is marked it seems. I’m getting nothing from it. I don’t want to meet these people or discuss something over and over; I just want to do as little as possible to get a qualification. I have a life too, the others on the course are deep thinkers and that bores me silly. They are probably into train spotting too!

Part 3

Technical/vocational course (a) – incorporating more students?

Firstly, would incorporating elements from other curricular orientations be a good thing? Secondly, how would these be achieved if indeed they were considered beneficial?

Technical/vocational courses tend to have a particular feel, they are industrious and full of work ethics that usually have an attitude of lets get the job done and get it done efficiently. This attitude could be argued to be fair enough, our hypothetical course is designed for people who are interested in doing, who are in work or are seeking work. In most cases an employer employing person x will want her to perform task a. this is certainly the case in England in the post Thatcherism 90′s. And increasingly apparent in other countries too.

So our course takes into consideration the needs of employers, the marketplace, the employability aspect of its graduates. I am negating others’ needs in this context as I am assuming graduates do want to work in a professional environment, and the difficulty of balancing needs has been argued previously.

Questions that arise are:

Do employers want to employ reflective thinkers?

Do they want their staff to analise and reflect on their tasks?

In my research for this assignment I spoke with various professionals about what their requirements were for employees such as those that would graduate from our hypothetical course. The overall outcome seems to be what one might expect; they require tasks to be completed efficiently and well. The general feeling was they didn’t want employees with too strong an opinion.

But, professional engineers did express that they look for new employees/engineers that are open-minded and are able to be moulded into general studio etiquette and philosophy. Along with this they require employees that are able to work independently and that take the initiative in learning new technologies. They do not require a member of staff to be constantly told what to do. Our hypothetical course does not address such concepts and I don’t feel technical/vocational education does generally. So what is missing? And can it be taught?

Blending the elements

Negating motivational orientations, students enrolling on a course such as sound engineering usually fall into one of two categories of curricular orientation. Either the technical/vocational or the liberal/humanist one. Occasionally we have students who could be described using the emancipatory orientation model.

The technical/vocational curricular oriented students are interested in how equipment operates and why, they become interested in the design of technology and the mathematics behind it. On the other hand, the liberal/humanistic students are interested in exploring what they can do with the equipment from a creative standpoint. Rarely do these different orientations blend particularly well. The irony of the situation is, that when
students can effectively blend these different approaches they are very well suited to being a professional sound engineer!

Can this difference be taught? Can we turn students on to a subject that is uninteresting to them? How do we make mathematics appealing to the creative mind and the producing of a record, with all the vibe, feel and reflective approaches, attractive to a mathematically oriented student? Should we even try?

Answer number one

Mathematical problems are surely creative in nature; a creative thought process takes place when one is trying to solve an algebraic equation. Likewise, when creating a soundscape an engineer has to step out of the artistic reverie and analyse the technicalities of a song and ensure recording levels are set correctly etc.

Technical problems made creative and creative thought processes looked at logically might provide a route into the problem. If I can construct a course that addresses this problem then I will attract and possibly keep happy, a wider range of students.

But keeping the students happy and giving them what they want may not make them more employable. We still have not accounted for studio etiquette, this sensitivity to artists and musicians, this interfacing of mediums.

What is it in a person that has the ability to feel equally comfortable in both areas? Is it emancipation? Being comfortable in both fields could be argued to be a form of emancipation and a self-realisation, an indication that the individual is comfortable with combining both curricular orientations.

Answer number 2 – emancipation?

As educators, is it our job to give people what they want (think they want/need) or to help them see other points of view, to help them discover their own interests? My stance is the latter and if students are able to view things in a different light after attending a course/lecture etc. then I feel something worthwhile has taken place. ‘It is part of our job to enhance the quality of their learning by helping them develop their approaches to study so that they take a “deep approach” and not a “surface approach” to the material. One way to do this is through unique learning activities that maximise the use of dialogue (between students, and student and teachers) and encourages critical reflection.’ <Beverley-p, msg#143, Mary’s Tutor Group>. If a student realises halfway through a course that the subject matter is not for her, then something important has taken place for her. Better to have a realisation and take another road in life than to slog away on something un-enjoyable, for the sake of external influences.

Sound engineers have to be very self-sufficient and have an aptitude for learning new technologies as and when. The sound engineer not keeping up to date will be out of work very soon. So good engineers are life-long learners, mastering new skills frequently. They are independent beings who have a desire to learn. If I followed this theory into course design then perhaps I could say to all students that if you are still here at the end of the course then you have failed. If the students are still dependent and need spoon-feeding then they will not survive as engineers. This may sound extreme but I wonder how much truth it has.

Problems of qualification

Addressing the needs of the society, in relation to a qualification is particularly difficult. The importance of certificates and pieces of paper are self-explanatory in our society, migration away from this can be seen to be taking place, but nonetheless it is slow. The OU has made brave moves in this area, in fact the H801 is a wonderful example in that it accepts students without formal qualifications, and the course certainly allows emancipation to take place. ‘It is getting us to look at our preconceptions of ODE and perhaps change the way we think about it, education in general and also the way we teach.’ <Sandra-w, msg#328 Plenary Area>.

But, emancipatory education is by definition difficult to access. How can it be successfully observed and assessed? How we state that person x has achieved a level of emancipation, a level of self-understanding, a realisation of true interest, therefore, credit her with a certificate. I am troubled with this and at this point in time I am struggling to find an answer.

Sandra-w found an emancipatory course that states: "The experiences gained through the course will assist students to . . . reduce divisions in society and provide opportunities whereby disabled people have the right of control in their own lives and in the society in which they live." <Sandra-w, msg#236, Nigel’s Tutor Group>. Conceptually, I understand this could take place, but how can this be graded and assessed?

Qualification courses have aims and objectives; students have to be told how they are going to be assessed and what is the likely outcome of a period of study. If the aims and objectives are expressed in a way such as to understand ones’ true interests, we are expecting something to take place. I see emancipation as being different in everybody and caution needs to be exercised in how this is assessed.

Put another way, ‘are there not students who "do enough" to get their pass degree because that is the key that they want to open doors through which they want to walk to fulfil their lives? If this is empowering people to fulfil their ambitions, is that a false goal of education, even though it might be quite different from the person who wants to "roll back the frontiers of knowledge" in their pursuit of self-fulfilment?’ <Christopher-rh, msg#145, Mary’s Tutor Group>.

We find ourselves in a complex situation, considering motivational and differing curricular orientations, opening up education and catering for all is a noble stance but again we fall back to the problem of the missing yardstick! I can’t see meaningful qualifications with ‘a full-blown case of emancipatory education’, <Chambers, Plenary Area, #360>. Indeed I still don’t know what this full-blown case is! Also, I feel broadening courses too far could breed students who fit the description;
"Jack of all trades master of none."

References

Blackmore, J. (1996) ‘Pedagogy: Learning Styles’, Telecommunications for Remote Work and Learning.
http://www.cyg.net/~jblackmo/diglib/styl-a.html

Cantor, Jeffrey A. (1992) ‘Delivering Instruction to Adult Learners’. Toronto: Wall & Emerson. (pp. 35-43.)

Chambers, E. (1999) ‘The Nature of Education’, Open University H801 course notes.

Gold, K. (1998) ‘Great step up for the sector’, FE Now!, issue 50: December 1998, page 1.

Imel, S. (1992) ‘Reflective Practice in Adult Education’. ERIC Digest No.122. http://www.ed.gov/databases/ERIC_Digests/ed346319.html

Morgan, A. (1993) ‘Improving
Your Students’ Learning, Kogan Page, London

Morgan, A. (1999) ‘Learners’ Experiences of Learning, Open University, H801 Course notes.

Nipper, S. (1989) ‘Third Generation Distance Learning and Computer Conferencing’, in Mason, R and Kaye, A. (ed.) Mindweave: Communication, Computers and Distance Education, Pergamon Press, Oxford.

Peters, O. (1983) ‘Distance teaching and industrial production, a comparative interpretation in outline’, in Stewart, D et al, Distance education; international perspectives. Croom Helm, London, pages 95-113. Open University H801 course readings.

Rumble, G. (1989) ”Open learning’, ‘distance learning’, and the misuse of language’, Open University H801 course readings.

Sherry, L. (1996). Issues in Distance Learning. International Journal of Education Telecommunications, 1 (4), 337-365.